One Friday afternoon in February 2010 I took a phone call from Tom Jackson to congratulate me on a winning entry to the Microsoft Innovative Educators competition. It was a last minute thing putting a spotlight on some of the work that I was doing with Home-School partnerships – the use of a VLE, etc. I didn’t think it was much – just a way of trying to boost engagement in school.
What I didn’t realise was that this was the start of a fantastic journey that has taken me around the world to meet and be inspired by wonderful educators and a network of enthusiastic supporters within the Microsoft family. It’s the photo at the top of my page – Cape Town as viewed from Robben Island.
It was a direct link to engaging with an outstanding and inspiring group of teachers in Northern Ireland through the formation of the Northern Ireland TeachMeet community; developing the NIedchat community and, ultimately, Niedcamp which ran in August this year. I have made close friendships, which I hope will be lifelong, and have been fortunate to have been asked to speak to teachers to try to engage them in training and their own professional development in a wide variety of situations. I have also been able to meet, and converse with, decision makers within Northern Ireland and have felt that my opinion has been listened to. My Facebook and Twitter feed is full of updates from wonderful people that I have met from around the world as they continue to update their work and how they are trying to change lives.
All this, and more, from a simple little project and my continued trials and tribulations in the classroom. I don’t think I’m that good, to be honest (and, no, that’s not an open invitation) and according to the modern standards by which I would be judged – planning, administration, follow-up, tracking, etc. – I’d probably be a long way down that list – but I also know and appreciate that teaching is far more than that and I do my best and (think) I work hard.
The Expert Educator programme has opened my eyes to a lot more than just these things. It has shown me that Ireland and Northern Ireland, that tiny little outcrop in the North Atlantic, can be seen to be amongst the world’s best in education and has some of the best educators – I’ve seen them in action and they are remarkable!
I mention this because it is coming close to the deadline for teachers to apply for this year’s programme. I would like to encourage as many of my fellow colleagues to apply and see how you can have your faith in the profession restored and your horizons widened.
It is a wonderfully visionary programme from the Microsoft team and I say that without any bias. I do get teased, rightly, regarding my loyalty to the company – whether it be through my use of the software, the devotion to OneNote; the MS Band on my wrist, the Lumia phone in my pocket or the Surface Pro 3 upon which I am currently writing -(Currently open to offers for upgrading all of them, btw ;) ) – but, you know something, people like Tom Jackson and Anthony Salcito have changed my life in many ways so, hey, there you go.. brand loyalty for a reason!
But the Expert Educator Programme has always been about much more than that and I have always been impressed by seeing the passion in the company about how they can improve the lives of teachers and students. People want to help, developer teams want to listen, staff want to engage – all for the purpose of being able to support teachers to make the lives of their students better. Of course, Microsoft products are at the heart of it – and rightly so – but they want to see how their creations are used and adapted in the classroom and beyond.
I have been encouraged to take risks for learning – my own and the children’s – and to grow as a teacher and a person.
The programme has given me the confidence to tell others and, hopefully, give them the confidence to take risks and improve their experiences and those of their pupils.
And to just try to do things better!
I would encourage any teacher who is engaged in this way to apply for the programme this year, If you don’t think that you can begin the process now, talk to Tom about looking at next year – about getting your ideas together and about how best to approach the project. But, if you can, go this year – you’ll love the pressure about meeting the deadline! :) And I’m more than happy to offer any help that I can.
It used to be said that you should join the army to see the world – but I managed it from my own little classroom, in the middle of nowhere, on a tiny island that would fit into the palm of your hand! So, if I can do it… you definitely can!