Who I Am, What I Do by @TeacherToolkit

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I have been meaning to write this for over 6 months. Due to its nature and length, I would advise those who truly would like to know the man behind @TeacherToolkit … to continue.

This Is Who I Am, And What I Do:

As Rory Gallagher, aka @eddiekayshun– claims in his own Who I Am, this blog is “intended to write about my philosophy of education, about epistemology and paradigms.” I hope by sharing more of my personal upbringing, this may aid the regular reader of my blog to understand more about Who I Am and What I Do. This is not my usual blog on teaching and learning and serves as a reflective blog for the end of 2014.

Ross Morrison McGillRoss Morrison McGill

1973:

Born to a toolmaker in Irvine, Ayrshire; my father held a number of jobs as a tax-collector and a milkman – even managing to crash his entire float on a roundabout – before holding down what may qualify as a middle-class career in social work. My father was born illegitimate in 1941 and vowed to ensure his own family grew up in a safe and secure environment. My mother, the complete opposite, born into a religious household in Rotherham in 1945; her family roots tracing back to Tyne and Wear. My mother’s entire childhood was like mine, in several locations throughout England and Scotland.

Our first family home was on the industrial streets of Irvine, and then in Redheugh House, Kilbirnie which is now a grand estate, redeveloped into homes (photos here), which once served the local community, housing young adults from the outer edges of society who had not quite been successful in the real world.

mcGill famly

Here is my family tree (click to enlarge). On my mother’s side, I take my forename from my great grandfather and my middle name from my father’s grandmother. Over 4 to 5 generations ago, you can trace my name back to Samuel Fry (born in Bristol) who we believe to be associated with Fry’s chocolate(?), but then again we could be entirely incorrect! There are records here of the Fry family, dating back to 1620. Tracing your family is a fascinating process. At one point, we all believed we may be direct descendants of Elizabeth Fry who was recently removed from the back of the £5 note.

McGill Family Tree Ancestry

The McGill Family Tree – Ancestry.com

1973 – 1978:

I can’t quite remember the reasoning for moving over to Dundee, but no doubt it would have been my father’s work as a social worker with The Salvation Army, heading up a homeless hostel for 50 or so young people. Again, we lived on-site and I have childhood memories of primary school, summer fêtes and warm(ish) evenings in our grand playing fields. I recently revisited the house (hostel) I one lived last summer and discovered that not only is the building non-existent, but my primary school (Rockwell Primary) is dilapidated and empty (see here). What memories I have of Scotland cover vast landscapes, camping in Loch Lomond, digging for peat in Stornoway (image here) and visiting my grandparents in Abroath and Montrose, having ‘smokies‘ on the beach. My grandparents were long-serving officers in the Sally Army too. My grandfather being a composer.

This is where my Dundee United roots stem and my first love of football germinated …

1983 – 1985:

In the mid-80s, my family made the decision to move to London – and not Tasmania, Australia – to live and work at William Booth College – the International Training College for The Salvation Army HQ – based in Denmark Hill, South London. I have vivid recollections of London as a child, even though it was just for 2 years and it has been a joy reliving some of the landmarks I once explored as a child. This was an exciting time for my parents, as not only were they ‘studying in order to qualify’ as ministers of religion/social work, but they were surrounded by like-minded individuals, academics and families from all over the world! My mother often quotes surnames from a bygone era, half-expecting me to remember all the different folk we grew up with. As a ten-year-old, my recollections equate to the following:

  • Michael Jackson’s Thriller being the album of choice on my walk-man.
  • Having a ‘backie’ on the rear-end of my elder brother’s 50cc motorcycle.
  • Playing 11-a-side football in Ruskin Park, Camberwell.
  • Riding up and down the quad pulling off BMX tricks; even jumping over 4 friends who had bravely volunteered to lie down under our ramp!
  • Warm summers. A fry cry from the seasons north of the border.
  • Looking up to the skies and always seeing a 747 flying overhead …

Two years at St. Saviour’s C Of E Primary School in Lambeth was a brief spell at school, but looking back, spending two years in any school was the longest stint in any school for me. At St. Saviour’s, I recollect being taken out of lessons for reading and spelling. I’m not sure if this was for assessment or for intervention, but in hindsight, leaving education in Scotland, I was a good few months, if not a year ahead of my peers in literacy and numeracy. It did not last, as the impact of attending 4 primary and 3 secondary schools soon took their toll on my capacity to retain any knowledge for examinations …

Here is a picture of me in the athletics team, St. Saviours C Of E Primary School (circa. 1983)

Atheltics Team Ross Morrison McGill St Saviours C Of E Primary School 1983(Middle row / 3rd from right)

1985 – 1986:

After a short stint in London, my parents were appointed to ‘City Road Men’s Hostel‘ in Newcastle, Tyne and Wear. I recall having less than a term or two at most to complete at primary school, before heading over to Heaton Manor Grammar School in Jesmond Park. Although I was only at this school for one year (Year 7), I have fond memories of playing rugby and competing in cross-country runs; being top of the class in French; excelling at Drama and heading off alone on my first overseas trip to La Rochelle in France.

Ross Morrison McGill @TEacherToolkit
@TeacherToolkit in 1985 (Year 7 – Heaton Manor School, Newcastle)

1986 – 1989:

This was probably one of the most fascinating periods of my entire childhood. After one year living in Newcastle, my parents were relocated to Tonypandy in South Wales to head up a working-farm for young offenders. The farm covered approximately 40 acres, and as you would expect with any farm, had a working tractor, a cowshed, a farm shop and an incredible range of landscape to play in for any young boy. I recall making a bivouac alongside a stream to earn a scouting badge, completing in my first 10km fun run in an impressive 49 minutes and buckling up the horses at any given time and going for a canter! You can see a Google image of the farm in this link.

I’ve lost count how many times I actually had my own animal to look after; 2 or 3 goats were personally attached to me and my keeping; a sheep and countless other species. On a grander scale to help the farm run, after school I would ‘milk the goats’ each day to earn my pocket-money. And then every Saturday my father would ship us all off in a minibus, down to Cardiff for the day to spend our hard-earned cash on Panini stickers, metal soldiers, sweets and comics.

It was my one of first lessons in life, one that was rarely provided in education throughout the 80s.

Ross McGill milking goats

Summer 1987

During the school holidays, we would help out in the cowshed (occasionally at 5am), helping milk the cows and process the milk. At Christmas we would prepare the turkeys for slaughter; yes, I experienced the life of a turkey from start to end. The upside of farm-life was bringing in new life into the world, helping pigs, sheep, cows and goats with labour, experiencing farm-life at its best and worst. Some highlights include; watching lambs born in the spring, jumping up and down in the fields after having their tails culled and their wool emblazoned with a coloured number. Other highlights include taking my own pet goat to be inseminated by a local sperm bank. The lucky billy-goat was massive and believe me, it stank!

On the flip-side of the animal kingdom, human intervention cannot interfere with nature. A sow had just given birth to 12 or so piglets and with it’s sharp hoofs, had stood on a piglet’s stomach. This in turn opened up the newborns stomach and intestines out onto the straw and hay! I recall the farmer taken the piglet off to a room somewhere and trying their very best to stitch the intestines back inside the piglet’s body. To no avail.

Other memories include dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out presents to the homeless men and women in our residence before we started our own family celebrations. It was always a special memory and one I hope to relive. I recall the days my father used to work in the soup kitchens under Waterloo Bridge. At the time, this was known as Cardboard City. I will never forget visiting the area. It sums up our entire ethos as a family when it comes to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is now Who I Am and What I Do and pretty much defines all the adult roles that my family currently serve in their local communities. We are a family of public services.

During this time, my parents bought me my first racing cycle and it was here I fell in love with the Tour de France. An affection I still hold today, but without the 20-30 miles cycling I used to put myself through each day up and down the Rhondda valleys. I also attended Tonyrefail Comprehensive School and found the shift from grammar to comprehensive schooling very stark. I attended from year 8 to year 10, moving once again to Fleetwood in Lancashire three months after my parents so that I could complete the end of my first year of GCSEs. I revisited the school a few years ago and took this selfie.

1989 – 1993:

It was in Fleetwood and at Fleetwood High School (in year 11 and throughout sixth form) that I first discovered girls and started to really understand the world of education and how important it was for my future. I receive my first taste of design technology teaching as a sixth former, teaching year 7 classes in my non-contact time. My teacher, Mr. Paul Boldy sets up mock interviews and takes me a through a rigorous process in preparation for interview at Goldsmiths College. I have written here about Fleetwood High School and how the building I once attended has now closed and moved sites. In this blog I also share my school report.

As my parents were salvation army officers, I naturally qualified for free school meals and knew that if I made it to University, that I would be the first person in my family’s generation. Student loans made this dream possible. Something that took me nearly 10 years to pay back as a qualified teacher … In my late teens, I still attend church regularly with my family but I disengaged somewhat, which was probably the start of me pushing away from a strict, religious upbringing. I started to believe less and less in God and the principles of The Salvation Army. Today, I see the value of this incredible charity and community, but without the religious connotations. This is probably one of the reasons why I wanted to move to London; to be farthest away from home as possible so that I can establish what my own set of values and beliefs were.

1993 – 1997:

During this period, breaking away from religion, I was late to start but I got up to the usual things at university. I captained the first (of four) football teams and gathered an impressive range of medals. (This led to a brief stint as a semi-professional footballer whilst working as an NQT in London). I searched for the meaning in life, walking through the doors of Hindu temples, synagogues and even Scientology to name a few. Buddhism struck a chord with me and I spent the good part of 10 years meditating on and off and learning how to breathe!

Ross Morrison McGill football

Cup Final day – summer 1995 – Motspur Park

Unbeknownst to me, 200 miles away in London I missed the community that The Salvation Army had given me for the first 20 years of my life, and found that living alone as a student, entirely dependent on the friends I made, I learnt some very harsh lessons about friendship, love and life very quickly. Reading education at Goldsmiths College, University of London all-in-all was a fantastic experience for me. I sometimes daydream about ‘what might have been’ if I had secured those two extra points in my A-levels; by doing so, I would’ve had a conditional offer accepted to attend Loughborough College to read design.

Nonetheless, I spent 4 years studying the what, why and how of teaching, reading deep into theory of child development, education history and the dynamic process of teaching. Studying a BAEd imparted a genetic code for teaching which I find hard to leave. I belong to the classroom.

Ross Morrison McGill student

September 1994

1997 – 1998:

My NQT year. Well, if that’s what you can all a term volunteering in Kano, Nigeria for the VSO, only to return three months later with my tail between my legs. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Maybe reading Osho, Gurdjieff, Hesse, Ouspensky and a few other radical novelists had a little to do with my decision-making process; jetting off to West Africa with just £50 in my back pocket! I can’t imagine what this must have felt like for my family.

At the time, Nigeria was under tumultuous period; a military coup was in place and for any ‘white foreigner’ to move anywhere within the region was very difficult. After 3 or 4 days away from Kano, working alongside a couple of volunteers who had already been living and working in a school, the journey home and having my passport seized and an AK47 within eye-shot, was one of the final straws for me. Despite the parties and the organised ‘settling-in’ activities arranged for a good 50 or so of us volunteering, I recall speaking with regret, informing my appointed persons that ‘I wanted to return home to the UK’. Having to let down those who had place a great deal of faith and investment in me was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Despite this, I’d love to visit the area again.

1997 – 2000:

After a short spell in Nigeria, I missed the boat when it came to securing a place to live with my college friends. I slept on floors for a good 6 months in North and South London, supply teaching in a number of schools, before finding work at St. Thomas More RC School as a Technology and Art Teacher from September 1997– July 2000 (3 years). I had to borrow £1000 from my father just to secure a bedsit flat and a deposit for somewhere to live on my own. I recall having to work in a bar for 2 nights a week as an NQT, just to make ends meet!

The school was very kind and welcoming to me as a young, twenty-something and I soon established myself, a first regular salary, a £100 Ford Fiesta to commute and a classroom I could learn my subject and practice. It was never easy. No formal NQT induction existed. Teaching graphics on a blackboard and no sign on a PC in most classrooms. It was fun and an interesting place to start. My greatest memory was cowering in the staff room with 50 or so students as a rival school trashed the playground with bats and chains! Despite the furore, the school has totally turned itself around and I still keep in touch with a few colleagues I met all those years ago!

2000 – 2004:

As a slightly older twenty-something I secured my first middle leadership position at Alexandra Park School. This is where I first met @headguruteacher as deputy headteacher. He actually interviewed me for the job! Without a doubt, these were the best years of my career and I am proud to say that the ‘McGill legacy’ lives on as my wife now heads up the very same department.

I designed this department with architects in 2000. It was then rebuilt several times as the school expanded each year when the intake increased from 150 to 1300! Headteacher Rosslyn Hudson was inspiring and relentless in her vision to create a true London comprehensive. 15 years on, she has succeeded and the school is now led by Mike McKenzie. I still hold a soft-spot for the school and my wonderful 8 years I spent there. Somehow I managed to produce national publications, articles and text books using exemplar work and ideas from the DT department. Even then I was innovating material without the internet and Twitter!

On a personal level, this is where I started to accumulate air-miles, having now travelled to 41 countries across the world. I yearned to live and work abroad, but I’ve never quite built up the confidence to get up and go! I’m quite secure with the green grass of England and the option to jet off anywhere in the world for 13 weeks a year was too much of a lure. It’s remarkable what luxuries teaching brings; something I didn’t quite realise until this period in life … I was often signing up for school excursions, accumulating 11 visited-countries within one year whilst in full-time employment!

Ross Morrison McGill Masters degree

July 2006

2004 – 2008:

During my time at Alexandra Park School, I was fortunate enough to complete my Masters degree at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design between 2004 and 2006. My thesis was on ‘Can semiotics be used to improve teaching and learning?‘. Completing action research on behalf of my school, but within a design context was truly fulfilling. With 82 marks, I was 2 points off a first class degree! Something my wife managed to achieve 5 years later!

In my final year at APS, I was also Head of ICT (as well as Technology) from April 2007– July 2008. This was a sideways step as I had hoped to secure a senior leadership position within the same school. The very weekend in May 2007 that I did secure a job at John Kelly Girls Technology College in Brent, a vacancy became available at APS! I was gutted but knew it was time for a change. You can read more about what I say about APS in The Guardian.

Ross Morrison McGill Teaching Awards

July 2004

Towards the end of my time at APS, I felt I had truly mastered middle leadership. But this did not come without its difficulties. Not only did I grow as a person, the school allowed me to grow in my formative years as a leader. As a 30-year-old, I was full of mixed emotions. Towards 2003 after building the department for a 3rd time, I felt like quitting. Then Ofsted arrived for a second time and awarded ‘Outstanding’ to the Design Technology department. Again, I was arrogant enough to feel I fulfilled everything and was ready to quit teaching, or at least look for something else within education. Then during 2004, which is probably the most defining year of my life, both Headteacher and Deputy Headteacher nominated me for ‘The Guardian Award for Secondary School Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in London, 2004.” A true honour. My arrogance reached new heights and although humbled by the nomination, alone between four-walls, I remember going back to school thinking what can I do next. I’ve published work in my field; built a department three times; ensured the department reached outstanding; nominated for one of the highest accolades in the teaching profession (of its time); and there I was, wanting to quit teaching and find a new challenge …

*n.b. The Teaching Awards was established in 1998, a far cry from where it is televised now,

I remember looking for work with some consultancy firms on the back of my achievements and heading into town for some informal interviews. Less than a month later, whilst I was on holiday in Thailand, my father passed away in July 2004. The 12 hour journey home, then drive from London to Manchester took a lifetime to complete. I had suddenly experienced the highest and lowest pinnacles of my life. The year that followed – to complete my masters degree – I was full of depression but I didn’t quite know it; I managed to just hold down a steady relationship which, despite engagement, inevitably was heading for the rocks 3 years later. Following a parental bereavement, to say that teaching was the hardest thing I’ve ever done between 2005/6 would be an understatement. You can read my blog about my father here.

Hugh McGill Dad Fatherhood
Hugh McGill (30.11.41 – 27.7.04)

2008 – 2011:

In September 2008, I was in love with Jenni, who prior to my departure, I had innocently appointed to be my replacement at APS. I was starting out in senior leadership for the first time at The Crest Girls’ Academy, now Crest Academies in Brent (and formerly John Kelly Girls Technology College). It is here in 2008 where I first shared The 5 Minute Lesson Plan with colleagues. During my time at Crest Girls, I also worked with Teachers TV and as a Lead Practitioner (Design Technology) for the Specialist School & Academies Trust (SSAT) from May 2009– May 2010. I started blogging and tweeting.

My time here at Crest was mixed. I had several highs, notably securing £300,000 funding from the DfES to bring in new catering facilities for the girls, to allow them their first food technology experiences in over 7 years! On the other hand, legionaries in the water; academy conversion; redundancies; an ICT network that continually collapsed and staff on tenterhooks, made day-to-day leadership at times incredibly challenging. I have yet to experience any other school close enough like this over the past 6 years! I’m sure there are lots out there and I am fortunate enough to have only this one experience in 22 years of teaching. Yes, I have been teaching since I was 18 years old!

When opting for voluntary redundancy, although the impact of finding work took 6 months to secure, and financially over 3 years to recover, writing this article in The Guardian was the very first steps of what you read today on my blog. In many ways, this job made me appreciate ‘being in work’ more and generated an incredible amount of resilience in me as a character. Looking back, the outcome inspired my blogs which in turn led to Bloomsbury asking me to write a book and the rest the say, is history! The financial backlash of redundancy, plus my TES-spat (Vamoose) blogging story and online profile, led me to advocating pay per download resources. If I make money from writing books, why can’t a teacher make a £1 or two out of the vast number of hours they spend in front of a PC, creating and designing new ideas/resources? One year later, the TES are now offering pay-per-download resources in beta version. You heard if from me first!

All in all, the above era has defined my tough determination to create my own success (perhaps survival) beyond the world of work.

Ross Morrison McGill teaching John Kelly Girls Technology College

On a personal note, I get married (photo here) in April 2010 and become a father to premature 1lb 9ozs @FreddieWM in May 2011. Freddie becomes a media sensation, featuring in the Evening Standard and The Times newspapers and I take increasing pleasure in photography, having 8 of my images selected for Getty Stock. You can see my photograph collections here on Flickr.

2011 – 2014:

Greig City Academy will always hold a special place in my career. I arrived to the school at a difficult time in my life, personally and professionally.  For the first time in 20 years, I found myself away from school in September 2011, desperate to get back into the classroom. I was lucky enough to be given a chance to work with staff, in what I now see as a pivotal role in any school; leading on whole-school teaching and learning. It was by far, the most toughest interview I have ever had! I have written more about this interview process here: How do senior leaders get their jobs?

Greig City Academy is a good school. In fact it’s a great school and if you can forgive me saying anything to do with ‘Ofsted’, this is an Outstanding school. The students are fantastic! During this time, I developed as an individual, becoming increasingly reflective; but also as a school leader and most importantly, a classroom teacher. I knew I was leaving the school as a whole person with my faith in leadership restored. I also started to attend teachmeets in and out of school and my @TeacherToolkit profile started to rocket!

Due to various reasons, I spent most of 2013/14 looking to relocate to Scotland. I blogged about this publicly and managed to secure several interviews. Oddly, the catalyst to generate job-searches led me to produce the @MyEdHunt Twitter account, which oddly led me to a ‘tweeted advert’ I retweeted, and then re-read in full. The rest is history. Read, Vamoose, I’m off to @QKynaston!

Today, I am an extremely proud husband, father and deputy headteacher. Someone who loves being in the classroom, inspiring students and colleagues in my own school, as well as online. Despite my online appearance, like any teacher, I have much to learn.

I cannot imagine many readers will make it to the end of this blog, but if you have, then thank you. There is much, much more I could write, but even I am pulling what hair I have left out, getting to the end of this. At least, you may understand more about the person that lives behind the façade of @TeacherToolkit and what drives me. I am proud of my achievements. I am a simple man who takes pride in everything I do. Behind the madness of Twitter, I’m a man of polar-opposites. I’m just Ross. A man with an interesting childhood and a dysfunctional schooling. Someone who wants to do good for himself, his family and the world of work in which he works.

I want to make a difference to every child and ensure that no child is left behind. This is Who I Am and this is What I Do.

TT.

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of being most influential in the field of education. He remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing resources and ideas online as @TeacherToolkit, he has built this website (c2008) which has been described as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the UK Blog Awards (2018). Read more...

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