What are your professional highlights from 2020, if any at all?
It has definitely been a year to forget, but despite the challenges, there were some small successes throughout 2020. This is my personal year in review…
In January 2020 and after 12 months of work, my teacher resources platform reached 45,000 registered teachers on the website. My physical teacher training, (Well, this is a story in its own right!) was equally as busy for the first quarter.
Almost 12 months ago, I kickstarted the New Year with trips to schools and colleges in Norfolk, Hull and then on to Liverpool to work with Angel Solutions to develop the digital 5 Minute Lesson Plan. Commitments also included trips to South Wales, Northampton and Leeds.
I also reached as the BETT Show again – probably my 15th event – working with clients and presenting in two keynotes. You can see my first presentation below, sharing my research from Just Great Teaching which captures everything I’ve seen in schools across the UK.
Following the BETT Show, my work as a primary governor and PGCE tutor, I headed over to Belgium for a few days, in what must be the most fascinating school I’ve ever visited in the world! Then there was a quick dash up to the wonderful Preston in Lancashire to work with teachers at Archbishop Temple School.
With the year starting off strong, February 2020 (with half-term) made the month a little quieter. COVID news in China continued to emerge and word in schools was next to nothing.
Teacher training requests saw me return to the wonderful Albemarle Primary School in South West London for the 5th or 6th time, with trips to Scotland and Spain to keynote at some fantastic teaching and learning festivals.
My work as a governor continued and there were some physical lectures at Cambridge for my doctoral research. This proved to be the last time I would visit for the year. Trips to Luton, Birmingham, Croydon and back to UCL in Central London to share more research with hungry teachers.
In March 2020, I had planned the beginning of a UK tour to share my findings from Just Great Teaching. It was shortlived! I managed to reach the West coast of Wales after kickstarting an event at the ‘happiest school in the world‘ in London, then driving North to Ysgol Henry Richard in Tregaron before heading back to Cardiff, Hull and then onto Belfast in Northern Ireland.
What proved to be my last physical training gig of 2019/2020 was a trip to Cheltenham College.
The fear of COVID was real and I opted to drive rather than travel by train. The very next day, the government and media speculated with schools going into lockdown. I saw my diary have event after event cancelled or postponed. I took a few days out to gather my thoughts about how I was going to make a living. Looking back, that blog makes an interesting and retrospective read. The emotions in print do not paint the full picture…
In April I knuckled down to some big projects I had put off for several years, largely due to travel commitments. Navigating income pressures, COVID-19 rules and a new way of working and living (plus homeschooling) was an interesting journey. At times it was really hard knowing where my next salary was coming from. At this stage, the working week starting to blur into the weekends and vice versa.
There was some good news, though.
After years of having the data, I finally merged 45,000 teachers into my teacher-newsletter, at first experimenting but then moving to 3 newsletters a week, sharing resources and webinars on a weekly basis. Nine months later, I’m still doing the same. I was publishing resources, podcasts, blogs and research-extracts on a weekly basis, and started to put together another long-term project I had put off for years – website membership.
It was probably the hardest month.
In May, despite schools still in full lockdown, my physical work had dramatically switched to online, with an influx of resources being sent my way, as well as producing webinar conferences to schools in Brazil to South Korea. Despite having a global reach, I could suddenly see it all in front of me on a screen with more teachers joining me face to face.
My resource output continued, publishing more than 100 resources for teachers between March and December 2020. Life was just as challenging, but I have no true complaints. Despite my wife and son having to shield, with me also on full-time shopping duties, the warm sunshine and the local park offered much-needed solace from the lack of social interaction and the 24/7 digital work.
June was busy digitally as it ever was physically.
I guess the most significant moment for me was launching my website membership to meet the demand for classroom resources. Using what little business acumen I have, I’ve managed to create something which is good value and timely for teachers. Writing this 6 months later, I’m delighted with its success, but it’s not without its challenges despite the low value and effort.
What started off as a simple Powerpoint has now emerged into monthly webinars and annual subscriptions for teachers and schools, with over 7,000 downloads to date, I know I’ll have to engineer a small team around me to help sustain and grow this concept.
It is something I have wanted to do for years and it’s probably the culmination of writing blogs on this site since 2007. My next key goal is to produce an online training platform teachers can access in 2021 – watch this space!
July 2020 was interesting.
Leading almost 100 webinars in 60 countries, from March to July 2020 found me working with nearly 6,000 teachers online. In my personal life, circumstances and the stars aligning saw our family seize the opportunity to relocate at the end of the month to another part of the UK. With life now operating online and my son slowly returning to Year 4, we found ourselves packing our belongings behind the scenes. Having worked and lived in London for 30 years, the last 3 years teaching on the road and online has highlighted that I can live and work anywhere…
In August, with membership resources being scheduled (about one week’s work in total) and webinars now in vogue (even though I had been leading them online for 10 years), it was a month to log off. This period was spent packing and unpacking; moved house and I built myself a new office!
Despite my childhood living by the sea and in the countryside, 30 years in the city can make you numb to the simple things in life. At least COVID made us appreciate the simple things again. I’ll leave you with this photograph (below) which is a few minutes up the road from my new home and office base. It is my favourite dog walk. From being surrounded by millions of people to almost none; it’s easier to understand why some parts of the UK don’t see or feel what the ‘Westminster bubble’ experience.
It’s funny how your goals change and the questions to life’s most simple questions change. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do? And where are you going and what are your goals? (Sophie’s World) Watch how you answers change, even as a teacher in the classroom, throughout your life.
September is notoriously full-on for teachers. It was still the same behind the screen, with a flurry of events at various times and timezones throughout the first week back to school.
COVID dialogue continued to be a challenge for everyone! There wasn’t a region of England I wasn’t working with, with much work going on behind the scenes with edtech organisations, government and individuals in a wide variety of circumstances (which would be a blog post in its own right).
It was busy, thankfully, and the website newsletters, memberships and webinars had now become a full-time job. There was the small matter of my doctoral research to contend with; thank goodness my upgrade window was stretched back 6 months which has given me a little more time to prepare.
I also rediscover audiobooks and deepen my understanding of the brain.
Traditionally a busy month for teacher training in schools, the online world proved no different. This time, when compared to March 2020 with most teachers working from home, the demand for teacher training from individuals significantly reduced. Schools continued to seek opportunities to support their teachers’ mental health, and I did what I could from behind my desk to support.
One strange, yet a significant moment in my career, was when I was invited to train teachers at Fleetwood High School. It also represented my first physical event since 16 March at Cheltenham College. This one event was important for two reasons: One, it was imperative for my mental health to get out of the house after 7 months and two, to return to the school I left as an A-level student before I started teacher training. It was emotional!
In November, I knuckle down to doctoral research and make plans to upscale website membership, constantly refining resources, newsletter alerts and downscaling my social media activity. Mark Plan Teach arrives in my office and I reach 99 podcasts episodes.
I knew that school staff were incredibly exhausted and many of us were COVID-fatigued, but this wasn’t the feedback I was receiving everywhere from my work with teachers in other parts of the world. I think my social activity slowed down to mirror my mental health, and that of teachers in England. From 10 million impressions on Twitter to just 3 million, English teachers were exhausted and my analytical data was feeding important data to me each week.
Despite an extortionate amount of work behind the scenes to keep the website running, make a living, complete my research and help teachers in need, I was also listed as LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Education (2020) across the globe which was a lovely surprise.
Finally, in December, a time when all teachers are feeling very tired, I reflect on what has been a challenging year for everyone, especially the self-employed who are supporting teachers outside of schools. Whilst I have no complaints, and this sector of work is relatively new to me, it has been a steep learning curve navigating a new way of working.
Next month, my podcasts reach its fourth birthday – with 100 episodes published with educators from around the world. Without getting too distracted by the challenges all of our schools and young people are facing, I suspect this new way of working will form the majority of our work well into 2022!
I will continue to do all I can to support schools as a governor, parent and as a teacher. Whatever you are doing to survive the pandemic, keep safe, be kind, and share your wisdom with others.
I cannot see how we will return to normlaity for at least another year or so, and whilst I’m ithcing to get back into schools, I’m knuckling down to my research, writing and creaitng resources for now. Wishing you all the best for 2021!