Making a Difference

‘Have a growth mind-set’. ‘You can if you think you can’. ‘Go the extra mile’. It is often talked about but what does it look like in context within schools?

In one example, at Bowling Park Primary School, the whole school promotes a ‘can do’ ethos, which is embedded through the ‘Going the Extra Mile’ or ‘GEM’ approach. Talking about future aspirations with children encourages them to push themselves, work hard and rise to challenges. This ties in very neatly with Dweck’s research about Growth mind-set.

The other week, I joined in a very thought provoking #aussieED chat about research:
* What is meant by the word research?
* Who carries it out?
* Is it really useful?

There seemed to be a difference of opinion in that some people said that research is done over a period of time and is a collection of a range of data. However, @mairinglenn made a good point about ‘drawing theory from our practice’. Whilst all points were valid and research is not solely restricted to a school environment, it does seem that ‘research’ can be collected on a daily basis when working with a class of children.

@Hywel_Roberts talks about ‘accidental learning’. “Some of the best learning takes place when, rather than imposing on young people a pre-determined curriculum, you find the stimulus that is relevant and engaging for them and build from there.” (Hywel Roberts
The other day at Queensway Primary School in Leeds, I had the pleasure of witnessing this first hand.
During a maths session, a group of Y1 children had chosen to work in the sand tray. The task was to pick numbered lollipop sticks out of the sand and compose number sentences.
However, much to the excitement of the children, a problem had arisen; there was a hole in the sand tray!

Despite observations of teachers taking place and the temptation to hush them away quickly before it caused a fuss, staff allowed the children to continue their exploration of the problem.

The level of engagement and interaction between the four children at that time was a prime example of accidental learning. Children took turns, collaborated and suggested ideas: “We need tape!”. They went through the problem solving process, measuring Sellotape to cover the crack, moving the sand away to stop the constant flow pouring onto the floor and swept the sand after borrowing the brush from Y2.
Even then, they weren’t finished as one little girl said, “We need to test it!” They put lots of sand back over the crack once the tape had been applied and refined their ideas by deciding that they would add more tape as there was still a small leak.

What had started as one thing very quickly evolved into something else, entirely child-led and with real purpose.

I was lucky enough to attend the @EducationShow in Birmingham this weekend with a fellow professional, Suzi Hunt. Special mention to @nightzookeeper as their creative writing month has generated lots of excitement for young writers, ensuring that learning continues to be almost ‘accidental’. Keep up the great work!
As I meandered up and down the aisles, collecting flyers and learning about educational products and services, it dawned on me just how many educators were prepared to give up their Saturday with a view to improving their own practice and development. All this to try to make a positive difference to the lives of the children in their respective schools!
Ideas were shared at the Teach Meet (#tmedshow15) too. Great ideas came from @gazneedle about art across the curriculum, Claire Lotriet about #proudofmyselfie and @charliedean about how she use the fabulous @classdojo for parental engagement.

Unfortunately, I missed Guy Claxton at the event on Friday. However, what he said is what I continue to see in many learners, young and wise; “School is a place where kids pick up attitudes about learning”. So let’s ensure that we model a ‘can do’ approach and inspire the future generation. After all, it all goes to show that with the right mind-set and attitude, we have the power to do anything…

Steve Jobs

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#TMBETT2014 – Loving the Alien

I attended my first #BETT show in 2012 and have been each year since. Upon my first visit, when it was hosted at Olympia, I found it to be a daunting experience with very little understanding of what it was except “just another trade show’. By my second visit, I had entered the world of Twitter and had formed links with teachers and technologists alike. What a pleasure it was then to arrive on Friday evening to the #BettArena and meet up with fellow professionals, some known to me and some new. This time, however, was somewhat different. This time, I felt that I was ready to sign up to present at the Teach Meet event (#TMBETT2014) on Friday night.

Having bagged a ticket back in November and having never presented at any Teach Meet before, I thought why not? However, as the day approached, I found the nerves creeping in. What a comfort it was then to see smiling faces including @dawnhallybone, @andreacarr1, @dughall, @joga5,  @tonyparkin, @bevevans22, @nightzookeeper and @sarah_wright1 in the arena, wishing me well and calming my nerves.

The scariest thing about #TMBETT14 was not that it was hosted in the London Excel Centre (@excellondon). Not the fact that 650 tickets had been sold and @MrMichaelShaw from #TES handing out T-shirts saying ‘The largest TeachMeet in the world’! Not even the fact that I would be using technology, which could go wrong at any point. Nope, the scariest thing was that my presentation was about real children and the real learning that takes place in my classroom as part of each individual’s life journey.

* Would I do the children justice by sharing their achievements (thoroughly safe-guarded of course)?

* Would I be able to give @classdojo the credit they deserved for their wonderful behaviour management tool?

* Would the audience members find any of it useful and take it back to their own schools to share with colleagues and children alike?

All of these questions raced through my head as I nervously waited to see if my name would be called through the random selection process as created by @russeltarr through @classtools.

Fabulous presentations came from @stevebunce, telling us that Thomas was alone and @ideas_factory who asked us to be the purple cow. After 2 hours of presentations, 8:30pm ticked by and my nerves had died right down. By this point, I had given up on my name being called and was composing my graceful tweet of disappointment, whilst telling myself that there was always next year. It was a surprise then when co-host @iusher was calling my name. As the big screen had temporally stopped working, I was dazed by the sound of my name being called and uncertain if it was even the right ‘Catherine’ that he was calling. Phone in hand and notes left behind on my seat, I made my way to the front where the stage was, where I confirmed that it was indeed going to be my turn.

Waiting at the side of the stage with @katerussel, who was co-hosting  the event, I began to compose myself and collect my thoughts. After an interesting presentation from @oliverquinlan, I stood up to the podium with no notes, a phone with no battery and a lot of faces staring at me, awaiting my first sentence. It was reassuring to see smiles round the room, people nodding along and it was here that I felt proud to share the work of the children back home in Bradford. My presentation was about phonics called ‘Loving the Alien’ and with the tagline, ‘How to Make the Y1 Phonics Screening Check More …Errr… Human!’ The link can be found HERE.

#TMBETT14 Blog image LTA

It was only after stepping off the stage (and leaving my phone on it) that I truly then calmed down. Lovely comments came flooding in via Twitter on my Nexus from many people who congratulated me on no longer being a ‘Teach Meet Presentation Virgin‘ and I even got to meet some of my ‘Twitter Heroes’ @ICTmagic and @triches.

What was really lovely, was the subsequent messages I had from teachers who have already shared with their staff in their schools. One practitioner told me how her school use Class Dojo all the time but she never thought of linking it to phonics and was going to do so from now on!
I guess I can address my concerns about it being useful then?

My third and final concern about giving the credit to Class Dojo was relieved when they also tweeted;

tweet classdojo

All in all, a wonderful event and special thank should go to @digitalmaverick and everyone who organised everything.

Finally, I am already looking forward to the next Teach Meet, wherever that may be and #BETT15 but for now and in the words of a well known song, keep ‘Loving the Alien‘!  

Categories: About me, Education and learning, Technology, Travels, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

2014 – Time for a Change

Happy New Year to one and all. It really does not seem a whole year since I was writing my new year post for 2013 – How time flies!
As we enter 2014, people across the land will no doubt be making resolutions to change old habits, seeking new experiences or trying to make a difference. My personal resolution is to write a blog post at least once a month but time will tell.

Talking about change, yesterday I had my hair cut and coloured for the first time in a long while and I do genuinely feel happier. How is it that a new look or change of image can improve one’s self esteem and confidence? And yet it is only my own physical appearance that has changed. Perhaps it is like wearing a mask, whereby if people don’t know it’s me, it’s alright to make mistakes or have an opinion.

This got me thinking about how, as teachers, we often ‘don’ a mask and take on the role of Mr or Ms So and So. It would be impossible to stay 100% alert and maintain the high levels of energy outside of school hours spent with children and so it seems inevitable that I am destined to living the life of a chameleon!
What about the children and their self esteem and confidence? I doubt a hair cut will solely help develop these crucial life skills and it is this thought that inspires me to play my role in the life of a young person, knowing that 100% effort is worth it for that very reason.

So what else might this year be like?
Well the most recent news is all about the stormy weather and climate change (there’s that word again).
No doubt the next 12 months will have its up and downs for everyone. It is during the high tides and rough seas that family and friends truly play a part. I have come to appreciate this so much more throughout 2013 and hope to give more back this year.

Considering family and friends, the 21st December 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie disaster. No doubt a time of reflection for many and a time to hold the family and friends of the victims in mind. I had the privilege of visiting the Lockerbie memorial last week as part of a mini break to the Scottish borders. This is one part of history that cannot be changed but it did make me thankful for the gifts of love and forgiveness I do have from those closest to me.

On the subject of Scotland, the mini break I mentioned was my first ever visit over the border! Isn’t it funny how such beauty and hospitality can be found without having to travel thousands of miles to find it? I have been guilty in the past of jetting off to Canada and the USA without realising what’s in my own back yard. That said, I hope 2014 will rack up some miles and with a trip to Cologne, Germany in May, I am sure I will manage it.

I hope to cross borders of my own this year in whatever form they may come and perhaps it’s about a change of mind-set rather than anything drastic. Perhaps, it’s a change of routine, eating more, sleeping more and driving less. Maybe, just maybe, it’s about facing up to problems and tackling them head on instead of running away but most of all I sense my theme for 2014 is…CHANGE!

Does change mean improvement? I doubt that very much as change can be a bad thing but by using what’s gone before, learning from mistakes and tackling problems head on, I hope 2014 will be a success!

I leave you with a well known catchphrase that undoubtedly seems to sum things up;

“And now for something completely different!”
John Cleese, Monty Python

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Inspiring a Future Generation

As half term draws to a close, I find myself once again in London having had a lovely break.

The holiday has given me chance to reflect on recent trips to the capital over the last few weeks:

What can I take back to the classroom?
What can I take forward into my career?
What does it all mean anyway?



The end of January led me to Google Campus to attend a Start Up weekend with its focus on education (#SwLondonEdu). This was hosted by @nightzookeeper and sponsored by the likes of OCR, Technology Strategy Board, Macmillan and many others. Click here to read all about it.

The general idea was that educators, developers, coders and business minds would come together to form teams and embark on a grueling 54 hour task of attempting to create a ‘start up’ business idea for use in education. I teamed up with @ideasfactory @kateho, Matt, @brynll and @buzzburman to try to create a phonics app aimed across all key stages and appeal to older children. By Sunday evening, myself and Julian (@ideasfactory) were ready to pitch @Robophon to the judges and potential investors.

I personally had chosen to attend the event to be involved in the process of working on something that might benefit children in schools in the future and to meet other people trying to do the same. See this great post from Julian S Wood which explains more:

The event was won by @mrlockyer‘s @useedu the ‘one stop inspiration station’ and it was nice to see @chrismayoh‘s team as runners up with @wordwarsedu – more at

The event ran smoothly with thanks to many people including @oliverquinlan @clogish and @EddStockwell. Special thanks go to mentors who took the time to support our group, @BuzzBurman @Bartoneducation @jodielopez @dick_taylor and the quality feedback from @DeputyMitchell and @joga5.


I learned that people have fantastic ideas but without an audience and team to move the idea forwards, that’s all it is, an idea.
So perhaps then, it is a vision rather than an idea that can make a difference to the children of today who become the adults of the future.

This idea of trying to make a difference is at the front of my mind daily. By definition of being a teacher, this seems to be ‘stating the obvious’ but the world of education is changing constantly with influences from areas of politics, technological advances and society to name a few.

* What if I am part of inspiring a future world leader, doctor or scientist by being their influence at 5 years old?
* What can I learn from the children I work with?
* How can I facilitate learning and encourage ambition?

Now would seem an appropriate time to think of my own ‘heroes’ past and present.

* My Year 3 teacher Mr Tandy for making learning fun. Please look at my previous post ‘The Greatest Teacher?’ for my personal thoughts on this.
* My current principal for believing in me and giving me a chance to work in a challenging school with huge rewards when you see the impact school can have.
* My family for supporting me with my decisions and being there when things don’t quite work out.

This past year since using Twitter as a tool for CPD, I have uncovered a wealth of ‘heroes’ who are fellow people with the same passion and goal to inspire the future generation.

BETT 2013

bett 13

After a 4 hour drive from Bradford to London I caught the end of arguably the biggest ‘Teach Meet’ ever at #TMBETT13. The @excellondon was a great venue and it was lovely to meet some of the most inspiring educators all within the same room. Some I had met before at #CampEd12, the London Festival of Education, #bMobLe and others I know solely through conversations on Twitter. The list included:
@helendaykin @susanbanister @dughall @penny_patterson @stevebunce @morethanmaths @joga5 @bellaale @dawnhallybone @johnbishop713
Each individual has a passion for inspiring children and trying to make that difference in their own inimitable ways.

One such example of this came from Stephen Lockyer (@mrlockyer) and Ben Waldram (@MrWaldram) who promoted the idea of #BATTT (Bring a Teacher to Twitter). I have a separate post on this HERE.

My personal highlights from the #BETT13 event itself came from @timrylands whose #backtotheirfuture talk was inspirational and useful in that he revealed a whole host of free resources for use in school!

Who said BETT was just a trade show?

(Read Bryn Llewellyn’s post for reflections about this.)

Another highlight was finding new resources for use with children, including:

* Teach Your Monster To Read website for free games (@monsterscanread)
* Zondle for choosing or creating quizzes which can then be played though a variety of games platforms. (@zondle)
* Frog (@frogtrade)
* iamlearning (@I_AM_LEARNING)


All in all, I have found these events thought provoking, informative and challenging. I have come away having learnt something new whilst at the same time I have questioned and reviewed various things about my own practice and CPD.

* How can I use resources more creatively?
* Are there other ways to get the boys in my class to write beyond what they are currently doing?
* What other ways can I share and collaborate ideas and tools?

However, despite all this, the key message I will take forwards with me is…

Be inspired today and you will inspire the future.

Categories: About me, Education and learning, Travels, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Year?

Piec (5)
Cztery (4)
Trzy (3)
Dwa (2)
Jeden (1)

SZCZESLIWEGO NOWEGO ROKU! (…or Happy New Year as I would usually say.)

This is how my new year 2013 began in the main square in Krakow, Poland. Having begun 2012 in London, I had thought I would like to experience New Year’s Eve in not just another country but another time zone. As Midnight approached, the locals drank champagne and then set off fireworks from the bottle before smashing it on the ground in celebration. Oh and did I mention that there was absolutely no sign of the ‘Health and Safety Police’? Fabulous!

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Standing amidst the anticipation and excitement in sub-zero temperatures, I wondered what 2013 may hold for me. Naturally, there are certainties such as my 27th birthday in April, the F1 season starting again in March and the ‘dreaded OfSTED call’ at some point in the near future. However, what about dreams? What about aspirations? Can I really make a difference…make a change?

Having enjoyed exploring the city of Krakow over the weekend, New Year’s Eve had in fact been a day of reflection, contemplation and soul searching. It began with an hour bus ride to Oswiecim where the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau are situated. Greeted by the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (labour makes (you) free), I felt a shiver down my spine and could not even begin to empathise with the sheer horror and torture that 1.3 million people experienced here in the 1940’s. To think that a group of men could have treated fellow human beings in such an inhumane manner is both disgusting and despicable.

I read the information boards about the gassing and shootings of men, women and children and had a chilling sensation that matched that of the freezing cold temperature. I was surprised to learn that it was not just Jews but Gypsies and even Poles too who had suffered at Auschwitz and various other infamous camps across Europe.

* Was it better to have been killed instantly or being deemed ‘the fittest’ by the German Doctor on site, meaning a life of grueling work every day until your imminent death through poor living conditions, dangerous working environments or the horrendous temperatures? All this in addition to learning of your own family’s death and the grief of this.
* How can any ‘human’ do this to another?
* What hope did those children have?

It was here that I reflected on my own life and the times we live in on the eve of the New Year.
Although I have dreams of travelling, working abroad and settling down later on in life, this experience was a stark reminder of how lucky I am.

Whenever things seem stressful, at least I have a warm home, hearty meals to devour and love and support of family and friends. Being a teacher means that even work is rewarding and perhaps, just maybe, I can make a significant difference to someone’s life.

I hope that I can make a difference in 2013 and perhaps even a change in my own approach and direction but what is certain is that we should all pay heed to a well known quote;

“The one who does not remember history, is bound to live through it again.”
George Santayana

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