2020 – What a year!

2020, who’d have thought it hey? Looking back, it’s been a pretty rough year for everyone. We lost loved ones, we’ve practically been forced to lock ourselves up at home and our mental health and wellbeing collectively have definitely taken a knock. 

It was especially hard for me. I lost a lot of friends and loved ones. I wasn’t able to meet with friends and family for the best part of the year. I’ve always thrived off in-person conferences and making real life connections that have gone on to blossom into some of my closest friendships. We lost all those opportunities in 2020. I also missed out on the opportunity to go to Anaheim and present at ISTE, which was a huge disappointment, especially after winning the People’s Choice ballot! And to top it all off, I spent the last quarter of the year battling a long term illness.

But COVID-19 aside, I look back at the year that’s been and I can’t help but celebrate some truly wonderful things that have happened that might not have if 2020 had just been another year we were used to. 

There’s a meme that I saw a few months ago that said, “Who’s been responsible for your organisation’s digital transformation?”

a) CTO
b) CEO
c) COVID-19

I think most organisations (especially schools) will agree that COVID-19 was the primary factor in forcing organisations to embrace digital (and sometimes much more productive and efficient) ways of working. For someone who has championed digital transformation for many years, it’s been great to see the leaps we have taken in embracing these digital tools. I think we’ll all agree that we just wish that it could have been under better circumstances. 

In my last post after I was awarded the title of EduFuturists Network Manager of the Year, I thanked just some of the connections that I made both in person and online, that helped me to achieve such accolades. That theme definitely continued through 2020 and I don’t know how I would have got through some of the rough moments without those connections and wonderful friendships. I have to thank every leader in Global GEG! What we have achieved this year since its inception in May has been nothing short of phenomenal! We reached and helped to inspire tens of thousands of educators worldwide. None of this would have been possible without the unbelievably hard work and support of the Global GEG Team. Every one of them has put in so much time and effort, for which I and the other founding members are truly grateful.

To the founding members, you guys are some of the most awesome human beings I know. Thanks to your amazing kindness, I now sit here writing this in my brand new “#ITjustworks Headquarters!”.

On the subject of #ITjustworks, my Google Certified Innovator project. I launched my project in July and was able to reach more than 2,000 people worldwide. Far more than I could have in person. So, that’s one example where the move to virtual events certainly benefited me! Once again, it was thanks to the team at Global GEG, as well as the kind sponsors, who made this amazing event possible! 

I also want to thank the amazing team at Google for Education and Canopy, especially Dan Stratford and Andy Caffrey for the opportunity to be a coach at the first ever virtual innovator academy, #VIA20. It was an honour to be the coach of my lovely team, #TeamCarnivals! You are all superstars and I am so excited to see your projects grow in 2021!

A special thank you to May Jue from the Google for Education team, for being a huge support with everything GEG related, for being a support behind the scenes and also taking the Google Certified Trainer program to the next level with some great benefits for trainers!

To Daren, Ben, Wendy and Toby, for supporting everything GEG UK related! You guys have done a great job with “Nice & Slow” and “Short and SUITE”.

And finally, of course, to my wonderful family, without whom, none of this would be possible!

I know there are tons more people to thank and I could go on forever, but know that I am immensely grateful to everyone who has supported me this year!

2020 certainly didn’t go the way we imagined this time last year. But, without 2020, some of the things and the connections and friendships that we now cherish the most might not have been made either!

Here’s hoping for a return to some of our fond normalities in 2021, but also to reaching new heights to make it the best year ever! Fingers crossed I’ll finally make it to the USA for #ISTE21 in San Antonio! 

Edufuturists Network Manager of the Year

2020, what a year! Now as soon as you say that, everyone thinks covid-19 and all the doom and gloom 2020 has turned out to be. And you’d be right. It has been a horrible year. Most of us have been locked away at home. So of us have fallen ill, some of us have lost friends and family. 2020 has been the same for me. I’ve lost friends and family, my plans got shelved, work has been challenging, my trip to the USA and meeting my friends got cancelled. It’s been a tough year indeed!

However, I can’t deny that 2020 has been somewhat good to me in different ways. It started for me as epically as 2019 ended. January saw me go to my 15th Bett Show. I met more of my PLN than ever before. I presented for Google and for Bett. I also got to attend my first ever #GoogleEI Energiser #LON20, giving me the chance to meet so many of my awesome global PLN.

February saw me being named in the #EdTech50 “Ones to Note” which was a true honour being recognised alongside some amazing educators doing such awesome and inspirational things in the world of EdTech.

Then in March, COVID-19 hit most of the world and things started to go just a little bit pear shaped. But, after beginning to settle into what became the new normal, together with my wonderful global friends, we went on to spark some truly wonderful things that might not have flourished had covid-19 not happened. It’s hard to find positives from a global pandemic, but Global GEG really has become a shining light in these dark times. It’s enabled me to meet more and more amazing educators and allowed me to grow my PLN even wider as well as help me to continue my professional growth in a time where I initially thought my growth would be heavily stifled.

And so, we come to July and the present day. I have to start by thanking everyone who voted for me, and to the Edufuturists team and judges for recognising me as the Edufuturists Network Manager of the Year for 2020. 

It is a huge honour to have been recognised, especially on what was the anniversary of the #LON19 Google Certified Innovator academy, which helped to begin this whole journey! I have to thank Andy Caffrey and the rest of the Canopy and Google for Education team for giving me that opportunity which has really changed my trajectory over the last year and given me some truly amazing opportunities, connections and friendships worldwide!

It was those friendships that helped to lay the foundations of, and blossom Global GEG into something really special. I have to thank the one who has become my partner in crime, Stephanie Howell as well as the rest of the Global GEG founding team of Stephanie Rothstein, Luis Pertuz, Bonnie Chelette, and our favourite Vegemite loving Aussie, Lesleigh Altmann.

Another Aussie who I have to shout out is Rachel Coathup who has quite literally been one of my biggest supporters over the last year! I also have to shout out the rest of my truly wonderful #AWE20, #LON19 and #GlobalGEG family, who continue to support and inspire me every single day! 

A huge thank you has to go out to my line manager and CEO of Leading Learning Trust, Emma Nicholls for taking a huge risk and letting me run free with an idea to transform the way we deliver digital learning experiences to our children. I’d like to think it worked out quite well! 

I want to recognise the other nominees, George, Dave and Dan. Dan has become a good friend and fellow leader of Global GEG. I’m certain this very award will be his in the future. Most importantly, I need to give a mention to Dave Leonard. I couldn’t have been happier for the award to go to a better person last year. I am honoured that we got the chance to meet and spend an amazing 3 days together at #LON19 and made a superb friend for life. 

Of course, the final and most important thank you goes to my beautiful family and my amazing wife, who put up with a lot of my crazy ramblings. None of this would be possible without their love and support and I know they too are looking forward to the fun and exciting journey ahead!

There are so many more people who I need to thank, but I could be here forever if I start to mention everyone! All I will say, is that my PLN is truly awesome. You all inspire me to keep on doing what I do every single day!

So yeah, 2020. It’s been unprecedented, challenging and interesting. But there’s been some really special moments that I’ve been able to share with some very special people. The future is most definitely bright and we will all come out even better and stronger from this!

How did I get into IT?

This post wasn’t planned at all! I was browsing EduGeek this morning and saw this thread asking forum members to share how they got into IT. I started replying on the thread, but as it became more of a tale, I thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to update my blog and hopefully inspire a new generation of IT professional! So, here we go!

I remember my first experience using a computer was when I was in Year 5 in a school in Leicester back in 1992. We were the only class in the whole school that had a computer in the room. It was an Acorn Computer. We were all fascinated by this device that was something amazing that no one in the whole school (or outside of school!) had access to except for us. We would all be given 30 minutes “play time” to use the computer. At that age, I had a huge interest in art and drawing cartoons. We’d been working on an art project and when it came to my time to “play” on the computer, I launched the Acorn version of Paint and then began to draw out my art project on the computer. Suffice to say, I fell in love with computers at this point and my teacher was so impressed with what I’d done, that I got more and more opportunities to use the computer to exploit my “talent”. From that moment onward, I knew that I wanted to work with computers and IT.

We moved and settled back in London in the  summer of 1992 and a year later I started at secondary school. I had a huge interest in IT by now and ended up taking IT at GCSE, then at college and then chose Computer Science at uni. I had a mixed experience with my degree. Most of our lecturers were terrible and utterly demotivating! I did enjoy the programming modules and I was actually very good at them. But, I HATED the networking modules! I remember I would vividly say, “I will do something in IT when I leave, but the one thing I definitely will NOT do, is networking!” What was I to know eh?!

One day in my final year of uni in 2004, my friends and I were having lunch in the canteen, when a lady came over to us and said, “Would you guys be interested in coming to a 1 hour session this afternoon and help us with a research project? All we need you to do is answer questions on why you feel there are so few Asian people in teaching.” We looked at her and promptly told her that we were not interested. She then said “I forgot to mention, we pay you £10 for attending!” Suffice to say, we ran to the session!

The session was actually very interesting. At the end, true to their word, we were given a crisp £10 note. As we were leaving they asked us if we’d be interested in spending 10 days at a school observing lesson as part of a programme called the “Student Associate Scheme”. Before we could have a chance to waver at the fact of having to spend 10 days in a school, we were told that we’d get paid £40/day. It was the easiest £400 we’d make in our lives! 

At the end of the 10 days, we’d go for a 1 hour evaluation session to share what we learnt and got a cheque (remember those?!) for £400. As I was leaving the evaluation, the tutor said “I have some money left in the budget, would you like to do another 5 days?” My eyes lit up at the £200 and I snapped it up.

On my penultimate day at the school, I bumped into the Head Teacher. I spoke to her and told her that I was a final year uni student. I didn’t have a PGCE or anything, but I knew a thing or two about computers. Would she happen to have any summer work for me whilst I looked for a job post uni-life. She introduced me to the Business Manager, who introduced me to the Network Manager. I sat with him in his office whilst he awkwardly didn’t really know what to ask me. I then asked him what he was doing and he was struggling to deploy an MSI to a remote PC. I showed him how MSI parameters worked and he said, you’ve got the summer job!

The summer job turned out to be a two week network overhaul project involving the decommissioning of the RM CC2.4 network and the implementation of a new vanilla Windows Server 2003 network with Windows XP clients. The school had called in a now defunct small company to carry out the implementation in full. I shadowed the lead engineer like a leech and watched his every single move like a hawk! At the end of the two weeks, the Network Manager told the Business Manager that he’d like me to stay till the end of the summer holidays to ensure a smooth completion of the project. Come September 2004, things were still a bit shaky with the usual new network teething problems and so the Business Manager asked if I would still carry on until the end of September. I had nowhere else to go, so of course I did. 

The previous Network Technician who was term time only, returned in September. She told me that she was due to start the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and become an IT teacher at the school. It turned out that there was a chance that she wasn’t going to get accepted because she didn’t have a grade C in GCSE Maths. I went to see the Assistant Head and asked her if the technician didn’t get accepted into the GTP, could I do it instead, as I had a grade B in GCSE Maths. She said she’ll look into it and let me know. A few days later she told me that the technician had managed to do a GCSE Maths equivalent course and passed and so there wouldn’t be a position for me in the GTP. I asked her if the technician was leaving the IT Technician role, could I apply for that?

That afternoon, an internal vacancy went up for the role of Network Technician. I applied, a couple of days later, I had probably the most “non-interview” in the world and I was given the job as I pretty much knew the network setup like the back of my hand!

What started off as a two week contract for some work in the summer, turned into a ten year stay at the school, with some very valuable experiences of highs, mighty lows, but some very valuable learning experiences. So yeah, that’s how I ended up getting into IT!

If I had to sum it all up as the “moral of the story”, I’d say… Be passionate about what you love and grab any opportunity that comes your way. You never know where it will take you! Be patient, keep working hard and success will come. It may take some time, but you will reap the rewards in the future!

And to think, I was so close to becoming a teacher! 😂

2019 – A very brief review…

So, as we come to the end of the 2010 decade, I’ve been told by several very close and special friends that I really need to put my thoughts down in a blog! It is something that I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while, but I’ve never actually been able to commit to doing it. 

In fact, I’ve never looked at my past experiences and journey as something that could inspire anyone. If anything, I used to look at my journey with regret, that I had stayed in a place that I was so miserable for 10 years and that I hadn’t pushed myself to what I could be capable of. People around me have always told me that I need to get off my butt and push myself as I’m not gonna get anywhere being the IT geek in a school. No one cares about that. So, I felt embarrassed to tell anyone about my journey. I didn’t feel it was a story worth telling. If anything, it was a story of failures and sheer damn luck in most cases. Definitely a case of faking it and hoping to make it. But then events in 2019 taught me how failure was nothing to be ashamed of and to actually celebrate those failures. Seeing as 2019 has been the year that inspired all of this, it seems the right place to begin.

Looking back at the start of 2019, things were definitely looking up. For the first time in my career, I was in a good place. I was flying high at work. I’d just led my Multi Academy Trust, through a rigorous digital transformation programme centred around Google’s G Suite for Education. It had gone rather well. The continued opportunity I had working closely with the Google for Education team and their respective partners had given me an energy boost that I had been craving for a long time. I had made some very good friends and very useful connections in the EdTech industry. I was happy. That’s definitely not something I could have said earlier on in the decade. 

January has always been a very exciting month in EdTech. Most people are coming back to school refreshed and relaxed after a pleasant winter break with the family. New Year’s resolutions are set in and people are raring to go. The reason I find January so exciting, is because of the Bett Show. I’ve been going to the Bett Show for 14 years. 2020 will mark my 15th year at the show. It’s weird to think that that makes me a veteran of the show. Even most of the shows organisers haven’t been there for that long. It only feels like yesterday I was attending my first show at London’s Olympia. I’m immensely grateful for my experiences at the Bett Show. I have said time and time again that I am where I am because of the invaluable connections and networking opportunities I have had at the show. It’s those opportunities that have enabled me to be who I am today and where I am today. For that I am eternally grateful.

It was at 2019’s show that Dean Stokes (Google for Education’s Adoption Lead for EMEA) pushed me to apply for the Google Certified Innovator program. Considering I wasn’t even Google Certified in any way whatsoever, that was going to be a tall ask. But he gave me the push that I needed. I soon got myself in to gear, got over some very big examination nerves and got both Google Certified Educator level 1 and 2 out of the way by March, giving me just under a month to get my innovator application in. All this was happening whilst I got promoted to IT Director! You’d think that was the pinnacle for how awesome 2019 was going to be. But no, it was only April and the awesomeness hadn’t even started yet!

Just the process of actually doing the innovator application, was so huge for me. Getting over the imposter syndrome of whether I was actually good enough to apply in the first place. But apply I did. Successful I was. What proceeded over the months of May and June leading to the actual academy in July was the beginning of a truly life changing experience! From the outside, you think it’s just another three day professional development course. That is so far from the reality! Forget everything you actually learn. Just the connections and relationships you make becoming a part of the #GoogleEI family are life changing. 

The academy came and went like a blur in July, giving me three of my most amazing days of my personal and professional career. But it’s those 40 odd people you share the experience with who go on to become some of your closest and most cherished friends. And that’s all before you come back to reality and then connect with the wider #GoogleEI community and find just how awesome the rest of the 2200 innovators are!

Post academy, my outlook on life completely changed. It opened my eyes to the world and just how small and local my thinking really was. Prior to the academy, I only really connected with people from around London and sparsely from the rest of the UK. Now, I connect daily with some truly amazing people from around the world. The months of August to December have whizzed by like mere weeks. Every day that has gone by since has been truly amazing. I’ve never felt so energised in my career to go out into the big wide world and inspire people and make a real change that can impact children’s lives for the better. 

I’ve got so much more to say and so many people to thank for making 2019 my best year ever. I could list them all here, but that wouldn’t be doing them any justice at all. So, in my next post, I’ll definitely be going in to greater detail as to who these people are and why they are so awesome!