Rise to the Surface


It was always going to be a challenge to distribute 100 Surface Pro 4s to 100 teachers and expect them to be able to use them.  Made harder when you are opening a new school next September with staff who work in four different schools until then.  Few teacher training days, few directed hours, few options.

If the bacon sandwiches weren’t enough to convince 50 staff they had made the right decision to volunteer a whole Saturday in the holidays, then soon after our 8:30 start the Rock Star Microsoft trainer Jennifer King @JKESEdu, and the Ultra-Energetic Surface expert George Isherwood convinced them. Being around people who are passionate about what they do is a real privilege, and our training day proved just that. Jen and George oozed passion, and knowledge, and patience, and joy, and all-American verve.

George walked us through the Surface Pro 4, the tablet that really can replace your laptop. He showed us the power of the pen and people started to get excited. Who could have predicted the gasps of delight as teachers smiled for Windows Hello for the first time? Who could have predicted the grins as teachers yanked away their keyboards. Who could have thought that teachers deserved this 21st Century device. Well, we do, and I love that feeling it gives you, that you have actually been invested in rather than just provided for.

OneNote is exciting to me. That sounds sad if you take it on face value, but its not about the product. Its about seeing the power it gives to teachers to organise, collaborate, distribute and develop resources. The power it can give to our students as well as our teachers. That’s what I find exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better trainer than Jen, because what she communicated to our staff was not only how she loved the tool, but how the tool empowered her to transform her teaching, and how it promoted learning and skills in her students. Great teachers love to learn from a great teacher who obviously puts students first.

I knew that learning OneNote and the Surface would be a challenge, but as a full time geek and edutech fan its not always obvious what the challenges are.  Yes, there was the technical challenge of preparing a new domain and tenant and not least 50 Surfaces for the day. The ICT Team at Neath Port Talbot Schools and Learning rose to this challenge with as much passion and gusto as we could ever have hoped for. And then the technical challenge of making those Surface devices ‘user-ready’, for which I roped in my technician, head of ICT and some dedicated pupil digital ambassadors. These challenges were ones I had control over.

OneNote 2016, OneNote app, OneNote Online, Office 365, Groups, the cloud, syncing. Terms that I might use every day in MIE Expert conversation.  To a teacher in the cloud for the first time they are challenging and confusing concepts. I am proud that we were able to lay bare these difficulties, and support one another in a journey to understanding them. If we are to make the most of these tools as educators, then we need to understand more than just where to click. Once we understand the cloud we begin to realise how it can transform our approach to planning, reduce our workload and enhance teaching and learning.

Asking staff to volunteer their time on a National Rugby weekend was always going to be difficult. I know that sometimes I get the work-life balance thing wrong myself and I didn’t want staff to feel pressured into attending. I didn’t want staff to feel like we were setting a precedent by holding unpaid activities on a Saturday.  I didn’t want those that couldn’t make it to feel like they were missing out. But what we achieved on the day was worthwhile. We invested in ourselves. We invested in each other. We invested in the future, and it was worth it.

Now we have the challenge of taking our experience from the day and ensuring the rest of our staff and pupils get the best quality training we can deliver. We might not have the Jen and George show (I will be inviting them back!), but now we have 50 staff full of excitement, and skills, and knowledge; staff full of passion about what they do as teachers and the beginnings of understanding of how the Surface and OneNote can help them, which they can share with the rest of the team. By working as a team, as well as syncing, we’ll all rise to the Surface.

Thanks to @nathancumpstone for this video record of the day.