There’s an app for that!

Apps for this and apps for that are becoming a way of life now. Whenever I hear the phrase, ‘There’s an app for that!’ I think of the cartoon by Gisli Gudjonsson on the passing of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, in 2011.

I’ve found myself saying similar after learning about Scannable by Evernote.  It has been a life changing wee addition to my home screen.

iOS only at the moment – the Android version is on its way – this app allows you to create fast, high quality PDFs from your phone or iPad without clogging up your camera roll. In an education environment this is an extremely handy app to have available.

It is ready to scan as soon as you open it. The app happily scans any document (including pages from bound books) you choose for it.   It’s fast! The speed it will record is only limited by the speed with which you can turn a page.  You simply send your new electronic doc (however many pages in length this might be) via email, messages, airdrop, or iCloud drive and, of course, straight to Evernote. You don’t need to be an Evernote user to have this app.

Uses for teachers are endless – all those paper documents created in a distant past can easily be transformed into sharable electronic versions,  and no need to lug that book to the photocopier just to scan that one pertinent extract for your teaching programme.

Some girls in my classes have downloaded it and are able to move paper handouts to electronic storage if it suits them better, or quickly scan
missed classwork from classmates … and so on.

And it is free.  Completely free.

(This entry first appeared on


Hurtling along now!

A permanent gig in a new school was what the new year brought me. And the additional challenge of teaching International Baccalaureate. So, if the title of my blog (On Ramp) came from a phrase to describe women returning to full time paid employment after having children, six months later we are well and truly racing along the motorway.

I haven’t posted as much as I meant to – best laid plans and all that – but, like you all, I’ve been busy.

Summer was spent reading blogs, and two were particularly impressive. Aimee Sibson’s and the incredible Unseen Flirtation blog. Recommend the first to all who work in GAFE schools … she blogs brilliantly about what is tried and tested, not what might be, and I love that. And Unseen Flirtations is for all English teachers. The man is very generous and creative. Get to his page and have a good look around. Especially read about his alter-ego Poetry Man. Oh how lucky his students must be!

I wonder how many teacher blog accounts there are in the world that lie dormant after just a few entries. As mine has.

So what held me back? Reading and listening to the constant and generous stream of others from around NZ and the world. Not to mention the daily PD that came from chatting with colleagues face to face.

Time to work towards regular blogs (oh you amazing 28 days of writing peeps! In awe of you!) which reflect specifically on my classroom practices.

The return to the classroom is helter skelter! I’m enjoying the ride!!


Taking Pause

That was a big ten weeks. It seemed to go well. The classes seem like ‘mine’ now.

And it is the holidays. I have an open fire roaring, talk of snow coming, a bottle of cider open and a wee pile of marking nagging away at my conscience.

So, what did I take in over these past ten weeks? After stepping out of the classroom for two years, the very two years that technology really swept our classrooms, and ten years out of the state system, I returned to find everything in really bloody good shape. And collaboration between teachers within the department, within my school and around the country and the world is key.

Resourcing isn’t equal, not even between state schools. Potentially not even between teachers within the same school where trial BYOD classes are happening. And right now, in terms of technology, and as an LTR seeking a permanent home, I have less that my lesson planning ambitions would desire. Yet, I also have more than enough.

One term back in, after a break from a career that held all but senior management positions – deaning, Hod-ing, NZQA contracting – I remain freaking excited about focusing fully on the practice of a classroom teacher. I want to master it.

Some months ago I snuck myself into an eLearning conference at St Margerets’s College here in Christchurch. There I saw @mattynicholl present on filming and flipping his lessons. I can’t quote him verbatim (since I wasn’t teaching at the time and wouldn’t for more than a year later it was a little like reading a great book on learning the guitar, without a guitar), he said, ‘Don’t wait u till you think you are good at it to start. Or you never will.’

Once I made my strategic decision to take on a mid-year maternity leave position and get back in the classroom the words, when it came to trying new things other than my 18 year old skill set (some pedagogy of which still works as brilliantly now as it did in 1996) spurred me on.

I took up the whiteboard pen again at the start of last term. Ahead of that I attended the English Conference while sitting on the bed at home, cup of tea in hand, my own children feral around the place but knowing not to disturb me. In reality, it probably wasn’t pedagogy that I took from watching those Twitter streams, but more an understanding of how valuable a PLN is in teaching anywhere in the world in 2014 regardless of resourcing. In fact, I built my PLN over those few days as I was welcomed to the conversation by dozens of impressive Kiwi educators.

So what do I have? I have a laptop. Issued. I have an iPhone and iPad and Kindle. Self-funded. I have 31 desks (and in most classes every one is use), a whiteboard and a data projector. There is a COW with bookable laptops of variable reliability and computer suites around the school which are also book able. By bookable, you needed to have started there before I did as the bookings are spoken for terms in advance.

The staff I work with are fabulous, innovative and grateful for this much resourcing. Teaching as inquiry and technology is valued at the school and while there is a sense that we don’t have it all yet, even as an LTR covering maternity leave perched in a department I may not ultimately stay with long term, there is a strong sense that the school is marching, sensibly and methodically towards it.

Undoubtedly, my decision to hit the ‘on ramp’ has been a rewarding one.


Up for Air, briefly

I’ve just completed my ninth teaching day in my new job. As it has been two years and two terms since my last teaching gig, I have felt every hour of it.

The first nervous drive to work, the fretting about where I might sit in the staff room (I’m kidding, I’m not that shy) and all the energy that went into those first few moments with each of my five new classes has certainly sorted out much of the insomnia I have been experiencing since the Canterbury quakes began.

But it’s soooooooo much fun. My colleagues couldn’t be more welcoming, or witty, and the students have impressed with how readily they smile and their care for success. As with any new role, I’m seeing ideas and strategies and innovations and ways of doing things in the school that are refreshing and exciting.

So far what I have been delivering has been bread and butter stuff. The key goal was to get to know the students and where they are as individual learners (haven’t even scratched the surface) and aim to reach the end of the year with success. The names! All those Ellas and Bellas and Jaimes and James.

There is a degree of scrambling in lesson delivery; there are wide reading, connections across texts and other threads to try and grab tidily and we are hurtling towards school exams in Week 5. I’m still a way from finding my educator stride.

All told though the on ramp has been smooth enough till now. And the sleep is delicious.

Heading back in!

I qualified as a teacher in December 1995.

Since then I have been a dean, an assistant HOD, an HOD, a teacher-librarian, an NZQA contractor, NZQA marker, exam centre manager,  a school communications manager, a report proofer, prize giving organiser, and lived in a boarding house with 65 extra sons.  I have also become a mum.

What I have NOT been is a fully focused full time classroom teacher. Since 1995, I have been distracted, stretched or spread too thin by the wonderful opportunities listed above. For the past ten years I have not taught in a full time capacity and for the past two I have not been in a classroom at all.

So I am going back to teaching and nothing else.  To attempt to become the best classroom practitioner I can be.  Beginning on Monday.

As I make my way back to the ‘coal face’ in a school which is completely new to me, I will be lugging with me all that experience, life and professional, and filtering it to see what is useful and what applies. Exciting times. I hope to be both realistic in the face of this challenge, and positive in attitude.

And in addition to the old toolbox, dusted off and ready to go (I hope), I am arming myself with all of the delicious pedagogy discussed and shared online from all corners of the world.  Throughout my absence from the classroom, and from my part time role still within a school, I have tried very hard to keep across developments in education in New Zealand. There is some seriously impressive stuff happening!

What I can’t prepare for is how I will be received.  Their teacher was beloved. And bubbly, I’m told. (Bubbly I am not. Prickly might be closer to the first impression I give!)  They may well push back against the change, and against my brand of enthusiasm. And what I cannot quantify is the impact this will have on my family – my children are now 10 and 13, and they have not seen me give full noise to my career – or the workload of an English teacher in 2014.

Another aspect is that I am moving from a heavily traditional independent school back to a dynamic and diverse large state school similar to the one in which I began my career.  The opportunity for comparison and judgment will be impossible to dodge. Starting with an open mind, the intention is to reflect honestly on what I see.

Goal 1: The students first. Their teacher is changing mid-year. Not unexpected (she is having baby) but not ideal. Get their measure, understand their needs, deliver some quality lessons and get us all to the end of term 4 with success.

Goal 2: Establish myself within the department and school. Sharing with and learning from my new colleagues as I ‘on ramp’.

Goal 3: Leap in to all of the new channels for professional development. Listen. Share. Learn. Resurrect my recently latent expertise, and study and research what applies now.

Goal 4: Digital organisation. (I’m an Evernote fangirl and have been for a long time)

Here goes …..



Twitter: @jacqchch