Moving to Remote Working

I have a new-found respect for my ancient laptop, having just moved to home working as part of efforts to limit the transmission of COVID-19.

I work in the Education team at The Bodleian, the library of the University of Oxford. We work with visiting schools, teaching about the collections and exhibitions. Like many organisations, in response to government guidance the library has closed to visitors (although online services remain available) and all staff who can have moved to remote home working.

Much of my last day at work was spent preparing for this. With a background in school teaching, I had not had much experience of this (schools generally like you to be with the pupils you’re teaching) but I brought my chunky laptop to work to set it up.

There are a plethora of tools to assist remote working, but the team chose to use those most readily available. To some extent this was determined by those acceptable for use within the university, but that did have the advantage of support from the ICT services team. I think this is an important point. There is almost too much advice on what tools to use, with plenty of opinion on which are the best. What matters, particularly when quick set up is needed, is those which are available and for which you have good support. So while the options we chose – MS Teams – was good for a team used to using Outlook and Microsoft Office applications, for a group used to using, say, Google applications it would be better to choose tools which integrated with that suite.

Old but still got it!

Given the age of my Toshiba 660 laptop, it’s obsolete operating system, limited RAM, and hard drive already bursting at the seams, I approached setting up with some trepidation, concerned that it would no longer be supported, or might just fall over under the strain! In the end I need not have worried. For the record (and to make me seem much more tech-savvy than I actually am) the process involved:

  • Installing Cisco AnyConnect Client (fortunately there was one available for Windows 7)
  • Connecting to a VPN
  • Mapping network drives I would need to access
  • Connecting using the appropriate security credentials
  • Downloading and installing Microsoft Teams and linking with the relevant work teams

That went very well at work. Admittedly, at one point I began to doubt that I knew how to spell my own name, let alone All the passwords I had to juggle (no, DON’T use just one!) and I did have to make one call to a very calm and collected IT services engineer (thank you) but generally it was much more straightforward than I had feared.

A pity, then, that when I got home nothing worked! I remapped the drives on the advice of colleagues who had similar problems, but it turned out to be an issue with the VPN pathway. When I sorted that it all came to life. Well, apart from having to reinstall the MS Teams app the first time I tried to use it. After that it worked like a dream; admittedly a slightly flaky dream where things judder a bit occasionally and there’s a slight delay in most actions, but things worked acceptably.

I didn’t find the MS Teams layout particularly intuitive at first, but once I got the hang of it, everything seemed to do what it was meant to, so we’re happily messaging and even doing video team meetings (sorry about the neon running top colleagues). I like the way it integrates with other MS features like outlook calendars, contacts and OneDrive.

I have to say though, what I’m most pleased about is the performance of my nine year old laptop, on its second battery, with it’s ten year old operating system and Office 2007 applications. It makes you wonder whether the shiny new hardware and expensive upgrades that are pushed at us are really worth it. A bit like me, there may be newer, slimmer models available, but there’s life in the old dog yet!

Things to look forward to in the 2019 Autumn Term

What happened to the Summer holiday? Half way through the first INSET day of the year, it may have already retreated to the distant recesses of your memory. Don’t despair; there is plenty to look forward to in the 2019 Autumn Term.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. Summer isn’t over! We’ll still have a few weeks of warmer days and longer evenings, so make the most of them before the nights draw in. British Summer Time ends when the clocks go back on 27th October.
  2. It’s a new school year! Remember when you were at school and got new exercise books? We wrote our names on the cover and opened the first new blank page full of possibilities. Your pupils will have that same feeling; how will you help them capture it and achieve great things? You can make their school year a great one!
  3. Take time to connect with nature. Look out for the signs that summer is turning into autumn. Which plants are coming into bloom now, rather than in spring or summer? Which fruits are ripening, which leaves are changing colour first? Which animals do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike.
  4. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning is now a fundraising fixture in many schools. Something to do with the cake perhaps? This year it’s on 27th September. You can sign up and get more information and a fundraising kit here: World’s Biggest Coffee Morning 2019
  5. In the UK, October is Black History Month, which honours and celebrates the contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society. You can find out more and order a school resource pack from blackhistorymonth.org. There are also regional listings so you can look for events local to you.
  6. There are plenty of other key dates, holidays and festivals to mark during the Autumn term. The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana is on 30th September and Yom Kippur falls on 9th October. Diwali (Deepwali), the Hindu, Sikh and Jain Festival of Lights, is on 27th October. Halloween (or All Hallows’ Eve) is on 31st October, preceding the Christian feasts of All Saints’ Day the next day and All Souls’ Day on 2nd November. This year, Remembrance Sunday is on 10th November and many schools will mark Armistice Day at 11am on the Monday. Scotland celebrates St Andrew’s Day on Saturday 30th November, with the bank holiday in Scotland on Monday 2nd December. The first Sunday of Advent is shortly after on 1st December, bringing us to the lead-up to Christmas. Hanukkah begins on the 23rd of December and ends on the 30th.
  7. There are many National and international Awareness events that schools may wish to get involved with in the Autumn term. As well as being Black History Month, October is also the month of the annual Big Draw with artistic event taking place around the country. Get set for a busy day on Monday 7th October which is Jeans for Genes Day, National Poetry Day, AND World Smile Day! Many schools will be fundraising for the annual BBC Children in Need appeal, which this year is on Friday 18th November, and will be getting involved with Anti-Bullying Week, 11-15th November. The theme this year is ‘Change Starts With Us’. You can get more information and resources from the Anti-bullying Alliance.
  8. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, what better way to celebrate than bonfires and fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night, 5th November? Gunpowder, treason and, with any luck, toffee apples. Worth a reminder about firework safety.
  9. Some of the best bits of school happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it: if I were you, I’d check your Christmas jumper for moth holes and start planning the school Nativity Play now.
  10. At the end of this term, the Christmas holiday and New Year!

So, what are you looking forward to this Autumn term? Are there any dates I’ve missed out? Why not share with a comment?

Looking for some more inspiration for assemblies? Have a look at these educational quotes for Monday morning motivation.

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

Getting the measure of snow

“Snow provokes responses that reach right back into childhood.” Andy Goldsworthy

The origin of this post was a staffroom conversation about childhood memories of snowfall. I wondered why there isn’t a scale to measure the severity of snowfall in the way that, for example, the Beaufort Scale measures windy weather.

A little bit of research (a couple of minutes on google) revealed that there isn’t an established measure of snowfall. The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale is used in the USA to measure snowstorms on a 1-5 scale, much in the same way as storms and hurricanes, but it measures the impact after the event, and is designed for far more serious weather events than we normally experience in the UK. Weather forecasters do of course, comment on the depth of snow, but that quantitative measure can’t fully describe the experience of snow; the excitement that can be generated its mere prospect, whether the type of snow will bring trains to a halt, or, crucially in the world of education, whether there will be a snow day.

So here then, I present the Experiential Snow Scale, covering the full range of snow events, from the briefest of flakes upwards. Comments and suggestions for improvement welcome.

1. Disillusioning Snow. Is it? Yes it is! There are definite snowflakes, but even as you rush excitedly outside, they melt away as if they were never there.

2. Light Dusting. Like icing sugar on top of a Victoria sponge cake, just enough snow to make the world look a little bit prettier.

3. Snowball. Enough snow to make snowballs that hold onto their structural integrity in flight and create a satisfying ‘whump’ as they disintegrate on contact with their target.

4. Snow Angel. Enough snow covering the ground that you can lie down in it and make a discernible snow angel.

5. Snowman. Enough snow to build a snowman over 4 feet tall, sporting a carrot nose and your choice of accessories.

6. Snow Day. With school buses cancelled, roads and paths blocked, and staff unable to to get into work, a snow day is declared. Columnists writing from home in their pyjamas call it a disgrace and claim that billions will be lost from the national economy.

7. Igloo. OK, so not an actual one cut from blocks of ice, but enough snow to build a dome large enough to house at least a small child drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows.

8. Where’s my car?

9. Where’s my house?

10. Penguin Ramp. David Attenborough narrates as a film crew digs a ramp to help the penguins to get out.

I hope that made you smile, but If you’re faced with the more serious business of school planning for extreme weather, you may want to read my post on severe weather planning in schools.