#EmpoweredDigitalLeaders – Empowering Others and Promoting Important Causes

Week 3 of the Empowered Digital Leaders course focused on Empowering Others and Promoting Important Causes. I am continuing to work through the course materials whilst reflecting on the last week in school where I worked with different classes to brainstorm ideas for their digital portfolios (see last blog post). The children had so many different things they were passionate about changing. It was inspiring to hear their views. Using a cooperative learning approach, the learners discussed their passions in small groups, taking turns to ask each other challenge questions to support deeper thinking. Having just recently returned to full-time face-to-face teaching (during a pandemic) after months of online learning, this activity really made me reflect on how lucky I am to be in this job. I can’t wait to see what these children do, what they create, what they share.

My class are currently reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and, this week, they spent time thinking about, and explaining, their own personal precepts. Some found this concept quite challenging and needed quite a bit of support, choosing a precept from a given list and writing about why they chose that one. Others reflected on a quote / phrase that their parents and other family members say to them. Many wrote their quote in their home language and the explanation in English. This was a really valuable, yet somewhat unexpected, community building lesson. Learners shared that they valued looking for the positives in any situation, others shared their motivations for working hard related to their career aspirations. Discussing the novel, we’ve been talking about empathy and the importance of seeing things from a different perspective. This activity gave us an insight into what other people value.

Slacktivism vs Activism

Jenn (@JCasaTodd) shared this blog post on the difference between activism and slacktivism, along with a helpful lesson plan for us to use in our own settings. In R.E. (religious education) this week, my class were researching organisations that are helping to prevent suffering around the world. They have chosen different charities, mainly, and have created posters or presentations to share their learning. The idea of activism / slacktivism should spark an interesting discussion in class and bridge the link between their digital portfolios and their R.E. learning. Unsurprisingly, the children continue to express their distress regarding the George Floyd murder and their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. BlackoutTuesday is a relevant example which I expect will draw out some thought-provoking discussion.

Critical Literacy

Jenn defined critical literacy as “being critically aware of the biases and assumptions that texts make”. She stated that this takes regular practise and we need to teach our students this skill, as well as sharing this helpful graphic for questions we should ask ourselves when we encounter a media text:

Various resources were shared, including a link to this Edutopia article with a focus on younger children. I think this is an increasingly important lesson for us to teach learners as it is very easy to publish something online. They need to learn how to recognise credible sources and critically question what they are consuming.

Curricular Opportunities

Lastly, course participants were encouraged to consider this question:

“How might students empower, celebrate or advocate for others within your teaching and learning?”

We added ideas to a shared doc and offered suggestions to each other. It’s great to be part of a cohort of educators around the world supporting people we haven’t met before! There are lots of things that I’d now like to try out. Personally, I think this also links into digital portfolios as I’m really passionate about these being an authentic tool to support learning. I work in a Catholic school, with links to our local nursing home, Cathedral homelessness project, and wider charity fundraising. I’m also a big advocate for pupil voice. I think linking these areas together to spark class discussions will be one of the biggest impacts of my undertaking this course.

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you have any thoughts on this. I’d love to hear them!

If you’d like to be notified of new blog posts, click follow at the bottom of the page, or follow me on Twitter (@ClareAnnePirie).

#EmpoweredDigitalLeaders – Learning and Sharing Learning

Week 2 of the Empowered Digital Leaders course focused on learning and sharing learning.

Connecting with Experts

First we considered the role of experts in supporting learning and how we could connect our students with experts by using technology. I reflected on my time teaching P1 (4-5 year olds) about Island Life using Katie Morag by Mairi Hedderwick as a stimulus. I was looking into skype chats with his old primary school but the timings didn’t work out. By chance, there was a teacher in the school who had just moved over from a similar, small, Scottish Island so she came in and spoke to the kids, showing photos of her previous school. The kids loved it and it was such a great experience (albeit not virtual but I think it would have been just as powerful virtually). My colleagues made use of Skype for Education to connect with scientists during remote teaching to enhance learning about Natural Disasters. Not sure who enjoyed it more, the teachers or the learners!

One of the course facilitators, Adam Hill (@AdamHillEDU) shared his experience of connecting with experts in a wide range of fields to support his learners’ Genius Hour projects. Through his class Twitter account, he shared a collaborative doc listing all the projects and was able to find experts from around the world. I’ve shared my class’ work related to a class novel on Twitter and the kids were so excited when the author replied and retweeted it. I like the idea of the open doc to facilitate mentoring but would doubt my social media reach. I imagine I’d be pleasantly surprised if even just the school account and council (district) retweeted it. Something to consider as I’d really like to try Genius Hour, this year.

The Media Triangle

In November 2019, Stanford University published their findings that 96% of High Schoolers couldn’t tell what was a credible source, emphasizing the need for teaching digital literacy. Stanford, 2019 

This is an increasingly important area to learn about in upper primary as more and more children are engaging with social media accounts. During remote learning, we included some lessons around fake news and used the BBC Bitesize resource as a support: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/zjykkmn and https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/articles/z63wwty 

Jenn (@JCasaTodd) introduced us to the media triangle where we consider media in three ways:

– Media Text – when engaging with a media text, it is important to consider the decisions made by the creator. The media text will be developed through the lens of the creator. I really like the idea that by creating their own media texts, our learners will better understand that decisions were made in the creation of media texts they are consuming. We should also remember that all media has a value message. When you create something, you value it, it’s important to you. Therefore, when we consume media, the text speaks to the value of the person who created it.

– Audience – we need to be mindful that everyone interprets media messages based on their own experiences, and sometimes their own biases.

– Production – It is also important to consider the platform chosen as it is usually selected to match what the creator is trying to achieve in a media text, eg. tik tok is different from youtube is different from a blog post. We need to teach children the difference. At this point, we could also teach the monetary implications of social media, such as Youtube, as well as what Clickbait is.

Class Social Media Accounts

The last learning topic, this week, focused on the use of class social media accounts. The discussion amongst other course participants was really interesting for this topic as everyone has quite different experiences. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I think it’s important to be clear of the purpose of an account and the learners could be involved in making this decision. Do you want to connect with authors, other classes, parents? Once the purpose is clear, this should inform which platform is used. How will you find out where most of your parents / community are? Lots of educators are using Twitter, but are parents? During the course, Jenn raised the point that whilst our learners might not be using Twitter, for example, that could work to our advantage. Teaching about social media use on a platform that they are not immediately comfortable with, could allow rich discussion about the purpose and use of other social media that they are comfortable with. Digital citizenship lessons could involve the learners co-creating guiding principles for responsible use, not just acceptable use. Teaching learners the different value of likes and comments is so important and I like the idea of using Twitter as a teaching tool for that. 

There were interesting suggestions for how the learners could have ownership over posting to the account, something I am mindful of as I also think that teacher time is a barrier to class social media use. Someone suggested a PR committee, responsible for creating the posts which the teacher then shares to the account. This would also create accountability for the teacher to keep the account up-to-date!

Lastly, Jenn shared a fabulous resource for creating authentic digital portfolios, The Whole Child, Whole Story, Daniel Whitt (@WhittMister), Mollie Bounds (@MollieBounds), and Natalia Dooley (@dooley_natalia). This year, I am fortunate to have a day out of my own class each week where I am providing digital skills cover to other classes across the school. This week, I used these resources to encourage the children to really think about their own identity as we plan for their digital portfolios. The children are so excited to get going with these are really enjoyed considering their interests and who their potential audience might be. I wasn’t sure which platform to use as we use Google across the school, but I liked the idea of learners commenting on each others’ portfolios if they were on something like WordPress. I’ve decided to stick with Google Sites and will ask the learners to post a link to our Google Classroom whenever they update their site. This way their classmates can comment on the Google Classroom post and teachers are able to support learners in their digital skills as well as their constructive commenting skills!

Looking forward to seeing what the next week brings. If you’d like to be notified when I share another blog post, please follow me on Twitter, @ClareAnnePirie.

#EmpoweredDigitalLeaders – Digital Leadership

A few weeks ago, I signed up for the Empowered Digital Leaders course led by Adam Hill (@AdamHillEDU) and Jennifer Casa-Todd (@JCasaTodd). It’s a 4 week course focusing on Digital Leadership and how we can prepare our students for the world of social media.

I’m playing catch up a bit. I started the school holidays doing lots of professional reading and attending a few webinars, so by the time this course started, I found that I needed a bit of a break. I’ve just attended the synchronous session at the end of week 2 but this blog post will reflect on the week 1 materials which all relate to Digital Leadership.

Prior to starting the course, we were encouraged to consider why so few teachers utilise social media within their classes. The use of Class Twitter accounts has been encouraged recently in Aberdeen by the Council. I’ve had interesting conversations with colleagues about the purpose of this. Is it to share successes? Is it to make connections with other schools? Is it to promote our school or our Council?

Personally, I think there are two main reasons why teachers (and, by extension, schools) are hesitant to use social media – privacy concerns and time. Despite having collected permissions from parents, there are always those who are not allowed to be photographed and, in large schools especially, it can simply be easier to not share photographs of children. There is also the time commitment required to maintain these accounts. On the face of it, it might not seem like it takes much time to post a quick photograph to Twitter, however there is more to it. If you are sharing things widely, you want to ensure it is representative of the whole class and not just the same few learners. You need to consider how anything you post will be interpreted by parents, learners, and the wider school community. I think there is still a lot of anxiety around that.

As this blog post is already becoming quite long, I will summarise my key learning points from this week, rather than addressing each topic in detail:

Defining digital leadership – I was pleased to hear George Couros being referenced on this course as I have read his books and followed his blog for a while now. He defines digital leadership as “using the vast reach of technology, especially the use of social media, to improve the lives, wellbeing, and circumstances of others”. The inclusion of social media here is interesting to me as I am the Digital Coordinator of my school but I hadn’t considered the social media element as inherent to my role, focussing more on how we can utilise digital tools to enhance learning. This may be because I am in a primary setting, but the children are using these platforms whether they are of age or not! That’s not to say that we haven’t done any work around the use of social media, I just hadn’t considered it’s role in this way before.

Social media for educators – I use a variety of platforms for different reasons, I use Twitter professionally, Instagram and Facebook privately, and a professional blog… tentatively! I also have a Youtube account that was set up specifically for remote teaching but the videos were kept private. I’d be interested to discuss social media use with my colleagues when we return to school as everyone seems to use it differently… which then feeds into how (or if!) we teach it.

Authentic audience and awareness – This section made me think about what George Couros wrote about student blogging giving a purpose to their writing. In my own experience (and I believe research has shown) that student writing is better when they are writing for an audience. This is something I’d like to explore when we return. We are looking at how learners can have more ownership of their own learning and blogging (or learner journeys) could help with that. This activity also made me think back to the start of the Education Scotland Teacher Leadership Programme (@EdScotPLL) which had a large blogging element to the course. At the first workshop, we did an exercise where we considered different types of comments and actually wrote them out then discussed what made them successful. It was hugely worthwhile and I couldn’t help thinking about how valuable the activity would be for children. (The need for it was further emphasised when we moved to remote teaching and the children experienced Google Classroom streams for the first time!!) The point about quality of audience was also raised in our synchronous session. Many focus on the number of views and likes instead of the comments and the connection-building. We need to model and teach this.

Student Digital Role Models – Another excellent lesson idea was shared, where Jenn (@JCasaTodd) gave her learners a set of student social media accounts and encouraged them to consider what these students were using their profiles for then compare them to the sorts of accounts they were following. I can’t wait to try this with my own class! During remote teaching, I taught a set of lessons on digital habits and was surprised by how many children chose to interview older siblings for our interview task. These student role models are so important.

If you are still reading this, thank you for making it this far! Summarising this has made me realise how much there has been to consider in just one week of this course. I will continue to work through the course materials and hopefully be able to engage more with the other course participants. Attending the synchronous session was great because it just shows that teachers around the globe have many shared experiences and we can learn a lot from each other. I’m looking forward to the next session!

TLP Update – April 2020

My enquiry has been on my mind since I last wrote, but I didn’t realise it had been quite so long. Since my last post, I made a few changes to the initial enquiry plan. Due to time pressures, I had to get the children working in groups for their writing (using the Storyline Approach) before I had taught any initial team-building lessons or other strategies that make the cooperative learning approach unique. I decided to run with these unstructured writing groups for a few weeks then introduce different cooperative learning groups for the Games Con project, where I did teach these strategies, then compare the results (through surveying the children on a Google Form).

In February, I welcomed a student teacher into my class. As a third year, she had a set amount of required teaching time to complete, which impacted on the time available for cooperative group-work led by me. I completed a few cooperative group lessons, initially focusing on team-building and the five pillars of cooperative learning, but then moving into using these groups and strategies to teach our I.D.L lessons. This is an approach that my student teacher observed and utilised in her own teaching. The children were aware these groups would be the ones they would be in to design and code games for Games Con. They also worked in these groups to code programmable robots, something that was observed and commended during a school QA visit.

However, on the 20th March, all Scottish schools closed their doors as part of measures to control the spread of the Coronavirus. We are now teaching our classes online using Google Classroom and meeting virtually, twice daily, using Google Meet. Group work isn’t quite as straight-forward as it previously was!

Prior to closing, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue the enquiry as planned so I had the children complete a survey (the same one they completed prior to being put in cooperative groups) to allow me to compare their feelings towards working together.

I am currently reviewing the data from both surveys as well as my own observations and will share the results in a separate post. Due to the main part of the enquiry being cut short, I don’t feel like there has been enough teaching of the cooperative learning strategies to have created much of a shift in the children’s ability to work with others. I do think it would be possible for me to hold small group conversations with children using Google Meet to ask them for their views, out with the confines of a structured survey.

Adapted from a blog post, first published: 10th April 2020. Available at: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/mrsclarepirie/2020/04/10/enquiry-update-april-2020/

TLP Enquiry – First Draft

I was recently asked to speak to current Aberdeen City probationers about my experience of practitioner enquiry. I spoke about my PGDE enquiry and my own probationer PEAR project, as well as telling them about my initial plans for this enquiry. I was very nervous before presenting but received positive feedback and I’m proud I did something outside my comfort zone.

Charlaine Simpson, from the GTCS, was also speaking at that event and her presentation was really interesting for me as I reflected on my TLP enquiry plans. She shared this process wheel which has helped me to think about the steps involved in practitioner enquiry:


At the SCEL TLP recall event next week, we will have time to discuss our enquiry questions and plans but we’ve been asked to post a first draft prior to the event. I have shared my plan below, using Canva.

FOCUS: Cooperative Learning and Coding

QUESTION: To what extent does the use of cooperative learning groups for a coding project impact social skills in a P6 class?

Adapted from a blog post, first published: 3rd January 2020. Available at: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/mrsclarepirie/2020/01/03/myenquiryplanfirstdraft/

What is already known?

I’ve decided to introduce cooperative learning groups to my P6 class as the focus for my practitioner enquiry. Many of the other areas I discussed in my previous post are things I wanted to make changes to this term, rather than waiting until January after the recall date.

Having attended cooperative learning training during my probationer year, last year, I used some of the strategies with my P2 class, but didn’t set up formal groups or fully embed its use properly. I feel this would benefit my current P6 class but haven’t yet set up groups. As I’m also passionate about the use of digital technology in the classroom, I was excited to learn that the Aberdeenshire Council GamesCon festival had been extended to all Northern Alliance P6 and P7s. This requires children to work in groups to design a game using Scratch. I intend to introduce cooperative learning groups which the children will eventually work in to enter the Games Con competition.

My hope is that the formal groups and structured sessions will allow some of the more academically able children to develop their social emotional skills, particularly in mixed ability groups. One of the five basic elements of cooperative learning is positive interdependence. Johnson and Johnson (2017) defines this as students believing “that they are linked with others in a way that one cannot succeed unless the other members of the group succeed (and vice versa), that is, they “sink or swim together.” I’d like to focus on this particular area to see if this helps in other areas of the curriculum (and the general health and wellbeing of the class!).

There is a lot of research into cooperative learning, this is just two pieces that I have read recently:

JOHNSON, D. W., and JOHNSON,  R. T., (2017) ‘Cooperative Learning’  Innovacion Educacion, Available at: https://2017.congresoinnovacion.educa.aragon.es/documents/48/David_Johnson.pdf (Accessed: 8 December 2019).

Johnson and Johnson have done a lot of research into cooperative learning and, in this 2017 piece, they summarise their own research and developments from others in the field of education. This is a helpful summary and reminder of what I learned on the training course, last year. I found the part where they state that “student-student interaction may be structured in school classes: competitively, individualistically, and cooperatively” struck a chord with me in my current class. Some of the children can be unkind (perhaps without meaning to be) in how they talk about their achievements in front of others. A recent pair work task showed that some of the children were proud that they’d managed to complete the task (building a gingerbread house!) on their own, missing the point a bit! Perhaps the mix of competitve, individual, and cooperative tasks needs to be more explicitly explained so the children better understand what is being asked of them in each lesson.

POPA, C. and POP, M. (2019) ‘Cooperative Learning – Applications for Children from Primary School’, Journal Plus Education / Educatia Plus, 22(1), pp. 78–87. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eue&AN=137392983&site=ehost-live&scope=site (Accessed: 8 December 2019).

This journal article details research in Romania which found that teaching 4th grade children using cooperative learning strategies reduced their dependence on teachers, developing their own independence and ability to work together in groups to find solutions rather than seeking out help from their teacher. We often speak in P6 about developing the children’s independence as we prepare for moving to secondary school. As a result, this could also benefit my class.

There are two P6 classes at my school and I work closely with my stage partner. I will be introducing Games Con to the other P6 class as well. It may be an interesting comparison for me to use cooperative learning strategies with my own class, but not structure it in the same way with the other class and see if that has any effect, how to measure that is a different blog post entirely!

First published: 8th December 2019. Available at: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/mrsclarepirie/2019/12/08/what-is-already-known/

Possible Enquiry Areas

Still early in my teaching career, I haven’t yet narrowed down to particular areas of interest but seem to be enthusiastic about too many things! I struggled to decide on a focus area for my probationer practitioner enquiry and seem to be repeating myself with the TLP. Something I find difficult is honing in on who the enquiry should be for. Is it for me to develop as a professional? Is it for the specific learners in my class? Or is it something that could potentially have a whole school application? I often get carried away trying to achieve the latter.

In order to try and narrow things down, I’ve tried to summarise my thinking below:

Social Emotional Learning / Health and Wellbeing

I’d like to do some sort of enquiry based in Health and Wellbeing or Social Emotional Learning, but I’m not sure what yet. Here are some thoughts:

  • Cooperative learning groups – Having attended the Cooperative Learning training last year, I implemented some of the whole-class strategies with my P2s. I’d like to take this on fully by embedding these strategies, as well as specific groups, in P6. I’m interested to see the impact this has on the children’s social skills, ability to work with those outwith their friendship groups, and their resilience in every day lessons.
  • Morning Greetings – I’ve already implemented this but could do more qualitative research on the children’s perspectives, etc.
  • Impact of Emotional Check Ins – I experienced this on placement where the class teacher followed the Jenny Mosley Circle Time approach, also utilising Bubble Time as a way of developing relationships with the children and ensuring they feel safe. This is something I plan on introducing anyway so my question is really whether to focus my enquiry on it.
  • “Feeling diaries” – this was something I heard about at the Portobello Learning Festival where a teacher shared some of the strategies she had used to build kindness in her classroom. The children spent a few minutes each morning writing how they were feeling and why. I introduced it with my P2s last year and noticed a huge difference in my understanding of how the children were feeling, their behaviours and the impact this had on their learning – I wonder whether it will be beneficial in P6.

Digital Technology / Leadership of Learning / Pupil Voice

During my probation year, I was involved in a number of activities to boost the digital teaching and learning in the school, which I would like to continue this year. Some ideas for enquiry related to digital technologies:

  • Pupil Voice – I have regularly utilised digital technology to collect the children’s views on learning and classroom culture. I’d like to look into different ways of doing this and seeing what impact it has on the children’s attainment and ownership over their learning. Could be linked to learning journeys??
  • Student Blogging (linked to Learning Journeys?) – since reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, I’ve really wanted to try out student blogging. My class previously haven’t had a lot of technology time so I’d like to tap into their enthusiasm for it, possibly to develop their writing. I could start them off blogging with different prompts – there are some great ideas on this blog post. 
  • TextHelp Read&Write – I have introduced this for the children who struggle with spelling as well as the children who struggle to focus – could look into the impact of this.
  • Coding / Computing Science – this is something that I am championing in school, but if I could show a cross-curricular benefit to other teachers it might help with the case for fitting it into an already packed week – I could use weekly lessons to develop computational thinking skills and see if there is any impact in “core” lessons??
  • Parental Engagement – this could be very broad, looking at how digital tools improve whole school parental engagement, which I’ve had a few interesting conversations with my HT about, or could be more specific to EAL parents.
  • This year, I am running the Digital Leaders with a colleague, and am starting a junior STEM club. It’d be interesting to look into the impact on these children of being in these groups.


Both my enquiry during the PGDE and the practitioner enquiry completed during my probation year were focused on assessment strategies within writing, both within Early (into First) Level.

Since starting this year in P6, there are so many things that are different from my last year in P2, but the amount of marking came as a shock. I’d like to build on what I learned in my previous two enquiries by looking into assessment of writing within Second Level. I have seen a lot on Twitter about the benefits of Whole Class Feedback and would like to try this out in my own class. This term, weekly writing lessons were self assessed, peer assessed, and teacher assessed using a Success Criteria grid which was traffic-lighted. Each piece then had 2 stars and a wish written by me. This is in line with my stage partner’s approach. If this was chosen as an enquiry, I could look to rotate groups each week and introduce one-to-one conferencing (like I did in P2), gradually moving to Whole Class Feedback. I’d need to read more about this, but I’d like to look into the benefits to the children’s learning compared with teacher time spent writing in jotters.

Adapted from a blog post, first published: 21st October 2019. Available at: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/mrsclarepirie/2019/10/21/exploring-my-itch/

What does Teacher Leadership mean to me?

Teacher leadership, for me, is about taking responsibility for my own professional learning  and reflecting on how I can improve my practice. It involves researching and implementing ideas, and evaluating their impact. It will help me to develop the confidence, early in my teaching career, to make changes in my classroom to impact on my learners. I hope to be able to share what I learn through the TLP with my colleagues in working groups and other informal discussions with colleagues. I hope to explore areas of my practice that I could potentially take to Masters level study.

(Reflections and photo from the SCEL TLP Launch Event at the University of Aberdeen, August 2019).

First published: 26th August 2019. Available at: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/mrsclarepirie/2019/08/26/what-teacher-leadership-means-to-me/

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started