The Power of Community
During the pandemic, I noticed many groups spring up on social media, in which people helped and supported each other in their industries and lives. It was the power of community and voice. This echoed for me, as an educator, I am a member of many communities. One of which I will focus on in this article is Computing at School (CAS). This community has been around for many years. In this blog, I will discuss, the power of this community as part of teacher professional development.
Back in 2013 I was Head of a Computing department in a secondary school. National changes to the teaching of my subject area were going to be introduced a year later. With a major change in content, from teaching ICT to Computer Science. This involved new concepts and topics being taught. I wanted to know all about this curriculum, what it looked like, what practical steps I could take to develop myself and staff to teach what was required. Then by chance, having conducted several online searches, I came across an organisation called Computing at School (CAS) – https://www.computingatschool.org.uk/ This was a grassroots organisation of teachers, industry professionals, academics and many interested in Computing education.
Forming a community
This group worked on the basis of local communities of people getting together and sharing their practice, the idea really appealed to me. There were no communities locally, so I volunteered to lead a community three times per year and to invite other teachers locally to join me to network, share experiences and look at how we approached the curriculum. This was a resounding success. Others were interested. I had set up the first CAS Sunbury Secondary Community. This was the power of voices in action.
Developing a sense of community
I then left teaching in 2016 and found myself in a role for CAS covering the Southwest of England, setting up similar communities and invigorating the region. This involved bringing teachers together at conferences, encouraging others to share their experiences and supporting others to develop their careers. A particular favourite of mine at conferences was the “Bring and Share session”, where others were encouraged to share from their practice. This was met with great enthusiasm, it motivated people, others were curious, some got their first taste of speaking in front of a big audience, others just came to listen. It was the power of the voice in action – enabling other voices to speak, some of those voices have since said that due to those experiences they have gone on to develop their own careers in a variety of ways such as applying for other positions, writing books and much more.
In 2016, another opportunity presented itself to me, I was asked to author a book aimed at new entrants into the teaching profession. My publisher set a word count of around 30,000 words. I had agreed to this and then went home and had a panic. Could I actually do that? What did I have to say? Once I spoke with my inner self and started writing, I then realised I had a lot to say and write, the final edit was closer to fifty five thousand words. I was proud.
When my book was published, I did a book launch. It was not well attended. BUT! Fast forward to 2019 and I was speaking at an event, a gentleman approached me at the end and said, I heard you were speaking here and wanted to attend, to see you and to say thank you. What did he wish to thank me for? Well he had attended my book launch and he said it had inspired him. As a result of my book launch, he had changed career and went into teaching. He wanted to see me to say thank you. This really touched me. He then left. I have never seen him again. I am grateful that he took the time to do that, for me, I realised that my Tiny Voice had inspired others. The impact is not always immediately obvious. Hopefully, he is progressing in his teaching career and inspiring generations of young people. What I took from this, is that when a tiny voice speaks, it reverberates far and wide!
Let me take you back to 2018, I have an interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it is shaping our lives. By a chance encounter in Cyberspace, I met an employee from NVIDIA and through conversations we realised we both had an interest in seeing an AI curriculum available for schools. I had the experience of being a teacher and being able to craft a curriculum and to know what was engaging in the classroom. He had AI knowledge. Together we taught each other what was required to bring an AI curriculum to life. Out of this the AIinSchools curriculum was born, offering a free AI curriculum to teachers worldwide. This then led to me speaking on stage at BETT – the world’s leading education show – and being featured in the NVIDIA press and other press outlets. This was my tiny voice benefiting others.
The House of Lords
Following on from this, a few other things happened that I could not have envisaged, I then ended up giving evidence at an All Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence – this was one of my proudest career moments. Little did I realise that I was the first speaker up. I handled this well and fielded questions afterward. The man I had met previously from NVIDIA, attended to sit in the audience to give me a thumbs up. From that moment, I then found myself in collaboration with Big Innovation Centre setting up an AI competition for school children to envision their future with AI, and then being part of a judging panel and dinner guest at a House of Lords event. Really proud moments. My voice had spoken, others were listening and being impacted positively.
Wait – there is more!
The story did not end there! I was then invited to a round table held by the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Artificial Intelligence to share thoughts with others on Artificial Intelligence. It was a proud moment for me networking with others and sitting in the Royal Society offices in London.
My experiences and network continued to grow, my work was recognised, and I was introduced to the University of Oregon and after several meetings and discussions, I produced a K-12 curriculum on Artificial Intelligence that was sponsored by NVIDIA for “Exploring Computer Science (ECS) programme”.
ECS is a K-12/University national program, with a commitment to democratise computer science, it is a high school intro-level computer science curriculum and teacher professional development program that focuses on broadening participation in computing in the United States of America (USA). This curriculum has a reach of over 55,000 pupils in the USA and many beyond that. I had gained international experience. But I had not truly appreciated the impact.
It was in a meeting about two years later, when I was introduced as the only person who had ever managed to say to ECS – “there is a gap in the Exploring Computer Science curriculum, and I am able to fill that gap and here is the material to fill that gap”. Many others had looked at the existing material and were critical or said there were gaps but did not take up the offer to supply a usable product to the university to fill the gap. Little me with my “tiny voice” had done that. I had done it quietly and internationally without realising. Thousands worldwide were being helped in understanding AI through the material that I had written.
I hope this article serves as inspiration for you. Please do feel to share this link across social media. If you would like to commission me to write an article for you please get in touch via the contact form on this website.
My social media handle is @MsBClarke