Being the best that we can be!

Being a human being… And a human doing!

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I guess things have been busy and I’ve enjoyed being busy. However, the past few days have highlighted, perhaps reiterated more so, the influence we have as teachers on our kids. More so, the influence we all have on one another.

Be a Rockstar!

Trust is a big thing in any classroom, or environment, where ‘stuff needs to get done’! And believe, that the kids in your care will believe you and trust you, regardless of what you say. Why? Because of the high regard they hold you in.

We have a great buddies program at school, that I’ve mentioned before, where our Year 5 kids spend time with their Year 1 buddies, sharing stories, mini projects etc. Following on from our visit downstairs to their classroom, the kids come back buzzing. More so than most other activities and events that go on throughout the year. Why? Because of that fuzzy feeling they get when their buddy smiles at them, clinched to them, wishing for them not to go because of how much they adore them. “Your a Rockstar!” I tell them. To their buddy, they are the coolest person in the school bar none. The trust is well and truly there. In an international school where children come from all backgrounds and upbringings, it really is something special to behold.


What spurred these thoughts on recently are a result of our Morality lessons which focus on 4 core values (pillars), one of which focuses on ‘The Community’. What I liked about these lessons, have been the emphasis on respect, empathy, tolerance and compassion. We also read about influential people like Dr. Martin Luther King JR and Rosa Parks who all faced adversity throughout their lives. Stories that we all know too well.


The activity was simple. Using coloured stickers the children were given a colour, which was unknown to them, placed on their forehead. Some blue, some green, some yellow and one child red and one child purple. When the children were asked, they got into groups that were similar to them and no one else. They were also allowed to do as they pleased for the proceeding 3-4 minutes. Anyone not in a group (Red and Purple) had to isolate themselves from the groups and stand at the side at opposite ends of the room. Now, the children isolated had no idea what colour they were but soon figured they were different and didn’t have anyone to hang out with. The facial expressions and body language here are always remarkable. For the most part, the groups of children chatted and played about, not really taking into consideration anyone else. Towards the end of the allocated time two children, at different times, came to me and asked if they could join the two excluded kids. To which I shrugged my shoulders and so they took the initiative and did so.

The reaction of the two excluded kids was just incredible. The girl that approached the excluded girl, gave a hug and dragged her (who didn’t put up any resistance) into her group. The boy that approached the excluded boy, just chatted and shortly after, some of the other kids came over to include themselves in the discussion. It became one of those lessons where you didn’t have to do anything, explain anything, or hit home any message, as the kids just got it. They could relate to it instantly and afterwards applied it to their own day to day school life. It was one of those moments where you as a teacher sit back and just watch the pennies drop around you.

Post lesson, it’s one of those that you share with your peers as the feel good factor is something you want others around you to be a part of, but it’s something you really just need to see for yourself. I’m sure you probably have, or have done something similar. It just highlighted for me, as a teacher and as a role model for these kids, the impact I have on their lives. My treatment and expectations of them is consistent and communicated clearly. Why? Because it’s so important. It’s perhaps sometimes under emphasised when educating our children, and ourselves for that matter, the importance on developing relationships with one another and respecting each other. Holding each other in high regard, regardless of ‘what sticker is on their head’. I think society can mess with our minds a little bit on these values, because when I look at our Year 1 buddies when we come to visit, they think about nothing else but the current situation they are in, with their rockstar. Their rockstar can be from wherever in the world, believe in anything they wish to, and could have eaten all sorts for lunch, but they don’t care. For the time that they are with them, nothing else matters. For them, it’s about living in the now, with people they want to be with. People they trust. People they value.

Living as we should,

Treating others as we should,

Enjoying life as we should.

Ultimately, being the best version of ourselves we can be, for ourselves.

And seeing the incredible impact that has on others.

Be the best that you can be, and you’ll bring out the best in others too.

Be a Rockstar.

One App to rule them all

Make tech integration easier, with Apple Classroom.

Image: Apple support

My good friend Ciaran and I have done a couple of presentations recently on the power of Apple Classroom. A free, utility App from Apple that can really make the use of Apple technologies in the classroom a LOT less stressful.

Classroom disruption is a common theme for why teachers are reluctant to use devices. Effective use of technology allows us to revolutionise how we teach and the expectations we have of our kids. As well as the expectations they have of us. Providing the children with opportunities to present their understanding in different means can be made that much easier through the use of Apple Classroom, and here’s how and more importantly, why.

Start with the ‘Why’?

One thing we know is that technology isn’t going anywhere and if we are to remain in education with young children, we need to be able to cater for their ever changing needs. When the children leave primary school this year, they won’t begin their working life for another 10 years approximately. Now to put that into context, ten years ago (2008) Apple had just released their first ever iPhone and the iPad was still a blueprint. Considering how incredibly quick technology has evolved in the past 10 years, in another 10 years, we are going to be dealing with a completely different beast. As I say to my kids, by the time they tell their children that they used iPads in class, their kids will laugh at them for using such an ancient device. It’s a bit crazy to think back 10 years and to see now how smart phones have played such a huge part in our lives as we know today.

It is with this in mind, that reiterates the importance of educating children on digital literacy and the ability to use technology as an education tool, is as important as teaching them how to write. For the teachers that find these challenges daunting, use technology with young children or fear the behavioural issues that may arise in class, have the assistance of Apple Classroom to help.

‘How?’ – Getting started

Home screen

Your home screen on Apple Classroom allows you to add children to your class and put them into groups. As you can see, you can have multiple classes set up, perfect for specialists or secondary teachers too. The children sign up to a class with a unique code that you give them. It’s really as simple as that.



Once you have your children signed up to your class, you can see them all on your dashboard. If you look at the little App icon by their picture, you can see what application each child is on in real time. There is also a screen view that you can use to view each of the children’s screens as they are working on their device. Need their attention? No problem, just press the ‘Lock’ button in your toolbar, and all of the children’s devices will lock and you have their attention. Fantastic for younger children.

What’s really valuable for teachers working with younger children is the navigation button. This allows you to direct the child to a particular site or app that you want them to work with. What’s more, you can lock the child on the site or app so that they will remain on the task on hand.

Untitled. (14 Apr 2018 at 14-32-33).PNG

Distribution of tasks and projects can be easily done with airdrop to all of your class members and to fine tune this further, you can place your children into groups within a class. This allows for easy differentiation of activities without the children even being aware of what other children are up to. This is one of my favourite features.

To conclude…

To be honest, I’m not a massive user of Apple Classroom as I’m fortunate to have a class of children that have had iPads in their hands for the past 18 months. They are incredibly efficient in completing tasks and are digital leaders for many others. However, I believe Apple Classroom is an incredibly powerful tool. Whether you’re a teacher less confident in integrating technology, your children are beginning their digital learning journey or you simply want to have a tighter grip of technology use in your class, Apple Classroom ticks all of these boxes and more. It really is simple to use and can be started right away. With the recent announcements of the Schoolwork app coming very soon, should enhance user experience even further.

On the 23rd April 2018, myself and Ciaran will be presenting and demonstrating Apple Classroom at BETT MEA in Abu Dhabi. It’s something we know teachers love as the feed back has been just great. It’s thankfully, encouraging teachers to make more of an effort with technology in class with an added air of confidence.

If you would like some more information or help on the matter, or anything else tech for that matter, please do get in touch. Here are some links that might help:

Apple Classroom User Guide

Our World in VR… Virtually

Exploring the world from your classroom

It’s not just a fad… Virtual Reality (VR) is soon to become part and parcel of how we deliver and create content in the classroom and beyond. It doesn’t have to break the bank either! There are incredible devices on the market at the moment that really are taking things to the next level, HTC Vive for example. However, basic VR headsets that can cater for smartphones are on the market for as little as £5 (GBP) and can be used to a great effect in your child’s learning experience.

Here are a few things we are doing at JESS Arabian Ranches that can be implemented into your classroom sooner and easier than you think.

Google Expeditions


Google just know how to do things well. Their well established App Google Expeditions allows teachers and children to go on a self directed journey to so many places in the world and beyond. The array of expeditions available means that there is definitely a suitable tour that will cater for your needs. Whilst the experience is best using headsets, an iPad, iPhone or tablet will suffice. Here are a few clips of how we used Google Expeditions to explore the tropical rainforest.

Video 1 Video 2

Youtube 360 videos

Children using Youtube 360

Youtube (Also owned by Google) has an ever increasing number of incredible 360 videos that can be accessed with pretty much any device. Not exactly virtual reality, but an engaging experience that allows children to connect with a topic or story. We use this a lot because it is just so easy and effective. Again, as part of our Rainforest topic, we used a 360 video of a tour through the rainforest that allowed children to immerse themselves in an environment that we were asking them to write about as part of their descriptive, writing challenge. The results were fantastic! A huge contributing factor to the success of the children’s’ writing was the fact they had a new connection to their topic. There was context.

See for yourself just how powerful these videos are and what our kids had to say. Credit to Steve Bambury for piecing this video together using footage from Conservation International (CI)

HTC Vive

An incredible piece of kit. Amazingly, it is early days for this machine and it really is only getting warmed up. We have been fortunate enough to have Steve and Ciaran Kelly (IT teacher at JESS) to run some sessions for us on our topics on The Rainforest as well as The Titanic. These sessions are something really special as children are fully immersed in an experience where they have the ability to engage with the content. Our most effective use of the Vive to date has been for our Titanic topic were we have used the kit to engage children with their experience to help them write a diary entry as a passenger on board The Titanic. Again, what this experience does for the children, is give them context.

Following on from a short story about Eva Hart and her families eventual embarkment on board the unsinkable ship, the children then witness what life was like before and after the great ship sank. As well as this, they can explore the wreck and interact with items that they find. A truly memorable experience, and again one, that impacted our children’s writing immensely. Take a look at another video that Steve has put together for us using content from Immersive Education on the HTC Vive. 

We also had some fun with the Amazon Odyssey from Vive studios. Whilst this is also a powerful, immersive experience, it’s one that I think is suited to the younger years. A great game where children explore a rainforest to get them engaged in their topic. Here’s a sneak peak. Once again, credit to Steve for piecing this together for us.

All sounds a bit much?

It really isn’t. I’ve had many people question me about the hassles involved in running a set of headsets for a class experience and I cannot reiterate how accessible most of this content is. For schools that run a BYOD (Bring your own device) or 1:1 device program, so much of this can be started tomorrow! Furthermore, at JESS, we are looking at creating our own content to share with the wider world. From live lesson streaming to 360 recordings of events in school, the world of VR is only going to expand and develop to such an extent that it will become part of our every day teaching.

Embrace the future, it’s virtually upon us!

My Christmas wish

What it’s really all about… Isn’t it?

Living in the ‘Now’

During assembly on the last day of term, our Head of ICT Ciaran, spoke about the coolest new features to use on the iPad over the festive period. After biging it up somewhat, he explained it thoroughly. It went along the lines of this:

“Once you have the iPad open, press the button at the top, close over the cover, and put it on a shelf. Once this has been done, go and play with your family and friends.” 

The kids had a good laugh as they respect him incredibly and they acknowledged his advice and what he meant. The staff had a good laugh too and reiterated the wise words to their classes. What I do wonder tho is how many people will act upon it? As I sit in my home in rural, western Ireland typing this, I see that the battery on my phone is down to 38% and it’s only 14:30 in the afternoon… I’ve pretty much spent a morning playing with some new Apps, which I love doing, and browsing on social media and reading news articles. I’ve not seen my dad in a few months yet I’ve spent more time on my phone already today then I have interacting with him. Bit sad really.

I consider a lot of the browsing that I’m doing is kinda like work as it’s mostly educational stuff that I’m reading and stuff that I see as beneficial. But what am I losing out on as a result? When am I giving my mind a rest? A good friend of mine has absolute panic attacks when you use your phone when in their company. He’s the one that drives the ‘Phones in the middle of the table policy’ when eating out where the first person to check their phone is responsible for paying the bill. Maybe a bit extreme depending on circumstances but not a bad idea on the whole! However, it does appear a bit sad that it comes to that when in the company of others. I think the fact of the matter is, we are hugely addicted to our devices and struggle with not being connected. Myself included.


The thing that worries me the most is that we don’t know the long term consequences of this addiction. This addiction, like any other, can consume you and engulf you. This very addiction is one that has impacted my life negatively at times as relationships I have had with others have amounted to very little due to the easy substitution of ‘love’, ‘likes’, ‘pokes’ and ‘streaks’ that are received in a supposedly ‘social’ online world. Scarily, the more you succumb to this ‘love’ and the callings of your device, the harder it can be to wean yourself away from it. This video which you’re likely to have seen before sums it up brilliantly.

I spent my childhood on this very ground on where I type now with no technology whatsoever and explored the fields around me with my friends and dogs. I have slowly seen myself become more distracted and less able to resist the notifications on my phone. What am I going to do about it? What must it be like for children that are growing up that are surrounded by this? What is their life going to be like in 30 years time if this is where we are now?


Tony Robbins

My Christmas wish

It’s not all doom and gloom. For me, it’s about getting the balance right when I have time on my hands and when I’m with friends and family. Technology has enhanced my life personally and professionally in so many ways and I’m so fortunate to be in the position that I am to embrace it. I think this is where a lot of us are. I think it’s easy for our minds to go into auto pilot too where we over think things that have happened in the past or are busy predicting things that may come in the future. A friend of mine recommended that I listen to Eckhart Tolle’s audio book on The Power of Now’ to help clear my thoughts and it really is a powerful listen. It has really helped me to gather my thoughts and put them to one side especially when I am with people. My listening skills have definitely improved and in turn, this helps me to build better relationships.

To conclude, I advise myself once more and others to act upon Eckhart’s words to ‘Live in the now!’  and this is my Christmas wish. As I look forward to celebrating with my family and friends, I’m going to follow Ciaran’s advice and press that button on the top of my device and place it on a shelf. My attention will be given to my nephews and nieces as they buzz around in anticipation for Santa to come. Their excitement of having each other around fills the air with joy and hope of even better times to come. Hysterical laughter rings through the home (until one of them falls and the tears come) as nothing else matters to them right now than what’s right in front of them. Aromas of cloves, cinnamon and all things nice waft through the hall to the living room as crackers are pulled and gifts are exchanged. Things of which, cannot be recorded or documented, and are only meant to be experienced. Try it. At the end of each day you do, you’ll enhance your appreciation for what’s most important which is more than likely, right in front of your eyes.

This Christmas, enjoy living in the now.

Ho Ho Ho


There’s a time and a place

Using technology in the classroom – The Why?

We had a visit after school today from our Headteacher who was checking out our learning environments. Talks went in tangents somewhat, all good stuff, of course 🙂 and we briefly spoke about the use of iPads in class. It got me thinking again about something we sometimes can lose sight of. Why do we use iPads in the classroom?

There are many contrasting views on this topic but for me, it’s really a no brainer. Technology in the classroom, when used effectively, transforms learning. ‘When used effectively’ being what’s important here. I have seen first hand, staff being handed a brand new, shiny device and not being given a single bit of training on how to use it.

‘But it’s just an iPad, everyone knows how to use an iPad!’ 

This statement is true to some degree. However, like my 4X4 car, which on the road is easy, but if I don’t learn how to use the specific controls for the differential lock for example or the descending speed control, then I’m going to get stuck in plenty of dunes out here. Which, admittedly I have… But it’s the same with the iPad is it not? A bit like our brains. We only use a fraction of its true potential! That’s why training in integrating technology into lessons is so important, which is led by good pedagogy.



We use the SAMR model during our training sessions. There are many different versions of this but I like this one in particular as it is both child and adult friendly. Pretty straight forward. Am I using the device to replace something else; a book for example? Or, am I doing things with the iPad that could not have been done without it? That’s where the goodies are, the magic stuff.

Fundamentally, transformational learning does not, and should not, take place in every lesson through the use of a device. Everything has its time and place and the use of the iPad is no exception. Being led by good pedagogy and planning is key. Good lessons that have been planned thoroughly can have devices integrated into them to make learning move on to that next level.

A favourite success story of mine is of a girl a few years ago that had autistic tendencies and really struggled to write. She did however, have an imagination like no other. Writing was laborious and largely a waste of time, but by using the iPad, she was able to use the dictaphone tool to produce content. She would go walking around the school and take the people that she met on the corridors on the adventure with her. They became her characters for this particular story. Her use of vocabulary and the cohesive devices she used were just brilliant. With a bit of help editing her content when she had finished, resulted in a great piece of work. Editing was easy as she had the hard part done, getting her ideas onto paper. Furthermore, she wanted to take it further and publish her book using Bookcreator. This for me, is using the iPad for one of its most basic functions to make the curriculum accessible for a particular child. Quite transformational I think too.

Going forward, I need to be more mindful as to how I get the children to use their devices. What I do know is, that with a small bit of planning and collaboration, the effective use of devices in the classroom results in transformational learning that would not have been possible without it. And it really is quite special when you see the journey take place. Don’t forget about the ‘Why?’

Interested in finding out more? Feel free to get in touch. 


The teacher I never had

The passing of a true gent

Safe, cared for, inspired and valued are some of the most frequent words, terms and phrases parents use when describing what’s most important for them when looking for a school for their child. Sorry for using the dreaded ‘O’ word, but isn’t a school that nurtures such values what really makes an ‘outstanding’ school?

I’ve had some sad news this week about a great leader that I have known all my life, who happens to be my mate’s father, that passed away this week after a long illness. And although he was not a teacher (Postman actually) by trade, he was a sports coach part-time, who probably taught me more than any teacher I ever had. He abided by great principles and his dedication to what he did was nothing short of incredible. As he took charge of our under 10 football team, taking us across the county on a mini bus to matches, parents took comfort in knowing that their children were being looked after by someone really, quite special.  Someone that kept their kids safe, inspired them to do their best and made them feel valued.

Now, remembering that this same person had their own job during the day and took charge of his team in the evenings during his own time, really indicates how committed he was. He had some help from the club of course, but he was the driver of it. Sunday morning practice sessions to sharpen up and develop our skills. Games mid-week. No financial incentive, and a family to go home to at the end of the day. Year on year, team after team. Thankfully, he led us to the holy grail in our senior years where we won the clubs first senior title for 36 years which probably only he could have done. We were a difficult bunch of lads at the best of times! There are not many people like that anymore, that I know of anyways.

In a recent interview I sat, I was asked about leaders that I looked up to and why. I really could have spoken about him for an hour, so great was the impact he had on me, shaping the person I am today. In my leadership, with my class and with my team, I try instil the same values that were instilled upon me. I hope I’m doing him justice. I’m sure he’ll give me a nudge here and there when needed 🙂


I’m very lucky. I work in a fantastic environment with fantastic staff, fantastic facilities and fantastic kids. A school where kids and parents feel their kids are being nurtured to become well-rounded young people. Grades are important for sure, but only after you have all of the other boxes ticked first. From the passing of this great man, it’s given me an even greater perspective and appreciation of what’s important in life, the people around you and the impact we have on each other. Core values that are entrenched within our families and friends most dear. We run a buddies program at school where our Year 5 kids have a buddy in Year 1 that we spend time with reading, playing and learning with. It’s really special. And as I preach to the kids, ‘Never underestimate the impact you have on others’, I too need to remind myself of my own words from time to time as it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle that is life.

I’ve got a great role model that I will continue to aspire to be like and I will remember him with a smile on my face. Rest well, you will be so dearly missed by many.


Life, as we never knew it…

Educating children on device management

I’m pretty excited. A busy couple of weeks coming up at work where we are doing things in the classroom that we’ve never done before. What we’ve never been able to do before. Our MDM (Mobile Device Management) trial is starting this week and next week a buddy of mine and I are presenting at the second ever JESS Digital Summit in Dubai. What we are trialling in our class is what we are looking to present next week so it’s all happening pretty quick.

Apple Classroom is how we currently administer how children use their iPads in class. It’s something Apple have really done a good job on and it is aiding how we use devices in class more seamless than ever before. There is a danger here tho I think. The power of an MDM server and the use of Apple Classroom enables us to dictate what children do with their devices while they are on the school network, which sounds great. I can’t help but feel there is a danger that teachers may see this as a means to ‘police’ iPad usage in class and in turn, have a long term negative impact on our kids.

It’s a bit like giving a person a fish or teaching them how to fish. There is that comfort element that we can eradicate any improper usage of devices when they are on the school network so it is imperative that teachers educate children on proper device management and the dangers of improper use. There have been recent articles out there that highlight the negative impacts technology is having on children, and adults, due to addictions to devices and social media. I came across this on Twitter and think it’s great. It’s going up in my classroom. DQ image

Image: World Economic Forum

This is stuff that needs to be taught now and in a classroom with an MDM or Classroom or equivalent, there is the danger that these skills won’t get taught because children can be protected whilst on terra firma. As wonderful as technology is, we need to ensure that we are teaching our kids the importance of device management for a healthy body and mind. Oh, and we may need to act upon it ourselves too…

It’s time we all learn how to fish.