Using Google Calendars to organise my school

One of the things that I found a real bind when I became a deputy headteacher was organising the school’s rotas and timetables. No school can operate in chaos – several spaces have to be shared (despite my negativity towards shared spaces) – and so timetables have to exist to make sure that we don’t get two classes turning up to the same hall all togged up in their PE kits, and then one class having to turn back.

For a couple of years now I’ve been using Google Calendars to help me organise the school. It look like this.

The main calendars for our school – PPA, Main Hall, Small Hall, PPA, Visits and Vistors

Now that might look like a big mess, but what is important is that none of the colours overlap. That means no two classes are in the same place at the same time. There: chaos averted.

It starts by me sharing a Google Doc with all the staff to ask them when they want to use their various spaces. I then place their classes on the various calendars to give them their best wishes as much as possible. Where classes occur, I normally talk to the teacher to find a second best option. Once all that’s done, the calendars are ready to be checked – no overlaps means perfection – no clashes.

I’m aware that computer screens are not everyone’s first choice for reading information, so I then print out the calendars (how dreadfully old-fashioned!). Despite the advances in recent iterations of Google Docs, I still prefer Microsoft Word for the print medium…

The “Main Hall” Calendar

…so I use Jing to cut and paste each calendar into a Microsoft Word document. I can then display the calendars on a noticeboard in the staffroom.

But it is not over there. Oh No. As you’ll notice from the “Main Hall” calendar, there are many times during the week when the Main Hall is used. And it just might be that some teacher wants to use the Main Hall for an additional session. Can they do this without asking me directly? Yes! Because I have setup each of these calendars as a ‘resource calendar’. This means that when you add an event to your own calendar, you see a list of ‘rooms’ that you can do that event in. If the room is already booked then it won’t appear on the list – so teachers when planning their week know instantly if they can use the room they want to or if they have to make other arrangements.

Clontarf 1014

Some times I don’t drink single malt. Sometimes I don’t even drink whisky. Tonight I have a glass of whiskey to savour. Notice the slight difference in spelling. It signifies Irish.

Clontarf 1014 is its name. Made, it claims, by King Brian Boru. Although how that man could have driven the Vikings into the sea at the battle that gives this whiskey its name, and then lived another thousand years to bring me this fine blend, I don’t know. Maybe King Brian Boru is the name of the company. I could Google it I suppose, but on this occasion I prefer to speculate.

An almost brandy-like sweetness assails the nose on first inspection. That alcoholic smoothness that only comes from triple distilling – similar to that from Auchentoshan, which is also triple distilled. It’s bold in the mouth, promising summer and peaches and cream, but as it lingers there’s a faint bitterness – perhaps the Bourbon it was matured in. It is very more-ish. You keep wanting that first hit. A bit like those warriors at Clontarf, so confident at the start of battle and yet the ravens attend the fallen on both sides.

The trouble with shared spaces – a small step towards #BYOD.

… is that nobody takes responsibility for them.

There I’ve said it. It’s a fact we all know: one that my wife would echo back to me with a wry smile on her face; one that was proved time and time again when I lived in shared accommodation as a student…

It’s a fact that has irritated me somewhat during the previous academic year. My school is blessed with an abundance of space. We were one that was previously two-form entry and is now only one – so we have spare classrooms. And like all people we have expanded into them. Many of the classrooms have become shared spaces. Messy spaces. Disorganised spaces. Under-used spaces.

So this year I resolved to make more space-owners. I’ve assigned many of the previously troublesome shared spaces to individuals in the hope that they would become tidier, more organised and more purposeful. Already these rooms have started to look wonderful as the people in question have started to enact their vision of them and I’m sure they’ll continue to look great when the children start back on Thursday.

Then I came to the ICT cabinet.

With 2 years of dust, assorted wires, some Wii controllers, an empty drinks carton, 3 spiders and some defunct equipment –  it was truly a mess. The picture shows the empty cabinet, its broken perspex frontage the victim of one too many footballs hitting it.

It was truly a testament to the problem of a shared space. Nobody really owns the hall. People just use it. Assemblies, games lessons, rehersals, choir, even Indian dance lessons (Yes, David Cameron – Indian Dance!). What this means is that over time, people plug and unplug their own devices, leave bits and bobs and because it looks a complex birds nest of wires, the cleaners never clean it.

Here’s some of the stuff I found in the cabinet.

So a new resolution for this cabinet. Only 3 wires – a network cable, a video cable and an audio cable. From now on people can bring their own device and plug that in.

Just like rooms, devices get looked after by their owners. And maybe a bit of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) here will end up with BYOD everywhere and for everyone in the school – staff and students alike.


Perfect combinations: Kilhoman and Ignatian Examen

The first day of the new academic year coincided with the rare treat of going out with my wife for food. A very pleasant Thai meal at our local – Sabai Sabai.

But the night was yet young, and like many dynamic couples we opted next to go for Ignatian Examen. A walk up to our friend Sam’s house where he led us through an hour of the Awareness Examen. There’s nothing quite like wrapping up an evening like a Jesuit.

But the night was yet young. I felt energised after the reflection and meditation that Sam had led us through. So on return home I poured myself a glass of Kilhoman (2006).  It’s peaty-ness is unlike the others that I love: Ardbeg, which is like drinking soil; Ardbeg Corryvreckan which is like drinking soil put through a blender with a spot of cream and Lagavullin 16 yrs which, for me is the smoking jacket of Islay malts – relaxed, confident and smooth. No Kilhoman is zingy, like the first crackling of a fire. It tastes like the lighting of the fire on Bonfire night – sparky, with anticipation and the faintest hint of cordite. It’s a drink to match the energising feeling following a good Examen.

I drank it whilst making the sandwiches for the morning and listening to a Podcast from Hack Education. So all in all: time with my wife, Thai food, Examen, Kilhoman and education podcast. Perfect.

Making my school website ‘legal’

One of the many hats I wear is school website developer. It’s been a bit of a hobby really. The hobby started like this:

Some time ago I had a really gifted student in my Year 6 children and I had literally run out of curriculum to teach her. So I said, in about March of the year, “go off and learn HTML so we can make a school website.” A week later she came back with a basic school website and I was so shamed by the quality of it, I decided I should learn a bit of HTML too.

Things have come full circle now in a way. Having gone through three different iterations I found that the website has got bigger and bigger and more difficult for me to manage. Mercifully the afore-mentioned student came back, now at secondary school and looking for a bit of work that wasn’t just a paper-round. She now spends 2 hours a week updating our school website and me, it was a hat I could stop wearing.

Or so I thought.

A few months ago a tweet from Kevin Maclauchlan made me aware that some changes in legislation were coming about. No longer could school websites be the hobby of some enthusiastic tech geek like myself, but they had to contain certain information. Very specific information in fact. You can read it for yourself at the UK Government’s legislation website.

So we get to work. I say ‘we’ because it was very much a joint effort between myself and my ‘web developer’. She did all the design work and all the other work. I wrote her some emails. Mainly.

And this is what we came up with.

It’s not much, but it is a start – something to build on over the next few months. I realise that there are things to improve, but at least we’ve got a platform from which to improve them.

I’d very much value any comments on this blog about this school website legislation, especially if you’ve seen any fantastic examples that already contain all the information specified in the new legislation.


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