I have always been a bit anti-beard. I thought men with beards were hiding behind it, or worse had something hidden in it. And I’m not the only one. Roald Dahl had similar thoughts (see The Twits) and once called out Michael Rosen for having one proclaiming “it’s disgusting!”. Growing up in the 1980s I missed the 70s trend for beards. But then came the recent hipster revival and suddenly beards were everywhere, and this trend (apparently) reached peak-beard a few years ago.

So most of my life I’ve been beardless. But this week, following a couple of days without having access to my shaver (humblebrag alert – when climbing Ben Nevis), I thought I’d give the beard a go. You might be wondering why I’m blogging about this, well the reason is that my facial fashion choice elicited some interesting responses. Some people said nothing. Others asked if I was growing a beard, and why. Someone else commented on the facial distribution of the growth (a few gaps apparently). My PhD supervisor did their job and gave honest feedback, it doesn’t suit me apparently (you can judge for yourself below).

After a few days of this I suddenly became more conscious of my appearance. If someone didn’t comment then I wondered why not, if they did comment I then tried to work out if there was a deeper meaning. Then I thought some more. Imagine if my life was governed, or influenced, by others constantly judging my appearance. But of course this is the case for many in our world. People are judged on skin colour, religion, culture, gender, (dis)ability and many, many other grounds. As a white, middle class, middle aged male I just don’t experience this. And as much as I try to live my woolly liberal views I’m probably judging others myself, so in future I really need to check myself, and look beyond someone’s metaphorical beard.


Me and my emojis (part 3 in an occasional series on digital tech)

Every once in a while I post about digital technology. And if you read earlier posts you’d know I have a mixed history with technology. Well, I was enjoying the Eurovision Song Contest #ESC2017 (ok judge me, I like it alright…) and tweeting as I did. One chat resulted in me commenting that I was getting the hang of using emojis. I’ve noticed the ‘yoot’ are very keen on these things, and there is even an etiquette apparently, such as if you should end a FB messenger chat with the blue thumbs up? 👍 (Yes I know it us yellow…)

The key point here is, as Sharon rightly identified, that I was engaging in CPD (albeit in an informal way). And so I said I’d blog on the topic of emojis, and it got me thinking why else should these matter. I actually think that the evolution of images as part of social media communication might prove to be bigger than we older folk in education currently give credit. Verbal communication developed out of necessity a long time ago, but I assume that emotional and cultural meaning was also communicated simultaneously as language developed. Once humans began recording communication in written forms this was initially for practical reasons so information could be retained over time or transported over distance (and I’m sure handwriting wasn’t that important). Obviously this evolved too and the aesthetic quailty and beauty of written language became more and more important, with social and cultural meaning being included too. Although I can’t really explain, or understand, the obsession with grammar structures, unless these are used as a method of controlling society, but I’ll leave that rant for another day.

Returning to emojis I wonder if they will eventually form a subset of communication supplementing other methods which are also being facilitated by advancements in technology and alongside dvelopments in social media. I think one of the most interesting developments with language is access to instant translation services or applications. The fact that computer technology is able to learn from the vast amounts of data available on the web means that these services will only get better. This may mean that learning languages for practical purposes becomes less important, that is not to say that studying and understanding language and literacy will be less important, just that the underlying reasons or rationale may change. Whether ’emoji will ever develop to become a language in its own right, allowing people who speak different languages to communicate effectively together, remains to be seen. But if it does I’ll have to try my best to learn how to ‘speak’ emoji, to help me communicate with the ‘yoot’, but of course the great advantage of emojis may be that it doesn’t need traditional, formal learning at all, as it is intuitive and instant, and also quite fun. 😎

External examining and Edutalk radio

This week I’ve been learning again, but then that is what I do, and enjoy doing, everyday. I’ve been doing work as an external examiner at Newcastle University and met some great people including lecturers, teachers and students. I’ve gained valuable insight into the systems operated by another education department but also how different staff operate. I was also lucky enough to be taken around several schools and this allowed me to make more interesting comparisons. I will take lots of ideas back to Dundee and I’ll assimilate much of what I’ve learnt into my practice. I’ll probably do this consciously but I’m sure I’ve also taken lots in subconsciously, a bit like Reber’s implicit learning (see earlier post).

I also got to learn about a great innovation which will help teachers evaluate their teaching, I was also really impressed to learn about the VEO connection software that can support observations and reflective practice. This fantastic new app was created by a lecturer Jon Haines ( follow him on twitter @jon_haines) and I have also just participated in a slightly older form of technology, a radio show, by David Noble and the Edutalk team. This was great fun and a chance to explain my interest in CPD/PL while asking for help and ideas from fellow educators. Even while being asked questions I think I was learning, and I hope I’ll get the chance to do this again, and of course you could give it a try (I promised to give it a plug) and talk about your areas of interest in education. So get in touch with the Edutalk folk and get involved.


Edutalk interview:

Pedagoo Tayside:

University of Dundee Edushare blogs:


Tim Jefferis PhD research Twitter and Leadership development:

Life, loss and friendship 

This blog usually focuses on ‘worthy’ issues and I’ve posted things before that I thought might be interesting linking to my personal ethos or things of professional relevance. But this post is a bit of a departure from that. This past few week I’ve been marking assignments, getting a feeling of deja vu, and it was during this process that I suddenly stopped and thought about the futility of life, and if writing and marking essays is really a good use as anyone’s time (obviously education is important, but it was the ‘task’ element, and Groundhog Day feel, that really got me thinking). Alongside this is the fact that over the past year my home life has changed considerably in the last year, and very recently some good friends have moved on, and left Dundee. This has made me think about what really matters in life. I realised that the friends moving on (some have really helped me through a tough period in my life) has hit me harder than I expected. Also, not long ago, another friend from university passed away, while he was still very young, and this was big shock to many of his good friends. What all this has done is given me the chance to reflect and think about how I deal with such life changes and make the most of the time I have.


I now realise the issue of loss has featured in my life from an early age and I can just remember leaving my first home in Bury aged three, before we moved away. When I was five my best friend left my school and think I only ever saw them once more (I hope you are well, wherever you are, Michael Hind). In contrast my brother (Ian) was only a few months old when we moved, so probably didn’t feel the same connection and loss. Ian is still very best friends with James (pictured above) who lived a few doors away and I suspect they’ll stay this way for the rest of their lives. I spent a weekend with them recently and had a great time catching up, and in many ways they’ve not changed. It has also been lovely to see how they’ve supported each other as they have got older and had their own kids (not together, by the way).

As my own life went on, growing up in the days before social media (although social media has a downside as Salima Khan’s Ted Talk suggests, and may even make a feeling of isolation worse) I made many friends, but then lost touch. In particular I’ve lost touch with people I worked with, who were great friends at certain points in my life. Nearly twenty years ago I spent a year backpacking and am embarrassed to say I failed to keep in touch with anyone I met at that time. However, I have stayed in contact with school friends who still live near my parents and am fortunate to count my brother as one of my very best friends. I’m also still in touch with some great friends from university. But the main reason for that is quite sad. Not long after we all left university a close friend, Andy, took his own life so at the funeral we agreed to meet very year in Andy’s memory. I’m pleased to say we have managed this, and this coming weekend will be the 17th reunion weekend. I might post an update on the weekend later. Those who can’t make it always call up and I think I can count on these friends as the very best I could wish for. It is just awful that it took the death of someone to give us the impetus for this.

Just a few of the good people of Dundee, or formerly of Dundee


Therefore as I get older I become more aware of what matters in life, and take time to enjoy life and my own company. But we are a social species and we need people and interaction and it sometimes needs one person to reach out, or make that effort to stay in touch. A few weekends ago I went 48 hours without any meaningful face-to-face social interaction. I traded a few Facebook or Twitter messages, and a couple of texts, with a few friends, and had a short chat with the bus driver, but I had to push myself to initiate all of these. Watching a football match in the pub someone asked me if I was a Formula One fan, I said I wasn’t, and that was the end of that interaction. I do find radio, and even TV, is a great comfort and talk shows in particular make you feel you are at least part of a human interaction. Of course at least I have the opportunity to go out and meet people and there are many, many people in a far worse position. But being on your own, and feeling lonely is tough.

So I think I will just have to make more effort as I get older, and I’m glad I’ve come to this conclusion now, and have good friends who will reciprocate. I suppose the last few months and years have shown me that there is always time to make new friends, but I should also make time to keep the ones I have.

Update 9th May

The reunion weekend is over for another year. I had a wonderful time seeing some of the best friends and a great couple of nights out in Edinburgh and Newcastle. I can wait for next time, but will make an effort to call and see them all more in the meantime. And today I bumped in to my old American Football coach, totally unexpectedly. It reminded me of the amazing times I had playing for the Gateshead Senators. One of the great things about these experiences is the memories these meetings bring back. Maybe that is what friendship is all about, creating a shared life story.