3 Is the Magic Number

Nicole Ponsford (@nicoleponsford), mother of three – including twins! – became the Creative Director and Co-Founder of TechnoTeachers, a global edtech consultancy, after her first maternity leave and more than a decade of working in schools as an award-winning Advanced Skills Teacher and school leader.

I had my first son in 2010. I had just moved house with my husband and started a leadership position at a challenging secondary school in Southampton. During my initial year of maternity leave, the idea was to to work from home to enjoy time with my son and return after a year. However, from birth it was evident that he had special medical needs and soon the amount of appointments we needed to attend meant that returning to work full-time was not an option. I was in turmoil – worried about my baby and the financial implications of turning down a steady job was difficult. So, I bit the bullet, as he came first, and resigned. Boom. Mic drop etc.

But I am not good at being still. I came up with a plan. When not supporting him – I would sell my previous resources. I had been an AST and had won a Teaching Award, so thought this personal-PR would help. Luckily he was a good napper and I had a very supportive husband, so I started to look about online to see what I could do.

My subjects in school were English and Media Studies. I had worked in marketing before teaching – so was able to teach myself software packages, had designed original digital curriculums (for KS3-5 including new GCSE, BTEC and Level courses) and had taught up as a HOD and AST in four schools. Due to my AST outreach work, I had already started writing for a range of national publications and worked across Primary and Special Schools across the South of England. The timing was right. Apple launched the iPhone5 hit the shops in 2012 – and everyone wanted one. Due to my experience with Apple computers, designing website, digital music technology and teaching film production, I had many skills that people now wanted, at home and school. eLearning, suites of tablets and digital literacy all became common staffroom vocabulary.

Personally, working from home seemed a good move. True, I was locked into a screen most of the time, but I felt like I was still doing something – and was making money (pennies really but any money coming in on maternity leave is exciting). Keeping a foot in education allowed me to keep some control and focus, despite everything else. I found working therapeutic and it enabled me to keep a sense of perspective. By the time he was only three months old, I had written a GCSE text book for the educational publishers, ZigZag, sold many of my resources (saved on discs) and completed the A Level exam moderation for OCR.

At this point I had a revelation. Could I continue to work from home and raise our son? It seemed to be worth a go. I got online and started writing to online educational organisations to see if I could help. The first site I went to was Edusites. I developed a good relationship with the wonderful Founder and was asked to be a  Lead Contributor for Edusites (the online resource site for EnglishEdu and MediaEdu, Years 7-13) writing curriculum guidance, exploring social media links and establishing the iTraining area for teachers. I did all of this as my son napped, so I didn’t miss a minute of being with him! This soon led to me being asked to be Editor for FilmEdu, from initial web design and implementation, to developing both its web content and design. I could not have been more thrilled. As part of the Edusites team I was asked to write blogs and articles for other bodies, like NATE and the BBC, and linked in with the MEA, Media Museum and Cineclub. This ‘working’ lark seemed to be …. working.

At the same time as this I set myself up on LinkedIn. On a ‘chat’ about Media and Learners, I met Dr. Julie M. Wood (USA), ex-Harvard Director and Digital & Literacy expert. We got on, she asked if I could Skype. We did. We shared ideas about education on either side of the pond. It felt like we had something, but couldn’t put our finger on it. Anyway, she suggested that we could TRY to write a column for the Harvard Newsletter. It was very exciting. We Skyped and emailed before she met the Editor – and I was thrilled! After the meeting, she emailed me. They didn’t want us to write for the Newsletter – could we write a BOOK! WHAT?!!! We had not met, and probably realistically wouldn’t – but we decided we would go for it. And we did! All via email and Skype – all whilst my son napped. We wrote a book! It is called TechnoTeaching and was one of the 14 books that Harvard Educational Press published in 2014. Following this, Julie and I were asked to write again – and again like this – and also to support others. We then set up TechnoTeachers – and still haven’t actually met yet.

As the Founder of TechnoTeachers, I could combine my love of technology and passion for teaching – with a range of freelance roles. This included being an Achievement Coach for the school improvement charity, Achievement for All since 2013 – and across the South of England. I also qualified as a Pupil Premium Coach and was asked to both write and edit the new training materials for AFA schools and coaches. This latter work allowed me to then work from home again. At the same time, my son was discharged from all medical support – and we were able to enjoy his preschool years with more freedom. Life was good!

In 2014, eCadets asked TechnoTeachers to work with them in order to create original solutions for their school-based peer2peer online safety schemes. I become an eCadet Officer (as based in the UK like their founders) and led all Secondary school digital resources for this international company. As part of my work for them, they asked me to qualify as a Level 1-3 Arts Award Assessor and design an online remote course for the scheme. This was fantastic – as my work in schools was in the digital arts and I was once again able to design curriculums for schools. The work was very cutting-edge and research-led, which I was passionate about. This led to further writing opportunities as I was able to use my time to share these ideas with others. I had the time to research matters that classroom-based teachers didn’t – and I wanted to give something back.

This resulted in being awarded the title of ‘Top Contributor’ for InnovateMySchool (writing both edtech articles and as their monthly Agony Aunt for the 25K followers they have on Twitter) and am also now a Contributor for The Guardian through contributing frequently to their blogs and as an Expert Panelist on their live web-chats.

As part of our work with TechnoTeaching, I was also keen to help other parents – especially around technology. So, I was then asked to be a MamaBean for the photo/video sharing TinyBeans app – providing them both guidance as a parent and educator. And was asked to support MediaSmart with their new Advertising and Social Media Guide for Parents before I got pregnant for the second time in 2015.

Then I had girl/ boy twins. Everything stopped for a while (in my working world, it never stopped at home!)

I am now back – after a year – and am now slowly getting back into it. Most of my time is with Achievement for All. Currently, I have one school I work with, but spend most of my time working with our lovely Director of Materials, creating original online training resources for schools and other coaches. Currently I am working on a range of interactive case studies for schools across London and an Assistive Technologies module for our work with Microsoft. This means I work remotely – and at home – and can still do the school run.

I was asked to speak at the Bett Show in January 2017, which was a real privilege although it was my first whole day away from the twins. I did enjoy it and made lots of contacts – and now am starting to write ( we had our first post-twins eSafety piece published here). And, to be honest, feel like me again. It is weird to think that I could still be working in a school, but I like to think we turned the sour lemons into lemonade. All the children are healthy and happy (if you exclude today’s colds and teething) and I love what I do now – although have no idea to describe what I do or how long it will last.

My advice to others is ‘go for it’ and always look for the opportunities. There are a wealth of online courses (I did a few MOOCs and here is my article about it!) and so many ways to open up a personal learning network (PLN). You never know what, or who, is around the corner – but I hope to see you there!