Salters’ Stories: Paul Cook

Paul Cook received a Salters’ Technician Award nearly 10 years ago and has since become an integral part of the Salters’ Alumni community, including serving as a panellist for the same award he won. Learn more about his inspiring work for the invaluable technician community and his thoughts on the critical work technicians do for students.

 

How did you first get involved with The Salters’?

I won a Salters’ Technician Award in 2015, which I saw through an advert on CLEAPPS. I remember I needed to fill out a form on some of the ways I had gone above and beyond for the students, and what my day-to-day looks like. I remember when I was interviewed CLEAPPS visited with three other people from the Salters’ Institute, who came into my prep room, and then asked me some hypothetical questions.

After this I attended the Award Ceremony at The Fishmongers’ Company, and believe that Sir John Holman, chemistry professor, presented the award. There were quite a few technician-focused events I went to, in order to feedback on the award. Most recently, I have supported the Technician Award as a panellist and started filming experiments for the Institute’s Instagram.

 

What got you interested in becoming a technician?

I was always interested in science and how things work. My dad was a civil engineer, and I was forever taking things apart to figure out how they worked.

Something not many people know about me is that I was a professional award-winning baker before becoming a technician. Once I decided to leave the baking industry, I knew that I wanted to progress into something science related and try to make it my new speciality!

 

Tell us a bit about your journey as a technician?

It’s been over 20 years as a technician, so it has been a long and exciting journey!

I started at a comprehensive school in Rochford then moved onto Southend High School for Boys focusing on physics (back to taking things apart and lots of experiments, which was great!).  I then became Lead Technician at a school in Southwark, London which was an amazing school, with a really great staff community. There was so much enrichment for students and a huge amount of trust and support for the staff to create a role that inspired them and the students. This is when I began to design extracurricular activities such as a science club.

Although I loved my role, I moved to Our Lady’s Convent in Hackney after being headhunted. My project was to re-instate the prep room. I had full freedom to design — which makes such a difference as a technician! I made five designs for the school to choose from, sought out agency staff and moved everything into the new lab. Although it was a great job, I moved to Burlington Danes Academy where I have stayed ever since.

In those early years, I was involved in so many exciting things: taking part in science week, doing Open House, and (safely) setting a Head Teacher’s arm on fire!  I was given full permission to create as many impactful experiments as I could! I’ve breathed fire and created exploding pumpkins for Halloween. It’s amazing to see the students’ reaction and interest in science when they see something like that.

 

Where did life take you after you won your Award?

I’ve been at Ark Burlington Danes Academy for 11 years now, as a Senior Lead Technician and Lead Technician for the Ark Academy network. In that time, I have done SO many things, it’s one of the best things about being a technician – the cool stuff I get to do!

I’ve presented at CLEAPPS, Edge Lab conference, and national conference for the Association for Science Education (ASE). I’ve also had a chance to travel as a Keynote Speaker and Consultant, having gone to Switzerland. Most recently, I have been invited to the UAE to present in schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

 

How has your industry evolved over the years?

There’s been quite a lot of change over the 20 years, mainly relating to resources, staff and opportunities. In 2010–2014 there almost seemed to be a ‘Golden Era’ for technicians where there was a huge buzz for and around us and lots of companies were offering training, conferences, and awards to technicians. It was incredible and the impact it had on our students was huge. There used to be lots of residentials, and conferences technicians could attend for free, which gave a perfect chance for us to come together, share best practice, learn new experiments, connect with industry and win some amazing resources for our schools. I’m not entirely sure what changed, but the impact these opportunities had on us, our school and students were unbelievable.

 

What is the biggest challenge in your industry?

I would say getting resources to be able to perform our role with maximum impact for the students and wellbeing for the technician. Most technicians also find much-needed resources through entering competitions and applying for grants such as the Salters’ Technician Award. However, there are so many items that we need to simply perform our day-to-day tasks effectively that we have done without. Could you imagine the practicals we could do with more access to funding, or more staff? Most technician teams have halved over the years, and it does have an impact. Recognition is another challenge we face, as excellent technicians are vitally important to the practical student learning within science and that the profile of Science Technicians should be raised at every opportunity.

 

What skills are crucial for this work?

The role itself involves a lot of long-term planning (as there are a lot of class experiments to fit in a year), and reactive responses to emergencies.  Therefore, the main skills would be organisation and time-management, as well as common sense and problem-solving. You will find being creativity helps when it comes to designing new opportunities for experimenting.

 

What do you wish people knew about the role of a technician?

That we have a much bigger impact within education than we are given credit for. We tend to be the longest serving member in the department, supporting Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) beginning their journey, offering more enrichment and excitement through demonstrations, and creating positive outcomes through practical work. We put a lot into inspiring the next generation of scientists, and it’s a shame when this isn’t always recognised. However, given all the challenges you can come across, it’s still an incredible job! You can do amazing stuff, create the ‘WOW’, be and blow minds in such simple ways sometimes. I have done other jobs, but I really truly love being a technician!

 

Paul Cook’s work as a technician has truly inspired colleagues around the globe, and the Salters’ Institute are grateful that he continues to contribute to our community. If you believe that you or your company could support us in this work, please connect with our Awards and Alumni Programme Manager at [email protected].