After huge success at the 2017 Scottish Cyber Awards back in November, we caught up with Toni Scullion, Computing Science teacher at St Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn, to find out more about her wins, her initiative to encourage more girls into Cyber Security and what’s in store for 2018.

Toni, you were named both Cyber Security Teacher of the Year and overall Champion of Champions at the 2017 Scottish Cyber Awards. How did it feel to win these awards?

Honestly to even be considered for Cyber Security Teacher of the Year was incredible, let alone to actually win! It was an honour to be named as Cyber Security Teacher of the year. I do not feel like I do anything different from other teachers and just assume everyone is doing the same. The Champion of Champions award was something else! There were so many incredibly talented winners on the night and so I did not think my name would have been considered for this award. When my name got called out I was in utter disbelief and did not quite understand why my name was on the screens! It took a minute for me to realise what was happening and to be awarded it with my three senior girls was just wonderful and unbelievable.

So, what inspired you to become a teacher of Computing Science?

I still remember getting my first computer and going on a website that taught me basic HTML and I changed the background of the page to red. I still remember the feeling of immense wonder and excitement. Computing was my favourite subject at school after which I continued to study my HNC, HND then on to my degree at university. Throughout each stage of my education I have always had a strong role model, someone who always looked out for me, inspired me and pushed me to do more. I was never a high flyer at school and since graduating as a teacher I always believed I could help young people achieve their potential or help guide, support and inspire them in some way, as so many people did throughout my education. Computing Science was the obvious choice as it has always been my passion and a subject that I love.

What do you love most about teaching?

I love the immense moments of pride I feel when I watch my pupils grow and achieve great things and go on to the next stages of their journeys, that is the true reward of teaching. Also Computing Science is the best subject to teach as it is always evolving and never gets boring.

What motivates you?

This is a very hard question but I think for me it has to be helping people. I was not a very academic pupil at school but throughout my life I have been so fortunate to have met some very special people along the way who have helped inspire, guide and support me and without them I would not have ended up where I am today. I want to be that person for someone else. I do everything I do to help young people become the best they can be and to let them know that they have someone looking out for them, supporting them, cheering them on, believing in them even when they do not believe in themselves, someone who will listen and help them achieve what they want to do… and maybe inspire the odd one along the way.  

What has been your career highlight so far?

I am fortunate enough to say I do not have one single moment that has been my career highlight so far but a whole year. The whole of 2017 has been my career highlight, it was a really special and overwhelming year for me. At the start of the year Education Scotland recognised the amazing work of our Computing Science department was doing on tackling the gender gap in Computing Science. This was followed by being asked to be a panel speaker for the Tackling the Technology Gender Gap Together which was a very special moment in my career. Then being a finalist for the Scottish Women in Technology secondary teacher of the year award was amazing. To end the year by being awarded Cyber Security Teacher of the Year and Champion of Champions 2017 has been such a whirlwind of a year and just so unexpected and I am so grateful for everything that has come my way and opportunities that have come as a result.

You must be so proud of the Turing Testers – Erykah, Rachel and Amina – who have had great success in Cyber Security competitions and were also Finalists for Outstanding Cyber Team at the 2017 Scottish Cyber Awards. What are your hopes for them?

I am so proud of these girls and what they have achieved so far and I know this is just the beginning for them. Erykah and Rachel both wish to stay involved in the Computing Science sector particularly Cyber Security. Rachel is hoping to go to university and is considering studying Ethical Hacking. Erykah is thinking about an apprenticeship but considering the idea of working for Police Scotland Cyber defence. And Amina is hoping to be a judge. Ultimately I hope they are happy and achieve everything they wish for. They are three incredibly talented and driven girls who have big hopes and dreams and I wish them all the success in the future and do not doubt for one second that they will be amazing and their names will be known in the future for their successes.

Can you tell us more about dressCode – your initiative to encourage more girls into Computing Science?

dressCode is an initiative aimed at getting more girls interested in Computing Science. It is essentially a coding club just for girls where they will get to make their own games, apps, websites and off course learn a bit about cyber security. In the future I’m hoping to add more about wearable technology as well. Essentially what makes dressCode different from other coding clubs is the essence of, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”.

Do you have any advice for young people interested in a career in Cyber Security?

Give it a go! There are so many amazing Cyber Security initiatives that are perfectly pitched at school level and ones just for girls which is really exciting! So even if their school is not running the initiatives I’d encourage pupils to approach their teachers and ask for their help, say they’d like be involved.

I definitely believe that you must encourage children when they’re young and ensure they’re aware of all these amazing opportunities they have. It’s definitely getting easier to promote cyber security amongst pupils when there is so much going on and so many future jobs in Scotland which is really good. It makes it easier with really engaging initiatives such as the Skills Development Scotland Cyber initiative right now, “Today we’re going to rob a bank”. With catchy titles like that and resources already made there is no reason why every Computing teacher in Scotland isn’t taking part. Before you begin every kid in the room is like WOW, instantly engaged.

So, what’s in store for you in 2018?

2018 is going to be an exciting year! In June I am going to be running a dressCode pilot hackathon which I am really excited about. While also the launch of dressCode available for all schools in Scotland. I am also going to be starting a blog to hopefully help encourage teachers of ways that they can use digital technology across the curriculum. There are so many amazing resources out there I am hoping this platform will help support teachers consider new technology within their lessons. I am also working with the Turing Testers who are planning on running a West Lothian hackathon. They have been so inspired by all the events, summer schools and competitions that they have went to that they would like to make their own. It is amazing to see the confidence from these girls grow on the back of the Cyber Awards and how they now want to give back and help inspire other younger pupils in their local community.  

Finally, what are your goals for the future?

I always thought I wanted to become a Depute Head Teacher (DHT) so I could help shape the vision of a school and help more pupils than just being a classroom teacher. However, since my amazing year of 2017 but particularly being awarded the Champion of Champions award my whole perspective has changed. I truly love teaching and I know if I became a DHT this would be something I would do very little of. Now I have the confidence and belief that I could have a positive impact on more than just the school I work in by launching dressCode and my own website, while staying in the classroom doing what I love.

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