This year I have taken on the role of co-ordinating eSmart within my school. Although I had always been a part of the process, it was never my explicit responsibility. It needs to be recognised that much of the hard work was already done by Catherine Gatt, who had managed it from the beginning and got the school to the point of accreditation. This meant that it was more about maintenance.
Even though we are an eSmart school, during the handover, we went through some of the challenges that still had to be faced, such as:
- Rectifying how the data is collected and where it is held
- Reviewing and refining the Acceptable User Policy
- Further incorporating the appropriate use of digital technologies within curriculum planning
However, the biggest challenge that is still faced was developing teacher practise around digital pedagogies. None of the rest really matters if teachers do not know what they are doing and why it is important.
Some of the strategies that have been used in the past to develop teacher capacity include: the provision of whole-staff professional development, modelling of best practise in an explicit coaching sessions and supporting staff with questions as they might arise.
In regards to whole-staff professional development, it has been been a case of hit and miss. Often associated with outside products or programs, sessions seem to lack a sense of agency and purpose. For example, a lot of time was spent introducing staff to the Ultranet or how to use some of the more intricate features of the interactive whiteboard. It was just expected that staff would get on this bandwagon without a clear pedagogical reason as to why. Sadly, when you stand back and look at both of these, the Ultranet has been shutdown, in part due to lack of take-up, while the interactive whiteboards seem to be slowly being replaced by television screens.
Something that worked in regards to whole-staff sessions was the introduction of professional learning communities. This allowed staff to collaborate in the development of shared capacity. A particular highlight was the opportunity to share different practises and ideas in an unconference style session where people could choose which session they wanted to attend. This not only allowed staff more choice, but provided staff with an opportunity to build their instructional capacity. However, the PLC’s as they were lacked clear vision, with much confusion as to what constituted success. They were therefore replaced with a more rigid instructional program with little focus on technology and digital pedagogies.
Another strategy that was trialled to help develop teachers was an explicit coaching program that revolved around modelling. This involved staff in Primary attending fortnightly ICT sessions with their classes and then completing a follow up lesson to help solidify what had been learnt. The problem that occurred was that although these sessions may have helped build capacity, there was still a heavy reliance on the coach to guide the learning. Teachers were not necessarily forced to find their own solutions. Therefore, although significant resources were allocated, just as with PLCs, little thought was given to why the program was actually running and what the explicit end product may be, other than improved capacity.
The last strategy used to develop digital pedagogies has been to provide help at the point of need. Whether it be setting up Google Apps to aid collaboration in class or using Adobe Voice to communicate ideas and information. To support this, the eBox blog was developed as a place to go for answers and ideas when face-to-face guidance is not possible. The hope was (and still is) that this would become a celebration of what is happening, similar to what Steve Brophy has implemented at Ivanhoe Grammar. However, not every teacher is as willing to openly share. Like the coaching hour, this feels like it has created a culture of dependence, rather than a collaborative culture of shared development. It was pointed out by a critical friends that a more structured coaching program was probably needed.
In Thomas Guskey’s evaluation of professional development, he provides five critical levels:
- Participants’ Reaction
- Participants’ Learning
- Organisation Support and Change
- Participants Use of New Knowledge and Skills
- Student Learning Outcomes
Too often we start at the top and work our way down the list. The result being that many experiences, for whatever reason, do not really go beyond personal learning. Guskey argues that if ‘student learning outcomes’ is to be our goal then we need to plan backwards. So moving on with technology, the next stage is to move technology from a timetabled event or some sort of novelty to something that aids and develops all pedagogical practice.
The school has recently started implementing disciplined collaboration, with a focus on a cycle of inquiry to improve student learning. The purpose behind the model is to adjust the learning and teaching to the needs of the students, rather than being dictated by the perceived needs of the curriculum standards. This freedom within form is designed to allow for a more nuanced approach, that is continually referenced by data and evidence. This provides both purpose and direction, it is this that sometimes feels missing when implementing technology and eLearning.
Some of the things that I have been considering in regards to coaching that have been missing in the past:
- Setting Goals: More than just SMART, Viviane Robinson suggests that the purpose of goals are to provide focus. A useful guide is the How Might We question, as it incorporate the what, the when and who in a succulent manner. In addition to this, I have found the Modern Learning Canvas useful in regards identifying particular points of innovation.
- Outcomes: Too often the introduction of technology can lend itself to novelty and lack a clear purpose. Whether it be the visible or invisible, social or academic, it is important that there is some point of reference to guide development. For some this maybe a number, some a recording, while others a case study, what matters is that teachers tell their story of development.
- Follow-Up. There is tendency with technology, whether intended or not, to provide isolated support. Maybe it is answering a question or giving suggestions. Although demonstration and observation is not always possible based on timetable constraints, providing some sort of ongoing conversation is essential to continue the conversation and ingraining practice.
- Feedback. One of the biggest challenges is not simply giving support to others, but also providing a means to measure the success of the support given. Whether it be short answer questions or checklist, Google Forms offers a quick and efficient method to do this.
Although technology may be seen by some as something that just has to work, I feel that we need to move from discussions of the what, to that of how and why. Incorporating goals in Performance and Development Plans maybe seen as one step in the right direction, what we really need to do is move from push professional development to pull. That is, where instead of teachers being served with endless sets of predefined answers and solutions, they instead act as problem finders where they work collaboratively to identify a problem of practice in order to build and develop more innovative practices. I feel that it is only then that technology can make any sort of difference.
So what about you? Is there anything that you have done? Any thoughts and suggestions you could provide? Whether it be integrating technology or the use of coaching to develop staff capacity and competency. As always, comments welcome.
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