"It's not actually about the technology"
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
My original plan for the opening session of day two at FutureSchools was to attend presentations by Leanne Edwards - Steve Allen - Melinda Cashen - Peter Tompkins - Sally Wood and Simone Segat. However, staying to listen to Sarah Asome's excellent presentation meant that I had missed around half of Steve Allen's time slot. I made the decision that rather than entering with less than half of his presentation to go, and then moving again to a different conference stream straight after, that I would be better served by going straight to the FutureLeaders conference stream so that I would be ready for Melinda Cashen's presentation.
I entered the Future Leaders stream from the rear doors and found a seat in time to hear Chris McNamara talking about how students shape their day through managing their calendar. It turns out that Chris is Deputy Principal of Learning and Development at Melbourne Girls Grammar School (MGGS), so there was a certain amount of crossover and expansion of some of Mary Louise O'Briens presentation. This seems like such an obvious thing to do, to use a calendar to manage your time and commitments, yet it is something that is not only not taught explicitly in schools but is a significantly useful skills in everyday life, as a student and as a working adult. It allows for accountability to others and to yourself for time-based goals like assignments (whether school or work), for appointments, birthdays and other events.
It also plays a role in the structure of student-life at MGGS, where mastery learning and trust are key to the school. Mary commented in her session that students are only timetabled to classes for 70% of their time at school and that it is up to them to self-manage and regulate the use of their time for learning. As part of this, students are empowered to move the due dates of assignments around to suit their mastery; they can bring a date forward if they feel they are going to be ready early and accordingly push another one back that they need more time for. I can see that this system has the potential to be heavily abused, and I would like to hear more about how they rolled out this structure and how they provided learning opportunities to students (and staff) about how to manage their time and track their assignments and other responsibilities.
Things are not completely out of the hands of students as staff do have visibility of where students are up to in their coursework through a mastery report which students are required to complete on their end. This allows teachers to keep an eye on how students are tracking and to address any potential issues that appear such as a lack of progress before it becomes a significant issue.
To track the well-being, MGGS utilise a program called VisualCoaching Pro to track and monitor student well-being, however, an intrinsic part of it is that students have access to their own data and are expected to self-monitor as well. I am intrigued as to how strong the uptake with this program was in the early days, as well as how honest students were then and are now. Are students taught what to look for in regards to red flags or triggers that indicate to them that something is amiss? I am also very curious as to the impact that it has had since its introduction on student wellbeing; has it generated a general trend upwards towards improved student wellbeing or has there been no significant macro-level change? I wonder if MGGS has considered introducing the wellbeing platform for their staff to allow them to self-monitor their own wellbeign and what ramifications such a move would have on stress, workload, wellbeing, and productiveness.
Changing topic, Chris spoke about the analytics behind the school's learning management system (LMS), which allowed staff to identify not only the level of mastery that students were currently at, but also how students were engaging with the learning content that had been provided, often a reasonable indicator of the academic success in a topic.
As you would expect when a school is planning on significant change, the parents were nervous. Fortunately, the school’s relationship with the community was such that the parents by and large trusted the school to do what was right by their children. This attitude may be an unusual one for many teachers who are used to parents complaining quite vociferously about anything and everything, without ever coming to the teacher in the first instance or the school in general in the second instance.
The culture of the school is vastly different to any in my personal experience, and I cannot fathom what working or learning in that sort of environment must be like. If you are a current or former student (or teacher) and happen to (rather randomly) be reading this, I would love for you to comment and share your thoughts on what it was like from your perspective.
Following Chris was Melinda Cashen whose abstract indicated she would be talking about cultural thinking required to embrace ICT across the curriculum. Melinda opened by remarking that the Digital Technologies curriculum is more than just coding. It is a breath of fresh air to hear someone say that in public, as the default setting for many schools when they say they are going to engage more with the digital technologies curriculum is either coding or robotics. This focus on coding seems to create a panic and a stress among a great many teachers who feel woefully ill-equipped to teach in these areas which has resulted in private enterprise filling the void. There are, however, many resources available out there for teachers to upskill themselves in this area, as demonstrated in the below tweet.
This session reminds me of one of the pitfalls of Storify, that it does not necessarily capture all of the tweets under a hashtag. I know that I tweeted more than what I have captured in the Storify from this session, but they did not get picked up for some reason. I may need to look at going back to handwriting my notes, whether by hand or using my wacom tablet and OneNote (more on that in a later article), I do not know.
If you missed any articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them all here.
"My team and I are currently planning for ten years in the future."
-Mary Louise Ryan
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
After Deborah Nicholson was finished speaking in the Special Needs and Inclusion stream, I moved across to the ClassTech conference stream, ostensibly to hear Linda Ray speak about digital dementia and neuro-leadership. However, it was instead Mary Louise O'Brien speaking under the title of The Matrix is here. Mary was disarming from the start, admitting that despite having a fear of heights she would rather be skydiving than standing in front of a large group of people presenting. She was expecting that the content focus of her presentation would have her in more of an IT Leadership group rather than classroom teachers, however, she pushed on. Mary is from Melbourne Girls Grammar (@MGGS_SouthYarra), the site of the first 1:1 device program in Australia and that when she joined the school, about ten years ago, despite a ten year history of 1:1 in the school, the pedagogical practices had not changed. This is disturbing and demonstrates a lack of awareness by the leadership team of what was happening in their classrooms. Changing the tool does not change the pedagogy. Once again, professional development is required to facilitate teachers ability to adapt to new learning tools
Mary said that top-down leadership is critical for long term planning as they are the ones concerned with the future-thinking and macro-level decisions. Her team are planning at the moment, for ten years ahead to ensure that when the school reaches that point in time, that they are equipped appropriately. Given that we do not know what sort of technology will exist then (who would have imagined the pervasive nature of smartphones and social media ten years ago?) I can only assume that they are looking at demographic data and research for the area as well as looking at growth rates for things like bandwidth and perhaps items from The Horizon Report.
The move to BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) has thrown up its own challenges but that it is allowing students to use the device of their own choice for learning. Part of the change to BYOT has been around student well-being and students now, as an accepted norm, log into their student portal and log details about things like sleep, nutrition, physical activity, relationships and students are encouraged to monitor their own well-being by looking at the data for patterns. I observed via Twitter at the time that that must take a significant allocation of resources to enable that program, however, as I learned in a later session, it is largely in the hands of the students.
The next two points that Mary made are both significant. Firstly, she pointed out that change management needs to include the parents as well as students and staff. We often hear about people buying in (or not, as the case may be) to change. We want to know why something is happening, what is the reason behind a decision to make a change, and investing the time into going through this with parents, students and staff can be a significant asset in obtaining buy in for change and make change management easier from that perspective.
The next point that was made is one that I believe is slowly trickling through schools, and that is ensuring that all professional development requests from staff align in some way to the schools strategic direction plan. No longer are staff allowed to go attend random professional development courses or conferences out of pure interest. They must be able to demonstrate how the course or conference and the learning that will come from attendance is aligned to one or more aspects of the schools strategic direction plan. It was not mentioned, but I would hope that staff are also expected to share their learning in some way. It amazes me how often I hear that someone is not expected to share their learning to colleagues upon returning to school.
Part of the shift to BYOT at MGGS has been timetabling students into classes for no more than seventy percent of school time and that the bulk of the curriculum is pushed out to students via the school's learning management system (LMS). This is an interesting move, however, it is consistent I believe with the rhetoric we hear about student choice and students owning their learning. This puts the onus of responsibility onto the student to manage their time and be responsible for the tasks they are required to complete, a very real and genuine situation for them to be in given how they will be expected to operate as part of the workforce. It is up to students to monitor their learning and complete tasks at a pace that suits them. I do have to question how well this approach would work within contexts where students have disengaged from school and if it would result in them seeing it as a vote of trust and respect, or as an excuse to check out.
Returning to the student well-being component for a moment, Mary spoke about it being a preventative program and that there were triggers set in place to catch issues before they arose. She then spoke about the BYOT and technology needs of the school needing a significant investment in staff to facilitate with a five-person IT team in addition to an e-learning team to drive professional development.
Mary closed at this point and while Gavin Hays prepared himself, I shifted to the FutureLeaders stream to hear Dr. Rachel Wilson speak about assessment.
If you have missed any of the articles in this series, you can view them here.