"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.