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Developing a digital strategy in your school can be a stressful topic. Simply because of the scale of the task. Questions that are repeatedly generated can be unending… is the hardware sufficiently future-proof? Will teacher usage of the hardware present a good return on investment? Is the license fee worth the money? Are there cheaper/better/more accessible alternatives? What do staff want/need trained on? What about AI?

These questions can always run through your head because technology keeps moving forward and improving. What is current today will be out of date in 6-12 months. Look at the iterations of iPhone: every year a new device, every year, your device creeps closer to obsoletion. In education, with a (very) limited budget, how do we try to avoid this for as long as possible?

Define Your Goals and Objectives

At the beginning of the process of setting your digital strategy in a school, there needs to be a clear connection with the school’s overall vision and goals.

It may be more helpful to think about the culture of the school first. What are the prevailing principles in the school? Academic excellence? Vocational preparation? Sports? All of these aspects should be considered as they will contribute to your digital development strategy and its overall success.

A digital strategy must be clear on what it is trying to achieve, how it wants to achieve it and what it will look like when it is complete. A timeframe must be achievable and realistic. This will take into consideration the capabilities of the staff and their digital readiness. How much training is required will also determine a level of success – and will certainly contribute to staff willingness to embrace new digital skills, devices, software, etc. as well as their willingness to use these in a classroom setting.

Assess Your Current Position

To begin with assessing your current position when setting your digital strategy in school, you should begin with conducting a thorough assessment of your infrastructure – this will include current hardware, software and network capabilities. You should also review staff skillsets – where are the gaps in knowledge, what do staff want to know?

Collaboration should also be sought with IT teams, teaching and non-teaching staff, as well as administrative staff to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the strategy is aligned to the school goals or development plan.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published a series of guidance documents to help schools develop their technology strategies. These documents cover a range of topics, including broadband, network switching, network cabling, wireless, cyber security, filtering and monitoring, cloud solutions, servers and storage, laptops, desktops, tablets, digital leadership, and governance.

The guidance suggests assigning a senior leadership team (SLT) member to be responsible for digital technology, who will have strategic oversight of all digital technology and create and manage the digital technology strategy led by the needs of staff and students, not the technology itself.

The digital lead within the SLT will then have the task of creating a digital technology strategy that is reviewed every year, which must support the school or college’s development plan and educational vision and be sustainable and minimise the impact on the environment.

Develop a Plan

digital strategy planning

To develop a plan for digital development in a post-primary school, you can follow the Digital Learning Framework (DLF), which is a tool to help schools manage the transformation of teaching and learning as a result of embedding digital technologies into practice. The DLF has been developed to enable schools to implement elements of Ireland’s national Digital Strategy for Schools.

Here are some steps you can take to develop a plan for digital development in a post-primary school:

  1. Identify the focus of your digital learning plan: This involves selecting the dimensions and domains from the DLF that are relevant to your school. You can also identify the standards and statements from the DLF that are relevant to your school.
  2. Assess your strengths and areas for improvement: You can summarise your strengths with regards to digital learning and identify areas that need improvement.
  3. Develop your digital learning plan: Based on your assessment, you can develop a digital learning plan that outlines your goals, objectives, and strategies for improving digital learning in your school 1.
  4. Create a digital learning action plan: This involves identifying specific actions that need to be taken to achieve your goals and objectives.

 

Engaging the Stakeholders

school stakeholders

Engaging the stakeholders around a school can be of benefit when it comes to setting your digital strategy. Using the groups will give a more rounded and holistic view of what your digital strategy will look like. You will have staff, parents, local businesses and governors who will be able to feed into your strategy in unexpected ways. Parents who work in a digital field may volunteer their expertise in ways that benefits pupils, that you otherwise would not have known to use – mock interviews, pupil work placements or training seminars can all enrich your strategy in a way that you might miss, if you don’t ask.

Other contributing factors to your digital strategy that you will need to consider will also include:

  • Finance
  • Online Safety
  • Special Education
  • Data Privacy
  • Network Manager and IT admin
  • Training and Professional Development

Provide Training and Support

When developing your digital strategy for a post-primary school, it’s essential to consider effective training and support to ensure long term adoption and success. Here are some key points to develop when considering training and support:

Digital Learning Framework (DLF): Familiarise yourself with the Digital Learning Framework, which is designed specifically for post-primary schools. This framework adapts the UNESCO ICT Competency Framework to schools based in Ireland and provides clarity on embedding digital technologies into teaching practices. It guides teachers and school leaders in creating a shared vision for technology-enhanced learning.

Professional Development: Invest in professional development for teachers. Through a staff audit, identify were workshops, seminars, and ongoing training sessions would be best placed and designed to enhance staff digital competencies. Covering topics such as using educational software, integrating technology into the curriculum, and effective online teaching methods will all be necessary parts of this step and will allow for the development of staff and give them the skills required to improve their classroom practice through the implementation of technology.

In-Service Training: Organise in-service training days where teachers can learn about new tools, platforms, and best practices. Invite experts or experienced educators to lead sessions on specific digital skills. A key component here is giving staff the time to use the technology in an environment that is low stakes and low pressure. Any failure or difficulty should be framed as part of the learning experience. Allowing staff to have this time will maximise the potential for whole school adoption of the new technology.

Peer Learning Communities: Encourage the formation of peer learning communities within the school. Teachers can collaborate, share ideas, and learn from each other. These communities foster a supportive environment for skill development. Communities like these can be informal and relaxed, which will be necessary to encourage staff participation. One format this could take is staging the meeting at break time – this will keep everyone to a strict timeframe and be user friendly to the presenter. Rotate around the school through each department. This will ensure everyone takes part. Bring buns. Everyone loves buns. In my school, I developed a plan for ‘Tea and technology.’ This would have a scheduled list of staff who would present to other staff, sharing a technology tool that they used in class to enhance learning or as part of their daily professional activities that helped them do their job better. The meetings were held at break time – this encouraged a prompt starting and end point as staff had classes to teach. Moving around departments allowed teachers to learn from each other and it meant that no one person (me or another ICT teacher) were solely responsible for the content. The main title of the training session was known so that we could advertise the event to all staff, and it also allowed staff to make informed decisions about their own CPD.

digital strategy

Mentoring: Pair experienced teachers with those who need support. Mentors can guide their colleagues in using digital tools effectively, troubleshooting issues, and implementing innovative practices. It is important in this area to ensure that the mentors have had appropriate training in mentoring, but this can also be an effective means of training staff. It is personal and private to the individual staff and can be as much or as little as is required.

Resource Libraries: Creating a digital resource library with tutorials, guides, and examples can be a highly useful and valuable resource. Including resources for both beginners and advanced users will maximise its relevance and continued use by staff. Make these materials easily accessible to all staff members – online would be a good location (it is a digital strategy after all). This can form part of your digital strategy when you look at point 8 in this section. Using a platform like MS Teams that incorporates SharePoint, allows for the building of specific resource libraries for staff. In my school, I have been developing our own resource library on using AI in school that is built using SharePoint, and then will be embedded in MS Teams. All staff will have access to this and so will be able to use as much is required.

Technology Coaches: Appoint technology coaches who can work closely with teachers. Coaches provide personalised support, answer questions, and offer practical advice on integrating technology into the classroom. This could be implemented similarly to the mentoring programme, but would need to include different staff so that the same staff are not being called upon and burned out through overuse.

Collaboration Platforms: Use a digital platform for collaboration and communication. Tools like Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams, or learning management systems (LMS) facilitate sharing resources, lesson planning, and discussions. In my school, we have been using Google Workspace since lockdown, but are beginning a slow transition to Microsoft. Our staff have MS Surface Pro devices and so this makes a lot of sense in being able to embedding the Microsoft environment at a deeper level and to reduce the number of platforms staff use – streamlining these technology tools will reduce tech fatigue and encourage greater success in non-teaching/admin tasks.

Feedback and Reflection: Regularly seeking feedback from teachers regarding their training experiences will ensure improvement. By encouraging reflective practice, where educators assess their own digital teaching methods and identify areas for improvement will bring about a much more effective and impactful process.

Leadership Support: Involve school leaders in the process. Principals and senior management should champion the digital strategy, allocate resources, and actively participate in training initiatives. School management need to lead from the front on this otherwise it will result in a lot of hard work that is not fully used, implemented or benefitted from by all staff (and waste the time of the person/team in charge of digital strategy).

Remember that successful implementation of a digital strategy relies on continuous learning, adaptability, and a supportive school culture. By providing effective training and ongoing support, you empower teachers to use technology effectively in their classrooms.

Monitor and Evaluate

Monitoring and evaluating progress in a post-primary school’s digital strategy is crucial to ensure its effectiveness and adaptability. This is where the hard work really begins. It is one thing planning, designing and training, but this is where your colleagues really decide how much they want to do. A decision you have no real control over. But that’s not to say there is nothing you can do about it! Here are some steps to help achieve progress and development among your staff:

Set Clear Objectives: Begin by defining specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives for the digital strategy. These objectives serve as benchmarks for progress. These targets are user-centric and do not need to be ‘huge’ targets. They can be subject -specific and they can be within a chosen topic. The main focus is that the target is clear and achievable. This should be within the area of the individuals’ development.

Usage Metrics: Monitor the usage of digital tools and platforms. Collect data on how often teachers and students engage with the different platforms in use throughout the school.

Attendance and Participation: Track attendance and participation in digital training sessions, workshops, and online courses. This metric might not be as useful in instances of mandatory participation, for example school training days. It may be of greater use if you have online training courses in place as this would be of greater use as the teacher is choosing to participate.

Platform Analytics: Use analytics tools within learning management systems (LMS) or collaboration platforms to assess user engagement. These will vary from platform across different schools, but it can be important to show teacher engagement. Be careful as this also assumes that the teachers need to access the learning content-if they don’t, does this point to a lack of engagement or a level of competence? It’s important to be able to distinguish this. Luckily, to do this…

Survey Feedback: By conducting regular surveys to gather feedback from teachers, students, and parents regarding their experiences with digital learning, you can determine self-audited digital skills, which will point to the level of competence that we want to see among staff and pupils.

Qualitative Assessment: Here, we would advise to create a programme to observe classroom practices. Are teachers effectively integrating technology into their lessons? Are students actively participating? This item might be more difficult because of the physical requirements (and general busyness of schools) but can be useful for staff to receive feedback on their use of technology, receive praise for using a new technology and also have some time with the Digital Strategy teacher about how to move forwards.

Subject leaders can liaise with the Digital Strategy leader to review lesson plans and curriculum documents to ensure alignment with the digital strategy. This cascading approach should aim to meet in the middle with teaching staff operating an ascension approach.

There should be an evaluation of the quality of digital resources created by teachers (e.g., videos, presentations, online quizzes). This aspect will be quite simple for the subject-specific teacher. They will know their subject material much better than the Digital Strategy teacher and so will be well placed to know the quality of the content. With regards to the digital component,  this will again take the lead form the subject teacher. Is the information presented in a way that is coherent, easy to understand or helpful?

Teacher Self-Assessment: Most teachers do engage now in reflecting on their own progress. Encouraging this to be more systematic can lead to greater impact across all classes. The power of self-reflection (and journaling, which is similar, but written) has a profound effect upon learning. The more we write, reflect, analyse, evaluate and explain, the better we become at our jobs. This site in its origin was an exercise in writing and exploring how we use technology in the classroom. It has led me to become a better teacher as I work out the difficult areas of using technology in education.  From this point, we can encourage staff to think about how they are achieving their personal goals related to digital skills and then take action based on this outcome to continually develop and improve.

Student Performance: There should be an analysis of student performance data with respect to the school digital goals and objectives. Are there improvements that could be made in academic outcomes related to digital learning? These answers will typically present themselves through observation or informal discussion with staff. Can pupils upload documents to Google Classroom or the VLE being used in your school? Are there other skills they should have but are lacking?

In this you should also consider both quantitative (grades, test scores) and qualitative (student engagement, creativity, student voice) indicators as a means to determining any changes that might be necessary or suggested.

Feedback Loops: A useful tool that can help make a greater impact on the effectiveness of the strategy is to establish regular feedback loops with teachers, students, and parents. These insights and justifications to refine the strategy can be very meaningful. It can be a feature of developing these types of systems that while the developer has considered the user in development, it is very different to how the system works in real time with the user. Feedback from this stage can be very insightful to making further improvements.

Feedback in this stage can be collected through surveys, focus groups, or open forums.

Technology Integration Rubrics: Developing rubrics that assess the level of technology integration in classrooms is another important step in digital development. These rubrics can guide staff and students through self-assessment and peer evaluations. For pupils, this will show their progress in digital skills development and for staff can guide or inform their CPD choices.

Case Studies and Best Practices: It will be useful to document successful case studies where digital strategies have led to positive outcomes. By charting the steps and decisions other institutions have taken, this can help guide your own decision-making process. This can also help avoid pitfalls and guide budget allocations. School budgets are a bit of an awkward topic currently, but reviewing these case studies (and contacting the schools directly) can help direct any school budget to areas that are high priority or will make the greatest impact. Sharing these best practices with school staff can be inspiring where there are new ways in subject areas to make an impactful use of digital technology to enhance pupil learning and achievement.

Adaptability and Flexibility: The strategy needs to be open to making adjustments based on emerging needs, technological advancements, and changing educational contexts. AI is just one area that all digital strategies have had to adapt to in the last year and so your strategy should be open to making in-flight adjustments as required. A regular review to update the strategy is good practice as it can allow for a review to be taken from all stakeholders and give a whole school picture of progress and successes to date.

Reporting and Accountability: It will be necessary to create periodic reports that summarises progress to date. These reports should be presented to  school leadership, staff, and relevant stakeholders in order to keep digital development at the forefront staffs’ minds – it can be very easy to let some things slide because teaching staff are trying to teach their curriculum and prepare students for exams. By keeping attention on school digital development, this will also ensure accountability within departments and across management.

Accountability can also be attained by assigning responsibility to staff within the digital development team for monitoring progress. This means that everything to do with the digital development strategy is down to one person and that same person is presenting everything to do with this plan. The aim here is to spread responsibility so that it is not a one-person show.

Remember that monitoring and evaluation are ongoing processes. Regular reviews allow for course corrections, feedback  and continuous improvement.

 

Final Thoughts

Implementing a Digital Strategy can be a daunting task. There are many components to bring together and can be more problematic when it comes to working with a number of staff who have different levels of digital competence and interest in bringing technology into the classroom. Some subjects lend itself to digital skills better than others and this is another aspect to consider when it comes to designing, implementing and assessing the impact of a digital strategy.

The simple truth however is that we cannot work or teach in an environment where technology is not involved. Our lives do not reflect this and so it would be anachronistic to live in one society, but teach according to the beliefs and behaviours of another.

Another even simpler truth is that technology isn’t as scary as it seems. It gives out what you put in, so once you crack this – that your own improvement will lead to a better, more impactful form of teaching in your classes. This in turn should result in greater student enjoyment and achievement. Which makes everyone happy.

Implementing a digital strategy is a bit of a task, and shouldn’t be a one person job – which tends to happen in schools. One person may receive extra payment for the role and so it falls to them to implement everything. While this is right and proper in the context of payment, as a project, there should be a team that is responsible for implementing this. This will ensure a greater spread of tasks, greater investment from all staff and greater level of achievement.

Well that’s the theory anyway! If this is an aea that your school may benefit in, please reach out and start the conversation with me today – your school will thank you for it.

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