Everything has Changed
With the UK, kind-of, sort of, nearly, about to come out of lockdown, it’s a safe bet to say that everyone is pretty tired of working from home/school from home/ working remotely – you know what I’m talking about! But what we learned in our lockdown life will always be with us – there are aspects of the last 2 years that will benefit us in the classroom – innovation; adapting curricula to work outside of the classroom; greater attention to a work-life balance and mental wellbeing and our use of educational technology. All of this will equip us for greater achievements in our teaching careers.
With lockdown as the context of this post, there is a lot that educators had to react into, but given an unsure future and possibility for further lockdowns, there are aspects of our school practice that can improve and become more structured to deliver a better standard in using education technology for teaching.
Explain the Vision
As with any plan (school development or otherwise), we need to understand the goal and how we are meant to get there.
It’s the same with our online vision: when we set out our goals, what good looks like, what we want to achieve and ‘why’. Then our colleagues, staff, students and parents can begin to buy into what we are trying to do and ‘why’.
The goals of the school will be derived from this vision and it is then the job of school leaders to communicate this vision and goals to the stakeholders – which is not an easy task, because it is not always easy to formulate these ideas. But from this point, every action a school leader takes must be aligned with the vision and achieving it.
Talk up the Benefits of Using EdTech
We’re not just talking about the tools we use to deliver online learning. Technology is an indispensible part of learning today. There are parts of our job that technology makes easier and better organised. However, like any tool – we must know how and when to use it for maximum impact.
The ‘how’ and the ‘when’ are of crucial importance. We can’t just buy tablets and expect learning to happen. Any development plan needs to go beyond “we’ll get our teachers iPads and that will make them happy.” In what might be too soon to describe as a post-pandemic world, our students have probably lived on an intense diet of technology at home. We need to be very selective, critical and intentional of when we use educational technology. Sometimes the best use of educational technology can be not using it.
Spending time on discovering what is a good use of educational technology is therefore a vital investment of school/college time. If educators know or have been shown which apps can be of use in certain curriculum areas, as well as guided time in using the app, then the benefits of the tech tools will be aplified in the classroom.
Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation is what we refer to when a person’s behaviour is driven by the internal rewards. The motivation to engage in a behaviour that is required to achieve a goal because it will satisfy them in some way.
Last August, I cycled around Lough Neagh (the largest lough in the UK and a round trip of over 150km) because I had been diagnosed with Diabetes (and then my fitness dropped) and I wanted to prove to myself that I was still capable of achieving distances I had previously been able to do. The official event was cancelled due to COVID (thanks pandemic) and so I had a high level of intrinsic motivation to complete something for myself.
Here’s the record of the cycle (just because).
You can sign up to Strava here.
The important point about the above cycle route is that I didn’t have to do it. This was the third time I had lapped the lough, and is my longest cycle by 1km (the second being the Gran Fondo in 2017, at 155km). I knew what I had done, but I wanted to prove what I could still do. That difference is the key that you want to instill and evoke in your learners and colleagues. They have achieved great things through lockdown; but they will achieve more in the coming weeks, months and years because of what they have learned and how to apply it in new educational contexts.
There are three conditions needed to develop an environment of intrinsic motivation:
- Purpose – your staff/colleagues need to know the school vision and understand how their actions will contribute to achieving those goals. It needs also to be clear what is expected of them.
- Autonomy – Your staff must feel empowered to take the necessary actions to achieve these goals, and as a school leader, you must step back to allow them (that’s the hard bit).
- Mastery – Your staff may require training and coaching (and more importantly confidence) to use edtech correctly and complete the required tasks. If there is an intricacy in using some of the software, then they must be shown how to navigate this aspect of the edtech.
CPD CPD CPD
I am a big supporter of CPD for teachers and there is a large body of research that shows how teacher confidence in using educational technology in the classroom is a central component to its’ successful use and impact on student learning. But in this context, we are looking at sharing knowledge – CPD is not always a formal event away from school. It can be the informal meeting at lunch between two colleagues working through how to use a piece of software and how it can be applied in the classroom.
School leaders should be on the lookout for these people and be quick to give their support – even if it means covering a class. Specialised knowledge should be shared as much as possible and leads nicely into my next point…
Create an EdTech Hierarchy
The educators I was referring to in my last point – school leaders must know who these people are and give them the recognition they deserve by appointing them as Educational Technology Gurus or Champions. I shudder a little because this automatically means that there is extra work coming in with no extra finances attached – but not everything is about the money, right?
These champions can be the go-to people in the school with these queries and shouldn’t (if possible) already be an ICT co-ordinator or school leader. This will make the role more approachable and increase its chances of success. I know this is a bit ridiculous but (it still exists) there are educators who will not like the idea of approaching their school principal (or vice-principal) to ask for help in case it shows them as lacking expertise. And in fairness, there are principals who will perpetuate this idea. So by putting other memebers of staff in these positions, school managers can delegate this role to others and manage their own workload, while allowing members of their team an opportunity to shine. These people will become your catalysts for a better standard of education in your school.
Celebrate the Wins
It hasn’t been easy lately to do this properly as it has been a case of reacting and surviving the uncertainty of lockdown, but it is important to celebrate the victories with your staff. This encouragement can help when other challenges come along.
If you are a school leader, make a point of celebrating the victories and publicly give the credit to the team. In my job, I direct a Higher Education programme and I try to operate the team under the mantra of “the team gets the credit in the victories and the manager takes the responsibility when things go wrong.” But giving the credit is the important part for the team as they will honestly do most of the course delivery and see things that I don’t. So giving them the credit (that they deserve when things go right) builds up the goodwill so that when there is an issue that I need to deal with, they are not concerned about bringing it to me to add direction or make a decision.
Another way in which the victories can be celebrated is by highlighting good practice. This puts a spotlight on the good that a teacher does in the classroom (or online) and can be beneficial to helping other educators who are not as competent or confident with educational technology to see what is happening in another subject area and learn from the shared practice by adopting certain tools or practices in ways that are helpful and appropriate to them in their subject area.
School leaders righ now need to offer support to their teaching staff. Working from home can mean a larger amount of time spent working from home and so it is important to not take advantage of this. School leaders need to be aware of how their teachers are doing – and I don’t mean in a flyby email asking about mental health. No one reads or responds to those emails.
Schedule an online coffee meeting (or, as we’re now back in the school building) visit them in their room to have a conversation. Make it about their family, home life, activities enjoyed outside of school. Anything that isn’t about work – it will appear that you are checking up on them, and while you are, you aren’t in that way. You aren’t looking to review their lockdown work or perform a book-scoop. You are there to support them as a person. Emotional support and showing you care about them as people can go a long way in building trust between you and your teaching staff.
It should go without saying, but this needs to apply to all staff – not just the teaching staff. Talk to the non-classroom and non-teaching staff also. The classroom assistants, cleaners, kitchen staff, receptionists, ground staff and anyone else not on that list. We all went through lockdown, so show you care about them also. Everyone loves a payrise, but people will love you more for being a good boss who is interested in their lives.
No Educator Left Behind
It’s important for school leaders to be empathetic to their staff, but it’s equally important for the staff to be empathetic with their school leader and each other.
Build each other up. We have all experienced something in this pandemic. Some will have enjoyed it (in that it was a postive time they spent with family and so on) but others will be struggling. Some may have lost loved ones, or it may still be in the balance. Be sensitive.
So bring a coffee into them at break, get them out of the classroom – even if it’s just into a garden area or quiet space. Leave no colleague behind. And this applies to the use of educational technology also. I have been interested in this area of teaching for over 14 years, but I have colleagues who have come to online teaching for the first time in the last two years and it has been bumpy. I can offer my support, even if it’s just answering questions – it helps them to know they have a safety net, should they need it. And that builds bonds among educators.