In the first part of this post, I addressed the first four of seven key features of leadership in a 21st Century school, based on Google's Transformation Center Framework). I asserted that these seven priorities will go a long way to securing effective, sustainable and meaningful practice in the classroom. As a recap, these were:
1. Vision - without an overarching blueprint for the future, schools become swayed by every wind of change, causing anxiety and uncertainty for staff and students alike.
2. Learning - effective leaders empower their staff to create classroom practices, curriculum pathways, assessments, and learning experiences that address student needs and are pitched effectively to engage learners and inspire in them a love of learning.
3. Culture - the stories, rituals, agreed values, language, mindset, customs - often the unspoken elements of an organisation. I still believe that this is the most underrated element in most leadership teams.
4. Professional Development - we MUST encourage and administer effective and ongoing support and coaching.
It is to the final 3 elements of the framework that we now turn.
5. Technology - it probably comes as no surprise that Google see this as a fundamental element in school leadership. Too often, schools think of the technology either too early or too late. Here are two 'fictional' examples of what I mean:
Too early: School A saw the iPad revolution sweeping across the UK and didn't want their students to miss out. They invested a huge amount of their budget in giving the latest devices to all their staff and started a 1:1 system for all their students. They learned as they went about insurance (how many students will damage their screens every day?), deployment of apps, VPNs (whatever they are), bandwidth limitations and did little in terms of staff training. In fact, staff used them to check emails, perhaps take their registers and perform Google searches. The real trailblazers got students making videos or comic strips or PowerPoint presentations or even a collaborative Popplet (anyone remember these?!). Soon, the devices became redundant and slow, students stopped bringing them in and the school decided to stop the rollout of iPads until they had rediscovered a reason to use them.
Too late: School B saw that School A had jumped in with both feet and decided to give it a wide berth. "It's just another fad that will pass," they say. "We will stick to our tried and tested methods without these new-fangled gizmos." They don't worry about the technology question because OfSTED don't require it and there's better things to spend their money on. However, their students are becoming increasingly disengaged with their teaching methods and they have a huge problem with students using their mobile phones inappropriately with a top-down message that says that it isn't the school's problem. "Digital citizenship is too difficult for us to address and we aren't comfortable with the tools in comparison to the students!" rings from the staff room.
Although there is a tongue-in-cheek element in these scenarios, there is an awful lot of truth too. School A has a problem with staff development, device sustainability, embedding the technology in the curriculum and ongoing viability. School B has a problem with digital citizenship (preparing young people for life in an increasingly-online world), infrastructure needs, stagnated pedagogy and a fear of the impending unknown.
I am absolutely convinced that technology should always only be the vehicle, never the destination. In a future post, I will be discussing the SAMR model that is espoused as the progression of technology in a curriculum (many schools stick to the substitution phase - simply replacing a paper-based exercise with a digital version) but it is paramount that schools don't bog themselves down with the WHAT and the HOW questions but rather the WHEN and the WHY ones:
When is the right time to deploy devices to students?
When will we make time for staff development?
When will we review our technology plans and infrastructure needs?
Why is technology even necessary in the classroom?
Why are we using a device when we could use paper-based resources?
Why is what we are doing better with the use of technology?
As with the other elements of the framework, Google offers a number of strategic steps to gear towards success:
Invest in technology for learning
Align the technology to pre-defined goals
Plan the rollout
Support all stakeholders in the process (staff, students, parents, administrators)
Google offers a brilliant overview resource that asks the questions that schools need to consider regarding technology (make your own copy here).
6. Funding & Sustainability - in a challenging economic climate, it is paramount that school leaders create a sustainable budget, identify a range of funding sources, and seek savings and reallocation opportunities that align directly to student goals.
In a time where school budgets are reducing and costs are increasing, maximising available financial opportunities is really important. I recently worked with a school who started their journey by simply moving their storage solutions from external servers to a cloud-based system - Google Drive (see this great blog post by my colleague, Dan Fitzpatrick about using Google Drive or my introduction blog post to Google Drive for more ideas and information). This saved them somewhere in the region of £40k per year. That is no small figure, especially when they determined to reinvest this figure in infrastructure developments. Another school moved to a parental-contribution scheme rather than school-funded options, which halved their expenditure overnight (We work with a great technology partner, Haptic Networks, who will be more than happy to help you with these conversations if you so desire. Please contact Darrell Raynard for more information and quote The EduTech Project for an amazing deal!)
Source sustainable funding streams
Stretch funds by maximising effectiveness
Prioritise expenditures to pre-defined goals
There is a second element at work here too - the sustainability issue. This is directly linked to funding - the truth is investing in technology is not a one-off expenditure; it is an ongoing commitment. School leaders must invest strategically over time, which means planning and setting targets. It means evaluation and tweaking of plans. It means finding ways to find ways - pathways, funding routes, investment opportunities. Sustainability is about long-term thinking. It's about finding a methodology that outlasts one particular device or one fad. Perhaps this article about 10x Thinking will help with this big-picture mindset.
Again, Google offers an overview resource that asks the questions that schools need to consider regarding funding and keeping this financial burden manageable (make your own copy here).
7. Community Engagement - each and every school serves a unique demographic and affects stakeholders - staff, students, parents, governors, local businesses, residents. Therefore, any leadership plan should address how a school impacts and engages with its wider community. By ensuring that these key participants are involved in the plan and addressed in any measurement rubric, leaders will garner greater support and involvement.
For many schools, the board or committee is made up of interested stakeholders - religious affiliations, business representatives, parent and staff governors, as well as those who want to play their part in the education and advancement of young people. Indeed, I currently serve on the board of two very different educational establishments; one, where my children attend - I have a vested interest in the school's success; and the other, a local pupil referral unit, where I have less direct interest but a more generic concern for pupil wellbeing and life-chances. Perhaps, school leaders need to rethink who they ask to partner with at this level - is there a contact that would serve the interests of the school well?
Google asserts that there are four strategies for success in this crucial element of the framework. They are:
Gather input from diverse community stakeholders
Educate the community about how the work you are doing serves their needs
Collaborate with families to create a supportive home-school environment
Partner with local organisations to expand learning opportunities
These strategies, again, show a progression of ideas - from those in the initial phase of establishing a plan, right through to reviewing and reworking the plan in the future. To win over a community, it requires an honest reflection of a school's impact and a robust analysis of the role each partner plays. Google's overview resource that asks the questions that schools need to consider regarding community engagement and making this work for you is really insightful (make your own copy here).
Final thoughts - leadership is influence and example. It is setting a vision and then building a culture and a mission that works towards achieving these goals. In schools, there is an intrinsic need to keep the focus on the learning above all else, and then supporting staff who make this happen through effective and supportive professional development, especially when it comes to technology and embracing its challenges and benefits. All of this costs money, however, and has a profound impact on the communities we serve. If we are to build schools that make a difference and be leaders that show the way, it comes down to how committed we are to these core values.