I’ll pre-empt this post by saying, every school that I visit is special. I am very fortunate to have the job I have. Last week was one of the most amazing weeks of my career when I got to travel across the UK to visit schools on the Edtech 50 Schools Tour with Ty Goddard of the Education Foundation and Edtech UK.
The work I do gives me the opportunity to go into and work with pupils and teachers across the world. In the last few years I’ve worked in schools in the Middle East, China, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Australia, all over Europe and more; so I come to write this post having a broad experience of education systems, schools and curricula. This gives me a relatively unique perspective to enable me to comment as I do in this post…
Edtech 50 visits
Across the whole of last week, we visited some inspiring schools. From Green Park Primary in Maghull, Liverpool, to Shireland Collegiate Academy in Smethwick, Birmingham to Duncanrig Secondary School in East Kilbride and many others in-between.
During our time in Northern Ireland, we visited Seaview Primary in Belfast as part of our tour. Headteacher of the school Corinne Latham spoke passionately about her school and it’s no small wonder from what I saw, why they have won numerous awards for their innovative uses of technology to support teaching and learning.
Whether it’s their TES award or the ICT Excellence award or that they were in the original Edtech 50 list earlier this year… clearly, Corinne and her team have something pretty special going on (I think the picture above sums it up perfectly) and I managed to see this first-hand last week in Belfast.
So what happened?
Whilst being mindful of the fact that it was a day where teachers were showcasing some of the technology that is used at the school, what was particularly pleasing was that despite there being a lot of technology on show and being used; all of it was purposeful. Whether it was the classroom of Mr Ferguson where he had some learners making animations in one corner, whilst others were completing mindfulness activities from ClassDojo in another area whilst others were completing tasks via ‘learning by questions’ whilst others were completing coding activities using Lego WeDo. The same was true in the classrooms of every class we visited. Children using technology (and some not) where it was appropriate to the learning activities. Behaviours for learning were impeccable. Children were polite and were super helpful.
In Mrs McLean’s Year 3 classroom I was blown away with the quality and range of activities and technologies in place. From GoNoodle to building Lego and storytelling. Everything was learning focused and was a joy to behold. The same was true in Mr McCoy’s class where children were using Doodle Maths and Purple Mash alongside a host of other learning activities.
For a school using technology with confidence and rigour, many would see this as being a school too focussed upon technology. Being there in person, however, the thing that struck me most was whilst there was lots of access to technology to support and enhance learning, it wasn’t the curriculum that was technology-rich, it was learning rich supported by the technology. This was evident in the conversations I had with both children (who were able to expertly explain what it was they were learning (not what the app or tool was that they were using!!!)) but also from the teachers who animatedly explained the different things the children were learning supported by the technology.
Following our classroom visits, we met with the others who had joined us for our visit. We were joined by government policy advisers, members of the NI inspectorate (when was the last time an Ofsted Inspector visited a school other than their own or with their Inspector hat on to Inspect??) and other local education interest organisations.
In our meeting, Latham said, “Northern Ireland is one of Education’s best-kept secrets” and to my chagrin, despite all of their awards and acclaim, I hadn’t heard of the school before the Edtech 50 either. Despite that, I absolutely loved my visit there. From Mr McCoy’s class to Mrs McLean’s, everywhere we visited was just a joy to behold. To give you some idea of the broad range of tools, skills and confidence level of both staff and students, here are just some examples of some of the edtech I viewed being used:
- ClassDojo mindfulness activities
- Lego WeDo
- Doodle Maths
And those were the ones I was able to make a note of… and what was lovely was the understanding and ability of the children to explain their learning regardless of the technology. It wasn’t a case of them describing the app they were using but describing the learning activity. I was also super-impressed with the Year 6 students abilities with coding their Microbits too; it was seriously good. Words like debug, iteration, loop etc rolled off their tongues just as part of their conversation between each other. It was a joy to behold.
So how does this happen?
In our larger conversation with inspectors, policy advisors, teachers from the school and others it was Latham who said it best. I asked her the question ‘How do you get to where you are at?’ to which she replied:
“The staff in Seaview have gone above and beyond to develop learning here that is beyond the capabilities of any device. They understand the enabling power of educational technology to motivate and deepen learning.”
This all sounded great but I had to learn more so I asked her, “how you enable that to happen?”
“Teachers are encouraged to be experimental. Through this comes innovation and creativity. We share practice through our toast and technology sessions. Everyone has a part to play and everyone plays their part. I am merely the guide at the side. Confidence has grown with every achievement and has made the whole community hungry for more. Success breeds success.”
Latham is clearly a servant leader and whilst she will say great things about her staff, I can’t finish this post by recognising her strong leadership in the school. As we all know, leaders create the weather in their schools. Latham has created a culture which is learning rich; where teachers are allowed to have the autonomy and support to use new ideas and tools with support. The expert support coming in the form of Lynn Murphy, the schools’ ICT coordinator and Robyn McKee, the Assistant ICT lead.
Colleagues are encouraged and supported to step outside of their comfort zone, to allow children to pursue further, deeper learning in a variety of ways, such as in their Maths learning or their coding knowledge and skills. This is all part of their learning-rich, supportive, inclusive and powerful teaching and learning culture. I was inspired.
To sum up…
A key feature of all of the schools we visited last week wasn’t so much their great use of technology but far more the supportive, collegiate, developmental, culture and ethos in their institutions which allowed not only the teachers but more importantly their learners to shine. This was demonstrated expertly by Murphy and McKee and readily seen in every classroom in which we visited.
Thank you to all of the schools that allowed us to visit you on our tour last week. It was truly inspirational. Thank you.
If you are a school doing great things with technology to support and enhance teaching, learning, school management or leadership or in any other way, you can nominate yourself or a school you think is doing great things by visiting this link and filling out the nomination form: http://bit.ly/Ed50Sch