As part of my blogs on reducing the rollercoaster effect within a Primary school I am now going to talk about another strategy that was used in my last school. This was emphatically not just down to me as the Deputy Head but a whole Senior Management approach.
My role was as Deputy Head with responsibility for Curriculum Development (which essentially allowed me to stick my nose in anywhere.)
I have to be very upfront in admitting that the school had already made great advances down the path of making ICT central to the curriculum particularly with significant and sustained investment in kit and training. Also we did not have any ‘refusenik’ teachers which makes a massive difference as everyone was swimming in the same direction (just at different paces).
Most importantly the school had made the decision to operate with one less Teaching Assistant and had appointed a full time ICT technician who was employed on a Teaching Assistant contract and therefore worked with children as well as the kit. (The influence of this simply cannot be underestimated.)
When I arrived the school I had been leading the rollout of the English IWB initiative which had seen in excess £25 million pounds invested in whiteboards as a pump primer for schools to install them in their classrooms. More importantly this investment also paid for two years of centralised CPD to support the pedagogies surrounding IWBs. I was keen to return to the classroom and to school life. This meant that not only had the school employed a Labrador of a Deputy Head to run round excitedly helping people but also one with a vision (how annoying that must have been for the rest of the staff!!!)
I was concerned when I looked at practice that there appeared to be a mixed economy of ICT use across the school as mentioned earlier. We developed a strategic plan for the development of a whole school approach that would support all staff. I am not going to go through all of it as it would be highly boring and familiar to many but wish to pull out some highlights which I think were significant.
Pulling back the pioneers
This is one something that not all people agree with. I worked on the basis that there were people driving forward with their use of technology whilst others struggled to maintain their understanding of what they were already using. I spoke to the ‘pioneers’ and asked for a 2 term period of grace where we actually went back to absolute basics and ensured that we used all of the kit that we had (data loggers, control tech etc) and worked in collaborative teams supporting our colleagues. This was a school with 3 form entry in the Juniors and 6 teachers in Foundation Stage / Infants so there were enough people to support those lacking in confidence.
I indentified what I called my barometer teachers who were the sign that the school was progressing and made sure that I was available as much as possible to support staff and particularly year group leaders in the planning and practice in their teams. The barometer teachers were the first three who told me that they hated ICT and important to this approach.
Using the kit
We had sheets for staff to sign kit out on – from laptops, to banks of cameras and dataloggers etc. We then took time each half term to look at who was signing out kit and how often it was being used across the school. This then guided the support given to specific year groups and teachers. We ensured that we didn’t go chasing technology and buying all of the latest kit instead ensuring that whatever we bought we had enough go round and that there was money in the budget to pay for training in its use and replacements should there be breakdowns or breakages.
A whole school project
So first we had established first principles of what was expected. Next as a result of some consultancy we were able to buy early versions of the flip camera and a stock of digiblus and put them in all classes including the nursery. This was central to the vision that whatever we did; we did it as a whole staff.
The Senior Management Team then booked our local theatre for a night in June and announced that we would holding our Film Awards ceremony with all children making at least one film. Unfettered joy bounded from the mouths of my colleagues! This gave them 7 months to train the children up, find time in the curriculum and make the films. The ICT mentors, mentioned in the last blog, were central to this as were key members of staff. In several year groups it wasn’t the very techy teachers who steered the film work but instead teachers who loved the chance to do something highly creative and innovative. The films ranged from shaky cam, stop animation to scripted performances. The evening itself was wonderful with 450 people in the theatre and the only major issue was the Foundation children not being big enough to walk up the steps to get on the stage to receive their award.
This project was hugely important because, I think, that it convinced some staff that they could use ICT to do something that got the children and staff fired up and fitted into the curriculum. I also think that the level of compunction was important as the awards ceremony was the target for this work.
I left the school more than a year ago and the film work continues and importantly so does the use of Photostory, videoconferencing and podcasting which were introduced during my time. The staff have taken the baton on and have achieved so much more because they see ICT as integral to the curriculum and something that they all do. I am sure that it is not perfect but it is rarely is.
One comment made by a visitor to the school from the Department for Children, Schools and Families struck home “You don’t have a huge amount of kit but what you do have is used all of the time.” Some schools would be worried by this but we were delighted as this fitted exactly with what we wanted.
I am sure that there will be people reading this who would this approach incredibly frustrating as it would hold them back and may be it reflected a period of time from 2006 – 2008 when there were less Web 2.0 applications being used in schools such as ours. I think that it worked because those who had been pushing forward and extending the digital divide saw that they needed to support their colleagues for the school to move forward. They are now in a position where they can take these colleagues with them using new applications as they have been through the period of evening out the rollercoaster. So the approach is not as counter intuitive to my belief in and fondness of using Web 2.0 rather something that puts the foundations in place for whole school use.