Recently I had the privilege to visit another school with my Digital Improvement Team leader. It gave us the opportunity to converse with other like minded educationalists, poke around in a few of their classrooms, and most importantly, see education through the lens of someone other than ourselves.
It is not often we get an opportunity to escape our own reality and view another schools vision and place in the educational world.
Our trip was set up and arranged by Mary (from Cyclone) after the two of us had talked all things digital and educationally innovative one day over coffee. Mary had thought we might get some useful insights from this particular school, and sensed a similar philosophy running through the two schools, and felt that we might find their story interesting.
She wasn’t wrong.
We were looked after by the two Deputy Principals. Both of whom took the time to talk with us about their schools journey, the way they had navigated the digital landscape, where they had been, where they are now, and how important quality teaching is, irrespective of the 'flavour' of the journey.
We discussed appreciative inquiry, and where this fits into the digital landscape – sharing our own mini inquiry around how tech can be used to facilitate accelerated learning. It is at this point that one of the Dp's made the sage comment that it was important to ensure that teachers didn’t drown under the barrage of inquiring into this and into that (something that seems very popular at the moment), which we agreed with. We explained how our digital improvement team had carefully scaffolded the inquiry so that it was neither onerous or heavy on workload and time. We explained how this was done deliberately to decrease the teacher concerns about time and workload – two of the biggest things teachers complain about.
It is at this point that the Dp said – “oh – the BMW people on the staff”.
My blank look indicated I had not heard of the BMW people before (I have since used ‘auntie’ google and discovered it is indeed real and it is just me that is obvlivious to the term).
“The what?” I replied.
(warning - a descriptive word that may cause the sensitivities in others to tremble is imminent - so heads up dear reader - if the odd curse word causes you a discombobulation - stop reading now)
“BMW – you know - the bitching, moaning and whining club”
Not a term I had heard before but certainly one I understood. There are BMW clubs in most organisations and it is quite true that ensuing the BMW club is silenced is indeed something of great importance, as the BMW club has the potential to derail any project if not carefully managed.
We talked a little further about quality teaching and how this underpins everything, and how important building teacher capacity is. In particular, it is not a teachers ability to use tech (or any other such tool) that is important, but their mindset.
I couldn’t agree more.
Expensive tech gear in the hands of a teacher who is less than effective is just that – expensive kit in the hands of an ineffective teacher. In classes with a lot of technology (1-1 devices for example) if the teacher is effective it is simply another tool for the students to access to enhance learning, but in the hands of an ineffective teacher, it is another ‘thing’ to hide behind – much like an electronic version of worksheets or ‘busy work’. In other words, it is a case of all style and no substance, or as the other Dp referred to it later as we were in a class – "all fur coat with nothing under it". (Another term I was unfamiliar with but also quite a popular anology according to ‘auntie google’)
We were then escorted through a selected group of classes (we were short on time so just had a snapshot across the school). We didn’t see anything super ‘whizzy or bangy’, but we did see great teaching and fabulous examples of personalized learning (constructivist/developmental/contract based/etc – pick your flavour depending on which era of teacher you are – in todays language it is personalized learning). Students were using tech in the way that they are meant to – as a tool to enhance learning. If tech is what they need, that was what they were using. If a pen and paper suited the task more, then that was what they used. We also saw a range of MLE furniture, but again this was being used to enhance the learning environment and was not the main driver or focus.
Can I say that is was refreshing.
I get a bit tired of hearing so called ‘gurus’ tell my teachers that it has to be this way, or that. I believe an effective teacher helps his or her students find and choose the tool or resource that best suits the job. Sometimes that tool is physical (like tech) and other times, that tool is a mindset, value, aptitude or skill. I have already written on the difference between MLE (Modern Learning Environment) versus MLM (Modern Learning Mindset) so I won't rehash that here.
Finally, it is not only a privilege to visit another schools patch, but also an important aspect of our own development. By stepping outside of our own mindset, it allows us to review what is happening at our place, critique what is effective, and wonder about ‘what ifs’ and how the things we have seen might make a difference to our own practice. It can be confronting and challenging, especialy if you end up questioning what you do, but that is never a bad thing. At the very least it can be a validating process for what you do in your own school. The more we all share, the more we all learn and the better our system is for it.
1. Coffee is a wonderful thing!It is useful for sparking ideas, sharing of stories and finding out from educational reps where the ‘like minded’ people who think like you, are hiding! Don’t turn down the offer to talk to a rep over coffee – you never know what fabulous opportunities might come from it. Your reps are in the know – especially if, like Mary, they are ex teachers themselves. The savvy ones, like Mary, can hook up like minds. In education, that is never a bad thing! Imagine the amazing things a group of innovative like minds might cook up!! If anything it could be dangerous!
2. Beware the BMW club.
Figure out who they are, and be on the look out for ways to manage them. Having a BMW, if managed well, and if we look at it from a positive growth mindset lens, can help your educational garage fine tune. At the very minimum, a BMW will always be your devils advocate. See what ways you can bring them on board with any initiatives you might be implementing - better the squeaky wheel you know about than the one you don't!
3. Check your wardrobe for fur coats!
Make sure your fur coat is not just style but also substance! Ensure it is teamed up with some stylish pants and a pair of sturdy but fabulous boots! Fur coats are useless on their own - whats more important is what is underneath!
4. Learn from your like minded colleagues!
Every school has a journey and story to tell, and each of our colleagues have things to share with us. This is especially true of those schools whose philosophical grounding is along the same lines of your own. Schools are doing amazing things everyday and going out and seeing them in operation is a privilege and a rewarding chance to experience another schools reality.
5. Don't be afraid to share, celebrate and question your own journey.
Sometimes looking at what you are doing in comparison to another school allows you the chance to see what you are doing through a new lens. Challenging as this is, the reward is worth it.