Schools are organic organisations and this is true whether you’re a village primary or an inner city secondary: every day brings something new and unpredictable to the table. It can be as simple as a student forgetting their bag through to a teacher calling in sick; a fight in the playground through to a lack of teabags in the staff room. No two days are the same in a school and this is what makes working in education so enjoyable.
However, the flip side of this is that the job can also be very draining. While variety is certainly interesting, the sheer amount of unexpectedness and unpredictability that can happen on any given day in a school can leave teachers mentally fatigued and burnt out. Education policy has placed intense pressure on many staff to ensure student targets are met in the modern school, while a culture of paperwork and student data leaves teachers time poor. This is where the school organisation must pick up the slack to protect those who work inside it. If you improve the capability of teachers, the productivity of the school and consistency across lessons in your school, the stress of a teacher’s job is better spread and they can become far more effective. It is the leadership’s job to create an environment that protects those in the classroom and brings meaning to the work everyone is doing. Adversity is no problem when you are filled with belief in your purpose. Better tools and support to develop your teachers’ capability will improve their classroom performance. Better productivity will save staff time and energy, allowing them to complete their work quicker and with less effort. Higher consistency in lessons will drive up the quality of teaching and learning, and result in better student outcomes over time.
When these three principles are in place, all staff across a school can satisfy the demands of their job with less stress, energy and time, and when that happens you can focus on developing the quality of their teaching. Higher quality equals better outcomes, and this is how you really drive a school’s performance over time.
What isn’t helping is that technology isn’t working for our schools. In the past 5 years UK schools have spent over £1 billion on devices, gadgets and tech platforms, yet the available research has found no impact on student progress. This isn’t to say technology is bad for education. I’d say the very opposite. I believe that without technology our education system is doomed, because it simply doesn’t have the man-power or funding to meet the requirements of today. The issue is then not whether we should be using technology in our schools, but how we should be using technology in our schools.
Student progress is the core goal of every school, and if you want to develop technology as a means for improving student progress you must focus your efforts on three key areas: the capability of teachers, the productivity of the school, and the consistency of lessons.
Improving the capability of teachers enables them to deliver outstanding lessons and have more one-to-one interaction with students; improving productivity reduces the time and energy spent on paperwork and administration so that staff can get on with what really matters; finally, improving consistency of lessons means that quality can be driven higher and higher.
Commitment is Everything
These are not breakthrough new concepts, and they’re already a focus in a number of schools I meet. The problem is that they’re being developed through multiple initiatives and plans, and this is where the wheels fall off. To bring about a radical transformation, you must commit to one goal, in this case, improving teaching and learning, and deliver it through one means. Only then will everyone in your school get behind it and give it traction.
If you want your school to excel, you should make it your goal to improve how well teachers can perform, and I believe the means to deliver that is through technology. Don’t mistake the order: the goal must always come before the means. Technology is never a goal, and this is where schools get lost. Schools often say they buy technology with the goal to improve student outcomes, but when pushed most are unable to give any specific ways in which it will do so beyond ‘improving engagement’. That’s a clear sign that buying technology was the goal in the first place, because it’s not linked to any educational benefit. Don’t fall into that trap.
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