Learning Reflection #3

Spring is in the air!  🙂

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for me. I’ve found it quite difficult to get back into the swing of things after the break. After having such an intensive session with the SP4Ed and being on a high from that, then being very assessment focused through the break, I’ve struggled a bit to get back into the routine of ‘regular’ online coursework. Having a wisdom tooth out early this week didn’t help…..ouch!! The initial readings for this section took some time for me to engage with, but doing the school evaluations using the eLPF frameworks really did a great job at grounding my thinking and pulling me back in. I found the framework clearly highlighted the major areas needing attention in each of the schools I evaluated, and as such I can see how this framework will be a very useful tool for schools. It’s a model that I think would also be especially beneficial to be used as part of a systemic education reform, such as is currently happening in Abu Dhabi. The school I evaluated (and many others would be the same) sits pretty well contained within one phase, perhaps making it more straightforward to plan school-wide next steps and to provide structured guidance / support from above.

The evaluation task itself, along with my readings throughout this course, reemphasized for me the idea that truly effective change does not just happen within individual classrooms. While classroom level change is of course positive for both learners and teachers and can have a flow on effect to other staff members, without the support of the school leadership team the overall spread and impact will be minimal. The importance of a shared school vision and strategic plan, which teachers, students and community all have a hand in developing, is essential. Also essential is a fostering of a collaborative and cooperative professional community amongst school staff, whether they be teachers, learning aides, leadership team etc.

I did find it somewhat worrying that the idea of digital citizenship has not featured in discussions at any level within either of the schools I chose to evaluate. This is an essential area and perhaps something that needs to be supported / guided at a national level. I know some schools have excellent Digital Citizenship courses – it would be great to get these examples out to other schools for their use. Sharing is caring! In fact, the principle of openness is perhaps something that could become part of the higher phases of the eLPF.

It was also interesting to note that within each of the framework categories, the NZ school I was looking at sat at different phases for each of the bullet points within a single category. I’m not yet sure what this means or how significant it is but it’s given me food for thought.

 

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School evaluations

I’ve chosen to evaluate two schools using the eLPF framework – one local to NZ and one from overseas.

SCHOOL 1:

To begin with, I’m evaluating a local girls’ Cycle 3 (grades 10-12) school from Abu Dhabi. This is not a city school. It is located about 40 minutes drive from the city, in what is a very traditional, conservative desert area. Girls having to attend school is a very new phenomenon and a lot of parents are not yet convinced of the need for it. A large number of girls leave school during the penultimate or final year in order to marry and start a family. However, the number looking to move on to tertiary education is growing steadily.  In order to conduct this assessment I used data gathered through my time working there as an Advisor as well as personal observation and a selection of draft policy documents.

I have rated this school overall as Pre-Emergent.

Leadership:                            pre-emerging

Prof Learning:                       borderline emerging

Beyond Classroom:               pre-emerging

Tech and Infrastructure:     pre-emerging

Teaching & Learning:           emerging but needing to develop an awareness of digital citizenship

Evaluation of Abu Dhabi school using eLPF framework

Evaluation of Abu Dhabi school using eLPF framework

It is interesting to see the areas where the school is working in the emerging phase – these are all categories in which teachers are largely in control. In some departments, there is a high level of collegial support in order to up-skill weaker teacher’s technology skills and there are some examples across all curriculum areas of technology use beginning to be explored. What is missing is a commitment from the leadership team and the development of a school-wide approach. Interestingly, the major drive in technology use is not always coming from the English department, which is what one might reasonably predict given that teachers within this department are all Western expats with varying degrees of training and experience from their home countries.

Looking at the situation in this school, it is clear that commitment and vision from the leadership team is needed. As Owston (2007) found, support from school administration is an essential part of effective innovation. In terms of individual teacher level, departments could look at developing strong communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) within and across departments in order to support early stages of innovation while they wait for senior management to come on board.

  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Owston, R. (2007). Contextual factors that sustain innovative pedagogical practice using technology: an international study. Journal of Educational Change, 8, 61-77. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10833-006-9006-6

SCHOOL 2:

The second school I have chosen to look at is a state-integrated boys’ secondary school from the lower north island of NZ. In order to conduct this assessment I used knowledge gained from my long-standing interactions with the school combined with an interview of one of the HODs and available policy / strategic documents.

I have rated this school overall as Emerging.

Leadership:                           emerging, but only just – investigation and raising awareness is just starting to begin this week

Prof Learning:                       emerging – insufficient prof learning activities in order to achieve engaging status

Beyond Classroom:              straddling emerging/engaging

Tech and Infrastructure:     engaging

Teaching & Learning:           straddling emerging/engaging, needing to develop an awareness of digital citizenship

Evaluation of NZ school using eLPF framework

Evaluation of NZ school using eLPF framework

In carrying out this investigation, what became clear is that the school lacks a clear vision related to eLearning / digital technologies and that leadership in this area is severely lacking. In interviewing the HOD it was interesting to hear her comments on the fact that internal conflict was hampering a school wide, holistic approach. This really highlights the importance of a cohesive, supportive team across all levels of schooling – how often do school politics get in the way of building the most effective learning experience for students?

What was also interesting was to see the number of phases where the school is currently straddling the emerging / engaging categories. Usually this is because under one of the bullet points the school was at the emergent phase, while at the other it was at the engagement phase. However, sometimes it was because small pockets of individual teachers were sitting in the engaging category but the majority was clearly still emerging. The HOD informed me that this week there a staff survey on digital technology in schools is being sent out and she believes this is in order to inform a review of the school strategic plan and vision. In our interview, the word ‘haphazard’ was used a lot. This reemphasizes the need for the school to come together and really develop a shared vision in order to be able to move forward as one. It seems that this is beginning to happen which is definitely a positive step forward.

In terms of assessment, the HOD talked about some discussion that has been going on privately amongst teachers as to how the can make changes and utilize technology to suit different learning and assessment styles of students. However, this has all been focused around the junior classes as the senior teachers feel restricted to a paper-based approach as a result of NCEA pressure and requirements.

A short reflection….

What this exercise has highlighted for me, along with my readings throughout this course, is that effective change cannot just happen within individual classrooms. While this is of course positive for both learners and teachers, and can have a flow on effect to other staff members, without the support of the school leadership team the overall spread and impact will be minimal. The importance of a shared school vision and strategic plan, in which teachers, students and community all have a hand in developing, is essential. Also essential is a fostering of a collaborative and cooperative professional community amongst school staff, whether they be teachers, learning aides, leadership team etc.

A final comment – I found it somewhat worrying that the idea of digital citizenship has not featured in discussions at any level within either of the schools. This is an essential area and perhaps something that needs to be supported / guided at a national level. I know some schools have excellent Digital Citizenship courses – it would be great to get these examples out to other schools for their use. Sharing is caring! 🙂 In fact, the principle of openness is perhaps something that could become part of the higher phases of the eLPF.

 

Disclaimer: This assessment was conducted as a personal learning exercise to gain an understanding of the eLPF. My assessment was not data based and was restricted to observation, personal conversation and public documentation, without detailed insight into all organisational processes.