Leading A Digital School


St Mary’s School Echuca is a primary school of 354 students in country Victoria. It has recently relocated to a new site and was built with twenty-first century learning in mind. The learning areas have been designed with spaces for break out learning and large areas for collaboration. In each learning area there are interactive white boards, trolleys with laptops computers and in the senior unit (years five and six) a 1:1 laptop program was launched this year. Staff members have their own laptops and the school has a wireless network and uses Apple computers and a server for curriculum and has Windows servers for administration, reporting and the learning management system (SIMON).

Josephine Quinlan is currently the Deputy Principal at St Mary’s Primary School, Echuca (P-6) and is responsible for Curriculum Leadership. She has worked in both primary and secondary schools where she has been a Head of Learning and Teaching, E-Learning Coordinator and a Director of Studies.

What, as the Deputy Principal (Curriculum Leader) of your school, is your vision for the digital future of your school?

That we continue to plan and create learning environments using technology to transform learning and teaching that supports an inquiry and personalised self directed approach. That we provide opportunities for students to develop life long skills and are prepared to be responsible digital citizens. We currently have a 1:1 laptop program www.palnet.edu.au/with the senior students. In the middle and junior learning areas, we hope to incorporate more devices such as iPads and iPods into their learning experiences. To support critical thinking and extending the student’s learning we are looking at programming in ICT using Bee-Bots and game-based learning. We have just set up a learning management system (SIMON) which has encouraged digital communication between staff, students and parents. We intend to roll out the LMS to use the behaviour tracking and parent access modules. We strongly believe in parents in partnership. Through the PAM parents can access the LMS to see their children’s work, assessment results and communicate with staff.

How do you intend to lead your school towards that vision?

If we are clear from the start with a vision for a digital future, it will help guide us. By collectively establishing an ICT strategic plan to sit within the whole school strategic plan, we will ensure that technology remains a focus for us and encourages all stakeholders to be part of the journey.

Distributed and shared leadership is a key here too. We have a student leadership group, the E-Team, who support other students and staff with technology.  Budget considerations by leadership are also a factor to ensure that funds are available to sustain the vision and future digital requirements.

What challenges do you envision in working towards that goal?

Future proofing facilities and hardware is a major challenge for many schools, especially in primary schools in the country where there is not necessarily the technical expertise on hand.

What we have found is the need to revisit our school policies and update these earlier than we expected as digital hardware progresses and the students become more familiar with the tools than some of the teachers – staying ahead is vital and can sometimes be time consuming.

How do you intend to overcome those challenges?

By making a commitment as a school, through strategic planning and working with the school board and the Catholic Education Office, to ensure we have the funding, staffing and structures in place to support a digital environment. To include parents as partners in the journey and by increasing teachers’ capacity to incorporate learning technologies into the curriculum by giving time for staff to “play in a digital sandpit,” and also guiding them with best practice though mentoring and coaching. Ensuring that students are developing skills to become responsible digital citizens through curriculum programs such as cyber safety and learning to be responsible for the devices themselves.

What impact do you think you have as the school deputy principal, on the adoption of technology in your school?

In my role, my impact on the school’s digital future cannot be underestimated. I need to keep abreast of the latest developments in technology and to ensure that we have the funding and structures in place to sustain a digital culture. Working with and supporting staff and student leaders who are keen to embrace technology can impact the whole school culture. Leading by example in classroom practice and in staff meetings using Web 2.0 tools such as wallwishers, Google Docs, Edmodo, Study Ladder and wikis as well as the applications on the Macbooks so that we are visibly acting on our vision can lead to a positive view of technology and a willingness to embrace it as a tool for learning and teaching.

Some good resources for principals and school leaders are available at: www.palnet.edu.au/

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Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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