How is it that 16 years into the 21st century the implementation of 21st century learning skills into everyday pedagogical practices is still being discussed, yet there are many schools with varying degrees of digital/technological implementation?
Two years ago, the opportunity arose to lead a junior school on the south coast of New South Wales. The school, whilst having sound pedagogical practices, enthusiastic staff and willing learners, had limited exposure to technology – with the exception of a computer room that was accessed once a week per class with fluctuating connectivity. The classrooms too were extremely traditional and somewhat outdated learning spaces for the 21st century learner. It was time for change.
Entering a school as a new Head is always a daunting situation – transforming previous mindsets about learning, based on current pedagogical research, to allow for staff and student ownership of their learning. This was at the forefront of thought when challenged with bringing the school into the 21st century. Whilst the intention was not to just order a pile of devices and have them implemented in classrooms, it was to change the technological mindset that existed.
The staff were enthusiastic, yet hesitant when told that technology would be implemented in the classrooms. The technological rollout brought mobile devices, along with professional development opportunities, particularly the use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and visiting other schools to initiate staff technology usage. Staff were encouraged to share ideas and skills with others, thus building collegiality and best practice. They were also encouraged to network further afield, to allow for a broader Professional Learning Network (PLN) than the South Coast. Whilst there was an underlying expectation for staff to utilise technology, staff were given ownership over how they implemented device usage within their lessons – the ‘pedagogy before technology’ philosophy. Seeing previously hesitant staff showing others how to utilise apps within their lessons was a sight to behold and only meant one thing – that students would benefit!
Staff sharing ideas and showcasing successful implementation within their classrooms made for a technology revolution at the school that had a flow-on effect in all aspects of student learning and staff best practice. Not only did it become a globally connected school, but the way that staff managed their classes changed too. Once fairly isolated, hidden behind closed classroom doors in traditional classroom settings, the walls suddenly came down. Students were spending more time in flexible learning spaces and having more voice on how they learnt and presented their work. What the use of mobile devices affected was much more than connecting students and staff to the Internet; it enabled staff to refocus their own educational philosophies and adapt to meet the needs of the 21st century learner – the ultimate goal in education – and find the most effective ways to address the needs of individual learners.
The biggest lessons learnt as a leader transforming this amazing school from technology poor to a thriving, connected community were simple:
- Involve staff in the process
- Allow for time to amend and adapt current practice and sharing of skills
- Encourage staff to further research and up-skill
- Make sure that the infrastructure can cope with the technology demands
- Involve the learners – utilise their skills
- Pedagogy first, then technology (thank you Mr Fullan)
- Enjoy the challenge and become involved with the learners, both staff and students