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A StrongCore for Future Professional Development for eLearning

We had a wonderful opportunity to visit Google UK with a large group of staff and students last week, which we've reported on our website, tweeted about at length and written up by Lucy and Levi from Thomas Hinderwell Academy in Scarborough. The day was interesting in many ways - bringing together people from all over England, meeting some great people at Google who talked about their organisational culture and business and trying some cool technology (VR being the one that got photographed most and probably got the biggest Oo and Ah on the day).

Around that though, we were busy. We ran three workshops to further develop our vision and longer term thinking for eLearning. We're currently working through a genuinely ambitious and exciting project to accelerate the adoption of new technologies, increase our confidence and agility in using them and build deep rooted improvement networks - but if theory is to be believed, that time is exactly the one to start thinking about what comes next.

Ben and Yasmin will pick up on their sessions in later posts - mine was about professional development for staff both to prepare for the future and to exploit the opportunities on offer.

Groups of staff and students separated and worked apart on the same activity - to highlight the key priorities, and then came together to share and discuss. Some things every group agreed on and others led to some very interesting discussion, what I'd like to share here are a few of the headlines that came through pretty much every time (and please do comment back either on the blog or via Twitter).

The Core

I won't pretend to summarise our Trust's educational vision here, although I think the simple phrase "the best that the independent sector offers and the state education sector provides" goes a long way to expressing it - but as with every school, when you unpack that a lot of layers of detail come out.

Both the staff and the students very quickly moved on from talking about technology, to talking about culture. It is likely that the presentation from James Leonard earlier where he discussed teams at Google and psychological safety is the reason for that.  The research at Google about effective teams and the notion of creating a place where people felt safe to contribute and learn from each other resonated strongly with staff and students about what we see in a successful classroom. Naturally then, things that lead to that and underpin that were the highest priorities in discussion.

Things like giving good, clear feedback and knowing student's strengths and areas for development, and being able to listen, stood out as being nothing new, but things students in particular do not want to see in any way downplayed or reduced as we fast-forward to the future. Balanced life also came out strongly with comments from students like "we would rather our teacher came back on Monday after a restful or fun weekend" and "we do not expect teachers to be available online 24/7, they need to have a life - just because we can post something online does not mean we expect an instant reply."

The Other Core

Of course we did also talk about tech, and there was a wide wide range of views on what skills need to be prioritised and how they should be developed.

Firstly we talked about a number of things that can now be taken "as read" for most people and don't need to be formally trained - although perhaps they may need support when a member of staff doesn't have them. These basic literacies need to be mapped out and defined but staff and students don't see them as forming part of our professional development landscape.

Secondly we talked about many areas that could be called "content creation" skills - making digital material and sharing it. On balance there was probably more interest and enthusiasm for sharing than making with a good proportion of the people there (but not all) feeling that selection of material is much more important that making it for staff.

Thirdly, and for me the key point we talked about "what really are the basic skills." Students felt that confidence in using a few tools well, seamlessly, woven through every lesson, is far more important than having a wide range of apps and "toys." We all agreed that making sure staff can reliably and confidently combine some basic things well is far more effective and can then allow them to extend themselves and innovate from a strong base should be our top priority. I've written (elsewhere) about some similar ideas from the HE sector (see Gilly Salmon's paper on Flying not Flapping) and we had already thought in those terms for Star Classroom - do a few core things well and then see what people come up with to exploit them is an underpinning approach in what we're trying to do - but we'd never articulated that or shared it, so to have it presented back so strongly was really positive.

That probably links back to the idea of psychological safety again which Google shared right at the start. Provide a safe place where people are confident to try and have the skills to consistently do so and great things can happen.

What I'm working on now is to flesh out those ideas into a proposed plan that covers:

  • Things we assume everyone should be able to do and support where there are gaps.
  • Further defining a core set of skills (and tools) to emphasise in our training and professional development where we will get the greatest possible return in happy people, outstanding experiences and great lessons for our efforts. 
  • Supporting the sharing of ideas and approaches that build on those core areas, and allow us to keep updating it as the landscape evolves.


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