Sunday, 29 October 2017

Thoughts from a Chair of Governors

The Star Classroom equipment is a great classroom set up in terms of the hardware and software; but like any tool, it is only effective if used in the right way and in the right hands. One thing that really helps maximise its use is having visionary teachers and school leaders who are able to see not only the immediate benefits, but also the potential. One school that has taken things to the next level is Hogsthorpe Primary school - and here are the thoughts from the Chair of Governors on how they have used Star Classroom to address some of the difficulties they have faced in the past in terms of their location.

"I am extremely proud to be the Chair of Governors for Hogsthorpe Primary Academy. As a DRET Appointed Governor, I feel it is important to work for the best of what the Trust has to offer in terms of enrichment opportunities for the children at Hogsthorpe but also how the use of technology can help make life easier for the hard working staff at the Academy. I will be honest at this point that I have a vested interest in ensuring the IT Technology at Hogsthorpe both works well but is also used without need for the ‘it just doesn’t work’ ethos as I am also the Regional IT Manager for Hogsthorpe, as well as other schools within the Trust.
Hogsthorpe is based on the East Coast and has all of the challenges that come with being in an area that fluctuates with parents in mostly seasonal jobs, and on the end of a very interesting Lincolnshire road network! A small Academy with a small number of dedicated staff can often restrict the amount of time staff are able to leave to access Trust based CPD Opportunities or meetings with other Academies in the Trust. One opportunity was offered to the Local Governing Body in 2016, this was an initiative from Lloyds TSB bank on having ‘E-Governors’ becoming part of the Local Governing Body. This would be a first for the Trust and was being followed with interest by a study at Leeds Beckett University who were keen to see how E-Governors would work for Academies.
This would offer the LGB an opportunity for experienced professionals to join the Governing Body by attending meetings virtually, through Web Conferencing and Phone Conferences. This in turn offered a wealth of expertise to add to the passion of existing Governors. We welcomed two E-Governors to the Local Governing Body and they have been able to take a unique look at our Governors meetings. Here we have two experienced professionals from the financial sector of a large bank dealing purely with facts delivered through reports and views presented at the meetings. Were Governors swayed by visiting the friendly environment of the Academy and filling up on tea and biscuits before meetings? Was the critical friend less critical with two sugars in the tea?  
The setup consists of Lloyds TSB utilising their Cisco Web Conferencing facility along with the Academy’s own Star Classroom Equipment in a mix of technologies. One thing we were keen on was for all Governors to see each other. We are able to use the Star Classroom Web Conference facility while dialling into the phone conferencing facility.
This presented a big wake up call in how we present meetings – there was an immediate need for the Chair to be very clear on who was speaking, a rather odd new element for those used to ‘normal’ Governors meetings. Challenge comes to LGB meetings when the discussion starts to flow and ideas swing around the table. Being disciplined to allow our E-Governors know what is happening in the meeting room is crucial but also keeps the entire meeting disciplined and I welcome this basic principle. There is also a need to present reports in a clear and understandable fashion, we ask Governors to digest lots of data and one meeting could be a success based purely on the challenge of one figure in a lot of reports.
Document titles became very important, while the flow of meetings is crucial to allowing everyone to challenge the senior leadership of the school, it is even more important to know what document everyone is looking at! Documents and reports are shared online and followed through the meeting on the Star Classroom screen so everyone knows where we are upto and what data is being challenged.
These seem very basic elements but are crucial in ensuring the LGB are firing on all cylinders in the meetings. An interesting side-line to the use of technology is that meeting basics come back to the forefront.
Another exciting development that I have been welcomed to is the use of writing moderation across several Trust schools. While I admit to being in awe of the work teachers do, I am by no means expert in how they do it. The past infrastructure of moderation was for staff to hop in the car and sit behind the latest John Deere tractor for very variable amounts of time to meet with other Academies staff and moderate each other’s marking. Introduced across the Trust Region including Hogsthorpe was video conferencing between the schools. I was invited in to see one of our Academies in Scarborough, one in Bridlington and Hogsthorpe speaking in crystal clear sound and video via the Star Classroom equipment. The amount of miles saved was fantastic.
The Year 6 and Year 4 Writing work was scanned in and shared between all schools on Google Drive, from here the marking ladders were put against each piece of writing. The challenge was provided by all staff across realtime video and realtime editing. This was one circumstance where the comfort of the home Academy was most welcome. There was no travel, no emissions and no John Deere Tractors to worry about as experienced staff from across the Trust were working together to improve childrens outcomes. It was great to see and showed just what can be achieved by technology being used simply but effectively.
I sat and watched as the staff entered only a couple of web links to fire up both the video conference and Google Drive. Guiding each other on which sites to go to and which documents were being worked on. The reassurance was in staff making tweaks and suggestions on how to improve moderation online, could documents be shared a few days earlier for staff to work with and then share experiences in moderation meetings? Could this be expanded to other areas of working with other Academies?
All reassuring and driven towards embedding technology into Academy life shows how much of a jump for our Academies the Star Classroom has made."

Thanks to Mr Jacklin for his views and insight. It's great to be working with such forward thinkers.
If his words resonate with you, and you would like more information on video conferencing, collaborative working or anything else mentioned, then please get in touch with the eLearning Team.
You can follow Hogsthorpe on Twitter @hogsthorpePA and keep up to date with Star Classroom @star_classroom

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