I would hesitate to call myself a “runner”, but I am now running. In an attempt to shed some “lockdown pounds” I started the “Couch to 5K” programme at the start of the year and with a certain amount of ‘encouragement” (possibly bullying) from my eldest child I managed to complete it just before Easter. Job done I thought, time to put my feet up and bask in the warm feeling of achievement, but I am still running 2 or 3 times a week and feeling good about it - the gain has certainly been worth the pain.
Schools have completed their own couch to 5k challenge over the last 18 months, but this time in the use of technology. Just like starting running, they have experienced setbacks and overcome a certain amount of pain as they got to grips with new systems and processes, but they are now in a place where technology is part of their day to day teaching. The face of education has changed forever, and the skills that students, teachers and parents have developed means that they can now work together in ways that were almost unimaginable not that long ago. As a result, school leaders and teachers have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to redefine what a modern learning experience should look like.
No one is suggesting that remote learning should become a permanent part of the education experience, but the benefits of blended learning and associated strategies such as flipped learning for example have demonstrated the positive impact that technology can have on student outcomes. Schools have also discovered ways of engaging parents even more effectively through technology, with some parents reporting that their engagement with school has actually got better, even though they could no longer physically be present in the buildings.
So what can schools do to make the most of their new ‘digital fitness’?
1. Keep up the good work
To start with, it will be important to keep up the momentum. Just like running, the saying “use it or lose it” is just as valid in this context. There may well be a desire to return to the way things were, but if this happens then many of those new-found skills will quickly be lost. Talk to teachers, students and parents to decide what has worked, what is worth keeping, as these are the people who will be instrumental in implementing your new practices moving forward. Furthermore, by fostering collaboration with these groups you are more likely to generate buy in for your strategy.
2. Appoint a digital leader or team
Next you will need someone to lead the project - a running coach if you will. This is the person who will guide, encourage and share best practice across the school, and help everyone see the benefits to be gained. There can be a tendency to pick someone with a technical background, but this is not always the best approach. Ultimately, any strategy must have a clear and positive impact on teaching practice if it is to gain credibility with end users. Choose an individual or team with a strong focus on teaching and learning, someone who can ‘run’ with the teachers. The right person will help teachers see how technology will work for their subject, and with their students.
3. Go at a pace that works for you and your school
This needs to be one that you can sustain over a period of time - to steal a phrase, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Working in schools is often full of surprises, so be prepared for setbacks along the way. At times you will feel like progress is easy, whilst at others it will feel like you are running uphill all the time. This is perfectly normal and you must be ready to adjust your pace to suit the situation.
4. Set achievable goals
Finally of course, just like a runner you will need to set sensible targets and measure your progress. Remember, you don’t have to be a long distance runner right from the start. Make sure your targets are attainable so that staff don’t become discouraged - this may well mean different goals for individuals depending on where they are in their use of technology. For many people having an ‘exercise buddy’ is an important motivator, so provide opportunities for mentorship and collaboration as you work together towards your joint goals. Track the progress you are making so that everyone can see the impact of their efforts, and even more importantly celebrate your successes as a school.
Although I started the Couch to 5K programme with a degree of trepidation, I know that I am fitter and healthier than before, and I want to continue to run so that I don’t waste what I have achieved. Many schools are in a similar place right now with regards to their use of technology in teaching and learning. There will no doubt be challenges ahead as they look for ways to help students affected by lockdown catch up on their learning, but teachers can look forward to the year ahead with more confidence than has been possible over recent months. We have all achieved extraordinary things during the last year - now is the time to build on that and make the most of our new found fitness.
If you would like to understand more about your school's current use of technology and what you might be able to do to develop it even further then take five minutes to complete our Digital Maturity Diagnostic survey. You will receive your report within minutes via email, giving you the information you need to open up conversations, reflect on your current practice, and understand how you can:
- Build stronger school, families & wider community engagement
- Ensure learning stability & continuity, within and beyond the classroom
- Minimise administrative burden & reduce teacher workload
- Measure impact & understand engagement across the entire school
We understand that schools are working from different starting points and with varying levels of confidence. That is why we are committed to partnering with schools, helping them to go further every day.