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Inside the infinite loop

I am writing this in an Apple conference room in Cupertino, California as I await a transfer to San Jose airport. The past four days have been exhilarating to say the least. I’d even be so bold as to say it’s been the best PLD experience I’ve ever had. I am very grateful to be invited by Apple and SSAT to be a part it. It’s not every day you get invited to spend a week behind the curtain with Apple at their HQ.

As I await the long flight home, I’m trying to use this time to reflect and make sense of all that I’ve seen. My head is spinning.

Further, more in-depth posts will follow. Such as how impressive an organisation Apple are when you get to the core. It’s been such a privilege to be allowed behind the curtain and go places very few have been. To have walked the same corridors as Steve Jobs and to maybe have sat in a room where his team of ultimate disruptors changed our perceptions of everything, is very humbling.

For now though, three things that have really hit home for me:

1. Apple are not a company that sells tech. Instead they exist to make us think differently about what we perceive education to be. Technology is merely a means to that end. One particular comment from one of the Austin store retail managers stands out for me: ‘What we do as employees of Apple we do first for ourselves and then for the world. Our soul is our people … people who shine a spotlight on you to stand outside it.’

2. Education in England is exceptional. What we are currently doing in our schools in terms of student collaboration, innovation and creativity is top drawer. When you have the privilege to visit other high-performing schools in other countries, it reaffirms your faith in all that you believe in and that as a profession we are well ahead of the game.

3. Culture is king. And at the heart of any successful culture is simplicity. We are all guilty of over-complicating things. If we want to tell our story in a way that is compelling, engaging and authentic, then we need to strip it right back. Always begin with the ‘why’. Everything else then falls into place.

It’s been an absolute honour and privilege to learn with so many inspiring colleagues who themselves are all facing the same challenges back in their schools. But the schools and communities they serve are in safe hands because I’ve seen first hand – up close and personal – how passion stokes the fire in their bellies.

I’m looking forward to spreading a bit of that warmth around my own colleagues on my return. For now though, I’ll spend the flight home mulling over even more how I intend to change the world.

An education worth having

 

 

IMG_2218The chances are you may not have heard of the Whole Education Network. It’s been going strong for several years now and grew out of the RSA in 2010. If you haven’t come across them yet, then you really should have, so read on (3 minutes reading time).

Consisting of over 200 members (and 21,000 Twitter followers), the network is a dynamic partnership of schools all with a shared passion: That all children deserve an engaging and rounded education that supports academic achievement, but also develops the skills, knowledge and qualities needed to thrive.

Anyone can join. So long as you buy-in to the key principles and are committed to collaborating with like-minded schools who embrace innovation and world-class thinking, then you’re in. You also need to sign up to the concept of – as the name suggests  – a ‘whole education’. In other words, you ensure that your pupils take complete ownership of their learning through a relevant, engaging and worthwhile curriculum. Only then can we truly guarantee an ‘education worth having’. (Those of you who have read my book will know what I mean.)

You can find out more about the Whole Education Network on their website, such as leadership impact initiatives, research and focus groups, webinars, conferences and peer review. As a member you can connect with schools at the cutting edge of best-practice up and down the country. For example, there are currently school-led interest groups exploring flipped learning, spirals of enquiry, project-based learning, digital fluency and so on. What’s perhaps most exciting is the ability to influence change on a national and international scale. Chaired by Sir John Dunford, the board and executive are well-placed to open doors and bend ears of ministers, influencers and international movers and shakers.

As the executive headteacher of a Whole Education Network Partner School, and all-round advocate for a whole education, I’m looking to establish a regional primary hub in the Midlands. Hubs are already well-established in some parts of England, such as the one in the North-West led by Sharon Bruton, CEO at The Keys Federation in Wigan. I hope to galvanise enough support to create a Midlands powerhouse where schools are able to create synergies and collaborate and share best-practice. Never before in our schools has this been more relevant, with the growing pressures on the arts, creativity, culture and the importance of a rounded and balanced curriculum, both implicit and explicit.

If you want to find out more then we are holding a Whole Education launch event at Rowley Park Academy (Stafford) on 15th May from 11.00am to 1.00pm. Look out for more details next week. You are all invited, regardless of whether or not you are an existing Whole Ed member. There’ll be an opportunity to learn more about what we do, meet key staff from the Network and agree a way forward as a regional hub. Rowley Park is a classic example of a school that has benefited from a whole education. In 2014 it was in special measures and is now a school bursting with innovation and creativity. Feel free to stay on for a tour of the school and have a look round.

If you can’t make the 15th, but are still interested then do contact me either through LinkedIn or Twitter @AndrewDMorrish. You can always contact Natasa Pantelic at Whole Education (Natasa@wholeeducation.org or on 0207 2585130).

Finally, if you know of any schools or colleagues that might be interested in joining the network, please pass this on.

 

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Twenty First Century Learning

A guest post by Carly Sconce, teacher @VicParkAcademy

As a member of staff of  an academy that embraces change and pushes the boundaries of innovative learning I was privileged to be asked by my school to be involved in a new research based project run by the European School Net centered on using ICT in the classroom. Having just completed the huge learning curve that was my NQT year, I was eager to start experimenting within my teaching practice and take on new ways to challenge, enrich and motivate pupils’ learning. Victoria Park Primary Academy provided me with a great insight into how elearning can be implemented throughout the curriculum to raise standards, so when presented with the opportunity to be involved in this project I was both excited and intrigued to be part of a new shift in the way we teach.

Living School Labs is a two-year project being run across Europe by the European School Net with the aim of schools improving their pedagogy through sharing their use of innovative practice in ICT and embedding it into their teaching. There are a select few Advanced Schools (AS) across the UK, whose role is to embed technology into teaching and learning across the whole school. Each AS school has to form a regional cluster of Advanced Practitioner Schools (AP) where technology is embedded in areas of the school, which is where Victoria Park Academy fits in.  As a school we already actively enhance children’s learning through the use of ICT, all of our children engage with elearning throughout the day. A great example of this is the 1:1 tablets we recently introduced to Years 4, 5 and 6 as part of the Shape the Future Project with Microsoft and RM.  They have had a significant impact on raising standards with 93% of Year 6 children achieving a level 4 combined in last year’s SATS.  Consequently this project has enabled us to take the use of technology to the next step within the school in the form of Flip learning.

Flip learning is an area our Advanced School has focused on. But before this project I had not heard of this new way of teaching but after researching it I could not understand why this was not the ‘norm’ ? In this day and age where technology dominates our culture, flip learning seems an ideal way of teaching that our children can relate to and access easily. To those of you that are novices to flip learning like I was, it is in essence flipping the way you structure your lesson by keeping the students’ learning at the center of teaching. A flipped class inverts the typical knowledge and application upfront that we are all so used to delivering and allows the children to gain the information before the lesson using technology. Therefore the teacher can facilitate the children’s clarification and application of the knowledge during class.

Many of our classes use the one to one device at home to access this work. Although not all classes have these devices yet, we are not allowing it to become a barrier for learning. Personally I am using flip learning by setting homework on our Open Hive site (whether this is a website, RM books or videos) to prepare the children for the learning that will take place in the classroom. Children can access this using their home devices.  Children’s feedback of their understanding is a crucial part of flipping; practitioners create many ways for children to do this from discussion forums to audio recording. As a class without the means to always do this interactively I have adapted the process to suit my Year 3 class. For example, children write down their thoughts on our yellow and black thinking hats which are on the learning walls in class. This has been beneficial as it informs my planning. Whatever technological situation your school is in ‘where there is a will there is a way’.

Subsequently, the  European School Net are involved in many projects to encourage the use of ICT in learning and to facilitate their vision of future classrooms. A course I recently attended was run by Microsoft in partnership with the European School Net. The focus of the course was Twenty First Century Learning. Microsoft  are supporting schools in making fundamental changes to their pedagogy so that it is centered around the needs of the children.  Twenty First Century learning is essentially equipping the children with the skills needed to interact in the ever-changing world around them using ICT as an enhancer.  There are six main areas that children need to develop:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Knowledge construction
  3. Self-regulation
  4. Real world problem solving and innovation
  5. ICT for learning
  6. Skilled communication

Findings suggest that children are doing all of the above although they are only being taught them at a basic level. However, using these skills at a higher level is proven to have a bigger impact on progress as they are learning them in-depth and are able to apply them.  For high level usage teachers need to design learning opportunities for children to develop and demonstrate these skills. Each skill has a rubric showing how the depth of the skill is developed.  It is important to note that these are not grades that the children should be assessed against but an overview for us as educators to assess the level of the skill we have been teaching our children at.  Therefore as reflective practitioners we can adapt our teaching to ensure that the children get a balanced experience of the skill. Recently I have introduced the Collaboration Rubric in class and the children have independently used it by identifying the level they are working at as well as a tool for critiquing their own and others’ work.

Continued professional development and risk taking teachers are needed for future classrooms to facilitate learning, giving the children the tools needed to succeed in life, not dictating facts from a board.  Teachers that do not recognize and embrace the need for change will be doing their children and themselves an injustice. Therefore I will end with something to think about: ‘If we teach the way we were taught yesterday then are we preparing our students for today or tomorrow?’