The “Principals On The Cutting Edge” interview series aims to share some of the thoughts, strategies and influences of the most cutting edge principals in schools today. The series features a number of teaching thought leaders from around the globe, sharing ideas and experiences that can help drive your school forward and keep you on the cutting edge.
Bio: In grade five, I was a student in an amazing classroom with an amazing teacher. Mrs Liberatore planted the seed and made me want to bring joy into classrooms just like her.
Beginning my teaching career in 2003 as a classroom teacher at St. Christopher’s Primary School, I became passionate about providing my students with the opportunity to develop their skills as 21st Century digital learners.
In 2009, I became the Learning and Teaching Coordinator at St. Thomas More Primary School. I have been responsible for the transition towards the integration of high quality ICT tools within the curriculum to engage and personalise student learning.
In 2009, I was lucky enough to be accepted as a member of the ’Apple Distinguished Educator’ program. The Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) program is a relationship program focused on educational excellence and leadership.
As a life long learner, I have developed my own skills as an educator and leader through ongoing professional development, membership in various educational associations and further education including the completion of my Masters in Education.
I am currently the Deputy Principal at St. Thomas More Primary, continuing with my role of Learning and Teaching Coordinator. I am also on the ANZ Board of the Apple Distinguished Educator Community. It is my current goal to continue to enhance teachers’ capacity to provide our students with the opportunity to use technology to communicate, collaborate and create their own success.
We have the best job in the world. Each day we get to work with minds that are open, curious and enthusiastic. If only we all could be that way!
Personally, I am looking forward to the birth of my first child next February and embarking on the exciting adventure of becoming a parent with my wonderful husband.
How effectively do you feel technology is used in your school and education in general?
At St Thomas More Primary technology is used to empower student learning. As a Mac school, we have embraced Apple Technologies to assist our students to communicate, collaborate, create and celebrate their learning. The use of multimodal literacies enhances our students’ ability to express their ideas and share their understandings with anyone, be it a peer or a Professor across the other side of the world. Whether this be through the creation of an iMovie, an iWeb blog, pages publications or keynote presentations, our students seamlessly use technology across all areas of the curriculum.
The recent explosion of mobile devices has brought about a new layer in using technology in the classroom. Due to funding restrictions, our school is not a one to one environment, however we do not see this as an obstacle in accessibility. The introduction of iPads into our classroom environments has brought with it new ideas, possibilities and opportunities. A variety of Apps are used by students and teachers to enhance learning experiences. Whether this be through animations (e..g. puppet pals), country research (CIA world fact book) or using the inbuilt camera to scan QR codes, the iPads are a mobile learning space that can allow our students to create and store new ideas. At St Thomas More we plan for the purposeful use of technologies throughout each and every day. This includes the use of Edmodo as a learning management system, and as a means of providing our students with an opportunity to develop their skills in social netiquette and appropriate online behaviour.[line]
In regards to technology, what difference do you see in students entering school now versus ten years ago?
Students who enter school in the current era expect to be able to use technology to create, communicate, collaborate and celebrate their learning. The inability to access to technology actually causes anxiety and stress amongst many of the student population. Schools that do not plan for the opportunity to use technology within their everyday learning environment (as opposed to a separate lab bank) may see their school as out of touch and unable to cater for their needs. Students often know more than the teachers and parent do. Teachers and parents need to be active online citizens who have experienced and understand the online learning domain. In particular, the use of social networking has brought about a great deal of anxiety and naivety amongst adults who do not realise the extent to which students rely on websites such as Facebook to maintain their friendships and social connections.
The world is a very different place than it was ten years ago, even two years ago. In terms of technolgy, our students are digital immigrants, who have grown up in the digital world. That said however, many students, particularly in Primary School simply do not possess the adequate skills, knowledge and attitudes to be able to conduct themselves safely online. We need to ensure that we help guide them to use the digital language in the right way so that their digital footprint reflects their true selves in years to come. We also need to help our parent community overcome their fears in relation to the use of technology for student learning.[line]
What piece of technology has had the biggest impact on your school in the past five years and how has it changed learning?
In terms of hardware: the introduction of mobile technologies, with specific reference to iPads. The idea of accessibility to a range of learning tools in a mobile form has brought about a new sense of freedom in student learning. Many families have the ability to access and use these technologies and the introduction of smart phones into the curriculum only seems to be the way of the future. The issue of equality is a challenge that needs to be discussed and debated in each and every school environment.
In terms of software: iMovie opened my mind to the possibility of combining vision, sound and text. iMove allows students to summarise their learning in a professional and engaging way. The endless possibilities that this program provides can equip students with the ability to express the understandings, feelings and questions in an amazing way.
These technologies have changed student learning by tapping into their learning styles and preferences. The idea that a student can express their learning in a digital way ensures that we are catering for students with varying needs and abilities. Students with physical and learning disabilities are given the chance to show what they know and understand in a way that pen and paper could never provide.[line]
What moment or event convinced you that technology would make a difference in your school?
Put it simply, many years ago my previous school won the ‘Westfield Shop for your School’ competition. Winning this competition provided us with the opportunity to use Mac computers in our school. Having this computer in my classroom provided me with the chance to try something new and give Apple technologies a go in our learning environment. Almost instantaneously, we were engaged by the way that our students interacted with the software and the ability to provide simple but engaging learning opportunities in my classroom. Ever since then, I have been a devoted follower of Apple technologies. Becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2009 has allowed me to connect with amazing teachers across the world and be inspired by their ideas. Mac technology has provided us with the opportunity to seamlessly integrate and sync software amongst students and teachers. We are now hoping to move this to the parent community by engaging them in learning blogs and our cyber safety website.[line]
How do you keep up to speed with emerging technologies and how do you encourage your staff to get involved?
Twitter would have to be the best form of ongoing, daily Professional Development that every teacher should take advantage of. Following key educators and innovators around the world helps me to stay in touch with new ideas, great resources and debates that can help empower our kids every day. Adding to this, being involved in the Apple Distinguished Educator community certainly has helped me to learn from people who are working on the ground, educating real kids and inspiring teachers to push the boundaries of technologies in our every day classrooms. That said, some of the best teachers have been our students themselves: through interacting via Edmodo, students find and offer suggestions for the use of technologies based on their own explorations and discoveries.
All of our teachers are given their own Mac laptop and iPad to explore and use. Teachers are encouraged to get involved via purposeful planning and the use of technologies to celebrate their own learning. Using Edmodo as a teacher collaborative space, professional development sessions and workshops give our teachers the chance to play, explore and understand the possibilities of using such amazing technologies in their classrooms and own lives.[line]
What role models or thought-leaders inspire you to make a difference in education? What is it that makes them stand out?
Stephen Heppell, Sir Ken Robinson and Greg Whitby would have to be the three key educators who have opened my mind into the world of considering what is possible with the use of technologies and learning spaces. These amazing educators have forced us all to reconsider what we believe is our mission as educators, and to question our practices being based upon future possibilities, or recurrent trends. The idea that personalising learning for our future generations means thinking outside the typical industrial model of education, and focusing on nurturing the talents of each and every child. That said, we need to therefore consider the extent to which direct teaching and instruction empowers our students to learn and achieve their potential.
My current Principal, Marcy De Nardis is an ongoing inspiration and support in helping all of our teachers to challenge their thinking about the purpose of education, and helping us all to see that our role is to nurture the talents and interests of each and every child. There are also so many classroom teachers and students that have inspired me to take risks with student learning and better my own understanding of what it means to teach. What makes these innovators stand out is their courage to not be restricted by a ‘yes, but’ mentality. Thinking of what is possible, rather than focusing on the negative generally brings out the best in all of us.[line]
For more information about St Thomas More Primary, visit www.stmhadfield.catholic.edu.au
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Johan Larsson