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: Michael Shepherd is the Headteacher of Hawes Side, a large three form entry Primary School on the North West coast of the UK. He is also a consultant Headteacher for the Schools Network. Michael has led many courses and presented across the country on a range of education themes, most notably Parental Engagement and the use of New Technologies, two areas Hawes Side have been recognised for nationally. His M.Ed in Educational Leadership focused on preparation for Headship and he works closely with CEL at Manchester University on their leadership training and development programmes. Michael has developed a number of networks regionally, nationally and internationally and uses social media to further extend collaborative approaches to education.
How effectively do you feel technology is used in your school and education in general?
In school we try to ensure that technology is not seen as a gimmick but as a core learning tool. We always avoid rushing out and purchasing new devices without first considering their worth in school to support the children’s learning. Having a strong ICT team in school helps ensure all options and ideas are carefully considered before we dive into new initiatives. In general terms I think the landscape is still pretty uneven. Schools with forward thinking leaders who support creative staff are doing some fantastic things, but in my experience we still have pockets of, as opposed to a culture of innovation.
In regards to technology, what difference do you see in students entering school now versus ten years ago?
Many pupils now arrive in school already ‘tech savvy’. I remember a while ago visiting a school where the deputy head told me that when the reception children first went into the IT suite they picked up the mouse and pointed it at the monitors like a Wii controller! More than ever, our children now begin school already clear about how to use a range of devices, apps, programmes, gesture control etc… School in many instances lags behind! They are confident in the use of different technologies as it forms part of their everyday experience. If they encounter something new they aren’t apprehensive. They don’t worry too much about a linear approach to learning, adopting more of an exploratory route to see what things can do.
What piece of technology has had the biggest impact on your school in the past five years and how has it changed learning?
The use of blogging and green screen have been key areas that are now embedded in our learning approaches in school. Our Deputy Head once said to me if you replace the word ‘blogging’ with the word ‘writing’ you get an idea of the shift in children’s thinking and attitudes towards traditional core disciplines through new technology. The green screen studio further supports children’s basic skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing and has proved a great vehicle for evaluation and reflection . It is also used to enhance learning by widening horizon’s and letting loose the children’s imaginations. We recently purchased some ipads for reception and the digital natives in there are certainly getting the most out of them!
What moment or event convinced you that technology would make a difference in your school?
I can’t think of a single moment or event but more an increasing awareness that technology was a currency the children clearly understood and used in their lives outside of school. They are familiar with a range of technologies, social media and gaming and if we want to bridge the school/home divide we need to embrace the language of learning they are most comfortable with. I do remember quite vividly the joy on children’s faces when we first used interactive whiteboards with them. They were actively involved in their learning, totally engaged rather than passive recipients.
Most recently we saw the power of technology in a couple of ways that made me realise what a difference it can make. In the summer our Y5 children went away for a week long residential. For many it was the first time away from home and parents were understandably nervous. We set up a live blog so the children could keep in touch using mobile devices. They posted pictures of everything from their breakfast to sleeping on the coach! Parents absolutely loved the live blogging and it has become a standard for school trips.
A few months ago one of our Y6 classes was looking at persuasive text. They wrote adverts and filmed them in the green screen studio. I sent one or two of these out to the world via twitter. I immediately had a request from a teacher a hundred miles away to use one of the adverts as a writing stimulus for his Y3 class. The power of twitter to connect learners and their learning was clearly exemplified! We have similar experiences of technology connecting us to learners around the world and I guess that is where I see the biggest difference – connecting learners globally.
How do you keep up to speed with emerging technologies and how do you encourage your staff to get involved?
As a school we meet each term for a ‘staff surgery’ session in place of a staff meeting. This allows people to share their concerns and problems with new technology, show their colleagues new web 2.0 tools they’ve been using and spend time looking at their class blogs, the school website and various online material we use as a school. We adopt a coaching model with staff and fully recognise the journey is harder for some. One to one support where necessary and a collegiate approach have been successful in getting people up and running.
We also have a group of children in Y6 who are our ICT strategy group. It is part of their remit to share web 2.0 tools, support less confident staff and pupils and present new and exciting things they’ve found on the net. Sometimes we point them in the direction we want them to go (most recently they’ve been looking at a range of presentation tools to share with staff next term) but they generally tell us about the things they’ve found!
What role models or thought-leaders inspire you to make a difference in education? What is it that makes them stand out?
Sir Ken Robinson has a way of articulating his thoughts and ideas in a most persuasive and cogent manner. I remember seeing his TED talk ‘Are schools killing creativity?’ and immediately felt he’d hit the nail on the head and shared this with staff, which really opened up some healthy professional dialogue at school. It is important to have those conversations and I don’t think we do that enough. Each term we have a professional development meeting where we discuss research and ideas to engage with the wider world of education. It is easy to get bogged down in the day to day and sometimes we just need the time and space to get our heads above the parapet to see the bigger picture.
Twitter remains for me a hugely powerful form of ongoing professional development. The knowledge, skills and experience of my PLN is truly astounding and keeps me engaged, challenged and supported on a daily basis.
This is the last in our “Principals On The Cutting Edge” interview series. Make sure to pass on thanks and share any particular quotes or ideas you liked. Just in case you missed one, here is the full series:
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Johan Larsson