Effective change or exhausting churn?

Effective change or exhausting churn?
‘Planning is the new idea’
As the school year winds down in Australia, you might think the last thing on educators’ minds is the coming 2017 school year, but a recent flurry of conferences and meetings with school leaders suggests otherwise. 

Tom March, Director of Innovation K-12 at Hobsons Edumate told The Educator that there has been a positive shift in the attitudes of principals towards driving real changes in their schools.

“In just the past week we’ve met learning leaders from schools from around Australia and they are deep into planning how they want to improve teaching and learning in 2017 and beyond,” he said.

“There seems to be what I’d call a ‘maturing’ at many schools in regard to really making positive changes. In other words, people aren’t just jumping on band wagons or believing buzzwords.”

March pointed to examples like STEM and BYOD or coding and flipping classrooms. 

“Maybe people have been at it a few years, trying out these things and are finding there are no quick fixes. This is like the difference between believing the latest fad diet versus knowing that real long-term health comes with good nutrition, exercise, rest and managing stress,” he said.
“Similarly, I’m finding a real interest in things like curriculum mapping or curriculum design. So instead of just ‘adding new bits’ like STEM activities or hoping that use of tablets will magically result in improved student learning, many of the four schools I’ve been to in the past week have shared detailed plans for managing change.”

March said that schools appreciate that without a plan and process, trying to improve student learning falls into the “wicked problem” category.

“This is where many things are tried, but little ability to show progress in achieving what matters most to a school.” he said.

“When schools build at least some of their assessments around criteria related to their visions, they are able to collect real data on how whether they are achieving their most important goals for students.” 
Big Data is not created equally
March said that How Big Data will get used in schools was “still an open question”.

“We hear a lot these days about Big Data and it touches us every time we are influenced by notifications from our smartphones or click on a link in a search result,” he said.

“If schools collect data based on their own goals and pedagogical frameworks, then they will have indicators that can inform what to fix and what to do more of.”

March said if society relies on governments and educational vendors, it will only be given information on the main tests and curriculum goals – not what matters most to each school about what it’s trying to achieve with its learners. 

“It’s motivating to hear the demand from our customers to better import and access a range of data sets and to make it easier to display interesting patterns in student performance,” he said.
“In the next five years, these efforts will change teaching and learning practices from hunch and intuition to hypotheses and data-informed decision-making. The trick will be determining what the targets are.” 
Leaking Data or Closing the Loop?
March said he was shocked recently when he spoke with a leader and she mentioned the array of software used at her school.

“Besides free software like Google Apps, this little school incurs annual fees for a student information system, software that helps them with managing fee-related school finance, timetabling, preparing academic reports, two platforms for online learning [one each for primary and secondary] and a curriculum mapping application,” he said.

“There a lot of ways this is a problem. First, obviously, is the financial cost.  Consider also the obvious cost to staff productivity as people learn and use (or don’t) all the different applications.  But a hidden and, I think, more significant long-term cost is the loss of data.” 

He pointed out that while each of these separate systems collects and holds lots of data, it is not brought together to allow educators to “connect the dots” or “close the loop” on the curriculum. 
“This loop starts with the school’s goals for student success, links these into the assessment tasks and gradebook which are then designed into the curriculum units which are delivered to students who then complete the assessments – and the students’ performance on the task is recorded in the gradebook,” he explained.

“Because each of these steps are aligned and linked to each other – and the data resides in one database – then how students perform is a direct reflection of the teaching activities.”