Even before COVID-19 forced students and educators to shift to online learning, 2020 was shaping up to be one of rapid acceleration of pedagogical and technological transformation in schools.
For school leaders, ensuring that they and their teachers are continually improving knowledge and practical skills in digital technologies is becoming critical as the education system adjusts to the new normal.
At The Educator Leaders’ Summit 2020 on June 25, three award-winning panellists shared their experience in using cutting-edge technology to enhance learning and set students up for academic success.
Chairing the Summit was Matthew Johnson, national president and CEO of the Australian Special Education Principals’ Association (ASEPA), who moderated the panel and gleaned crucial insights from these influential school leaders.
Jamie Dorrington, strategic adviser at Caloundra City Private School and former Headmaster of Saint Stephen's College, was a Winner of Best School Strategic Plan 2019 and Finalist of Best Use of Technology 2019 at the Australian Education Awards.
He said that the shift to remote and flexible learning has revealed how adaptive Australia’s teachers are.
“One thing it’s certainly taught us is that teachers are perfectly capable of change if they’ve got a crisis to deal with,” Dorrington said.
“So, it shows that as educators we’re actually capable of things that a lot of people argue we’re not capable of or we have trouble doing”.
Tamara Sullivan previously worked as head of academics and innovation at Ormiston College in Brisbane. Since the crisis began, she has been prepping for her new role as deputy principal of Inner City Secondary School – a school that is still being built.
“A lot of teachers shared some of the successes and some of the challenges, and in particular it didn’t really highlight that our students are not as self-directed and self-regulated as we thought,” she said.
“So, I think that’s one of the areas we need to do a lot more work in; developing that self-regulated learning and those effective ways of collaborating online”.
Kylee Owen, principal of Callaghan College, and Winner of Best Use of Technology 2019 at the Australian Education Awards, said that for her school, the crisis was an important learning opportunity.
“There were certain things we already knew, but COVID-19 really brought some things to a head and made us hone in on specifics like ensuring explicit instruction and ensuring there was a really clear framework for our students to work within,” she said.
“However, at the same time, there was also a need to balance that with an incredible degree of flexibility to cater for the diversity across our student needs”.
The Summit also heard how the pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of educators linking and utilising connections outside of their school and collaborating with industry players.
“Having those external partnerships are important, but what’s more important is building that capacity within your school,” Sullivan said.
“At Ormiston College, we used to run a Learning Innovation Leadership Committee, which began with 12 voluntary staff members and over the course of a few years tripled to see a third of our staff on that committee really exploring those innovative approaches to teaching and learning”.
Sullivan said that by staff doing this research, they started to develop expertise in a particular area.
“This gave them a narrative to tell in the wider community, and for us, it helped us develop strong professional learning networks outside the school”.
Dorrington said that no school could be expected to be completely prepared for the incredible disruption the pandemic caused, but fortunately much of the necessary architecture was in place to help students and staff survive the worst.
“Back at St Stephens, we did a lot of work around blended learning for years. When the pandemic occurred, our school was in a position to apply all of those systems it had in place,” he said.
“We had developed some really good connections and networks from outside, but they had been built up over the long term. However, Caloundra was nowhere near as well developed in terms of its blended learning journey, but it did some fantastic work as well”.
Owen said her school was prepared in the sense that it had established strong networks prior to the virus.
“In terms of building the capacity within the school, we have a future learning team across the college who are representatives from each campus who come together on a regular basis,” she said.
“These representatives are also heavily invested in networks beyond the school”.
Owen said blended learning was heavily embedded into the school, and this was able to be transitioned into learning from home arrangements.
“Having said that, there were some significant learnings and some partnerships that we had to rely on during that time,” she said.
“The one thing that became more critical towards the end of the lockdown period was our partnership with the University of Newcastle”.
Owen works closely with Professor John Fischetti, Interim Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Education and Arts at the University of Newcastle. Professor Fischetti’s research focuses on reframing teacher education, school transformation and learner-focused school design.
“We really wanted to maintain the incredible hard work that our staff had done during the lockdown, and see where this positive experience took us next,” she said.
“John worked with us to deliver some professional learning to our staff, to get them thinking about those next steps and how we would make the best value out our learnings from that period”.