Unbelievably, yesterday was my last day at Surbiton High School, the wonderful school where I have spent the last four years teaching languages and leading on the digital strategy for teaching and learning.
I have been fortunate to work with inspiring, committed colleagues and under clear, empowering leadership. This created an environment in which the adoption of technology to support teaching and learning was not seen as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to develop new ways in which to deliver our curriculum, improve our classroom practice and foster the learning habits that our students need to thrive and flourish in their endeavours.
A “learning first” digital strategy
Our digital strategy has been evolving for four years. It’s still evolving and I have no doubt it will continue to do so when I’m but a distant memory. Its latest iteration and most accurate representation is below:
Its three main pillars all have one thing in common: they’re there to support teaching and learning. By removing most extraneous apps, tools and even a lot of the most common commercial edtech, we have been able to concentrate on those practices, tools and workflows that show the most promise according to our experience and the available research findings.
Whilst we are aware that any direct impact that technology might have on learning is notoriously difficult to measure, we realised it was erroneous – even irresponsible – to dismiss the use of technology altogether without exploring how it could support those strategies and interventions which have been shown to improve outcomes, such as improving feedback, collaborative learning, metacognitive strategies and self-regulation in learning.
Right from the very start we realised that, if the adoption of technology for learning was to succeed, we needed to make it explicit to our teachers, parents and pupils how the technology-rich environment we were creating would support teaching and learning.
We set upon creating a culture in which professional development intertwined content knowledge, pedagogy and technological competence and a climate in which using technology was no-fuss, mundane and, perhaps counterintuitively, non-essential. Teachers, parents and students quickly realised that the use of technology was not an imposition, but an addition to their teaching and learning toolkits. Adoption was encouraged, not hindered, by this lack of compulsion.
Our staff quickly developed ways in which they could use our technology to support sound pedagogy. They understood that effective teaching and effective use of their resources were not mutually exclusive. In our context, we have seen how the careful and purposeful application of technology has improved the quality of instruction, and how it has had a positive impact on classroom climate, classroom management, the fostering of metacognitive strategies, the timely delivery of feedback, and even the type and quality of the homework we can set.
Over the past four years, we have been fortunate to have been chosen as the place to visit to see a successful digital strategy in action by many other schools, educational technology companies and even the UK Department for Education. Those who visit Surbiton High School always remark on how normal and ordinary the use of technology is. At heart, we are a traditional school that makes the most of the resources available to us, digital or analogue, to support teaching and learning.
We also understood from the very outset that in a traditional, technology-rich environment content delivery was going to be a priority. The curricular (and co-curricular) offer at Surbiton High School was already exceptionally rich, but we needed a way to facilitate access to the core content of our curriculum.
Our goal was to develop a means to deliver our rich curriculum while at the same time taking into account how students learn best. With this as our aim, we developed our digital leaning spaces, a means to curate and deliver content to our students that incorporates in its design principles such as dual-coding, distributed practice, modelling of solved problems and retrieval practice.
The use of technology to support teaching and learning at Surbiton High School is now so common place that it is almost unremarkable. We see this as the principal, most rewarding and gratifying sign of the success of our digital strategy.
None of this would have been possible without the support and challenge of my colleagues, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. I will miss Surbiton High School and the wonderful people who inhabit it – teachers, support staff and students alike.
Here’s to the future
On 1 September I will take up post as deputy head at Hampshire Collegiate School, an ambitious, forward-looking school set in beautiful, historic grounds and full of inspiring, committed teachers and wonderful students. I am very much looking forward to joining and contributing to the development of the school as a beacon of excellent practice – with and without technology.