originally posted on Daily Edventures
We often say here at Daily Edventures that behind every great student is a great teacher. And in the case of the @OffPerts (Microsoft Office Experts) – the students from the Saltash.net Community School in Cornwall, England who provided an inspiring and necessary student voice at the 2014 Global Forum – this couldn’t be more true.
You may remember earlier this spring when we shared the story of George, Amy, Jack and Rowenna – the @OffPerts. These four students not only attended the Global Forum, but they also shared and communicated their ideas with the educators, school administrators and government leaders in attendance. They made a big impression, and they also won a second runner-up award, along with their teacher Scott Wieprecht, in the Cutting Edge Use of ICT for Learning category.
“I think I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was really young,” says Wieprecht. “I love the buzz you get when you help someone connect with content or an idea they have never seen before for the first time.” Wieprecht was drawn to teaching at an early age. By age 13, he was helping to teach drama at a local theatre group. By age 16, he had set up his own stage school “Stage Stars,” which he still runs today, in addition to his work at Saltash.net. “I think I was always destined to become a teacher,” says Wieprecht, “for the fundamental reason that I like empowering our young people to make decisions and take the lead and aspire to be something wonderful. In the same ways that I get to see when youngsters perform on the stage, I now get to see that every day in my classroom.”
In addition to his Expert Educator mantle and award at the Global Forum, Wieprecht was recently named as a Silver Teaching Award Winner in the category of “Outstanding use of Technology in Education” by the Pearson Teaching Awards, which recognize the life-changing impact of an inspirational teacher on the young people they teach. Wieprecht was selected from over 20,000 nominations received this year.
Please join me in congratulating Scott Wieprecht, not just because of the awards he is receiving, but because he is changing the lives of students, the world of education, and is a perfect example of how, behind every great student, there is a great teacher.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
My favorite teacher was my Head of Year in secondary school. His name was Jeremy Martin, and despite all the countless hours he spent on everything, he always made you feel like he had enough time for you, and you were more important than any of that. To me pastoral care is more important than academic content, and it’s the teachers who make you feel good who further your life the most. I’m really lucky I now have a huge team of colleagues (Linda Griffin, Isobel Bryce, Dan Buckley, Ben Rowe, Alan Hawthorne…) who work with the same mantra, which is why I had the privilege at working in such and amazing school environment.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
I’m not a big fan of questions like this, as I personally don’t do anything to make the changes. The only way to really succeed in making changes to education for the better is to hand power to the students. Of course it has to be done in a managed, sensible, and constructed way initially, but it is the students, when given the appropriate support, that have the best tools to change the world. My achievement and recognition therefore come from these types of projects. The OffPerts, which is all about student leadership, has won a South West Digital Educators Award, 2nd Runner-up for Microsoft’s Outstanding Use of Cutting Edge Technology 2014, and recently seen me become a National Teaching Award winner for 2014 – it is all about the students, but I am more than happy to get shiny trophies.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
For me the idea behind the technology use has to be more powerful than the technology itself. For example, with Office 365, it would be quite easy to take it as its face value and use it for storage, email and messaging. It’s only when strong ideas get added to this, such as using Newsfeed to remind about coursework deadlines, using Lync to give a pupil off on long term illness a window into the classroom, using sites to run lessons or study groups… that’s when the technology becomes innovative. I am always quick to point out I am not a Microsoft evangelist, and I don’t sing from the ‘hymn sheet’ blindly. The reason I tell everyone about Microsoft, is because nothing compares. There is no organization that gives as much to education, whatever the long term ‘motive’ might be, and that actually cares about improving children’s futures.
In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?
Devices level the playing field, it’s as simple as that. Allowing each student access to their own device means they all have the same chance and opportunity. Yes, we do still have to account for and work with lack of parental engagement, or low self-esteem, but devices remove the physical blocks to learning and give everyone a fair chance. Devices also, far from stopping communication, encourage it beyond the classroom. In the world we live in, linking up with students from far afield, and different countries, is a hugely important life skill. With the evolution of apps and devices this can take place anywhere, anytime. For example, in my classroom on a warm sunny day, it can sometimes be unbearable. Now I can simply say, let’s continue this outside, and run my lessons just as effectively though Lync, showing the same slides, videos, whiteboard, as I would have in my room, but in a location that is comfortable, and more productive to learning. Anywhere is now a learning space, not just somewhere with wall and tables.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
The “cloud” is by far the most exciting thing for me at the moment. The “always on, everywhere access” ethos means that education is becoming a more fluid concept, and encouraging more to engage. The cloud also means updates are instantaneous, and collaboration is commonplace, and at the core of everything. Rather than being something you try to build in to a lesson, it is the basis of every lesson.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
I think collaboration should probably be my answer, but I hope that one day this won’t be seen as a “skill” and actually just be everywhere. Improvement can only really happen, progress can only really be made, when we collaborate. Even taking some of our most fundamental inventions, accredited to a single person, they wouldn’t stand the test of time without collaboration. In my opinion, an idea is only as good as the 20 people that add to it.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I’d give every child in the world a device with a blank OneNote on it. I’d ask them to plan how they were going to change the world, make it fairer for everyone. I’d link students up to annotate each other’s work, question their ideas and how they would go about doing them, and offer suggestions to obstacles that might stand in their way.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
Education needs to reflect the learners, and it needs to reflect the market. It would be really easy for me to say remove exams. Unfortunately I don’t really have another system that would go in its place so saying scrap it isn’t productive or useful. I would challenge what the exams are though. Should a mathematics exam really ask 30 questions about vectors and trigonometry, or should it be asking real world problems, something that a Venn Diagram probably won’t solve.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Allowing students to enjoy working together, both in school and outside. Living in a rural area it isn’t always possible or practical for them to meet up at each other’s houses every night to work on a project. Giving them an opportunity to do this, without relying on parents, or the fact that in winter it’s dark by 5pm, means they can take responsibility for their own progress.
How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Don’t be afraid of the obvious. There seems to be stigmas attached to certain things, or the ‘done way.’ For me, Office 365 completely solved my problems, and not only that, had another load of benefits to boot. Best of all its free, so there really is no harm in trialing it – you won’t be disappointed.
How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?
Mobile devices mean that everyone has personalized access to the work. We’ve been using Surfaces to access Office 365 so that everyone is working on their projects at the same time, it also means that I can measure everyone’s progress individually, and see how much each individual is contributing.
Describe to us your role as a leader for technology in your school, community or among other educators?
I am responsible for assisting in the setting up and deployment of Office 365 to the whole school and ensuring its effective use. I am also on some of the steering committees and trial groups in school to test new technologies and ideas. Recently a colleague and I started Empower to Aspire and Project Aspire with the aim of linking up schools around the world to develop student leadership.
How is the experience being a Microsoft Innovative Educator – Expert?
It’s been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Its given my students life skills I would never have been able to give them alone, but also allowed me to engage with a whole host of other professionals. I am VERY lucky in that Stuart Ball and Steve Beswick have always been generous with their time with us, but Anya and Anthony also made a point of speaking to the students, and this left a lasting impression on them. It’s also helped me feel confident in my classroom, and expand the work I am doing out to other educators in the South West and the UK, and helped me to dream big. The only downside is I am now desperate to get an opportunity to attend the next Global Forum to learn more!