How exceptional leadership can bring out the best in technology

Isobel BryceIsobel Bryce, head of Community School was just one of the impressive educators who spoke at the 2011 The Sunday Times Festival of Education in June. She talked about technology, and was instrumental in adding the “.net” to her school’s name soon after she arrived there in 2003. Isobel spoke about leadership at all levels and bringing it to work with technology, as after all, technology won’t do the job on its own.

Gerald Haigh, independent writer to Microsoft spoke to Isobel and her take on the relationship between school leadership and ICT after talking to her a couple of years ago in the context of the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Programme. Isobel’s full hearted support of ITP at has made the school and its teachers into global players in ICT for learning.

Isobel has belief in the strong yet carefully distributed leadership structure that’s necessary if ICT is really going to transform learning, a real leadership lesson for all schools.  At there are three people and three jobs, each one essential for the effectiveness of the other two and of the wider community.

First, there’s a senior leadership team member, in this instance the deputy head having a strategic understanding and vision of ICT and learning in the school. Obviously the head teacher carries the overall school vision, but if ICT is to be a key driver of learning, a high priority for staffing and resources, then the head needs, alongside on the SLT, a person of status and authority who can maintain the strategic ICT focus.

The second person will be someone who is a real day to day curriculum leader, in the thick of classroom action, constantly demonstrating the value of ICT for learning. looked at staff for a confident role model, revealing what’s possible, helping colleagues, and, perhaps most importantly, showing that learning of any kind can be fun, not least with the help of ICT.

And finally the network manager.  The technical person who ensures that everything works and understands the technology for when it doesn't (let’s face it, this can happen) and at the same time understand that learning is always the priority.

In some ways, this third role can be the most difficult one. Back in March we quoted Paul Hynes, Programme Lead for New Technology at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) on his concerns about some of the attitudes in some network teams.

“ can find dysfunctional teams. They block suggestions and ideas with technical language that heads don’t understand.”

Isobel knows from experience elsewhere exactly what Paul Hynes means and therefore really appreciates her own network manager, who sees the job entirely in terms of providing support for learning, making suggestions about how things can be done, as well as providing technical support for neighbouring schools.

Anyone who knows the school also knows who these three people are at

The SLT member is Deputy Head Dave Garland, with 33 years service to the school, and in Isobel’s words “A real pioneer of the power of ICT”.

The curriculum leader is Dan Roberts, whose work and success in the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Programme is well known. A good place to see Dan in action is on this bit of video about his “Recharge the Battery” Project.

The Network Manager at is Adam Ledger. His contribution is best described by reference a recent newsletter which Adam produced for the school in response to a suggestion from senior leadership. Full of useful information for staff about PC upgrades, software, wireless access, drop in training sessions, it’s strong but also easy to understand in both content and spirit of the network team’s commitment to the support of teaching and learning of the school.

To those three key posts, in any school, you have to add a fourth – the head!  Without the full commitment of the head, none of this can happen.  Not just commitment to ICT but to the development of a risk-taking, innovative school culture.

“When I first came at the start of 2003, I knew there were some incredible people here, and I remember standing up and saying I wanted them to take risks.”, Isobel Bryce.

Developing  that kind of approach in a school, people will seek you out! Dan Roberts, for example, arrived in a sideways move because he knew he’d have the opportunities he wanted.

One area of this relationship however is to look after the sustainability of it. Dave Garland retires this summer. Dan Roberts won’t be in his present job for ever, and maybe Adam Ledger won’t be either. People naturally move on and Isobel is well ahead of all those thoughts. By concentrating so much here on a named team risks underplaying the contribution of a whole series of able people and teams.

“These things don’t happen overnight, and we have really good people coming on, those who follow the pioneers and keep taking the school forward.”

‘’Leadership at all levels’’ was used in Isobel’s talk at the Sunday Times Festival and quite deliberately too. Students in innovative schools are released to be leaders in their own learning as well as others. Something that encourages.

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