Gerald Haigh - The impact of the Microsoft Educator Community on whole-school CPD


This week we have been looking at the Microsoft Education Community through the eyes of individual teachers, but for this final day of #MECweek, we are going to assess the broader impact that can be felt across schools as a whole when the educators within an institution embark upon a course of teacher CPD.

We sent Gerald Haigh to speak to some of the head teachers at schools where the MEC is being enthusiastically embraced by the staff, and below are his findings and thoughts on the wider impact of teacher CPD through the Microsoft Educator Community.

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The teacher who explores and makes use of the Microsoft Educator Community (MEC) stands to gain professionally and personally, improving existing knowledge and skills and acquiring new areas of competence.

The most significant benefits, though, come when the teacher works with colleagues to bring about change across the school. With this in mind I’ve been talking to teachers about the whole-school possibilities presented by MEC and Microsoft technologies.

At Wellingborough School, for example, a very large independent school, with pupils aged from 3 to 18, Computing Teacher, ICT & Digital Learning Co-ordinator and MIEE Martine Mannion is working alongside colleagues and the senior leadership team on establishing a far-reaching and cost-effective plan for the future, based on Windows 10, Office 365 and Surface devices. There will be a heavy demand for training and support, and the availability of the huge range of resources within the cloud-based MEC will go a long way towards making the project manageable.

Martine, who has blogged enthusiastically about the way her own practice has been transformed, says,

‘We’ve identified a pilot, scheduled to start just after Easter. Particular members of staff will have a mix of 20 Surface 3 & Pro 4 devices. They will use the MEC to develop their own skills and knowledge, then go on to be champions with MEC helping them to cascade the use of mobile and cloud-based technologies on to departments and key stages. We want to reach a point where teachers will observe lessons where a mix of mobile and cloud-based technology is being rolled out, so they can take on board how, as a tool, this will enhance teaching and learning and benefit their own pedagogical practice. It’s crucial that students are part of this, laying out a platform for the acquisition of 21st Century skills.’

With an already successful Digital Leaders initiative operating at Wellingborough, discussions have now started with the aim of putting in place a team of student ambassadors who will be trained to assist others in using O365 as well as the MEC. This has proved to be a successful approach by schools such as Wymondham High Academy where MIEE and Microsoft Showcase school leader Kevin Sait has shown how student involvement is crucial to the IT Service support for the school community as it migrates to Office 365 and Surface devices.

Martine is enthusiastic about the way that MEC puts staff development in the hands of teachers, offering a flexible, non-threatening and cost-free way of winning over those who might not be sure how mobile and cloud-based technologies can help them. As she says,

‘Rather than stand in front of teachers and explain, the structure and clear layout of the MEC’s ‘Get Trained’ section make it possible for teachers to independently and within their timeframe, identify the areas relevant to access for up- coming lessons, which will in turn be incorporated and add value to their planning.’

Always, ambitious development plans like that at Wellingborough, need full-hearted support from senior leadership, and there’s no doubt of the commitment of Garry Bowe, the school’s headmaster.

‘We’re looking to develop an approach to learning which is much more IT orientated than it has been,’ he says. ‘Particularly with regard to mobile technology. We are sure it has to be Cloud-based, hence our interest in Microsoft.’

In common with all school leaders, however, Mr Bowe knows that the far-reaching decisions now being made have to be appropriate, thoroughly researched and cost-effective.

‘We have an ICT Committee, which includes Martine Mannion, doing research with the intention of indicating to me the most appropriate solutions for us here. I’m very receptive and supportive. We’ve come a long way in five years and the exciting thing is that we’re now ready for the next phase.’

The wide spread of ages at the school – there’s a pre-prep school, a prep school and a senior school – certainly brings challenges in terms of selecting appropriate technologies at each stage. But, says Mr Bowe, having children from being almost toddlers up to adults, also provides opportunities.

‘We’re in a unique position to monitor the ICT development of youngsters over a fifteen years period.’

Now, he says, ‘We are favouring the Microsoft route and we’re seeking information, including visiting schools which are going in the same direction.’

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One of the schools already visited by Martine and her colleagues is Microsoft Showcase School Simon de Senlis Primary, a member of the Northampton Primary Academy Trust Partnership. I know Simon de Senlis head teacher, Tom Rees, to be an enthusiast for the use of Microsoft technologies and devices in support of teaching and learning -- he has four Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts (MIEE) on his staff, no doubt with more to come. I approached Tom because I was sure to have experience-based views on how MEC can support whole-school professional training and development.

I was not disappointed. Tom Rees is always quick to understand how any innovation will work for the good of his pupils, and in this case he sees the MEC, and particularly the ‘Get Trained’ section as a hugely valuable addition to the school’s capacity for staff development.

‘It has everything there that staff need, and they can work through it at their own pace and their own time, at home and at school, rather than sitting through training sessions.’

Some courses, such as ‘Introduction to OneNote’ are already proving popular. However, a whole-school approach means that the school needs to identify which courses and learning paths, among the many available, are most appropriate for which colleagues, bearing in mind the school’s development priorities. So, says Tom.

‘We’re at the stage where our MIEEs have evaluated different aspects of the MEC which we feel will be essential CPD for teachers in our school and are then targeting these for different staff CPD.’

In particular, he, goes on, ‘The aim now is that every teacher in the six schools that make up our Academy Trust – that’s 300 staff in all – will have completed the Learning Path called ‘21st Century Learning Design (8 courses, of 4 or 6 lessons each) by the time we get to our Conference in November. Different schools will do that in different ways, perhaps with time off in lieu, staff meeting sessions, training days, whatever is appropriate for them’

The details of this still have to be worked out. The key, though, is flexibility. As Tom says,

‘Before MEC we would have had to rely on face-to-face sessions with teachers in staff meeting time.’

The global reach of the Microsoft Educator Community is particularly important, says Tom.

‘There are areas, particularly with technologies, where there’s little expertise in the UK and the only way to access quality training on scale is on line.’

The arrival of the MEC has come at exactly the right time for Tom Rees and Simon de Senlis.

‘It’s coincided beautifully, just as we embark on a journey with more classroom technology and teachers making heavier use of new tools such as Sway and OneNote, They’re crying out for more training and the MEC   allows us to deliver that to them in a flexible way.’

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For one further insight into the context within which MEC is being used, I spoke to Sarah Clark, who has blogged on how she makes use of the MEC system of badges.

Sarah teaches biology at Queen Anne High School – an academically successful 1,600 pupil secondary school in Dunfermline, Fife. She is one of a very active group of MIEE teachers who are at the forefront of technological innovation in Scottish schools.

Technology has come increasingly to the fore in Scotland, most recently with the publication of the fourth edition of Education Scotland’s comprehensive self-evaluation document, ‘How Good is Our School’. This latest version, which will come into force in June 2016, places increasing emphasis on digital tools, digital innovation and digital literacy.

The response at Queen Anne High includes the formation of a fifteen-strong staff digital learning team, with representatives, including Sarah Clark, from across all curriculum areas.

‘We feel that if we want to increase the digital expertise of the students then we have to look to the staff, an ensure that they are confident with technology.’

Sarah began by introducing the digital learning team members to the Microsoft Educator Community.

‘They thought it was great to have somewhere to go to improve skills,‘ she says. ‘What we are planning now is trying to improve the skills of all the other teachers with OneNote, Sway, and OneDrive.. We want to make sure all teachers know how to access the applications and be familiar with them. The aim is to set a basic level which they will be expected to reach.’

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MEC is still relatively new, especially viewed from school level. Even so, it’s clearly gaining traction not only as a means of personal professional development, but as a valuable way by which a school can begin to reap the transformative power of well-used, appropriate technology. The theme that comes up time and again is that of flexibility – the way that MEC makes expert, globally sourced advice and expert training available to teachers anytime, anywhere. This, in turn, means that school leaders can have increased expectations of their colleagues in terms of their use of technology for teaching and learning.

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