In the latest extract from the July 2016 issue of #TheFeed, we hand the mic over to Tom Rees – Head of Simon de Senlis Primary and a Director of the Northampton Primary Academy Trust – to talk about the Microsoft Showcase Schools programme and look back on the last two years to review the opportunities and impact that he has experienced through the programme.
#TheFeed is an online magazine produced by Microsoft Education UK, in conjunction with teachers, students and academic institutions. Featuring stories, best practices and thought-leadership, #TheFeed is written by educators, for educators.
It was around two years ago when Mandeep Atwal first came to Simon de Senlis to talk to us about becoming a Microsoft Showcase School.
We’d already been working closely with Microsoft on various projects with new technologies and supporting sessions at the BETT show each year, but this was a new programme and we didn’t really know what we were signing up for. Although we were flattered to be offered the opportunity, as a Headteacher I was a bit concerned that we wouldn’t be able to live up to the grand title of ‘Showcase School’ and it took some reassurance from Mandeep that she felt our approach to learning and innovation was the right ethos to share with other schools. Listening to her passion for how she wanted to develop the way that Microsoft worked with schools in the UK helped to make it an easy decision in the end; we were in.
Initial Impact – The Early Days
Straight away, being a part of the programme encouraged us to raise our game and gave us incentive to further develop our use of technology. At the time we had a deployment of Surface RTs in Years 5 and 6 and were in the middle of a migration to Office 365. Through direct support from Microsoft and advice from other schools and individuals, we moved on quickly in the first year by deploying Windows 8 and then 10 onto an increasing number of devices across school. We also created an Office 365 environment for all of the schools in the Northampton Primary Academy Trust, creating users for 2,700 children and almost 300 staff and giving them the online tools for better productivity and collaboration.
At this time, our school was still on a rapid journey of improvement and there were lots of conflicting priorities to ensure that teaching was consistently good and outstanding across the school. In this context, we invested most of our development into two pilot classes led by very capable teachers who had the capacity to innovate. These teachers, through the MIEE (Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator) programme, were able to pick up more ideas and advice on how to integrate technology into their classroom practice.
Very quickly, we were able to evaluate where the technology was (and wasn’t) really making a difference and so we could cast aside the bright ideas that didn’t translate into more effective learning, and focus instead on the specific uses that helped to make learning richer and led to better outcomes. Applications like OneNote were becoming used regularly both within classes and by staff; Skype for Business calls were starting to replace some meetings and the use of outlook for communication and school organisation was really starting to make a positive impact.
Our Year 2 Challenge – From Islands of Excellence to Common Practice.
In many schools, there are one or two teachers who are doing something innovative or creative in their own classes. The real challenge is to take these practices and develop them into shared pedagogies which are used consistently across the school, something we’ve worked hard to make progress on this year. Our MIEEs have now developed their skills and confidence to go and work alongside colleagues across school and help them with planning, co-teaching or lesson study with the goal of making better use of technology in their classes. This has meant a big investment in terms of us releasing teachers to work alongside others but it’s a small price to pay in order to maximise the effect of the significant cost of technology.
Hosting regular visits to the schools has also helped to be a ‘lever’ in accelerating the adoption of technology across the school. We always try to make sure that visitors to the school get to visit classrooms and with over 1000 teachers coming through our doors for CPD in the last 12 months, there’s been a lot of thought and planning from staff on how they apply technology into different subjects to share with colleagues who are visiting. At times I’m sure that staff feel like they’re in a goldfish bowl but it keeps everyone thinking and developing which can only be a good thing.
Is this journey complete? Definitely not. Are staff across school more comfortable using technology and (most importantly) are they thinking carefully about where it can make learning richer and deeper? Absolutely.
So as the Summer sun encourages us to start reflecting and evaluating on the events of this academic year, here are 5 highlights of 2015-16 from life within the Microsoft Showcase School community…
Redefine Learning Conferences (RLCs)
#RedefineLearn events have provided a new and interesting dynamic to the CPD and conference calendar this academic year. From the flagship event at Microsoft HQ in central London where we were inspired and challenged to ‘do more and be more’ by Mark Sparvell and Michael Attalla, to the several other local RLCs I’ve been fortunate to either attend as a delegate or speaker, each event provides further inspiration and clarity around how schools are making thoughtful use of technology to make learning better. We’ve also hosted a number of conferences at Simon de Senlis this year with over 400 school leaders and teachers visiting the school to join the conversation around innovation, technology and creativity.
Showcase School Visits
These are some of the best professional development opportunities I’ve experienced and you get so much insight from visiting other schools in the programme, seeing how the children and staff work in different ways.
Personally, the biggest lessons I have learned have been about leadership through meeting and working alongside Headteachers such as Jonathan Bishop (Broadclyst Primary School) and Sir Mark Grundy (Shirelands Collegiate Academy) who both lead outstanding schools in the true sense of the word. As well as learning more about innovation and technology, you always pick up other great tips along the way such as the hot meals experience at Broadclyst; something not to be missed!
The BETT Show is always a highlight of my calendar but this year was a really great opportunity for those within the MIEE and Showcase School community as we got to attend various events and meet colleagues from around the world. As ‘resident Headteacher’ on the Microsoft stand, I found myself surrounded by some really inspiring teachers doing some excellent work around innovation in their schools.
Also having the opportunity to spend time with senior leaders from Microsoft such as Anthony Salcito, Mark Sparvell and Steve Beswick gives you such an insight to how the company is changing and developing new tools and resources based on their engagement with our schools.
Hosting an international delegation of 50 teachers and Government officials from over 30 different countries was one of the most crazy and enjoyable days so far at Simon de Senlis.
Online engagement with other schools
This is where being a part of a global network really becomes transformational as it’s the type of CPD that you just can’t get without the place of technology. Whether it’s through Yammer groups, Skype for Business calls or online events such as #HacktheClassroom, the opportunity to get a window into different education systems is a real privilege.
This year I’ve been inspired by schools from the Americas to the Mediterranean and from Scotland to Australia.
Getting an insight into every day classroom practice and leadership from across the world has added a valuable perspective to my own learning and the development of our school.
Skyping to Palestine
Being able to share experiences between Year 5 children from different schools remains one of the most rich and rewarding experiences I’ve seen in a school. Throughout the Autumn term, children from each school built up a genuine interest in each other and a fascination about their differences in culture, climate and school life. The world only survives through an empathy and understanding of different ways of life and it’s these types of experiences that are equally as important to the academic performance and standards that we all spend so much time and energies on in schools.
The Showcase Schools Network: All in it together…
In the current educational climate, collaboration is now a critical part element of school sustainability – not something fuzzy to aspire to which is perhaps how it’s been viewed at times in the past. Perhaps the greatest challenge for school leaders today is not that which exists within the walls of our own buildings, but developing the ways that we work in and amongst other networks and groups of schools.
The white paper reaffirms the reality that’s been coming for a long time that schools need to find new ways to work together to create a self-improving system. U-turn or no U-turn, Academy or not, it’s still a fact that we now have to find our new partnerships, clusters and networks to find the right balance of challenge, support and inspiration.
“The Microsoft Showcase Schools community is an example of a growing community where schools with a common interest and expertise can inspire each other at a local, national and global level.”
Showcase Schools – the kids’ perspective!
“Having Microsoft in our school has really helped us develop as learners because using Office 365, all the work that we need is just there!”
Uplevelling our work is much easier now because we can use OneNote to get feedback from each other and make improvements. Using Sway to be creative and show our teachers what’s in our mind is also great fun.
With our online work, we have lots of different ways to access support at home when we need it, rather than waiting until Monday comes to ask our teachers for help.
Working with Microsoft, we have had some great opportunities such as dancing on the stage at the NEC, being interviewed for a global video on YouTube, teaching lots of visitors how to use OneNote and meeting some really cool people from America.
We love working with Microsoft at Simon de Senlis!
(Gabriel and Emily-Jane)