Recently I had the pleasure of attending a seminar where I listened to (and engaged with) Abdul Chohan speaking about his school in England, Essa Academy http://www.essaacademy.org/vision-and-ethos.html. This is the second time that I had had a chance to be inspired by his story.
A metamorphosis occurred which saw the school achieve substantial (meteoric) improvement in academic outcomes for its students.
There were clearly a number of contributing factors which enabled this transformation. The solution which transformed Abdul’s school was unique and needed to be unique. There was, however, a central theme. Key to the school’s journey was the need to change belief. Abdul asserted that
“One person with belief is better than 99 with interest.”
All participants and stakeholders needed to be a infused with belief. Central to this was the belief that
“ALL will succeed.” And “Cognition is not fixed.”
In their model technology was a key platform for exchange of information etc between students and teachers. Teachers and students needed to believe that this technology was simple and reliable for adoption to occur.
Their initial implementation (2008) involved supplying iPods to all students. It involved providing a robust internet and wireless capability. Their internet was enabled through a fibre connection offering 100 Mbps up and 100 Mbps down and the wireless a state of the art Meru network http://www.merunetworks.com. The iPods offered both simplicity and reliability and the apps, many of which were free, empowered the students and teachers. Two mandatory applications were used for delivery and for response. iTunes U was required to be used by all teachers to deliver content and (the paid version of) Showbie was used as a key response platform by both students and teachers. These worked well together and provided a simple, reliable exchange between teacher and student. One of the immediate by-products of the adoption of this communication loop was a huge reduction in paper costs.
Teachers were also supported with professional development. The school innovated their approach by removing “pupil free days” and then incorporating these hours into regular PD sessions for all teachers during the normal school week. This meant that teachers’ out of hours time wasn’t impacted and that they could meet on a weekly basis to collaborate, share and learn. Once again this supported the teachers belief in their capacity and capability to improve student outcomes and engage with technology tools.
What Abdul was keen to stress was that their journey was about the pedagogy. There plan wasn’t about technology or about changing spaces. Their plan was about the pedagogy and about improving outcomes for ALL the students, about personalising the learning to suit student needs. It was about creating rich learning opportunities which aimed to leverage the SAMR Model http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/to transform. The leadership would formulate strategy and then enlist the support of players to make it happen. In the case of iTunes U, by example, a group of teachers and leaders across the school were recruited to develop programs, become expert, become advocates and infuse across the school. The technology was just the vehicle which was, at the bare bones, simple and reliable making adoption easy.
The parents and the community in general were an important part of the journey. The school worked hard to form relationships with the parents and community. They used food, which is often so culturally important, to bring their community together so that they could deliver messages, educate, inform. Parents too needed to believe and be invested in the vision.