5 emerging trends to help schools stay on top of the technology avalanche: Part One

Written by ParentPaperwork’s Business Development Director, Sam Sapuppo

What can a 30-year veteran of school leadership possibly learn in two years of working for an edtech startup, ParentPaperwork? I surprised even myself.

We all know the bugbear of working in a school: everyone went to school, or knows someone who went to school, so everyone is an expert. Parents have also begun looking at and comparing schools through a business process lens. This aspect provides further and sometimes conflicting pressures but also wonderful opportunities. I would encourage all of us to use this window of opportunity to explore everything that enables a school to use its most precious commodities – staff time, finance and natural resources – to the best of its ability.

In this environment, the role of leadership in a school is to distil and discern lessons that can be learnt, and processes that can be built upon from business and community enterprises; to help the school work smarter and be overall more effective.

With 500 schools in eight countries, my recent edtech experiences have seen me work daily with a microcosm of the global school community and the vagaries that this environment throws up. This includes the multitude of student and learning management systems, communication platforms, websites, school budgets, processes and skill-sets.

All of us are working to assist staff who have varying degrees of digital skills. This is the easier obstacle to overcome. The more difficult issue is dealing with the cultural resistance – or indifference – to the introduction of yet another new technology in a school.

As a cautionary observation, I believe it is not just a school staff issue. The other side of the coin is the glaring and frustrating thing schools universally face; that is, the speed of technological and product change, and the time and expertise required to stay on top of it. What I hear from IT directors and principals is: how do you deal with the growth of problem-solving startup companies with their superior adaptability and versatility of software design? There is something new every day and it is just easier to do nothing.

In my particular case, as a team at ParentPaperwork, we are group of experienced:

  • Entrepreneurs – who have serious solution building experience;
  • IT engineers – with UX experience;
  • School leaders, administrators and teachers;
  • Marketing and sales professionals; and very importantly
  • Parents of school-aged children.

In our mind, we are trying to help schools work smarter rather than harder – a phrase that is very easy to roll off the tongue but much more difficult to achieve in practice. We are not egotistical enough to think we are the only ones doing this, or that we have the best way to solve it all. We do however believe we are an essential component, not just because of the solution we produce but because of the WAY we are going about our solution.

Smart schools have always understood that people come first. Whether it’s their staff, students or parents, the ‘primacy of people’ ethos remains no less fundamental in the age of digital integration. I dare not use the term ‘digital disruption’ in the education space. Indeed, it may be argued it has never been more critical to a school’s success.

Digital integration is making every school face up to the challenge of embracing and managing change. It is also an opportunity to re-engage with communities, drive innovation, reduce costs and boost efficiency.

So what are the five most important emerging trends that smart schools are using when building their IT ecosystems? We’ve identified the following:

  1. The user experiences should be front and centre of all thinking and planning.
  1. All programs and systems need to be interoperable.
  1. The benefits that new programs and processes employ are the key drivers for a decision, not the cost. Think: can we afford NOT to employ this new program and/or process?
  1. Staff time and data to assist with decision-making are now the two most valuable assets a school owns. Every new program and system that is deployed should address this new focus.
  1. Continuous improvement needs to be mandatory and non-intrusive.

Coming up, an in-depth look at these five trends – 5 emerging trends to help schools stay on top of the technology avalanche: Part 2

 

What makes a good teacher?

With an ever-growing list of challenges and the daily juggle of competing demands, the teaching profession is a rapidly changing landscape that can only be navigated by those who are passionate about the job and strong-willed enough to get it done.

With heavy workloads and little time, many teachers find it difficult to achieve a balance between their working life and home.

A recent survey by the Guardian Teaching Network found that, by large, teachers in the UK feel overworked and undervalued, with 82% saying their workload is unmanageable and only four in 10 saying they are happy with their job.

So what does it take to overcome these challenges and be the best teacher you can be?

Chris Short, Head Learner at Bradshaw CP School in the UK town of Warrington, agrees that time is one of the big challenges facing teachers today.

“Being able to plan and mark effectively so that each lesson is relevant and that your marking promotes learning is always a challenge, especially with the number of other tasks that teachers in schools have to take on, such as subject leadership,” says Chris. “For a committed teacher there is always the desire to do ‘that bit more’, which can take away from home-life time.”

It’s a sentiment shared by special education teacher Maura Zancan, who has been in the profession for 34 years; 27 of which have been at her current role at New Fairfield Middle School in New Fairfield, Connecticut, USA.

“It is very difficult for teachers to balance school and home commitments. So, often, lesson plans and additional schoolwork are done at home because of the commitment teachers have to both their profession and their students,” says Maura. “The common things I see teachers struggling with today is finding the time for specialised instruction for students who are well below grade level, and just finding time in general to meet demands of administration, colleagues and students.”

With over 15 years in the profession, Chris Short believes having energy and enthusiasm for the job despite the daily struggles is one of the keys to good teaching.

“Keep the children at the centre of everything you do,” says Chris. “It’s important to be flexible and willing to take risks so the children receive a variety of learning experiences that engage and excite them.”

For Maura, this enthusiasm is spurred on by her passion for teaching. It’s something that is at the heart of her working life.

“A good teacher in the 21st century exhibits passion not only for what they are teaching but also for the individual, creative minds they encounter,” says Maura. “This passion is contagious and ignites the curiosity and learning of the students that enter the classroom each day.”

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There are many opinions online about what makes a good teacher. For Chris and Maura, there are a few key qualities that lift a teacher to a higher standard:

  • Fine-tune your listening skills; encourage students to question and search for answers to those questions, and be flexible and nurturing;
  • Make the children feel safe and secure so they are happy to make mistakes and they understand that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process;
  • Make humour an integral part of the day; good teachers laugh at themselves imparting a profound lesson to the students: in every mistake, there is a potential for growth; and
  • Accept that your job lasts long after the bell rings; your students should never be far from your thoughts.

Although every teacher has their own way of getting things done, collaborating with others is a great way to sharpen your skills and build on your strengths. For new teachers, veterans Chris and Maura each have their own piece of advice to offer.

“Learning truly is a lifelong adventure. Keep abreast of current trends in education and get out there on social media,” says Maura. “Twitter, and now Facebook, are powerful tools for learning and allow for involvement in professional communities. Collaborate with your colleagues at work and keep an open mind… flexibility will go a long way.”

Chris agrees but warns that you need to be selective when dealing with those who might have a negative point of view of the school or the profession that might bring down your morale.

“Take on as much advice as you can but be wary of the energy consumers in the staffroom,” say Chris. “Try and understand how much good you can do each day, even with a little comment. Oh, and join Twitter!”

With thanks to Chris Short and Maura Zancan for their invaluable contributions to this blog post

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3 Ways to Keeping your Kids Motivated During the Summer Break

There is no doubt that December is one of the busiest months for Parents with the holiday season and end of the year looping. The last day of the terms seemingly creeps up on you when the thought hits… How will I keep my children busy during the summer break? What’s more important how will I make sure they don’t sit around at home watching TV or are on their smart phones playing games all day?

Certainly the summer break can be utilised to learn a new hobby, brushing up on an important subject or creating new experiences that will carry through to your children kicking off Term 1, 2015 on the right foot. Unfortunately some of these solutions are easier said than done with many households limited on time and money during the December/January period.

Here are 3 ways to keep your kids busy with exciting and healthy activities:

Summer Camps– Don’t have as much time as you’d like to spend with your kids with work being busier than ever? Summer camps are a great solution seeing your kids doing activities such as arts, sports and educational based games. They will make new friends, learn from new experiences and go to excursions you may not be able to take them on.

Smart Devices– There is a bunch of great ways to make sure your kids aren’t simply using their smart devices for the latest version of “Angry Birds”. Depending on your child’s age there are a number of free educational based games you can download through the App store that will challenge your children’s memory, knowledge and reading ability. For older kids downloading E-Books through programs such as Kindle will bring a new found motivation for your kids to read the classic greats they might be studying in term 1.

Work Experience– With the current job market being tougher than ever the number 1 factor affecting young graduates the lack of experience. Just because your teenagers are a few years from University doesn’t mean the skills they learn working in retail, hospitality or customer service won’t be relevant in their future careers.  Picking up a casual job or Interning work experience will prepare your kids for the future and may be the x-factor that gets them their dream job many years later.

Have are some links to help you take the next step and keep your kids motivated this summer.

Camp Australia: Running a series of holiday camps across Australia – http://www.campaustralia.com.au/

Auscamp: Outdoor camps and programs- http://www.auscamp.com.au/

Australian Sports Camps: Sports camps across Australia- https://australiansportscamps.com.au/

KidzPhyz: A variety of dance and sports camp across Australia- http://kidzphyz.com.au/

Active8: A variety of programs for kids throughout Summer- http://www.activ8camps.com.au/camps/

Camp Creative: Creative programs for kids in dance, writing, crafts, music, visual arts, voice and much more-http://www.campcreative.com.au/

Apps to download 

Kindle:  Will allow your kids to take interest in classical books while using their smart phone or tablet computer to read them. Kindle can be downloaded through the Apple and Google Play Stores.

Video Science: A growing library of over 80 hands-on Science lessons that are great for home and the classroom. These short videos demonstrate inexpensive and easy to recreate experiments that are designed to inspire and excite kids of all ages.

EarthViewer: Use your fingertips to scroll through Earth history for the last 4.5 billion years.

Khan Academy: Khan Academy’s materials and resources (over 3500 videos) are available to you completely free of charge.