Tania Mackie, Head Teacher at Ben Wyvis Primary and currently in the role of Digital Improvement & Strategy in Highland.
How Highland Council’s schools are benefiting from advanced online teaching tools
The week before the Easter holidays was one of the most challenging we have ever faced as an authority and also as a country. Schools closing day by day, mobilising a workforce to run Childcare Hubs for Key Worker Hubs.
It felt like a military operation, with an endless list of resources to distribute, digital networks that needed to be overhauled for remote working, not to mention moving Curriculum for Excellence online.
The backdrop; the unknown of COVID19, which was and still is devastating for our young people, families, local business and communities.
In Highland we had one fundamental advantage to the delivery of a curriculum online; an estate of 27,000 Chromebooks that had already been part of our ICT in Learning Strategy. Our Primary 6 to Senior 6 pupils all had 1:1 devices and working with Head Teachers and vulnerable families, central teams worked extensively to provide digital devices and access to those who were struggling or for families of younger pupils who did not have device access.
This work is still on-going, but all requests for support have so far been met in Highland. With the remote nature of our communities, there have been and remain challenges. Schools rallied though, knowing their parents, being familiar with their communities and supporting home learning in unique ways.
As our approach turned to a ‘flipped curriculum’ Highland Schools already had the means and mechanism mostly in place to deliver learning at home.
Members of the Education Improvement Team have been leading on this innovation, including myself Tania Mackie and my colleague Robert Quigley, Digital Lead for Teaching & Learning. We were both Primary Head Teachers, so have used our skills and knowledge to support colleagues across the authority. Technical support has been provided by ICT Services and Andy Robb, ICT Curriculum Liaison Officer. Literally overnight, we formed what is now known as the Digital Development Team.
The first step was to create a resource for staff, parents and pupils to support digital skills and digital home learning. We were one of the first local authorities in Scotland to develop a Schools Digital Learning Hub and our website has grown as a platform for not only supporting skills that are required, but is the main resource for continuing professional development and teaching & learning.
G-Suite was adopted by the Local Authority over 5 years ago and is a free collection of productivity tools offered by technology company Google and includes Google Docs, Gmail, Google Classroom, Google Meet, Hangouts. By using Google for Education as a standalone platform, rather than through GLOW as many authorities do, it has given us the flexibility to develop our own digital systems.
A daily programme of professional learning for all staff is in place and there is an increasing engagement with G-Suite for Education as a platform, but more importantly as a tool to deliver high quality teaching & learning. A training programme is in development with staff able to develop personal skills; level 1 and by level 3, participants use the framework of a peer coaching programme to empower colleagues across schools.
Throughout this process, communication has been key. One of the ways we are supporting staff across Highland is through networks. These networks are formed using Google Classroom, we are connecting teachers together by using ICT platforms to collaborate and share good practice across all key stages and subject areas. For some time now we have been discussing and planning networks of principal teachers, depute heads, head teachers, sharing of resources and now we are actually seeing this happen. Our Pupil Support Classroom has near 800 staff, who are engaging with the daily updates and opportunities to develop skills.
We’re seeing this as an interim solution but it is now changing the face of education in Highland for the future and recovery.
The manner and means in which the resources have been produced and shared across all 204 of our Highland Schools has been incredible. Our priority at this time in line with Government Expectations; is first and foremost the wellbeing of our pupils, staff and community as well as delivering Quality Learning and Teaching in both Numeracy and Literacy.
We are also extremely grateful for the support of our staff and parental community in grasping the digital landscape for today and for the future of our young people. Many schools have reported that parental engagement as a result of home learning has increased. Our non-teaching and teaching staff in Highlands have embraced the digital world and the creativity and ingenuity of our staff has been overwhelming.
Each day at 3pm, our team facilitate a ‘Digital Drop in’ and a team of ‘experts’ supporting staff across Highland has grown. No question is a silly one, although humour does invade an hour of constructive support.
Leadership at all levels and empowerment didn’t need to be explained, it has grown as individuals have taken on the role of supporting their school communities. These individuals will be the core of our strategy moving forwards as we decide what the new ‘normal’ is and support our schools with what will likely be a blended approach to the curriculum.