Musings from the Middle Kingdom
Schools invest a lot of time and money in technology, yet evidence suggests that the adaptation of technology and its impact on learning in the classroom varies. I am sure you have encountered teachers in your school or network that perhaps never or very rarely use technology in classroom instruction.
Why is that?
Tech leaders have all the right intentions. They plan and implement tech, outline the vision, put in the CPD and then wonder why people don't use it or end up complaining about it.
I think it personally comes down to three key areas.
Lack of confidence in the technology
If you tried at least three times and the tech does not work as planned in your lesson, it can lead to a lack of confidence. My experience in ICT suggests that when a teacher books tech or wants to use it for their lesson, the tech team needs to do more than just simply setup. A mechanism of pedagogical support is necessary at that point. Before the lesson is delivered, talking to the teacher, finding out what they want to do and informing them of possible pitfalls and ways around those would be a good start. A successful beginning with tech can help build a skill set for the teacher and give them the confidence to use it, which they can propagate to others around the school. But alas, the opposite is quite common in schools where the above doesn't happen and the teacher propagates that the tech does not work.
Of course, there are constraints of time in implementing the above but aren't those there always. Good planning and using others to support you gets around that quite easily.
Often, there are unrealistic expectations of how technology works. A tablet or a mobile phone can often boot up and load applications quicker than an old desktop or a laptop. Wi-Fi that can be relied upon can hang at times due to a myriad of factors right when you need it. Even industry-standard software can have issues running on networks. Building resilience in staff and informing them about key issues can ensure that their expectations are managed. I have encountered teachers that say the reason they won't start using the tech is that it doesn't work 100% of the time. I agree that it should be the case, but this is an aspirational or a very rare situation, like getting every child in your class to view your subject as their number one choice or get 100% in every test and exam. It isn't going to happen often. My answer to them is that using tech that works most of the time and furthers learning compared to using a traditional method that does very little all of the time is much preferable.
Another teacher once said that pen and paper works for me all the time, tech doesn't. I agree with that to a certain point until you run out of ink or paper. Also, the training and experience of using pen and paper has been engrained for x amount of years. The teacher is an expert in its use. I asked them to think about their first few years with pen and paper. They probably were scribbling random lines like any toddler. It took them a good year or so of solid instruction before forming sentences and writing correctly. Yet, with technology, the expectation that they will grasp its use without structured CPD (continuous professional development) and practice is quite prevalent. We seem to lose the growth mindset approach to accept failure and learn from it as we get older, not be scared of the unknown, yet this is something we want to instil in the students we teach.
Lack of personalised training
ICT training provision is often low key in schools. It all boils down to sessions on training days or throughout the year if your school is good. Access to videos or support upon request. Staff rarely request ICT CPD on CPD request forms. Less than 10% put in annual ICT CPD requests compared to subject-specific CPD, which ranks the highest at (approx.) 60%. This is based on data from the schools I have worked at.
How do we go about CPD at our school? We have the usual channels along with ICT Wednesdays or Tech Tuesdays, where we set up published training sessions on a range of topics related to staff needs. We gather these through staff surveys. During lunchtimes and after school, these sessions allow staff to drop in based on what they want to know.
We also have ICT CPD screens in the staff room showing tips and tricks related to the tech we use. We keep these short (10 to 30 sec) so people can pick things up at a glance. We use informal channels to encourage staff to take up tech courses related to their area. We have a working party whose role is to get others to propagate the effectiveness of the technology. But we need to be even more proactive in our approach as tech leaders or champions. Identify areas in the curriculum which could benefit and then actively target teachers who need support the most. We talk to our teachers regularly, especially at crucial choke points during the year.
In the end, it comes down to two things people and purpose.
Take on board the former and always keep your eye on the latter, and tech adaptation rates in schools will become higher, leading to higher standards of learning and a general improvement in well-being overall.
Often companies have their development roadmaps which are decided by developers rather than educators. Existing technology constraints and workflows guide these. A project manager or equivalent will determine what direction to go based on market penetration or even basic economics.
We need to cast the net wider, interact with industry, attend and present at their conferences to highlight issues and get them to innovate in a direction that benefits education rather than the bottom line. A lot of the tech industry events are often under represented by educators. Events like BETT (British Educational Training and Technology) show are rare in the international sector and often these are one-off events with very little follow up.
Establishing working relationships with the industry is crucial - one that goes beyond badges and the obligatory petition for the next feature set. A select few of us get actively involved in continuous working relationships with companies which involves consulting, beta testing, and piloting. This is the type of net that needs to be cast wider to ensure that we end up with an agile industry that responds to educators’ needs and, in turn, those of the learners.
Where do you start? Simple, shoot an email off to a vendor that you use and take it from there.
The emergent nationalistic fervour, which has taken over the world over the last few years, paints a bleak outlook for the future. In the digital age, it is like we are returning to our tribal roots. Roots we had hoped to evolve out of. In such times, there is a statement from the mother of a child with severe learning disabilities that sticks to my mind. A child who could not give the required emotional or verbal response when helped.
“Not every time we give is rewarded, but every time we give, we definitely gain inner growth. That makes us more mature, resilient, and rational.”
We understand diversity and challenges a lot better when we give without seeking returns and that helps us to work towards not only improving life for ourselves but for others. Yet even the most simplest act of giving kindness and showing tolerance is becoming difficult. Why is it that our minds zero in on criticism the moment we hear a point of view which is indifferent? We respond with such aggressiveness that, at times it beggars belief.
Have we as educators failed our wards somewhere over the last generation?
How do we course correct?
I look at the current generation and see examples of extraordinary commitment at school, but for some, it is nothing more than an act to write on a letter of application. I see some committing to SDGs wholeheartedly and others just for the badge. Often an act of competition comes into play. Being better than the Joneses does not just stop at houses and cars; it is now prevailing into social work.
Have we created a culture of success with the bar raised so high that students in schools now see the act of giving or caring as another academic grade?
I have no answers, only hope that we continue to empower young people and provide them with opportunities to empathise. Not the two weeks mandatory work experience or a field trip but real meaningful experiences which leave lasting impressions. Opportunities for discussion and debate to flex their social and emotional learning muscles. Part of those experiences have to include dealing with digital indifference.
Most schools cover e-safety and Digital Citizenship, yet they don’t delve into the issues, in the kind of depth which is often required. Most children end up leading dual lives, and they get comfortable with it. Do we observe and correct their behaviour online as we do in the playground and corridors? Sure, schools do this for extreme examples, but what about the low-level stuff. The kind that builds into an embedded behaviour over long periods of time.
The cumulative effect of ignorance and teacher indifference can also make a lasting impression on young minds. Do you see the kids that play together? Are they all from the same tribe? What about the ones that eat together? Do you see the ones walking alone during break? The ones not invited to the class parties outside school. Do we avoid those tough conversations about racism, sexism, inequality and dehumanisation just because they don’t visibly exist in our community? Do we create opportunities for students to share their stories with us?
Failing to thoughtfully address toxic narratives does not stop them from infecting us. Do we feel empowered enough as educators to address them?
We have ended up creating schools as places to unlock academic potential. It’s about time we start working towards making them places to unlock the human potential.
After a blockbuster four years at The British School New Delhi, it is time to move on to my next adventure.
If you had told me this time last year that I would be leaving TBS, I wouldn't have believed you.
The way the TBS community has embraced me makes me long to continue to stay a part of it, like that distant family member who comes back from time to time. Hopefully to enjoy the journey of growth and improvement TBS is well known for.
I am reminded of the advice of my parents when we used to travel.
"Say thank you and leave things 'ship-shape' and tidy for the future."
This has guided me during the last few months and even though times are turbulent due to the COVID19 situation, the TBS ship is safe and set for the future.
Led by our able captain, Mrs Vanita Uppal and her two first mates, Melisha and Mark, the ship is indeed steady as she goes. Rarely have I seen individuals brave the oceans and stand in harm's way to protect the institution as a whole.
Now I might be biased but visitors who come to the school often comment on how happy the children seem and how everyone they encounter is full of energy and passion. That is indeed the right kind of infectious and a testament to the kind of place TBS is.
Sailing a ship in the right direction requires vision and the support of crew members and a big thank you to the community who have helped us achieve some truly memorable achievements during my time onboard.
The Innovation Lounge was one of our initial successes, a truly world-class place, a place of envy if I might say so, for other schools. But hardware on its own isn't great, you need to have the right software. Backed up by reforms to both Digital Citizenship and the Computing curriculum and providing a pathway for Innovation and STEM, turned a room with cool gear into a thriving hub of creativity and learning. Plans are afoot to provide a similar space for upper school and I can't wait to see the end results.
Global success and thought leadership have gone hand in hand for us. I can't imagine a year when we haven't been recognised for our fantastic work. Now we have historically been modest and it was a pleasure to be part of the journey to showcase our achievements and inspire others. To paraphrase the iconic line from Three Idiots:
Pursue excellence, and success will follow.
And oh my, have we been successful. It doesn't get better than being recognised as the Best British International School in the World or as an Innovative School or a Future Ready School or being recognised for our use of technology for safeguarding and for learning.
Much more importantly though was the success of our younger passengers. From academic success to representing India twice at the F1 in Schools World Finals, Young Founders success, Ideathons, Hackathons, Girls Who Code, Robot Wars, MITx, Harvardx, individual awards, the list goes on. None of this was possible without the tireless work of our Computing, IT, passionate teachers and support teams.
There are often some secret missions that not everyone is aware of but these have a huge impact on the way we work. Thanks to our IT squad we have upgraded our wireless potential and brought in new hardware and software to better integrate technology for learning and these changes have really put us in a league of our own within India.
We have upgraded all of our communications systems as we established a higher level of transparency and closer communication with home. This is an area we continuously strive to improve upon and our fab Communications team will no doubt build upon their successes. Thank you to the team who like the Energiser Bunny, keeps going on and on and on.
There is so much more that I can talk about especially of all the individuals that have truly made an impact on me. The ones who have inspired me to go that extra mile, students and parents included in this. But one does have to save some stories for their memoirs.
Well, I trust that you can see, the cabin is quite tidy, the bunk bed has been made up, we are ‘ship-shape’ but before I depart, it is right and proper to give my thanks to the entire TBS community, and my thanks to you all, are the most sincere.
Farewell, for now, and I leave below a passage that neatly sums up my time at TBS.
Global recognitions, innovative world firsts, unparalleled student achievements and some truly ground-breaking work. My time at TBS feels like a blockbuster movie. Every scene, an event to cherish, and the cast members, superstars. TBS takes your passion and has a way of amplifying it that it becomes addictive. No wonder, you find so many of us, not working but living and breathing the TBS vision. What a ride!
and if you want to stay in touch, Google me, I'm out there. 😉
A video of a talk as part of the #GlobalBrewEDIsolation Online event on Twitter in May 2020.
For those who like to read, transcript below:
Moving school? Do or Don’t!
Ladies and Gents, Welcome. Thank you for joining #GlobalBrewEdIsolation. A big Shout out to Ed and Graham for organising another fantastic live event. My name is Sunny Thakral. I am an International educator, originally from the UK and currently working at The British School, New Delhi, India. If you want to find out more or have questions after this session feel free to connect with me via Twitter or LinkedIn.
The international school sector continues to grow at an astonishing pace and the demand for teachers has grown substantially in this sector. This leads to an annual migration of teachers across countries.
This session is focussed on discussing the impact of COVID19 on international teachers who have resigned or have taken up positions in other countries. The focus of the conversation due to the crisis has been majorly on students and quite rightly so. Even where staff are discussed the focus has been on up-skilling, technology, procedures, general wellbeing but this niche group of educators and their needs have been overlooked. Well no more!
We will cover the options available and ways forward for those teachers who might have resigned, are looking to resign or are planning to over the next year. It might also be useful to teachers who are thinking of moving into the international sector as it might give you some insights which could be useful in the future.
This might come as a shock to many but most international teachers have to resign before they get their next job.
The way the sector works is that schools expect you to resign 7-9 months ahead of your departure date. What it means is that most of the current batch of teachers who resigned would have done so by October 2019. If you are a local or national teacher then for most a term or three months is the normal period and most will probably have a job secured before they do.
So why do international schools make teachers do that?
It’s because this helps them plan for recruitment of replacements which often has a long lead time.
Schools advertise their vacancies on portals like TESJOBs, Search, ISS Schrole amongst others and teachers then apply for these posts. With visas and other paperwork which can take months, schools need to plan ahead.
So a number of international teachers this year would have resigned way before COVID19 ever appeared on the scene and quite a few would have accepted posts in other countries before the epidemic hit their current one.
Due to the speed of the spread, Countries then went into lockdown. Travel stopped. Embassies shut down along with Government offices and Universities.
Schools went virtual and suddenly what was an exciting time to begin a new journey became a nightmare.
How do we go about getting documents attested and legalised for the visa process?
How do we go about applying for visas?
Often international teachers work in countries other than their own so if travel is restricted, they can’t even return home.
On top of all of this is the ambiguity of the offer from their new school. Contracts might have been signed but will they be honoured.
How would packing work? The logistics of moving house and families is another battle.
What if the new school honours the contract but you can’t travel? What is your immigration status in the country you are in?
Questions about salaries and how they will be paid to the logistics of virtual school to health insurances come to mind. If you have children, what happens to their education.
Some International teachers around the world are busy dealing with all of that and ensuring high quality education for students in their care. Kudos to you all!
Let’s unpack this a bit more and consider some scenarios.
If you are thinking of resigning then best advice don’t!
If you have no choice and that could be due to a number of reasons like contract expiry, school closure, professional issues and what not. Let’s move on to:
What to do if you have resigned and don’t have another job yet?
Talk to your current school and see if you can work out a way of staying. The best option is to see this through in a country that you are familiar with.
What to do if you have talked and they can’t offer you your job back or perhaps you don’t want it back?
In that case, you have no option but to look for a new job. Start with international schools in the country you are currently in. You would be an ideal option, a candidate who is in the country, familiar with it, with reduced admin and reduced financial costs.
If applying within the country you are in is not feasible then you need to look for places where visas etc. and travel might not be too complex. Failing that the world is your oyster. There were 1200 international jobs listed on TES as of this morning so I am sure there will be one for you and believe you me this is a lot for so close to the end of the international school year.
What to do when you secure the job? We will come to that later. Next up.
What do you do if you have resigned and accepted an offer or signed a contract?
This is tricky. There are two schools of thought. One says offers and contracts are not really valid as you are in different countries and operating under different laws. Schools will not think twice of letting you go so you should look out for yourself. The other focuses on ethics and mutual respect. You signed the contract, accepted the offer in good faith and the school is banking on you to teach children. Withdrawing leaves them in the lurch and having to go through the cycle again.
Whichever school of thought you subscribe to depends on your personal moral compass.
If you withdraw from an offer, talk to the new school and outline your concerns first. Give them a chance to respond and process. Most reputable schools will be understanding. Follow the answer to the previous scenario and try to get a job with your current school or in the current country.
If you don’t withdraw, let’s join the group who have accepted the overseas offer in the first scenario.
What to do if you have decided to move overseas?
Start talking to your new school.
Outline the concerns about salary payment, accommodation, visa situation, medical insurance, virtual school, local visa situation, police checks, support they can offer.
If you signed with a reputable school, they will have an action plan and they will be happy to talk to you through it.
You might need to involve agents at some point who can help you with the paperwork once things get better and they will get better. You might want to start planning ahead and take care of all the bits and pieces that you can do now as things might move quickly.
It is not all doom and gloom, as this might be an ideal time for teachers to move as opportunities might arise in top international schools with little to no competition compared to the normal recruitment season. If you take a leap of faith, you might end up in your dream school.
Hopefully this gives you a brief insight into the complexities involved and there might be huge amount more questions that pop into your head as a result.
Where to get help?
Your current school and the new school would be the first places to start. After that forums on International School Review and TESJobs could be useful as long as you stay away from the trolls. Bit of a rabbit hole that one. Better than these are international educators in the countries you are in or travelling to as they can give you realistic advice and a Clearer picture of the ground realities in the country you would like to call your new home.
If you are worried or have questions, feel free to send them my way via Twitter and I will do my best to help find answers.
Mirror Mirror on the wall, show us what trends will impact the educational landscape, which ones will be the greatest of them all. Cognitive modification, metaverses, open-source assessment, personal learning ecologies are perhaps a bit too far out. Maybe a decade or two away. Let’s pinch to zoom a bit closer to 2020. What can schools and educators look forward to over this year? It is not a very easy question to answer as schools are complex beasts. You will have top tier schools which already have access to some of these technologies. The middle tier schools who will probably pick one or two of these trends and the majority of the schools which will still be struggling with trends that were supposed to be implemented over the last decade like effective student information management systems and learning management systems. For the purposes of this article, we will look at five tech trends which are still in their infancy and though the potential is great, they should be graduating this year into the mainstream.
Learning analytics is the process of identifying trends and patterns to reveal areas of improvement based on data about a student’s academic performance. The goal is timely action and relevant intervention strategies to improve attainment. Designing effective lessons and learning experiences using data generated allows the teacher to focus on helping students informatively.
Learning analytics software can be part of other software or collation of data from different systems. It allows teachers to track students who are academically weak or measure engagement with the content. Student learning patterns can be identified to create stimulating lesson plans and additional resources utilised as a result. Finding out how students learn is quite powerful and this helps in personalising the learning experience. The software can though go further than individual lessons and it allows a holistic overview of student performance over time.
Adaptive learning systems build on learning analytics and use data to adjust learning for students on an individual scale. The scope for personalisation of learning is immense. These systems often utilise machine learning/artificial intelligence or statistical analysis to inform content selection. The goal, as always, is to provide customised education to deliver the right content at the right time.
The software can create engaging, personalised learning experiences which the teacher can build upon leading to a more inclusive approach to education. More and more ed-tech software will be utilising both learning analytics and adaptive learning over the year. Here the software does a lot of the grunt work that teachers often do saving them time and that is a quick win and sell in schools.
Augmented Reality (AR) seems to be around for a while, overshadowed by its big brother Virtual Reality. AR has the potential to tap into education much more due to its ability to create shared experiences. All one needs is a phone and teachers and students can participate in an AR experience. Allow each student a device and you have a truly personalised experience. Invest in an AR headset and now you are talking cutting edge.
At its simplest, using a mobile device, AR superimposes photos, videos and animation onto the real world. How powerful is it to see a piece of literature come alive or hear music from a music sheet? It allows embedding experiential learning in the most rote of lessons and surely that is not a bad thing.
Like any other technological tool, it is the creation and curation of these learning experiences which is key. Teaching a whole lesson using AR probably is not the right way, yet. Short snappy experiences which make a well-planned lesson come alive to connect the student to the learning will be the way forward.
Data Protection and Cyber Security
As schools move down the road of ed-tech software solutions, student data is becoming more and more lucrative. There will be a dearth of companies looking to monetise this data and as such schools will start looking at policies and solutions related to data protection and cybersecurity. With the new IT act inbound and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulations prevalent abroad, dealing with organisations like Cambridge International Examinations and International Baccurelate based in Europe will require compliance and schools will need to start formulating plans on how they deal with the security of student, staff and parent personal data. Even accreditation organisations like the Council of International Schools and others will require this as part of their accreditation processes. It can be tricky to walk the tightrope between an individual's rights to privacy and the lawful processing of personal data and schools will need to upskill their leadership to understand how this impacts all aspects of school life from vendors to in house data sharing.
To highlight some of the key requirements under GDPR:
Now, this one is not new however if you are paying attention to the 2019-nCoV situation in China, you can see how schools still aren’t prepared to deal with virtual learning. With school closures going into March there and even with virtual learning environments being a staple of most schools for over a decade, it is still becoming cumbersome for schools to teach students online. Distant learning is easily achievable by structured courses on platforms like Udemy and edx, but not in a school. Videoconferencing is extensively used in business however not in schools. Expect a renewed focus on this in the international school market with some ed-tech companies thriving as they build solutions to cater for this need. Teacher training is another area that virtual learning will focus upon as the costs of sending staff to face to face training sessions soars.
In addition to the above, gamification of learning will continue its march along with other technologies which perhaps are on the periphery. Blockchain, Internet Of Things, e-sports are going to slowly inch their way into schools especially as they migrate towards becoming Smart Campuses. Use of app-based learning and bespoke software solutions are a bit of a hit and miss however solutions focussed on creativity will definitely be leading the pack. Whatever K12 tech trend a school follows in 2020, the common mantra will be the personalisation of the learning experience and that surely is a good thing.
So you binged watched the first week and had your fill of gaming and still have a few months left before university or the new academic year. Below are some ideas on what you could do.
1) Learn an essential skill: Cooking or Baking
2) Learn to play an instrument or a game like Chess
3) Start a quarantine diary or write a book/article
4) Tidy up your phone/Organise you pictures/rooms
5) Plan a virtual event with your friends
1) Make an app (Targetted for my CS group - Learn to code would apply to others)
2) Investigate your chosen university/college course and pre-prep
3) Innovate solutions to the humanitarian crisis unfolding around you
4) Keep yourself fit - establish a daily routine
Free online course / sources of inspiration
MOOC short courses from top global universities
Future learn short courses from top universities and training organisations
Open University courses
Learn to play the guitar
Fitness – serious workouts with Chris Hemsworth
Computer Science and Coding
Intro to Computer Science with Harvard University
Learn about Artificial Intelligence
Cooking classes with Michelin star chef
Learn a Language with hellotalk
Learn a Language with Duolingo
MENSA – take the challenge! How high is your IQ?
Listen to books and poetry
Wildlife – watch webcams and videos
Art and Art History – Virtual Museum and Gallery tours
Art and Art History – more Museum virtual tours
Art - Getty Museum
English Year 12
English Year 13
Film, TV, VFX, Games Industries
Film, Theatre, Technical Industries
History Ideas, Information, Podcasts
Maths Year 12
Maths Year 13
Music Theory – free online learning
Philosophy Critical Reasoning for Beginners – Oxford University
Psychology – inspiring podcasts
Space – NASA summer school
Statistics and Data
Do something different
Enter competitions or get articles published.
Environment/Wildlife/Planet, earthshotprize.org, Deadline 24th April
Poetry, foyleyoungpoets.org Deadline 31st July
Politics Writing competition- The Financial Times www.ft.com/content Deadline 31st May
Science, Young Scientist Journal – get your articles published here ysjournal.com
Science, She Talks Science blog – Cambridge University. Contribute your articles here www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/news/
Science, Unsung Heroes of Science – Oxford University. Submit your video here www.hertford.ox.ac.uk/unsungscience
The Oxford Scientist – Writing Competition oxsci.org/schools/, Deadline 1st May
Teaching in a lockdown isn't just about just maintaing relationships and engagement/well-being but also about tracking student development and progression within a curriculum framework.
Simplifying it into two strands allows us to review the tools we have at our disposal to support students much more effectively. Of course, we could break down this type of activity into multiple strands and create comprehensive lists, however, that is not the purpose of this post. Keep it simple so to speak. If you want a decent one - Start here.
Engagement, relationships and well-being
Video conferencing tools like the ones below are quite common and utilised to maintain a face to face connection with your students
Communication tools allow more immediate messaging to students and have a low footprint on that all essential bandwidth.
Ancilliary tools allow teachers to plan teaching and learning experiences akin to what they would have in the normal classroom.
These allow teachers to connect with students and support them with synchronous learnimg as well. Pace is set by the teacher and you can also emulate the normal classroom experience to a certain extent. It does take a lot of work to set these up and ancillary tools are often required. Teachers end up managing a lot of the planning, assessment and feedback.
Progression with the school curriculum
These are packages that schools buy and cover the curriculum offered in greater depth. More importantly they track student progression and in some cases offer bespoke pathways for students. These often support the asynchronous model of learning and allow progression at the students pace. A lot of the heavy lifting is taken care of by them, freeing the teacher to make use of the data they generate and in my view allows them to focus more on supporting students in this time of crisis.
Looking at your context (student and your access to devices/Internet/training) you might want to employ a combination of both approaches. The key is to not reinvent the wheel but look at what the immediate needs of your students are and address those.
As always, start small, keep it simple and then build upon your tech offering, layer by layer.
Online learning is a new experience for parents. Schools need to issue guidance that speaks to them. Below are some tips to help them support children at home.
Feel free to adapt and use as you see fit.
I am Sunny Thakral. If you are here on the site then you know a bit about me. If not then I am a teacher and these are my musings. Hope you enjoy them.