By Dr Deborah Netolicky, Dean of Research and Pedagogy at Wesley College.
Last week we welcomed learning technologies and digital leadership expert, Eric Sheninger, to Wesley College. Mr Sheninger is a best-selling author and Senior Fellow on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education. Prior to this he was an award-winning principal at New Milford High School in the USA. Under his leadership his school became a globally recognised model for innovative practices. Eric oversaw the successful implementation of several sustainable change initiatives that transformed the learning culture at his school while increasing achievement. He now works with schools around the world, with a focus on leading and learning in the digital age as a model for moving schools forward. His books include Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, Uncommon Learning: Creating Schools That Work for Kids, and What Principals Need to Know about Teaching and Learning.
Mr Sheninger presented a keynote address to Wesley College staff about the pace of technological change and how schools can prepare students for their future work and life. The following day he worked with a number of teaching and leadership teams around their specific work. He collaborated with and consulted our staff around the effective use of technologies for teaching and learning, digital pedagogies and innovative learning spaces.
Mr Sheninger’s book Learning Transformed: 8 Keys for Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, co-authored with Thomas Murray, offers ‘eight keys’ to future-ready schools that prepare students for success beyond school. The keys are as follows:
Key 1: Leadership and school culture lay the foundation.
Key 2: The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal.
Key 3: Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a return on instruction.
Key 4: Learning spaces must become learner-centred.
Key 5: Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal.
Key 6: Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning.
Key 7: Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture.
Key 8: Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensures long-term success.
Wesley interacts in different ways with each of these keys. We certainly immerse ourselves in Key 1. Our culture is evident in our mission, values, vision, strategic impacts, key result areas, and capabilities. Our strategic direction has the student at the centre and is enacted via the Key 8 success factors outlined in the book: vision, skills, incentives, resources and a clear action plan. Key 7 is evident in our results area of Connected Community, and in our College-wide commitment to service, community and life beyond the classroom.
Schools, school leaders and teachers are increasingly expected to be research literate and to be informed by evidence in our decisions and practices. We need to be able to make sense of the measures against which we are being assessed, and have the capacity to generate counter-narratives or alternative data to measure those things that are important to us. Part of my role as Dean of Research and Pedagogy is to address Key 3 by focusing on our professional culture and practice as increasingly informed by research and drawing upon data analysis, in order to ensure the best impact on student learning and achievement. At Wesley we spend a lot of time and resources investing in Key 5, professional learning, and how best to support our staff in serving our students and community.
Key 4 is an area in which Wesley excels. Our learning spaces are incredible. Not only are they visually appealing, comfortable and flexible, but they have been painstakingly designed with pedagogy—that is, the science of learning and teaching—in mind.
When thinking about using technologies for teaching and learning, Eric puts it simply when he says: ‘Learning first. Technology second.’ As I found in my 2017 research literature review on learning technologies, pedagogy must drive technology, not the other way around. Teachers need to start with curriculum, assessment, and what we know to be good teaching practice, and then select the tools best suited to teaching and learning. Devices on their own do not have an impact on student learning, nor does using technology to replicate worksheets or basic quizzes. It is neither pedestrian teaching practice done in new ways, nor shiny cutting-edge gadgets, that will develop students’ knowledge, skills, critical thinking and creativity. We need to consider the possibilities of technology to enhance, transform, or personalise learning. Keys 2 (personalising learning) and 6 (leveraging technologies as an accelerant for learning) are ones that we are working on as we add more devices and embrace more learning technologies. Schoolbox is developing as a learning and feedback hub. Class pages act as virtual anywhere-anytime extensions of physical classrooms, in which students and teachers can connect and collaborate. Schoolbox also facilitates online feedback on student work, allowing students to track their learning and progress over time.
On the last page of Learning Transformed, the authors write: ‘We cannot design and lead schools for the world we grew up in. We must intentionally design schools that are relevant for the world our students will live in long after we’re gone.’
Wesley takes this mandate seriously. In our intentional design of College strategy, physical and virtual spaces, curriculum, assessment, and our many programs beyond the classroom, we are led by our four strategic impacts of Thinker, Doer, Connector and Self-Activator, and by our seven capabilities of Critical Thinking, Creativity, Commitment, Communication, Collaboration, Citizenship, and Continuous Improvement. These, along with our Core Values of Respect, Integrity, Compassion and Courage, and our motto ‘By daring & by doing’, are the anchors that remind us of what we are preparing students for: to live purposeful, joyful lives in which they contribute positively and ethically to the world.