What we learned in New Orleans from FirstLine Schools

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A couple of colleagues* and I have been fortunate enough to spend the last few days in New Orleans at the Virtual Schools Symposium – yes, we have very supportive line managers! While we were there, FirstLine Schools showed us round their Arthur Ashe Charter School and gave us the chance to speak to the Principal, one of the lab coaches, the Director of Blended Learning, their IT guy, and two of the maths teachers.

Notes on Arthur Ashe Charter School (AACS)

A few years ago, AACS transitioned to being a blended learning school in order to make teaching more personal to the needs of each student.

As my KSA Primary colleague and I are on the cusp of introducing blended learning, our eyes and ears were open to how you make the move to blended learning. What model do you go for? Why? How do you build the right culture? Does it work? What do the pupils make of it? What does a headteacher need to think about?

There were so many take-aways but we’ve summarised them here:

Mission driven

  • Transitioning an existing school to blended learning or opening a new blended learning schools requires that the leader, staff, pupils and parents understand:
    • The issues that blended learning is addressing
    • The long-term vision of what the blended learning model will look like and how the vision addresses those issue
  • Determine what is non-negotiable for the school/network and make sure to respect these points

Technology as an enabler for personalisation

  • Technology is not the solution, but an enabler for personalisation
  • All communication to stakeholders should be about personalisation (or the issues being addressed), not the technology

Technology needs to be reliable 99.9% of the time

  • Don’t chase toys – the learning labs/classrooms do not need to look slick, they just need to be up 99.9% of the time and trusted by the teachers & students
  • Keep it in the cloud as the maintenance time/cost of server-based software is too great

Establish a process for iteration

  • Blended models require daily, if not hourly, tweaks. It is important to build in formal meetings/systems to get feedback from teachers/lab coaches/students/parents
  • Ensure that the teachers understand the purpose/vision so that they understand the value of iteration and the fact that getting the model right will be a multi-year journey

You live and die by the culture of your school/classroom/learning lab

  • Develop a culture plan that sets the right environment in the classroom and/or learning lab – every detail needs to be planned (i.e. how to sit down, how to rotate, etc.)
  • For existing schools, do not transition to blended learning until there is a strong pupil culture and a staff who are willing to do whatever it takes to improve pupil attainment

Students need full transparency of data and progress

  • Students need to understand where they are and what level of progress they are expected to make to ensure they are owning their learning and progress

PD is critical to make this model successful

  • Teacher boot camps on classroom/lab culture, differentiation, small group instruction, integration of digital content and data-driven instruction

Data discussions should be happening weekly

  • Particularly when the school uses differentiated roles, ensure that all teachers/coaches/etc. are talking about each child’s progress each week and monitoring the data
  • The data will be overwhelming and difficult to use, so make sure to streamline what data teachers are looking at and provide a lot of coaching and support for data interpretation

Centralise functions to minimise burden on schools and to streamline processes

  • Protect the time of head teachers and teachers by centralising a few key aspects, such as
    • Research on content
    • Project management (i.e. deadlines, process)
  • It is critical to be firm with vendors – make rules (i.e. cloud-based, uniform passwords) and stick to them
  • Map out everything so that you can replicate the process in the future

* Jonathan Molver (@jonmolver), Associate Head of KSA Primary; Courtney Hogben (@courtneyhogben), Project Manager at ARK Schools

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