How Sydney High is using technology and teacher creativity to continue to provide great educational outcomes for current students
|16 Jul 2020|
In March 2019, I attended a technology-themed conference in Melbourne. I was struck by the variety and power of the software and hardware combinations designed to support interactive learning. I decided that High needed to move into the learning management system space and back up the selected one with advanced technology. Following an incubation period characterised by wide consultation among key staff responsible for ICT and pedagogy, we decided to do two things 2019-2021. First, we committed to purchasing CANVAS as a LMS. Second, we embarked on a $450k technology upgrade to our 54 teaching spaces to make our teaching-learning spaces capable of utilising all the features CANVAS offered. In addition, classroom presentations would be enhanced by interactivity and thereby become more engaging for the students. By the end of 2019 we were well into the training phase, with a Pedagogical Skills Leader driving the process and a CANVAS Lead Teacher in every faculty. With the onset of COVID-19, we were able to scale up our professional learning around CANVAS so that teacher capacity was quite high. That said, we were not ready for what was to come.
Moving from traditional face-to-face teaching to 100% online learning during an evolving policy framework posed a significant challenge for teachers, who were at different stages in their journey with the software and its potential applications. We took the decision to try and preserve the timetable. That is to say, every student was expected to be in online attendance for every period listed on his timetable.
Our teachers and students rose to this challenge very impressively. In most lessons synchronous (read live) teaching took place for some or all of the lesson. In others, an asynchronous (written interaction) mode was employed where work was posted, student progress and outcomes monitored, and student questions answered online. Another mode, common in many settings, where units of work and instructions are posted electronically with a completion date, never needed to be used.
In the background, policy settings were changing frequently in response to Health Department, Premier’s Department and DoE messaging. The national response agenda was overlaid on top of this – often with a different message about the safety of schooling and social distancing. The NSWTF weighed in, late in the game.
It has been said that a leader needs to think in shades of grey and speak in black and white. Our staff needed a clear direction amidst the white noise of influences around them. We spent our two staff development days raising the bar for the whole school staff in their familiarity with CANVAS. We had already planned for May being totally online in the last week of term one. We were ready to continue in online mode. I wanted to keep the planning period short because the environment around education was moving constantly but at varying speeds in each state.
Our plan for this term has five objectives: keep the staff safe, preserve the timetable, prioritise Year 12 and maximise re-engagement in face-to-face learning, maintain student safety and endeavour to assess all students. We have a flexible, staff-driven model to achieve these objectives. We can adapt to the timing of the NSW Government’s re-engagement plan. We have a roster planned for Week 3, May 11 that will bring in two academic years each day, with Year 12 coming three days per week.
Our strengths lie in our leadership team, the strong buy-in to technology by our highly professional staff and in the power of the CANVAS Learning Management System, driven by our outstanding ICT team. It goes without saying that having gifted students (and parents) has really helped. I extend my heartfelt thanks to my Deputies – Bob Dowdell, Jamie Kay and John Prorellis – for their extraordinary work in these challenging times, achieved without corporate history to fall back upon.