31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 13: Arrange Visits

A task a day for 31 daysToday's suggestion is that you invite a teacher from another school to visit your school, and to try to arrange a visit to another school. Doug Woods suggested this back on Day 4 ('Get out and about') when he said:

I'd suggest walking around other schools to get a view of how they approach things. And also invite other teachers from other schools to visit yours and ask for their impressions.

There is no right and wrong about any of this, but the reason that I have deferred this until now is that I think you get more out of visits if you have done a lot of groundwork first, as I explain below.

Purpose of the visits

There are several good reasons to arrange such visits, for example:

  • To help you see your ed tech provision through the eyes of a disinterested third party (note that I said DISinterested, not UNinterested). People tend to see things they want to see, and to get used to the things that perhaps are not quite right. Someone from outside, with no axe to grind, can ask the awkward questions like, "But why do you do it like THAT?", and to share their own experience with you.
  • Visiting other schools can give you ideas. When I was involved in ICT inspections, on one or two occasions I suggested that the Head of e-Learning visit a few schools to see what was going on 'out there'. Without that injection of fresh ideas, it is really easy to become a bit stale.
  • If you're thinking of investing in a particular type of network, or software, a visit by and to someone who has already done so can be invaluable in helping you avoid some of their mistakes.
  • On a longer-term basis, it is often a good idea to forge 'vertical' links, ie with the schools that your pupils are coming from or going on to.

Who should you visit or invite?

If you're in the UK, it's easy to find schools worth a visit in your area. To find out which schools have been accredited with the ICT Mark, or even those which have committed themselves to going down that road, the Next Generation website is very good.

You can also go to the Becta ICT Mark site, but in my opinion that is not as good because it has only ICT Mark schools, not ones which have committed themselves to the Next Generation Charter (as it's called).

For a less 'official' list of schools, go to the SSAT's ICT Register — but bear in mind that schools nominate themselves as being worthy of inclusion on the Register.

You could also ask your Local Authority advisor (if there is one) or your School Improvement Officer.

You might also trawl through the Ofsted reports for schools in which ICT received a good mention, but as ICT is not always specifically mentioned the reports of good schools in that respect may be a few years old now.

Companies can also recommend schools. For example, an interactive whiteboard company will be able to recommend exemplar schools, ie ones which have done great things with that product. In a sense, that narrows the focus somewhat, but in my experience, and from the reading I've done and conversations I've had, doing great things as a whole school in one particular area is usually indicative of a much deeper and broader level of engagement with change management processes and that sort of thing. In other words, it would be highly unlikely, I think, to find a school that was working wonders in its use of interactive whiteboards throughout the school, but which was pretty awful in every other use of educational technology.

Also, if you attend conferences or training days, get chatting to people and, if feasible, contact them subsequently to arrange reciprocal visits.

It doesn't have to be another school. It could be a college or even a company. It all depends on what you're mainly hoping to gain from the exercise.

Getting the most out of visits

If you have invited someone to visit your school, I would suggest asking them to do what you did on Day 4, ie walk about and gain a general impression of what's going on. Unless, of course, you'd like their opinion on a particular thing the school has been doing.

When visiting other schools I think you gain much more from it by doing even a small amount of research. What was their last inspection report like (if you're in the UK)? Are they on the ICT Register, or have they achieved the ICT Mark? What does their website tell you.

For me, part of the research is being done whilst you're attending to your own affairs, which is why I am suggesting visits now rather than on Day 4. I think it's important to have have done some deep thinking first, so that you can ask relevant questions or look for particular aspects at the time: nothing is more frustrating than wishing you'd asked to look at a particular thing when it's too late.

Your task for today

So your task for today is not to visit a school, obviously, as you can't do that in 15 minutes, but to think about what you'd like to get out of a visit to another school, or from someone else visiting your schol. Then have a think about whom to approach.

If you lead a team of ICT teachers, put this topic on the agenda for your next team meeting. Perhaps your colleagues can suggest schools to visit or teachers to invite, and why. If they are nervous about the idea of having visitors, try to explore why. Why is it that they are not 100% confident in what the school is doing in that regard, and what can be done about it?

You can see that even if the discussion results in a decision to not invite others in, that in itself can provide a rich source of data about what needs to be addressed and prioritised as far as educational technology in your school is concerned.

A Visit to Oakington Manor Primary School

I was recently invited by Becta to a round table discussion about the use of technology. (Becta is the agency that is responsible for implementing the educational ICT strategy in England and Wales.)

Note the 3D glasses!Shopping was never like this!It was nice to be invited to that, but what especially caught my attention was the information that the primary (elementary) school in which the meeting was due to take place is using 3D technology in its ICT suite. That sounded fascinating, so I asked if I'd be able to interview some of the children and their teacher afterwards. Nina House of Shiny Red, Becta's PR company, asked on my behalf, and Ophelia Vanderpuye, the school's ICT Co-ordinator and Advanced Skills Teacher for ICT agreed.

In terms of technology, there is much to talk about: the computers that rise out of the desks at the touch of a button, the enormous interactive whiteboard which doubles as a movie screen, the natural air conditioning, the low-heat computers. And, of course, the 3D films for which you need special glasses -- unless you watch them on the smaller interactive whiteboard at the back of the room, in which case you don't.

But I think what is even more interesting as you listen to Ophelia and the children talking are the vision and planning that lies behind all of these developments.

Ophelia Vanderpuye

The event was filmed, and the result should be appearing on the Becta website in due course.Lights, camera, action!

Oakington Manor welcomes visits from educators. I said in a recent article that to be an innovative teacher you need to see what other schools are doing. If at all possible, I should add Oakington to your 'must visit' list. To arrange a visit, phone the school on +44 (0) 208 902 2871.

The discussion with Ophelia lasts around 15 minutes, and that's followed by a chat with the children of around the same length of time.


Thanks to Ophelia, the children and the school, Becta for inviting me, and Nina Howse for expediting my interview request and for chatting to the children with me.

The jingle on the podcast was produced by Hanson Radio. Read about my visit to John Hanson School for the full story behind it.

The music is Simple Soulman by the Groovechasers, and is podsafe music. Listen to the full version on the GarageBand website.

The photos were taken by myself and may be viewed on Flickr.


A Visit to John Hanson Community School

"We come up here in break times or in lesson times"
"Here being where?"
The radio studio at John HansonSuch is the impeccable logic of 14 year olds! As it happens, the "here" in question was the music room, and the recording studio, of John Hanson Community School in Andover, Hampshire, in the south-eastern part of England. I spent a most pleasant morning there a while ago, meeting staff and students, especially those who were working on a podcast for me.

A couple of years ago I wrote in my newsletter, Computers in Classrooms, that while I enjoyed making podcasts, I didn't really have the time or the inclination to devote the time required to make them as polished as I should like. I wondered aloud whether there was a school that would be willing to work with me. The benefits for me would be obvious, and hopefully the students would benefit from having an opportunity to work with a real client, and, if required, a reference or testimonial from me to go into their eportfolio. And, for the school, some extra publicity.

This item was picked up by Hampshire Consultant and newsletter subscriber Colin McQueen, who works for the Hampshire Inspection & Advisory Service. He passed it on to Mike Adams, Assistant Headteacher at the school and, as it turns out, one of the driving forces behind Hanson Radio. As soon as I heard one of their podcasts, I was entranced by the quality and the professionalism (as you will be: give it a whirl).

Up till the visit, communication had been via email, my website, and the school's VLE. I'd been sending recordings, and Mike sent me some original music, which I commented on. Then I visited the school and met Mike and Colin for the first time, some of Mike's colleagues -- including Alastair Johnston, Head of Performing Arts, who was also heavily involved with this project -- and some of his students.

I was impressed with what I saw and heard:

The pupils were not only confident users of some music-creating software (eJay DJ Mix Station 2.0, which appears to have been discontinued), but were confident in playing for me and the class the results of their efforts. They had every reason to be confident, because their compositions sounded great. (And just for the record, I'm not easily satisfied.) In fact, not only did it sound nice, it also satisfied the brief, which was to produce some upbeat music with a jazz funk feel. They had also responded well to the feedback I gave on the first one they produced.

In English National Curriculum terms, taking into account user feedback is Level 7, and taking users' needs into account is Level 8. Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting for a moment that taking part in this activity has propelled the students to the dizzy heights of Level 8, but it does serve to illustrate the fact that if you want your students to be able to work at those levels, you have to provide opportunities for them to do so.

Two pupils who have been working on one of the sections played me what they'd done and showed me how they'd achieved the miracle of making me sound fluid and coherent! They seemed very comfortable working with Audacity in the music studio.

Terry on airI was then interviewed by four students, Sophie, Ruby, Alan and Steven, who had prepared some thoughtful questions and who agreed to be interviewed by me in turn. It was in that context that we had the discussion about where "here" was. Their interview of me was featured in a Hanson Radio podcast (which appears to be part of an archive now), and in the one they did for me, as was my interview of them. You can listen to these interviews and the whole Hanson Radio treatment in this podcast.

(In looking up the URL for this episode, I realised with horror that Paul Harrington had left a comment about it, which I hadn't realised! Paul said:

Terry, I have just spent a very entertaining 45 minutes listening to the podcast, excellent work - could you pass on my congratulations for their professional job ( you weren't bad either -lol). The tips on BETT made me instantly rush off and print some business cards in order to save me writing - so thank you very much for that. Regards Paul

So I hope this is a case of better late than never!)

Mike has also had a couple of great jingles made for me, and sought and obtained permission to use the original works of a living composer, Kevin MacLeod.

As it turned out, we didn't get to make another podcast together. I suppose we're all busy people, and doing something like this is a pretty big time commitment. But it was a great experience, and I still use the jingle they created for me!

I was delighted that  a year later the school was awarded the ICT Mark. From what I saw, it was very richly deserved.