Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago – Warren Buffett
There’s an aspect to teaching that not many people understand unless you live it. Teachers are, for the most part, constantly thinking about the past, present and future in parallel. We think about how students have progressed, how they have behaved (sometimes in the very distant past), the last time we taught this or that and how to tackle it again now. We think about how buildings have changed or policies and procedures have been updated – or not – and we are constantly reminded of our history with ex-students, parents and colleagues sharing our present with us.
Our present is not just filled with people though, it’s filled with demands and lists and immediacy. Time rolls on and duties must be performed to the best of our ability, students must be assisted today just in case they are away or sick tomorrow, forms must be filled in as soon as possible. Emails, oh the emails, must be replied to. Teachers are quite good at instantly switching from a conversation about the Year 10 History assessment task to the detail procedure of bus movements for Swimming Carnival. Some days it feels like the West Wing, with a conversation moving through the corridors and different people sliding in and out of the present with different demands, requests, suggestions or support.
And at the same time, the future thrashes around in our mind like a chained beast, frothing and straining to launch into the present. We can’t hope to ignore it, but we can plan for when it does finally come at us. Luckily, it’s usually not as scary as we first think – so long as we plan.
This week saw my first in depth conversation one on one with our new IT manager. He’s a great bloke. Full of ideas and compassion and empathy for what schools do. Despite several significant challenges, he’s outlined how fast the IT department can get things ship shape so that staff and students have a reliable technology environment and platform from which to launch into innovative and creative teaching and learning.
We’ve done a few small things to make life a little easier for teachers and will continue to do so. These small wins are often just as important in the daily life of teachers who are thinking in triplicate. The IT department can explain the very technical and highly important reasons why something might have failed or stalled or not worked properly, but teachers will just politely (and sometimes not so politely) nod and explain that they don’t really understand or care why – they just need to be able to do the thing they were planning to do today.
So whilst ironing out issues and putting out spotfires, we’re working together to have staff and students experiment and test a range of teaching and learning experiences over the course of the year. Rather than trying to change everything rip-off-the-band-aid style, we know that change needs to happen with vision, thoughtfulness and transparency.
We have multiple priorities facing us but the dovetailing of teaching and learning (my side) and the technical systems (his side) is critical to succeeding in the long game: and yes, before you say it, teaching and learning should always drive technological change at a school. However, when the expertise for systems and capabilities lies in the IT department, it must be a partnership.
Therefore, we’ve worked to bring together the plan for professional development, staff laptop rollout, Australian Curriculum planning and programming, differentiation and pedagogical support around the proposed goals for IT. This means that each stage of evolution for teaching and learning throughout the year will be in line with our capabilities as a learning environment.
The long game? To establish a sustainable and evolving, reflective and innovative environment for teaching and learning where experimentation and risk-taking as well as support and shared vision is the norm.
As you can tell, I’m pretty keen to take on the beast when it arrives. With planning, it will morph from a raving, uncontrollable, unpredictable idea-smashing lunatic of the future into a friendly pet dog – not always predictable, but manageable and fitting to the present.