Monday, 20 April 2015

Wearable Tech Policy for School

At Berkhamsted, we are committed to pupils using mobiles devices to support their learning through appropriate use in school and at home. Alongside this, we believe that we have an educational responsibility to help young people manage how and when they use new technologies and thus have always taken an approach that we would rather 'educate' than 'ban',
So working within this context, the Senior Leadership Team this afternoon grappled with the thorny issue of how we approach the issue of 'Wearable Technology' (such as the Apple Watch) in school. It was a thoughtful and lively debate:
On one level, it would appear that there is little difference between having a fully connected mobile device in one's pocket and on one's wrist, so why the fuss?
Well, we decided that there are two reasons why a watch poses additional issues:
  1. First, from a teacher's perspective, wearable technology is very difficult to police.  When necessary, it is relatively easy for a teacher to say 'your phone needs to be in your pocket/bag', it becomes much more difficult to ask the class to remove their watches.
  2. Secondly, from a pupil's perspective, wearable technology is less easy to ignore. The buzz of a phone on vibrate mode in a pocket or bag is out of sight and sometimes earshot - whereas the temptation to catch up on a text/ or social media update is almost impossible to ignore when it's on your wrist.
So, we took a middle way: not banning, but discouraging wearable technology in school: our mobile device policy now has an additional paragraph as follows:

Berkhamsted School Wearable Tech Policy:
  1. If Wearable Tech is worn in lessons or in public areas around the school, the ‘Do not disturb’/’flight mode’ should be activated.
  2. Wearable Tech must not be worn in exams as this will result in disqualification. Exam Regulations do not allow any device capable of mobile communication. 
  3. Our strong advice is that pupils should not bring Wearable Tech devices to school, because they are likely to be a greater distraction than other mobile devices. 
  4. If a Wearable Tech device is deemed by the teacher to be causing a distraction around school, it is liable to confiscation until the end of the school day.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Appraisal and Performance Management in Schools - A practical approach

A presentation given as part of the leadership strand at TLAB15 on Saturday 21st March 2015


Monday, 2 March 2015

How MOOCs, Tablets and Apps are changing how we teach

Presentation given at The Society of Heads Annual Conference at Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire on Tuesday 3rd March, 2015


Friday, 13 February 2015

How to Conduct a Teacher Appraisal

An INSET given to Heads of Department on how to conduct a teacher appraisal


Saturday, 17 January 2015

What to look for in a School Management Information System (MIS)

School Management Information Systems (MIS) have developed over the past twenty years from relatively rudimentary databases that held parental data into the complex integrated systems now available. Today School MIS are asked to perform a range of key tasks including admissions, pupil tracking, discipline, reporting, fee billing, HR and a range of other functions. Choosing a School MIS is one of the most far-reaching decisions that the senior team will make for it has a direct impact on the operational efficiency of the organisation. However, because each school has its own structure, management style, priorities and is at a different stage of organisational maturity, it is very likely that no single MIS will be perfect. Few schools can afford to commission a bespoke MIS and off-the-peg solutions always entail a degree of compromise. 
Reticence to Change Schools are understandably reticent to change MIS for a number of reasons. First, it is costly both financially and in terms of organisational time and energy; secondly, a new MIS entails an enormous amount of training of both administrative and teaching staff; and thirdly, a new MIS usually entails a short period when organisational performance drops as key personnel get used to the new system. Thus it is common for schools to live with an under-performing MIS for a number of years, before it reaches the ‘tipping point’ at which the short term inconvenience of changing MIS outweighs the ongoing inefficiencies. 
Consider carefully who makes the decision The range of tasks that a modern MIS is asked to perform inevitably means that different users value those aspects of an MIS’ functionality that relate to their own area: the finance department typically emphasising the importance of fee billing, the Director of Studies - pupil tracking, the teachers – reporting and so on. Because different MIS have different strengths and weakness, the process of choosing an MIS can be problematic if one area of the school has a disproportionate say in the decision. Senior Leaders should beware the ‘silo mentality’: many a school Bursar has driven the decision over the choice of MIS without any regard to the academic needs of the school. All the key stakeholders (finance team, administrators, teachers and parents) need to have input into the decision-making process - the choice of an MIS should be a whole-school decision. 
Strengths and Weaknesses – Remember their roots There is no perfect MIS – they all have relative strengths and weaknesses. One way to understand these is to look at how each of the products started life and how they have evolved to what is on offer today. SIMS was founded on school admin needs in the UK state sector where timetabling and monitoring attendance/truancy were key; WCBS’s 3Sys and Double First’s Engage began their lives as accounts packages, which developed school administration modules and now have become integrated MIS; whereas iSAMS was initially designed from a teachers’ perspective as a bespoke product focusing on academic assessment and reporting. Today all of these products have developed and increased functionality, but it is worth bearing in mind where they have come from, as it typically explains why administrators favour SIMS, bursars and finance departments like 3Sys and Engage, and why teachers like iSAMS
Two Approaches: There are broadly two approaches to MIS. Schools are faced with a choice between the ease of use of the integrated modules and the additional functionality of the free-standing specialist software package. 
  1. Approach One: MIS Core + modules 
    All modern MIS are modular, offering a core database function to which schools can add modules that perform other functions: timetabling, tracking, reporting, internal and external examinations, mark books, admissions, attendance, co-curricular and so on. The advantages of the ‘core + module’ approach allows schools to develop their use of the MIS at their own pace and that there are no compatibility issues of integrating the MIS with software produced by different firms. 
  2. Approach Two: MIS Core + specialist software 
    The problem with the MIS Core + modules approach is that off-the-peg modules are never going to be as good as free-standing specialist software packages. Specialist software companies inevitably can devote more time to developing their area. For example, specialist timetabling software might make constructing the timetable easier for the admin team, but it may not be as easy to input and access data. The primary role of the MIS in this approach is to hold central data and to integrate the various “best-of-breed” specialist packages, which is much easier said than done. 
Compatibility and Integration When researching MIS, one of the most important areas to investigate is the extent to which their product is compatible with other specialist products. Key questions are: 
  • How easy is it to move data between the MIS and specialist packages? 
  • Does the MIS support team provide a specific Application Program Interface (API) to facilitate this? (These are a set of protocols and routines which integrate two software packages to enable them to share data seamlessly.) 
Look to the Future Few schools are likely to change MIS more often than every ten years. Those making the decision need to consider that there will be significant software developments within the lifetime of the new MIS. A closed system might meet today’s needs, but it is very unlikely to be fit for purpose in five years’ time if it cannot integrate with other products. Multi-browser products that can flex and integrate with other systems are more likely continue delivering functionality in the mid-2020s. 
And so to the Cloud It is almost certain that during the next ten years schools will migrate all of their data to the Cloud. It will do this for two reasons: first, it will be cheaper; secondly, it will make upgrades and data management easier for the MIS providers to service their products. This is available now, but, at present, schools are reticent to trust their data to remote, off-site servers. This is no different to schools a hundred years ago, most of whom had their own electricity generators because they didn’t trust the National Grid. In ten years’ time I suspect that we find the idea of on-site server rooms, as anachronistic as we do on-site electricity generators.  

Published in the Independent Schools Magazine February 2015 p.12

Monday, 22 December 2014

Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age - Book Review

Over the past twenty years most of us have spent a significant part of our working and leisure hours struggling (with varying degrees of success) to keep up with the pace of technological change. We have had little time to step back to reflect on the impact that it is all having on our lives. In Program or be Programmed Douglas Rushkoff presses the pause button to outline 'Ten Commands for a Digital Age' - suggestions for how we can regain control and make digital technologies once again work for us. Each of the 'commands' are based on tendencies or 'biases' of digital media.
  1. Time: Do not be always on. Digital technologies are biased away from time, and toward asynchronicity. Computers fundamentally operate outside time: a computer will wait forever for the next command. It is our use of computers that has made everything immediate. In order to regain control we need to disengage and "not be always on". The text/email/FB update will wait. 
  2. Place: Live in person. Digital media are biased away from the local, and toward distance/dislocation. Last week, I was in the open air restaurant of a five-star resort looking out over one of the most beautiful bays in Vietnam, a family of six (2 grandparents, 2 parents and 2 children) were totally disconnected. They sat around the dinner table playing on their phones. We see this all the time. We need to live in person and not in a virtual world. 
  3. Choice: You may always choose none of the above. The digital realm is biased towards choice, because everything ultimately must be expressed in terms of discrete, yes-no, symbolic language. In moving from the real world to the digital something gets lost in translation because inevitably digital representations are compromises. Too often we are forced into making choices that have been predetermined by the programmer. We need to recognise that we don't always have to play the programmer's game and choose not to make a choice. 
  4. Complexity: You are never completely right. Digital technology is biased toward simplicity and to reducing complexity. We must take care not to mistake digital models with reality. There is evidence that young people are increasingly finding it difficult to distinguish between experiences that they have had in real and virtual environments. 
  5. Scale: One size does not fit all. Digital technologies are biased toward abstraction i.e. to the separation of the individual from what is real (This is the most complex and subtle argument in the book). All media are biased towards abstraction: the written word separates the speaker from his words; the printing press disconnects the author from the page itself; digital hypertext disconnects the reader not only from the author but also from the original context, as well as enabling the reader to exit from a document at any point. The most obvious manifestation of the propensity of the digital towards abstraction is our daily encounter of 'people wearing headphones, staring into smart phones, ensconced in their private digital bubbles as they walk down what were once public streets'. 
  6. Identity: Be yourself. Digital technology is biased toward depersonalisation. The less we take responsibility for what we say and do online, the more likely we are to behave in ways that reflect our worst natures. We must make an effort not to operate anonymously. We must be ourselves. 
  7. Social: Do not sell your friends. Our digital networks are biased towards social connections - toward contact. Any effort to redefine or hijack those connections for profit end up compromising the integrity of the network, and compromising the real promise of contact. 'Friendships, both digital and incarnate, do create value. But this doesn't mean that the people in our lives can be understood as commodities to be collected and counted.' 
  8. Fact: Tell the Truth. Digital Technology is biased against fiction and towards facts, against story and toward reality. In the Internet age "the truth will out" - eventually - so tell the truth. There are significant implications here for the world of advertising. 'Those who succeed in the new bazaar [= communication age] will be the ones who can quickly evaluate what they're hearing and learn to pass on the stuff that matters.' 
  9. Openness: Share don't steal. Digital technology is biased in favour of openness and sharing. The Internet was built on a "gift economy" based more on sharing than profit, however we have great difficulty distinguishing between sharing and stealing. At present 'we are operating a C21 digital economy on a C13 printing-press-based operating system' - We need a system upgrade that rewards creators in a digital age with zero duplication costs. 
  10. Purpose: Program or be Programmed. Digital technology is programmed and therefore is biased towards those who write the code. If we don't learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves. 'Each media revolution offers people a new perspective through which to relate to their world .... With the advent of each new medium the status quo is revised and rewritten by those who have gained access to the tools of its creation .... Access is usually limited to a small elite.' 'The invention of the printing press led not to society of writers but one of readers; we don't make radio and TV we listen and watch it .... Computers and networks do offer us the ability to write, but the underlying capability of the computer era is actually programming - which almost no one knows how to do. We simply use the programs that have been made for us. Only an elite gains the ability to fully exploit the new medium on offer.' 
This is an outstanding thought-provoking book which reflects on how we can regain our humanity in face of rapid technological change. Rushmore is no Luddite - he is an insider who, in the spirit of the age, has shared his insights. Program or be Programmed is a short book which will take a couple of hours to read - time well spent as it will change the way you think about our Brave New World.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The importance of putting values at the heart of a global organisation.

Pharmaceutical giants probably don't spring to mind when thinking of values driven organisations, so it was great interest that I learned of the changes that are taking place in one of the world's largest drug companies.
I first visited Novartis five years ago. Then it was an organisation, like most others, driven by a culture of profit and individualism and where "work-life integration" had replaced any notion of "work-life" balance. The company boasted that its Campus had several restaurants, a supermarket and a post office so that domestic chores did not force employees to leave early and thus the firm could maximise the length of the working day. The performance management structure primarily rewarded results. The only hint of what was to come was that there was a recognition in their appraisal structure that an individual getting great results through poor 'attitudes and behaviours' was fundamentally bad business.
Novartis PRP Matrix up to 2014
Five years on and, after six months of company-wide consultation, Novartis have just launched their new values. The 23 values that were neither known nor understood by their employees have been distilled down to six core principles, two for each of the three areas:
  1. Patient and Customer: innovation and quality;
  2. Team: collaboration and performance; and
  3. Self: courage and integrity.

The order of these values categories say much about the vision for the organisation for they put the needs of customer/patient first, and the needs of the team above those of the individual. The shift from a 'me' culture to an 'us' (team and society) culture is significant.
So how are these values worked out in the organisation? Well drugs companies do have a good story to tell. They do change lives. They do make the world a better place. Novartis invests billions in new drugs - of course they do it to make a profit, but without that profit there wouldn't be investment.

The organisation has shifted from valuing the individual to the team rather than the individual. Hence collaboration and team performance at the centre of the values structure. The clearest evidence of this shift is in the performance management matrix. The bonus structure use to reward results over attitudes and behaviours. From January 2015, that will not be the case. Results and values will have equal weight. 
Novartis PRP Matrix prior from 2015
The personal values of courage and integrity emphasise the need for individual employees to live up to their responsibilities and to operate within an agreed ethical framework.
Novartis is able to attract some of the world's greatest talent and they actively look to appoint high-fliers who have 'agility' i.e. who are able to apply their skills in different contexts as they around their global postings at two-year intervals. Interestingly, no one spoke of 'work-life integration', rather they had introduced more flexibility about working hours and locations (campus wide wireless VLAN).

The world needs ethical drugs companies.  
I shall follow Novartis' progress with great interest and wish them every success in this venture.

(I would like to thank the Talent Management team at Novartis Basel for their wonderful hospitality and for sharing their vision with a group of headteachers - priceless INSET.)

Friday, 7 November 2014

AS-Levels, Education, Examinations and Cambridge Admissions

We are surprised to read that Cambridge University is advocating a system of education which puts examinations ahead of learning.
Whilst Cambridge University’s desire to have data which informs its admissions decisions is understandable, we believe that the recent intervention from Dr Mike Sewell of the university admissions office, which seeks to influence schools' decision making, is fundamentally not in the educational best interests of our students.
The newly reformed A level system, with its emphasis on terminal exams, provides an excellent opportunity to develop the intellectual maturity, agility and independence of mind which universities have long been asking for. Freeing up Year 12, will allow students to focus on wider and deeper learning, not just exam preparation. It will also give students more teaching and learning time and a much needed and highly desirable exam-free year.
Yours faithfully,

From the following Head Teachers:
Mary Breen - St Mary's Ascot
Jenny Brown - St Albans High school
Matthew Burke – St Martha’s, Herts
Carol Chandler-Thompson - Blackheath High School GDST
Vivienne Durham – Francis Holland School (Regent’s Park)
Lucy Elphinstone – Francis Holland School (Sloane Square)
Heather Hanbury – The Lady Eleanor Holles School
Marion Gibbs, James Allen’s Girls’ School
Rosalynd Kamaryc – Queen’s Gate School
Amanda Leach – More House School
Jane Lunnon – Wimbledon High School GDST
Ruth Mercer – The Godolphin and Latymer School
Jacqualyn Pain – Northwood College for Girls
Sarah Raffray – St Augustine’s Priory
Liz Richardson – Berkhamsted Girls School
Millan Sachania – Streatham & Clapham High School GDST
Mary Short – St Helen’s School, Northwood
 Mark S. Steed -Berkhamsted School

See also

Friday, 31 October 2014

e-Safety for Teachers - Why teachers need to protect themselves on Social Media and some tips on how to do it.

Beware: Parents Troll Teachers
Last year, a parent, who was upset that her daughter had not been selected for a school sports team, took it upon herself to go onto the Facebook pages of the teacher concerned looking for some angle in order to get back at her. The mother contacted me complaining that the teacher was a "disgrace and shouldn't be working with children". She reported that there inappropriate pictures of the teacher at a party. Subsequent investigation revealed nothing more than a picture of the staff member at a party holding a cocktail obviously having a good time. I was shocked that a vengeful parent should 'troll' a teacher in this way. My response was to take no action in relation to the teacher and to run an INSET on e-Safety for the teaching staff. With full a Governor support, as a senior team, we also drafted a policy and procedure to deal with any future malicious or vengeful acts by parents: a formal warning would be given and any repetition would lead to the 'required removal' of the child because of a break down of trust between the school and the parent. The episode was a timely reminder of the vulnerable position that we find ourselves as teachers and of the importance of teachers doing all that they can to protect themselves. We spend a lot of time in schools exhorting and training pupils to take measures to be safe online, but many of the same principles equally apply to the staff room. 
Because teachers work in positions of influence with children and young people, society dictates that they conduct themselves as role models. There are expectations of higher standards of teachers' behaviour in their private lives that do not apply to other professions. Young bankers or solicitors whose wild Friday night out is documented in graphic detail on Facebook are not likely to have a problem at work so long as what they were doing was not illegal. Furthermore, child protection legislation and procedures dictate that there are circumstances when a teacher is treated as 'guilty until proven innocent'. A teacher who is subject to a malicious online anonymous accusation potentially could face suspension, pending a full investigation - with all the personal reputational damage that that entails. In this context, it is all the more important that teachers do all they can to take steps to prevent themselves from being open to accusation by ensuring that their personal life on social media remains private. 
Protecting your Digital Tattoo Teachers would be well advised to take the time to protect their online presence. Most obviously this entails a good understanding of the privacy settings on individual social media sites. However, teachers should bear in mind that, whilst, it is possible to prevent members of the public (including parents and pupils) from having access to personal pictures and posts, it is perhaps safest to assume that, in practice, everything that is posted online is in the public domain. Once it is out there, rather like a tattoo, it is very difficult to get it removed. The rule of thumb is 'don't post anything online that you wouldn't want to see in the Daily Mail.'
However, we are not totally responsible for our digital tattoo for others can post pictures and write things about us online. This is more difficult to monitor and control. Two useful steps are to Google yourself and to see what is out there about you; and to set up a Google Alerts which will inform you when your name appears on a website.
One of the greatest areas of concern for teachers comes in the form of the RateMyTeacher website. The site purports to provide "user generated feedback on teachers' and professors' teaching methods and their respective courses." In practice it provides an unaccountable platform for malicious comments, unbalanced judgements and the cyber-bullying of teachers. Because comments are posted anonymously and the site is now hosted in the US, there is in practice no legal redress for any slanderous accusations posted on the site (because US law protects the site from prosecution, and it is almost impossible to trace any individual who made the original post). The consequence is that teachers are vulnerable to potentially career damaging false accusations. 
Taking steps to have unwanted posts on the Internet is quite difficult - it is a combination of 'blocking' people and 'reporting abuse' to websites - but this doesn't always work. The most effective way to have a positive Digital Tattoo is be active on the web by blogging, tweeting and being referenced in good articles.
Keeping Professional Distance.  It is universally accepted within schools that there needs to be a 'professional distance' between teachers and pupils. This is necessary in the classroom, but it is all the more important in teachers' private lives. Part of this 'distance' is that teachers don't socialise with pupils: a young teacher who goes clubbing with the sixth form crosses a line which, at best, lays himself open not only to the charge of unprofessionalism, and, at worst, could lead to allegations of serious misconduct. In the same vein, teachers are well advised to ensure that all lines of communication with pupils are through official channels. It is generally accepted that teachers should not be emailing pupils from their personal accounts, or texting or phoning pupils from their personal mobile phones. Indeed, almost all schools provide an official school email for this purpose and some schools, recognising the necessity and ubiquity of mobile communication, provide teachers in pastoral roles with mobile phones which are paid for by the school on the understanding the communication may be monitored.

Teachers, Pupils and Social Media.  
The traditionally clear distinction between the professional and the personal is blurred by social media
Facebook 'friends' range from close family to passing acquaintances: it is a melting-pot of all whom we know and meet. One of the problematic features of Facebook is that it forces us to interact with all our 'friends' in the same way, which is not how we interact in the real world. The language we use when speaking to our oldest friends is often markedly different to the language we use in the workplace. How we talk to our mates when out on a Saturday night is far from the language and tone that we employ when teaching Year 12.
So should teachers be 'friends' with pupils on Facebook?  Some may argue that the privacy settings enable teachers to separate professional and personal relationships on Facebook. To some extent this is true - it is possible for teachers to prevent pupils from having access to personal posts and photographs. However, my greatest concern about social media is that they open up a private channel of communication between teachers and pupils, which can put teachers unwittingly into a situation where they are open to accusations of misconduct. How would a teacher who was a 'friend' with a Year 13 girl defend a claim that s/he had been conducting an online relationship? We can also turn the question around, can there ever be a good reason for teacher to be 'friends' with a pupil on Facebook? 
Facebook Friends with parents. The example above illustrates the dangers of being friends with parents on Facebook, but maintaining this distance is not always as easy as it may seem. Separating the personal and the professional is particularly difficult for those who have children in the school in which they work - for they are both teacher and parent at the same time. The prevalence of Form Facebook groups can put colleagues into a difficult position, particularly when the group gets up a head of steam on a particular issue. Teachers are best advised in these circumstances to maintain a discrete silence, lest their unique position be (mis)quoted to give extra weight to the argument. 
Twitter.  The way in which many people use Twitter confuses the professional and the personal: one minute the teacher is sharing a teaching idea picked up at an excellent INSET, the next s/he is posting pictures of the family reunion. My advice here is simple: if you want to post about professional and personal matters, run two twitter accounts; and if pupils are following you on Twitter, use the 'mute' function (from the settings menu) to disable their ability to tweet on your timeline or to message you directly.
LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a professional networking site - linking up is the social media equivalent of exchanging a business card. As such, LinkedIn is a useful vehicle for connecting with colleagues, parents and former pupils as 'professional distance' is built it. Users have full control of their own profile and it is not possible for others to post pictures or comments on the site that are publicly visible. Teachers would be well advised not to link with current pupils because LinkedIn does have a messaging feature and thus opens up the possibility of a private communication channel.  
Conclusion: There is little doubt that many teachers need to take much greater care when navigating the world of social media. Forewarned is forearmed.

Related Posts

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

e-Safety for Teachers - "Don’t leave yourself open to abuse, teachers told"

My interview with Nicola Woolcock of The Times published on Monday 20th October:

Don’t leave yourself open to abuse, teachers told
Teachers should keep their distance from parents as much as pupils on social media sites for fear of being “trolled” in revenge for classroom punishments, a head teacher has advised. Mark Steed, principal of Berkhamsted School and chairman of the information and communications technology (ICT) strategy committee for the Independent Schools Council (ISC), told The Times that parents could “troll” teachers following punishments or oversights involving their children.
“Social media colours what was a very simple relationship,” he said. “There needs to be a very clear separation between pupils and teachers’ private lives. This can be confused by friendship on Facebook, which can lay a teacher open to accusations that are hard to defend, because of private messaging.” Mr Steed said his senior staff had school mobile phones and could use these to text pupils about school matters, but that he had drawn up guidance for teachers on using social media.
He added: “Another concern is of parents trolling teachers, and about members of the profession being vulnerable on websites such as Rate My Teachers, which is a totally unaccountable platform.
We did have a very difficult situation where a parent was upset that a child didn’t make it onto a sports team. “In vengeance, the parent went online and sent me a picture of the teacher at a party from the teacher’s Facebook site. It hadn’t been protected by privacy settings. We have now taken steps against parents doing that.”
Mr Steed recommended that teachers set up two separate Twitter feeds for their personal and professional lives. “Don’t ‘follow’ pupils. This removes a potential private communication channel. You can control who follows and block who replies,” he said. Of Facebook, Mr Steed added: “There is a private communication channel which opens teachers to charges of unprofessionalism. Don’t ‘friend’ current pupils and be very wary of ‘friending’ former pupils.”
Berkhamsted is hosting the ISC’s annual strategy conference this week for heads of ICT at schools.