Is Developing Digital about good communication?

Posted on: 19 Nov 2019
Posted by: Adam Brigham

It is almost 2020 and still the number of schools finding it easy to implement a successful digital strategy are few. But why are schools finding it tough? What are successful schools doing right?

I am Adam Brigham and I work for Commercial Managed IT as an Education Consultant.

I work with over 60 schools, primarily independent schools and I come from a technical background initially as an IT engineer and now manage and steer a large group of independent schools.

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When I engage with schools the first thing I look for is the quality of communication.

Is there an established link between the Bursar and IT Department?

Are the Bursar and IT Dept closely linked with the academics?

In my experience, this is where many schools can get it wrong. Successful schools have realised good communication with all stakeholders is the key and are on route to building their internal and external relationships.

Healthy forum

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I recommend a healthy forum, such as a steering group, that meets as a minimum termly to voice feedback on the challenges of implementing the school vision and present new ideas. The desired outcome should be a strategy document that the steering committee takes ownership of. If the school is large enough to employ an IT Director, their daily objectives should be to deliver the strategy. Tip – if your IT Director is working the helpdesk to fix support calls, he/she is not delivering value back to the strategy. Having a pupil and parent voice in the strategy is often welcomed and will add perspective from different users.

ICT in schools is an expensive exercise, even more costly if you get it wrong and strategies need to be delivered within the current budgets already allocated.

A steering group should set out to look at the following;

  • Improving learning outcomes in the next 5 years
  • Staff Training with timetabled slots
  • Transforming Classroom time
  • Delivering affordable, easy to use IT

Implementing the vision

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Once the vision for teaching and learning has been agreed, the school should audit their core infrastructure foundations in which to support and deliver ICT in the classroom to achieve this vision. I like to use the analogy of an iceberg, as 10% on the surface is supported by 90% behind the scenes. Without good, solid foundations even the best strategic plan will fail. Find a third party who will provide an Infrastructure Readiness Assessment to include;

  • High‐Density Wireless Network
  • High‐Speed Resilient Backbone
  • Uncontended High‐Speed Internet Connection

Establishing Standards

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An exercise to review the school’s data and application can be a mammoth task but is necessary. At this stage, you are required to make a clear decision to the cloud eco‐system the school is going to use. I suggest later in this blog to visit other schools to help make this decision and understand the Pros & Cons.

Setting a policy on the adoption/purchase of new software is important to ensure they all integrate, and the data is manageable. The two points to consider and review them against are;

  1. Cloud‐First / Software‐as‐a‐Service
  2. Must integrate with either Active Directory or School’s MIS

To help define your strategy, finding an IT Partner is essential. A good partner can bring you solutions tailored to the school and can help with expert advice which will shortcut time and money. Look for partners who can facilitate visits to other peers’ groups/schools. Together you should co‐create a 3‐5‐year roadmap that outlines the important milestones of the strategy. These are great to manage cash flow and present to governors. They detail important dates and costs at each stage of the strategy.

The modern classroom – as part of the strategy, should include a classroom standardisation piece on a rolling program.

My favourite setup is all around the mobility solution, this is where the teacher is provided with their own 1‐2‐1 device and the classrooms are based on hot desks. The rooms are installed with a docking station and either an interactive screen or projector with screen casting capabilities. Furthermore, this can be extended to a pupil 1‐2‐1 scheme and contribute to collaborative learning.

Staff Training

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Staff Training has always been forgotten about or not worked well with teachers’ schedules and workloads. This is a key area to the success of the strategy and is required to be delivered correctly. Self‐paced training and twilight sessions have a long history of not working, the only method which delivers are scheduled time‐tabled training sessions. This is easier said than done as not every school can schedule free periods for Training. Coaching or mentoring is another successful strategy.

The final hurdle – getting buy in from the staff pupils and parents

Some schools create a great plan but how can we communicate that strategy back to the school?

The truth is, there is no correct answer and every school is different, my advice would be to

  1. Give staff time to understand the essential elements on an Inset day. Involve training and demos from a group of champions who have piloted the scheme, why not include a student’s voice or develop students to be digital leaders to support other students and even staff?
  2. The vision should be short and simple, staff should be able to communicate it back. You will need to continue to reinforce the value of investing in the plan and celebrate the successes.

The key takeaways!

Communicate your vision well to get the buy you need to refine it and develop ownership Train & Ready your Staff to get the best return on your investment

Do you think Developing Digital successfully is about good communication?

For further reading, please see our ebook “A Strategic Blueprint got Delivering The Digital School of The Future

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About Adam Brigham

Adam Brigham works for Commercial Managed IT as an Education Consultant.