With schools in Scotland beginning to contemplate how to re-open after a prolonged period of closure, I can’t help but reflect on how the last 10 weeks have gone and if there have been any lessons learned. Much like a yoyo factory, it has been full of its ups and downs. There have been moments of wonderful clarity and presence of mind where I have become almost philosophical. Then there have been days where I have been really sad, with only Salt and Vinegar Pringles and coffee to numb the pain. But one of the main victories for me has been the successes in collaboration with colleagues. In what is challenging times for collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity, I have witnessed first hand some incredible achievements in each of these areas.
In a recent EduBlether podcast (Episode 23- Digital Learning)we discussed the impact of digital technology on Professional Learning (as well as many other issues relating to digital learning). I would like to turn the focus of my attention to staff development and what we can take away from our current situation while moving forward into unknown territory.
The first area I would like to discuss is at first glance trivial, but in reality is transformative. With the ubiquity of video calls, I have joked that it is as if we have discovered a teleport button, where we can be in a meeting department meeting one minute, then 5 minutes later we can be at a professional learning event. Before lockdown, both events would have been punctuated by at least a 45 minute journey in the car, a 15 minute rage-filled search for a parking space, then an entrance to a room full of bad coffee and embarrassment at your lateness. We can now simply click a button and jump between meetings, like a character from a sci-fi film (albeit in this example a very dull and boring Microsoft Office version of the future). Not content with a teleport button, we have also discovered the ability to jump through time as well as space. If we miss any meetings there is the potential to catch up later at a time convenient to you due to meetings being recorded for prosperity. For example, Moray House has been hosting a series of webinars on a range of topics including Self-Evaluation, leadership and more. I have never been able to attend the ‘live’ event (having two young children at home), but I have enjoyed them later at a time of my choosing (after bedtime stories have been read and I feel more human).
These developments with digital literacy and confidence have prompted me to consider their impact through the lens of ‘Professional Capital’, the notion put forward by Hargreaves and Fullan. Professional Capital, they suggest, is made up of human capital, social capital and decisional capital. I’d like to quickly take each concept, in turn, to acknowledge how this new way of working can enhance each area, and ultimately on outcomes for children.
Human capital is roughly translated into the ability or the skills of the people in the school, for instance, a teachers subject knowledge or awareness of a range of pedagogical approaches. The new way of working, which is highly personalised and can be tailored to suit individual needs clearly builds Human Capital in a much more efficient and focussed way than was possible before. Kulvarn Atwal advocates in his book ‘ The Thinking School’ for ‘Dynamic Learning Communities’ where he believes that teachers must have choice and input on the nature and direction of their own learning to feel empowered and motivated. Never have I worked in an environment where there is as much choice in terms of professional learning. So many agencies from universities to private companies have offered appropriate learning for free to the profession.
Decisional Capital refers to the ability to analyse information and make decisions or judgements on how to deal with different situations. Again this is enhanced for me by the supportive online platforms readily available to teachers. From the incredibly supportive and richly experienced world of Twitter to more focussed and targeted online groups using an online collaboration platform like Teams. Teachers can now reach out and ask for advice or further information, in turn, increasing their ability to make sound decisions and judgements.
Social Capital refers to the collegiate culture of trust and respect that exists within a school. I have witnessed an increase in Social capital with the use of digital technologies. I have heard of or seen groups of teachers collaborating online to create videos for children to feel connected to their school and teachers creating team-teach writing lessons online to suit a range of levels. The collaborative functions available in Microsoft Teams or OneNote, for instance, are an excellent way to improve Social Capital in any establishment.
However, these advancements could also play in favour of another model for education. If we view these advancements through the lens of a Business Capital model, it becomes a more worrying and less enriching landscape. The argument could be put forward that these advancements in digital literacy could help reduce the cost of education. Questions from this perspective could be; how can we capitalise on the extra time teachers now have given there is less travel time between meetings? Can we increase class sizes using a blended model of online/in school learning? Can we hold teachers more accountable to decisions they make when everything is online and inherently more visible/open to dissection and criticism? (I heard of one school where they were giving performance reviews based on online lessons!)
In a business capital approach to education, teaching can be reduced to a set of procedures or routines, something easy to learn and master, something anyone can do. Hargreaves and Fallon suggest that this business capital view of teaching also claims that technology could potentially replace teachers. With the focus of professional learning being on gaining confidence with the tools and systems that help teachers ‘deliver’ learning online, we run the risk of subscribing too heavily to a business capital view of education. We need to keep this distinction in our minds when considering the impact of digital technologies on professional learning.
Now I am not trying to paint a picture of a bleak, post-apocalyptic, Black Mirror-style version of the future of teaching. However, it is worth considering the impact of these advancements in digital confidence from multiple perspectives.
It is clear to see that the benefits of digital technology have become a part of everyday life in the world we now live. Almost every teacher across the country will have taken part in an online video call, accessed professional learning online and collaborated with colleagues to solve a range of problems with a range of creative solutions. This has undoubtedly enhanced the Professional Capital of many teachers and educators worldwide. I believe passionately that by investing in professional learning using online/digital technologies we will see an improvement in outcomes for children and young people for reasons laid out above. I believe that digital technologies can help us improve Professional Capital and, while I am still cautious of the overly business centred, cost-saving narrative that could inevitably arise out of our current situation, I am excited to see how professional learning develops in Scotland and beyond.