Enhancing School Leaders’ Digital Capacity in an Era of Change

Enhancing School Leaders’ Digital Capacity in an Era of Change

School leaders in an era of change

In the post-COVID-19 era, educational systems and school organisations must have a concrete digital educational implementation framework. This framework must include a concrete plan on the pedagogical aspect of distance teaching and learning processes. The above reference covers the two most important stakeholders in this particular digital era of educational change: teachers and students in school organisations.

At the other end of the spectrum, school leaders need to maintain their leadership dynamic in these uncharted territories. The digital transformation of education has added a new level of responsibility for school leaders across Europe, even though many consider themselves unqualified or unprepared to integrate this digital aspect into their leading role. An increased level of digital competence is needed.

Even before the outbreak of the pandemic crisis, the European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice noted that European countries need to continually review and develop new strategic policies and measures to meet the new demands for high-quality digital education. (Digital Education at School in Europe 2019). The effects on global education systems have demonstrated the importance of digital education. In particular, one of the two strategic priorities of the current EU Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027), which aims to address and support the increased responsibility of Europe’s education and training systems in managing the aftermath of COVID-19, is “to foster a high-performing digital education ecosystem” and the need for “digitally-competent and -confident educators and education & training staff”.

Future steps of digitalisation in school leadership

School leaders need to maintain their leadership dynamic and address any confidence and competence issues to use digital technologies effectively. Educational systems across Europe need to emphasise the importance of school leadership digital capacity by promoting school leaders both as digital coordinators and digital pedagogical leaders.

 

Digital Coordinators

It is important to promote school leaders’ coordination role by fostering strong digital communication with the various internal and external school stakeholders and promoting a digital conflict management system through forums and digital discussion support groups.

Digital Pedagogical Leaders

It is important to promote school leaders’ digital pedagogical role in providing support to teachers in integrating digital technologies into their teaching and promote the implementation of digital learning communities among teachers – within their own school organisations, as well as across other school organisations.

 

To enhance school leadership digital capacity, governments and educational policymakers across Europe should rethink the educational sector in this post-COVID-19 era. In particular, the relevant stakeholders should prioritise specific practices to enable effective school leadership based on the digital transformation in school organisations. This is means increasing training, seminars, professional development, and digital support of school leaders. This can be done by engaging other government and private stakeholders with expertise in digital competence (e.g., universities, private companies, other governmental bodies).

For instance, in Italy, universities supported their neighbouring educational settings through their own expertise and provided the necessary professional development to ensure the basics of e-learning (Girelli, Bevilacqua & Acquaro, 2021).

In Cyprus, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute (whose main activities focus on teachers’ and school leaders’ pre-service and in-service training), as well as with the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy to implement the e-learning process across Cyprus (Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020).

In addition, a proper budget allocation, together with appropriate educational policies, is essential to enhance school leaders’ digital capacity. In particular, this concerns the technological infrastructure that should be integrated into the school organisations and the collaboration with various organisations and enterprises with digital competence that will assist the development of school leaders’ professional training and capacity. Therefore, EU states and, in particular, Ministries of Education and Ministries of Finances need to closely cooperate in order to have adequate revenues to meet the needs of their school members, including school leaders, during this new digital era.

Final Thoughts

The open public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan (2021) report conducted research in 60 countries with more than 2700 respondents. 95% of respondents considered that the COVID-19 crisis marks a turning point for how digital technology is used in education and training. The situation shed further light on the importance of digital education for the digital transformation that Europe needs.

For school leaders, digital capacity building in this new digital educational development is crucial and necessary action must be taken. In particular, educational policymakers, professional development centres, governments, and other relevant actors need to consider this specific aspect in school leaders’ developmental career –  both as digital coordinators and digital pedagogical leaders – and need to take immediate action to promote the effectiveness of school organisations in this new digital era.

Dr. Antonios Kafa

Dr. Antonios Kafa

Lecturer at Frederick University Cyprus, CY

Dr. Antonios Kafa is a Lecturer in Educational Management and Leadership at Frederick University in Cyprus. His doctoral dissertation was awarded as a “Highly Commended Award Winner”- Emerald/EFMD Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards 2016, in the Educational leadership and strategy field. Antonios is a co-convenor of the EERA Network 26 – Educational Leadership and an associate member/ researcher in the international comparative research project entitled “International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP)”, conducting research on behalf of Cyprus. He is, also, one of the members of the Board of Directors of the Cyprus Educational Administration Society (CEAS). His research interests include different aspects of educational leadership and administration such as successful school leadership, school leadership in times of uncertainty, school principals’ personal values systems, authentic school leadership and school leaders’ role in low performing schools.

Email: pre.ka@frederick.ac.cy

Website

References and Further Reading

Digital Education at School in Europe 2019 https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/national-policies/eurydice/sites/default/files/en_digital_education_n.pdf

Digital Education Action Plan” (2021-2027) https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/default/files/document-library-docs/deap-communication-sept2020_en.pdf 

COVID-19: What Have We Learned From Italy’s Education System Lockdown Girelli, Bevilacqua & Acquaro, 2021

 

Coping With the Global Pandemic COVID-19 Through the Lenses of the Cyprus Education System Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020

Multi-dimensional professional learning: a leadership perspective

Multi-dimensional professional learning: a leadership perspective

Life and learning rarely go forward in straight lines. The most stimulating and creative experiences often arise from unexpected and unintended interactions. It’s the same with professional learning. We need to master new knowledge and skills, but education is more than knowing and doing. That way lies repetition, comfort learning and stagnation as the future overtakes us. As professionals, we need to question our own contexts; explore and investigate outside our normal routines; look for opportunities to observe and experience different cultures of learning; then re-assess our own practice with fresh eyes.

We’ve moved on a long way since the realisation that formal ‘training’ is only a small part of the professional learning process. We now understand the implications of working and learning in complex environments and appreciate that learning is active, not passive. We can’t develop professionals, but as leaders and colleagues, we can support their development. So, the first dimension of professional learning we need to appreciate is the centrality of the individual professional.


Dimension 1: Centrality of the Individual Professional

As a leader, I need to understand that while I have my priorities, and we as collaborative professionals need to work together to achieve them, it is each of you, my colleagues, who will bring the motivation, the experience, the questions, the ideas and the critical challenge to achieve what we want for ourselves and for our students. I need to understand how, as a classroom teacher or teacher leader, you have identified your own priorities.

 

I need to be aware of how your priorities are shaped by your own career path and whether there are barriers to your professional learning that I can help to remove.

 

There are five key elements to this first dimension:

  • Re-positioning: are you ready for a new challenge such as teaching a different part of the curriculum or age range? Or even experiencing teaching in a different school or with aspiring professionals in Initial Teacher Education? Can I open doors for you to do this?
  • Re-visioning: This involves looking more deeply at things you may be taking for granted. It involves asking critical, challenging questions and seeing day-to-day processes with new eyes. In some cases, professional learning should be ‘edgy’ – challenging our existing values and ways of working. It may involve small-scale research, and it may require you to ask me to justify my own values and actions, so I must not be defensive when responding to your questions.
  • Extending: in the same way that we support the development of a young person’s knowledge and understanding as they move through school, so we need to encourage stimulation through deep professional learning. Intellectual challenge is important (and a requirement for some professions). How best can I encourage colleagues to engage in further study, wider reading and critical questioning?
  • Co-creating: active learning is best undertaken when one or more co-learners can ask constructively-critical questions to move thinking and acting forward. This requires trust and an element of professional security so that confidence is not undermined. As a leader with an overview of the professional environment within my organisation and, through networks, beyond it, I can suggest who might form suitable co-learners for my colleagues.
  • Consolidating: It’s a mistake to think that professional learning must be continuous. That means unbroken. It must, however, be continuing so that we revisit our learning and, at times, cruise a little to enjoy what we do well. Constantly questioning and looking critically at our work may prove psychologically challenging. As a leader, I need to be aware of this in myself and others and be careful not to apply pressure to change when well-being is at risk.



Dimension 2: Engagement

The second dimension of professional learning is engagement. This is the ‘doing’ part. Thankfully, we now understand that attending a professional development event does not necessarily enhance learning in planned and determined ways. The recent pandemic has made us realise that formal teaching has to be supplemented with other approaches to learning. The term ‘blended learning’ is often used to describe a mixture of online learning and face-to-face teaching, but this suggests a two-part approach when our engagement with learning is multi-faceted.

The term ‘professional learning blend’ has been used in Wales (Jones et al., 2019) to indicate that professional learning engagement takes many forms throughout a person’s career. It may involve:

  • mentoring (as a mentor or mentee)
  • presenting ideas and experiences to colleagues in one’s institution or at a conference (virtual or in-person)
  • being part of a professional learning network
  • studying for a Master’s or Doctoral award
  • attending a training event
  • observing others, being observed or simply talking about professional experiences with different colleagues.

Or all of these at different points in a person’s career path.

These different experiences will not be treated as separate events; they will merge in many ways to develop more rounded, informed and aware professionals. As a leader, I should not attempt to create a learning blend for others. The blending will be done by the individual professionals themselves. My role will be to help create the space and opportunity for colleagues to engage in these different professional learning experiences and, where appropriate, to prompt individuals to blend the learning into coherent ways of working. 



Dimension 3: Application

The third dimension is Application, sometimes called ‘impact’, or effectiveness, or follow-up (or follow-through). It is the understanding that although the professional learning process should be satisfying, much like reading a good book or being in enjoyable company, our purpose as education professionals is to support the learning of others and we must keep these others in mind when we engage in our own professional learning.

As a leader, this is something I need to be most aware of. I am accountable for the quality of teaching and learning in my institution (staff and students), and more than one type of indicator will be used to judge this. So, I need to ensure that the application of professional learning processes is maximised. At times, this means reverting to a performative approach with defined outcome criteria. Often, it is allowing the creative professional to emerge and giving space for the creation of new approaches inside and outside the formal learning environment.

We seem to know what works best in professional learning. Or do we? Stepping back and looking at well-researched and established models of professional learning (see, for example, Boylan (2018), and Kennedy (2014)) allows us to revisit our professional learning programmes as providers and as participants. Beware of claims that “this course will transform your teaching”. Don’t generalise from the findings of evaluations of funded professional learning programmes which show, usually immediately after the event, that participants were highly motivated to change their practice.

Learn from, but don’t emulate, others. Sherlock Holmes, in a rare mentoring moment, said to Dr Watson: “You know my methods: apply them”. But Watson could no more emulate the deductive brilliance of his companion any more than the fictional Holmes could have related the stories as well as their author. So, it’s a little more complex than copying what works in one instance and transferring it into your own context.



Dimension 4: Space

The final two dimensions are space and time. Leaders with responsibility for equitable resource allocation will be familiar with the challenges these bring. Space relates to where the learning takes place. Opportunities to learn outside one’s classroom, beyond the school and even in different countries and cultures are invaluable. Leaders must think laterally to enable learning mobility (ensuring that students aren’t disadvantaged by substitutions in teaching by enabling continuity of learning) and we must protect the ability to experience locational flexibility so that we do not become prisoners of school-based learning.


Dimension 5: Time

The final dimension is time. We could see this in terms of ‘learning hours’ (a dubious criterion to determine the quality of education provision) but it’s more fundamental: it’s about what we are learning and the ways we learn and whether they are set in the past, present or future. The rapid growth in online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the out-of-date approaches we previously used to structure our education. To what extent do we equip our students for the future and are we ahead of them in our own learning? And are we clear about the ethical issues that this will inevitably involve? Harari (p463) refers to this as the Human Enhancement question: “what do we want to become?”


It would be easier if we could simply manage staff development to ensure that all our teachers perform effectively. At least now we have acknowledged that it’s much more complex than this. We are responsible for leading rather than managing, and we engage in professional learning rather than staff development.   Leaders should embrace and celebrate this complexity.




The views expressed in this blog post are from Professor Jones and not necessarily representative of Network 1.

 

Professor Ken Joes

Professor Ken Joes

Chair of the Editorial Board, Professional Development in Education

Ken taught in London before returning to Wales to work as Head of the School of Education and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities in Swansea Metropolitan University. He was Senior Consultant for Professional Learning and Development at UWTSD and is now Professor Emeritus.

His international work has included leading symposia on Professional Learning and Leadership in many European countries, in the USA and in India. He is co-convenor of Network 1 (Professional Learning and Development) of the European Education Research Association.

He has been Managing Editor of the journal Professional Development in Education and is now Chair of the Editorial Board. He was one of the founding members of the International Professional Development Association (IPDA) and of IPDA Cymru.

He now works as an independent education consultant.

References

Boylan, M., Coldwell, M., Maxwell, B. and Jordan, J. (2018) Rethinking models of professional learning as tools: a conceptual analysis to inform research and practice Professional Development in Education 44.1 120-139 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317126034_Rethinking_models_of_professional_learning_as_tools_a_conceptual_analysis_to_inform_research_and_practice 

Harari, Y.V. (2015) Sapiens. A brief history of humankind. London: Vintage https://www.ynharari.com/book/sapiens-2/ 

Jones, K., Humphreys, R., Lester, B. and Stacey, B. (2019) National Approach to Professional Learning: Research Report The Professional Learning Blend 2.0 Cardiff: Education Workforce Council https://www.ewc.wales/site/index.php/en/?option=com_fileman&view=file&routed=1&name=Professional%20Learning%20Blend%202.0.pdf&folder=&container=fileman-files

Kennedy, A. (2014) Understanding continuing professional development: the need for theory to impact on policy and practice Professional Development in Education 40.5 688-697 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19415257.2014.955122

The Experiences of Irish Teachers in England

The Experiences of Irish Teachers in England

Emigration has become common for many Irish teachers due to the often precarious and casual nature of employment many recently qualified teachers face in Ireland. England, the nearby neighbour, has proved to be a popular destination for many. England has faced a severe teacher recruitment and retention crisis for many years and recruiting teachers from countries such as Ireland, often facilitated by recruitment agencies, has become a common practice.


Current Research into Irish Teachers in England

Ireland is now one of the top providers of teachers to England but, despite the volume of Irish teachers passing through the English education system, very little is known about their experiences in and perceptions of English schools. We often hear unpleasant anecdotes in Ireland or read complaints on social media channels and online platforms about teachers’ working conditions in England. Still, in terms of scholarly literature on Irish teachers’ experiences in and perceptions of English schools, it has until recently been confined to one published report.

My qualitative research adds to this report and offers a voice to an under-researched but common group of teachers in England. It may be of use to practising and pre-service teachers in Ireland considering moving to England, school leaders in England during the teacher recruitment process, and researchers and policymakers in both countries and beyond. The full research paper, where for the first time Irish teachers’ experiences and perceptions of autonomy and accountability in England are documented, is available here.


Teaching in England

To set some context, what it means to be a teacher in Ireland is very different from what it means to be a teacher in England. Internal and external policies, discourses, pressures, and inspections, to name a few, mean that the nature of teachers’ work differs significantly between the two countries.

England’s education system is widely regarded as one of the most high-stakes systems in the world in terms of accountability. It has been described by others as being ‘notoriously driven by accountability measures’, as having ‘one of the strongest accountability systems in the English speaking world’, and being the ‘mother ship of high-stakes, performativity-focussed types of evaluation’.

The reality for many teachers is that they work in low-trust environments characterised by heightened and oppressive top-down control and micromanagement, frequent and stressful inspections and audits, and intensive and unsustainable requirements and demands. In contrast, however, accountability is less of a feature of Irish schools, and the working conditions are more benign.

It is well documented in the literature that a teacher’s identity (i.e. his/her professional beliefs, values, and principles, and the professional self-image he/she holds) is closely linked with his/her past experiences of education. In my research I proposed that the cultural change for Irish teachers who move to England would be challenging for them and their professional identities given their previous experiences of school in Ireland. Here are some of the challenges that Irish teachers report facing in England:

Challenges for Irish Teachers in England

Profuse accountability

The Irish teachers I interviewed were overwhelmingly negative about their experiences in English schools. They contended that they did not exercise much autonomy, but endured too much accountability, including for aspects that they felt were beyond their control, such as the behaviour of students and the grades they obtained. A common way of holding teachers accountable was through what interviewees referred to as ‘learning walks’ where senior staff members enter their classrooms unannounced to observe their practice and to engage in dialogue with students. A second method was through inspections of their ‘marking’ or corrections of students’ written work.

 

Negative views

The participants reported working very long hours that went beyond early starts and late finishes and extended into weekends and school holidays. The feeling was that teachers’ work in England is dominated by administrative tasks that distract teachers from their teaching duties. The accountability and accountability-driven workload provoked various negative emotions and, notably, it was felt that school leaders in England were overly critical and unsupportive, which gives rise to fear and anxiety among teachers in English schools. As negative as the Irish teachers were towards the internal accountability regimes they faced, they were more critical of the external inspectorate which they recognised as being the source of their problems due to the pressure placed on schools in England. Irish teachers appear to have very strong views on the motivations of English schools, and they considered these schools to be more concerned with the needs of the organisation than the needs of the students.

 

Identity clash

Significantly, all participants experienced some form of identity clash or crisis.  The typical perception that English schools prioritise looking good over doing good, the discourses of what it means to be a ‘good’ teacher in England, and the feeling of being constantly watched produced many struggles. Some spoke of complying, but the adoption of coping strategies whereby teachers strategically give the impression of conformity was common. Worryingly, this means that students do not receive ample attention – to reduce their workload participants spoke of feigning peer-assessments, assigning oral tasks, and providing feedback on work they had not read. A quote from one participant, a female teacher who had recently left the teaching profession but remained living in England, always stands out for me and exemplifies how many teachers lose sight of their students’ needs due to their fight for survival. This participant acknowledged the students as not being ‘the main concern anymore’, and while resenting what she had become, she justified her behaviour through her vulnerable position in an accountability-driven system:

 

What I went into teaching for was to be with the kids. I wanted to help them, and at the end, I know this sounds horrendous but the kids actually became an inconvenience – they were getting in the way of everything else I needed to do… At the end of the day, I was being judged as well. So I was marking the kids’ work but my work was being marked by senior leadership so I was still a student.

 

Indicative of how Irish teachers experience and perceive professional autonomy and accountability in England is how, despite having a clear desire to eventually return to Ireland to teach, the participants would not be willing to work as teachers in Ireland under similar conditions. While there is a need for further research in this area, for now, it appears that Irish teachers have overwhelmingly negative experiences in, and perceptions of, life inside English schools. This is not to say that teachers from England do not struggle in these high-stakes and low-trust accountability-driven environments too – many do. Still, with their previous experiences in Irish schools, teachers from Ireland are perhaps more likely to find these conditions challenging and problematic.

Craig Skerritt

Craig Skerritt

Centre for Evaluation, Quality and Inspection, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland

Previously educated at University College Cork and University College London, Craig Skerritt is a researcher at the Centre for Evaluation, Quality and Inspection in Dublin City University.

Craig is also the Dublin City University School of Policy and Practice Scholar, the Policy and International Programmes Manager at the Royal Irish Academy, and a member of both the British Educational Research Association and the Educational Studies Association of Ireland.

Craig’s research interests include education policy, teacher identity, student voice, and class-based inequalities in education, and he has published articles in journals such as Policy Futures in Education, Research Papers in Education, Irish Educational Studies, Improving Schools, Journal of Educational Administration and History, British Journal of Sociology of Education, International Journal of Leadership in Education, and European Educational Research Journal.

Twitter: @CraigSkerritt

References / Further Reading

Brady, J., & Wilson, E. (2020). Teacher wellbeing in England: teacher responses to school-level initiatives. Cambridge Journal of Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2020.1775789

Page, D. (2017). Conceptualising the surveillance of teachers. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38(7), 991-1006.

Perryman, J., & Calvert, G. (2020). What motivates people to teach, and why do they leave? Accountability, performativity and teacher retention. British Journal of Educational Studies, 68(1), 3-23.

Ryan, L., & Kurdi, E. (2014). Young, highly qualified migrants: The experiences and expectations of recently arrived Irish teachers in Britain. London: Social Policy Research Centre, Middlesex University.

Skerritt, C. (2019). Discourse and teacher identity in business-like education. Policy Futures in Education, 17(2), 153-171.

Skerritt, C. (2019). Irish migrant teachers’ experiences and perceptions of autonomy and accountability in the English education system. Research Papers in Education, 34(5), 569-596.

Skerritt, C. (2019). ‘I think Irish schools need to keep doing what they’re doing’: Irish teachers’ views on school autonomy after working in English academies. Improving Schools, 22(3), 267-287.

Skinner, B., Leavey, G., & Rothi, D. (2018). Managerialism and teacher professional identity: Impact on well-being among teachers in the UK. Educational Review. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2018.1556205