How does an average public school demonstrate “a strong drive toward excellence” and become a national model for remote teaching and learning during COVID-19?
By redesigning every day classroom interactions and learning activities into an experience that excites kids and teachers alike — and transformed the school’s climate from neglected to hopeful.
Remote learning transformation
In June 2014, Pheasey Park Farm Primary School in Birmingham, England, received one of the lowest possible ratings, “Requires Improvement,” from the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (OFSTED), the U.K. agency that inspects schools. No one was surprised. It had been years since the school prioritized spending money on professional development, which meant technology tools often sat unopened in boxes because teachers didn’t know how to use them. Student absenteeism was high, staff morale was low and “stale, dusty” instruction was par for the course.
Sally Lanni, the school’s new Head Teacher, needed to reignite the passion for teaching she knew her colleagues once felt. With the school under OFSTED scrutiny, she needed to do it quickly.
Enter SMART Technologies, which partnered with Pheasey Park to blanket the school with interactive technology — and, critically, the know-how for how best to use it — and lift the school out of its funk. The school bought a slate of new technology, including interactive displays, tables and two SMART Boards for every classroom. But most importantly, the school partnered up with SMART’s learning services team to develop “Digital Champions” — Pheasey Park super-users who helped colleagues incorporate the technology into their lessons and daily practice.
An emphasis on education technology
The emphasis on technology was part of the school’s broader transition to blended learning, which gives students an integrated learning experience that combines both technology-based learning and learning in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom experience. In some classrooms, students complete interactive exercises on interlocking SMART Tables, a strategy that also allows for small group activities.
The powerful results of education technology implementation
The results of this whole-school technology ecosystem were nothing short of amazing. Absenteeism decreased dramatically, with parents noting that their kids were finally looking forward to school. Teachers packed voluntary workshops on ways to deploy their new digital tools more effectively. Academic achievement soared, as did morale among students, staff and parents. The downward spiral of despair and hopelessness became an upward trajectory of enthusiasm and optimism.
And within less than two years, the school’s rating improved to “good.”
“Technology is used effectively to develop collaboration,” the rating agency noted.
Supporting more schools in this era of COVID-19
In this era of COVID-19, Pheasey Park is one of two SMART training schools in England, providing professional development to educators across the country.
Most recently, it became one of 38 schools and colleges in England selected to serve as a UK Government EdTech Demonstrator School, something made possible, in part, by the school’s reliance on blending learning pre-pandemic. Pheasey Park is helping guide 240 other schools to deliver effective teaching strategies and EdTech deployment during pandemic-related remote instruction.
Education innovations during the pandemic:
- Providing planned, sequenced digital learning paths for the week’s online activities.
- Delivering live instruction via Microsoft Teams.
- Offering SMART Lab activities for live interactive quiz sessions and discussions. Students receive codes that allow them to log on securely to these live sessions.
- Embedding audio feedback into the SMART Notebook for testing.
- Building a portal through Microsoft SharePoint that allows students and teachers to access digital tools and content.
- Giving students and teachers an opportunity for two-way discussions through Class OneNote, which also automatically stores their work in a secure individual folder.