“Sharing is caring” this is a cliché we have been hearing our entire lives. But when it comes to education, sharing is indeed caring, and all schools should be sharing good practice.
Why should your school be sharing good practice? The answer is simple, every school has good practice to share. Good practice is something that sets your school apart. A school that shares its “secret sauces” with other schools is a school that grows. If everyone in the world kept knowledge and good ideas to themselves, there would be no innovation. Ranches Primary School understands and embraces this concept of sharing good practice.
Ranches Primary school (RPS) is a British Curriculum School located in the Arabian Ranches 2 neighbourhood of Dubai. We were made aware of the good practice taking place in this school via Twitter. Several members of the Ranches staff are active on “Edu twitter” so much so that two members of the school’s staff were recognised as finalists in the 2018 Middle East Education Influencer Award, Liam Marshall and Andi Price.
In this issue of Teach Middle East Magazine, we benefit from learning about some the great ideas and innovation taking place in this school. Before we delve further into the article answer the following question. What would you do if your principal told you to make sure that your classroom did not have a desk and a chair for every child? How would you organise the space? This is the challenge Samantha Steed, Principal of Ranches Primary school posed to her staff at the start of the academic year. Keep reading to find out how the staff at Ranches responded to this challenge.
The soul of any school is both unique and personal. At Ranches Primary School they pride themselves on their S.O.L.E or, Self-Organised Learning Environment. At the start of each year, they begin by asking the teachers the same question. What would the learning look like if they weren’t there? Now, this does not suggest that the teachers are absent, instead, it is a way of ensuring that pupils are not reliant on simply learning within lessons, but learning without lessons and indeed, without limits. The Ranches classrooms are truly alive with modern and traditional styles of learning.
Technology plays a significant role in supporting this innovative philosophy. Applications (APPs) such as Seesaw are pivotal in creating transparency between parents, students and teachers. This digital portfolio has been the tool that has inspired and further supported initiatives such as digital feedback and flexible seating. As a result, the speed at which learning takes place has risen dramatically, as validated by recent external assessment results.
These initiatives are not rolled out lightly; Ranches uses Learning Lenses (a digital Learning Walk APP), Learning Talks (with pupils) and digital surveys with parents to ensure that impact is measured. To ensure consistency and best practice in the school, Ranches has flipped the Performance Management targets of teachers to focus on strengths, not weaknesses. The idea behind this is that teachers are motivated when playing to what they do best. Subsequently, Ranches has taken to the stage at What Works to showcase their work on digital feedback and flexible seating. It was evident walking around the school that students are comfortable in the space and enjoy the flexibility of working where they feel most comfortable in the classroom.
Staff at Ranches are extremely proud of the way they feedback to their pupils and how they have embraced modern technology to raise standards and lessen teacher workload. They value feedback as being one of the most important aspects of furthering learning. They have researched the optimum way their pupils respond to feedback and how they interact best. The results have been outstanding and have led to them building a ‘Digital Learning Community’ around each learner. Gone are the rigid marking and feedback policy of old; the constant need for triple marking and purple response pens! Staff at Ranches now use technology to share achievement, improve work and reduce teacher workload.
Using Seesaw, teachers are able to respond in three ways, by typing feedback, annotating or recording a verbal response. Parents get instant notification that work has been posted on any of their devices. They have been encouraged to not only praise their child’s work but to also ask further questions. This has led to many lessons being highly interactive and, in some cases, changing direction from originally planned due to parental initiated challenges. Teachers have reported that time spent ‘marking’ has dramatically lessened and that pupil interaction with their feedback has considerably increased and activated deeper learning. At the beginning of their journey with ‘Digital Feedback’ and a ‘Digital Learning Journal’, the worry was that pupil progress would be lost when it comes to the accountability and inspection process. When inspected last year for the first time since its opening, the school was commended for its use of the digital platform for giving feedback. It was described as pioneering and effective in embedding children’s learning.
The best learning environments should nurture a pupil’s ability to solve problems and make choices independently. They should be conducive to collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.
RPS has become interested in ‘flexible seating’ for pupils; the creation of engaging environments that support optimal conditions for growth. There is abundant research to support flexible seating in the classroom and most research suggests that this approach directly increases academic attainment through greater engagement and increased motivation, the benefits are wide-reaching and help support the holistic development of the pupils. Because flexible seating allows more movement in the class, benefits include the burning of more calories through using up excess energy, creating a better flow of blood to the brain, improving core strength and ensuring good overall body posture.
For example, pupils who fidget during class instruction need to be able to move in order to stay focused. We need to allow them to sit on a gym ball or a chair which can swivel from side to side. This will permit them to exert their kinaesthetic energy gradually and in turn, will mean that they can remain focussed and involved in the lesson. Being comfortable also helps pupils to stay vested in the task, and their behaviour is equally positive. They are willing to work with others, share ideas and move around the room. To answer the challenge posed at the top of the article. Staff at RPS provide a range of seating options in their classrooms which means that there is now never a need for all students to be seated at a desk at the same time.
This year the school introduced flexible finishing times for teachers. Previously, teachers were required to stay on the school premises until 4 pm. In a bid to improve the teachers’ work-life balance, teachers are now able to leave when they feel it suits them best (after the school day for pupils has finished). This has had a significantly positive impact on teachers who have children. They are now able to take their children home and then work later from home if required. Due to our innovative Microsoft SharePoint platform teachers can all work on the same documents from home if necessary. This online collaboration is more time efficient and cuts down the need for lengthy meetings. This new structure has been very well-received and productivity has not been compromised.
Flexible seating has also been introduced for staff. If a teacher prefers a different style of desk/chair or position for working, this is normally accommodated. The school no longer provides “standard” classroom furniture rather it tries to meet the individual needs of each employee. Additionally, staff are not expected to sit formally for INSET rather they are encouraged to choose a style of seating that works best for them. This could be a bean bag, sofa or standing desks. Initially, most staff continued to use the more formal seating, however, over time, they experimented with the more flexible options. Our motivation for changing the way we conduct INSET came from an observation made in coffee shops around the city. The sofas and comfy chairs are usually the first to be taken.