As a school administrator, Denise Jeffs was frustrated. Students with behavioral issues were sent to meet with her, often because they weren’t staying on task or were disengaged. “Unfortunately, this was often due to a one-size-fits-all attitude or a worksheet-driven environment (or teacher), rather than the actual students,” Jeffs says. Today, things are different. Jeffs praises her staff for their willingness to think outside the box in developing a paperless environment and building 21st century skills in their students.
“We are achieving our goal through the use of movie-making projects, using green screens and special effects, animation programs and other recording devices,” Jeffs notes. “We are
re-examining the questions: ‘What is work?’, ‘What is writing?’ and ‘Does every learning activity require a piece of paper as proof that learning has taken place?’.”
One key to the success of Jeffs’ school (recently named a Microsoft Worldwide Mentor school) is changing the mindset of parents. According to Jeffs, “So often, they ask their children ‘What did you do today?’ and they get the usual response ‘Nothing’!” To combat this common occurrence, the school is creating blogs as alternative ways for parents to see the learning occurring each day. Changing parents’ preconceptions, Jeffs notes, “is probably a bigger challenge for us than purchasing devices and other forms of technology for our students. After all, if we don’t change the mindset of our key stakeholders, all the fantastic innovations in the world won’t actually have any overall effect or cause sustainable change.”
Today, Jeffs shares what she’s learned about facilitating change and how to fight the inevitable resistance from teachers and parents alike.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I would say that one of my biggest achievements has been changing the mindset of teachers (this wasn’t easy for some teachers and has taken the best part of nearly three years) and now I am planning more workshops for our parents to change their mindset, too. Another key innovation has been my introduction of a Student Leadership Team for students from years 4 through 7. Traditionally these leadership roles are held only by students in years 6 and 7, but recognizing the need to develop student voice across the majority of the school I included students from a wider age range. These students are providing a link between the students and the administration team – voicing their needs, wants, concerns and ideas.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Our school was initially selected as a Microsoft Partners in Learning School/Microsoft Worldwide Pathfinder School, and now we are a Worldwide Mentor School. At a school level, the day-to-day results are a significant reduction in behavioral referrals to me. Students are engaged and motivated to learn. Students are driving their own learning – choosing their own methods of presentation. Students are using different devices and still demonstrating their understanding of concepts. Teachers are becoming more ICT-savvy and communicating in a paperless way. Teachers are requesting more technology – allowing students to make educational choices. We’re not quite at personalization of the curriculum across the whole school or in all learning areas but we are on the way.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Expect resistance! Initially concentrate on working with the teachers who are on board – we have noticed a ripple effect. Don’t just purchase devices – work on pedagogy and relationships first. Support teachers – alleviate their fears. Take small steps – celebrate the milestones. Make the innovations sustainable, not reliant on a few champions or constant flow of money. Work with what you have and slowly build up both the human capacity and the physical resources. Use the expertise you have in your schools. Don’t send teachers off to lots of professional learning – give them time to process and practice what they are learning.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I have always tried to embrace ICT in my own teaching but now as an administrator I use social networks, online professional learning and animations to present information to staff. I use movie projects to educate parents, and use blogs to inform parents of events and daily occurrences at our school. All correspondence with staff is done through email. I use interactive sharing programs like OneNote with staff. Once we can install this across the school, we will use it with students, too.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
The infrastructure of our department cannot keep up with current changes in technology. For example, our school’s computer system still runs on Windows XP and Office 2003! Parents expect paper, tests and rote learning, therefore teachers feel obliged to supply these.
What is your country doing right to support education?
Key capabilities and outcomes of our department and nation as a whole include 21st century skills and proficiency in the use of technology, and developing students into life-long learners.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
More funding and equity between public and private systems is needed. We must take into account demographics when analyzing results of standardized testing, and ultimately do away with standardized testing or not place so much importance on one test on one day.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Open spaces and anywhere/anytime learning. Breaking down the “walls” – not the “my class” attitude but collective responsibility across the school for every child. We need less
emphasis on standardized testing, which is so out of context for today’s students.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Let the students play with technology – recognize they are often experts. Don’t be scared. Encourage students to be reflective decision makers. Build relationships with your students. It’s not just about the devices; it’s about the purposeful use of them beyond traditional learning methods.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
Inquiry and discovery learning is the key educational “trend” that is helping students.
Students of the 21st century don’t just do because they are told to; they have to have real purpose behind their learning. I am worried that some schools are simply spending thousands of dollars on laptops and devices without any real thought behind their use or changing the pedagogy of the teachers using them.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Equal access to a tool of their choice is more important than a specific tool – whether it’s an iPad, tablet, PC, laptop, phone, etc. isn’t the key, but ensuring every child has a device is. Once they have this tool/device, the knowledge of how to use it effectively is also paramount to it helping students be successful.
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About Denise Jeffs
Current residence: Perth,Western Australia
Education: Bachelor ofArts in Education (Primary)
Website I check every day: Twitter, RUMA Network (Ning), Facebook, DET Portal
Person who inspires me most: Sir Ken Robinson – everything he says just makes sense! I especially like his quotes: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original,” and “I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.”
Favorite childhood memory: Going back to England for a visit and seeing my grandmother who I missed terribly.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Upcoming work-related trip in November to Prague as part of the Microsoft Global Forum as a Worldwide Mentor School.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Everyday! Working with the ladies in the school’s front office – not a day goes by where we don’t have a good giggle – at life and
Favorite book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Favorite music: Alicia Keys/80s/Motown
Your favorite quote or motto: “Live like there’s no tomorrow, Love like you’ve never been hurt, and Dance like no one is watching.”