“…Educators today have the virtually impossible task of preparing our young people for a world that more than ever before is completely unpredictable.” – Andrew Howard, UK
For many of the educators we speak with here at Daily Edventures, the choice to become a teacher is deeply personal. The motivations are as unique as each individual, and Andrew Howard is no exception. Howard’s high school experience – one defined by bullying, self-doubt, and ultimately guidance to higher education by a wise tutor – paved the way to his present day success. But that defining experience stays with Howard daily, informing his decisions, values and future plans.
“As an educator, throughout my career, I have tried to change the system so that every young person I came across knew that they were important to me,” says Howard. “I have changed jobs many times throughout the last 25 years, but every place I’ve found myself has taught me something about myself and about young people.”
Indeed, Howard – principal at Sandymoor School, a Microsoft Showcase School – has experienced a wide range of schools and students, giving him a unique perspective on what drives students. “I have taught in inner-city, deprived schools, with gang culture and knife fights in the playground,” says Howard. “I have taught in the privileged environment of the country’s top independent schools and have seen need in young people’s eyes. I have taught in boarding schools, where young people struggle with feelings of neglect, whilst their parents work all hours to afford the fees. I have taught in rural schools, where young people cannot see a way out of their existence and do not even really know what is available. But I have to say that the proudest moment ha to be my current position. This is the place I feel I was meant to be, the school I was meant to lead.”
Almost four years ago, a group of five local residents took advantage of a new law and proposed a brand new school for the area, a new school, with a “fresh approach to education.” Howard was chosen as principal, he says, “on the basis of my passion for education and my vision for a personalized, technology-driven approach to learning, with young people being held accountable for their part in the journey.”
Howard and his team at Sandymoor have built that brand new school – in both ‘bricks and mortar’ and pedagogy – but also in the school’s ethos and atmosphere. “Our students are all making exceptional progress and not just in academic subjects,” adds Howard. A recent Ofsted Inspection said the following about Sandymoor’s students:
- “The majority of students are meeting or exceeding the ambitious targets set.”
- “Students have a very good attitude to learning. This contributes to their outstanding spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.”
- “Behaviour in all areas of the school is very impressive. Students are polite, friendly and supportive of each other’s learning”
This, to Howard, affirmed that his work – and the difficult road he took to get there – was well worth it. “When the inspector, during feedback, announced to the governors that, in their opinion, leadership was outstanding, that has to be the absolute highlight of my personal journey,” said Howard.
I’m pleased to share Andrew Howard’s personal story – one that echoes the experience of so many students and educators throughout the world – as today’s Daily Edventure.
What inspired you to become an educator?
At school, I was both very able and very sporty, but a bit of a massive geek (before geek ever became cool!). As a result, I found myself to be the target of bullying from a number of different ‘tribes’ within school and had a rough time. I would be followed home by groups of kids, throwing stones at me until strangers passing in cars stopped and shouted at them. But the school wouldn’t do anything to help.
Looking back with an educator’s eyes, it was because of a number of factors – first of all, I was successful in lessons (I got on with the work, did my homework, never caused trouble, etc.), so the teachers didn’t want the hassle of getting involved. Then I was from a ‘normal’ home background (dad worked in the local bank, my mum was a school secretary), and so in the eyes of those teachers responsible for the pastoral side of things, I had nothing to worry about and they had more ‘urgent’ things to worry about. In the 1970s in the UK, education was very political and a lot of teachers were very focused on the social inequalities; not a bad thing, but it tended to be at the exclusion of the wider picture.
And so, I went through high school trying to avoid trouble, and be invisible. I was good at science and the Biology teacher let me stay in during lunchtimes, to clean test tubes, etc. I remember the school getting its first ever computer, too – a BBC Micro. It sat in the Physics teacher’s classroom and he guarded it jealously. I do not remember any student ever using it for anything!
When it came time to think about further study, post-16, I was adamant that I did not want to continue studying at school. Whilst I had come to an uncomfortable truce with my bullies, I could not see things really improving in the sixth form. The deciding factor, however, was when, during a parental consultation meeting, the head of sixth form stated to my parents that I would never really amount to much; that I would probably get a couple of A levels, and then maybe get myself a job working in the local bank (but only with my father’s support).
At that I then became determined to not return to school. My parents didn’t really ever understand my life in school, or why I was so determined to not return, but they did do everything in their power to support me in this. In the end, the only local alternative to my old school was the local higher education college, which specialized in adult education, and mainly focused on vocational courses. However, it did run a set of academic qualifications, including those I wanted to do.
So at the age of 16, I found myself in a college environment, sitting with a wide range of people, mainly adults, all trying to better their lives through education. For these people, education wasn’t their ‘right’ (as I’d seen it, from a school-age student perspective), but something hard fought. I shared a desk in my lessons with, for example, a young single mother, who had to juggle child care to be there, and a brick layer, who had been thrown out of school over a decade before. They taught me so much about the ‘value’ of education.
But the biggest factor influencing me at that time was my college tutor, Pete Naylor. I can remember his name and picture him clearly in my mind, even though I’ve not seen him in over 30 years. Pete was passionate about his subject (Physics), but even more passionate about helping people become the best they could be. He was the one person who always said, ‘Why not?’ when someone suggested that something couldn’t be done. He was the person who said to me, “Have you thought about University?” when I was 17. My reply (“What is University?”) is telling in its own right. He guided me through the process and explained what a University was.
Once I decided it was for me and that I wanted to study Physics, he then asked me where I wanted to go. My reply showed the impact he (and my classmates at college) had already had on me, because I decided then that if I was going to do this, I only wanted to go to the best place to study Physics. This was at the time (and probably still is) Imperial College in London. And so I applied and was offered an interview. At the time, Imperial had a standard offer of a minimum of three A levels at grade B or above for entry, so it was a complete surprise when the offer letter came back a week after the interview, offering me a virtually unconditional place (all they wanted me to get was a pass in Physics).
At Imperial, virtually all my classmates were looking to go on into the banking or financial world, but I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to go at all, so I applied for (and got into) Kings College in London, to study to be a Secondary Science Teacher. I knew I wanted to put back what education had given me. I knew I wanted to change the system, so that the ‘good’ kid, from the ‘good’ background (the unseen mass in the middle) was never ignored again. And for 25 years, I have been trying my best to do just that.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
For me, we do not need further evolution in the classroom, but we need a revolution – the educational system the whole western world works with is an outdated system based on the factory model of the Victorian age (and yes, I am now channeling Sir Ken Robinson, but I’m not apologizing for that!). Young people are much more complex than they were; the access they have to information is virtually complete, with the entire global sum of knowledge in the palm of their hands and educators today have the virtually impossible task of preparing our young people for a world that more than ever before is completely unpredictable. To quote from the “Shift Happens” presentation that’s been doing the rounds for the last decade, we are preparing young people for a world where they will be in jobs that don’t currently exist, solving problems we don’t even know are problems yet with technology that hasn’t been invented yet. And people say teaching is easy… (see Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make”).
Innovation has to start in school; we need to be creating individuals who know their own power, their own strength (mental or emotional) and who have the skills to adapt, to lead, to innovate in their own right. And we cannot teach innovation if we are not modeling it as educators.
Technology, then, is the crucial element, the link pin that ties everything together.
The workplace of today, let alone tomorrow, is now flooded with technology and the Office 365 environment exemplifies this to perfection, in my mind. I wrote the school’s IT strategy three years ago and everyone who has read it in conjunction with supporting us in bringing it to fruition has asked if I had an insight into the development of Office 365 whilst I was writing it, because it has only really been able to be realized fully with Office 365. We treat our students like workplace employees, with appointments set by calendar invites, tasks assigned to students, notes taken in OneNote, etc.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
This is a huge one! Day-to-day – and for the country as a whole – for me the biggest problem is the absolute inertia to change in the educational sector. Apparently, at least in the UK, whilst virtually every sector has become unrecognizable from itself of 50 years ago, you could still bring in an educator from the turn of the last century and they would recognize the workplace and be able to continue their job without too much adjustment. I can’t see that happening anywhere else.
The job of educating our young is such a vital one, such an important, all-encompassing task, that all too often individual teachers, schools, whole systems revert to doing it how it’s always been done, falling on the hegemony of traditional systems, rather than innovate and move forward. In the UK, this is particularly hindered by education being such a huge political football, with successive governments measuring their impact by the number of new initiatives they introduce when in power.
But the young people themselves are a barrier – we call them our “digital natives,” but they are as naive as a newborn baby in the world of technology, and they need our help and support every step of the way. They embrace technology, but only in limited spheres; and all of these spheres are in the social engagement side of things. As soon as you ask them to log into a professional system (like Office 365), they struggle and resist, even though they follow the same steps every time they log into Facebook, or Kik Messenger. Bringing them on board, helping them extend their skills, is crucial.
In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
In terms of innovation, the integration of the social into professional, with Yammer integrated into Office 365, is for me a hugely exciting innovation. The way Office 365 can produce highly social environments, blending the two spheres well, with collaboration in live online spaces, alongside chat technology, is going to change education beyond belief. This, coupled with touch screen technology, is the future.
At Sandymoor School, we have no interactive whiteboards on the walls (we have no whiteboards on the walls – teachers project directly onto the walls, painted in a special, ultra-matt surface, making it easier to read). Interactivity now sits firmly in the hands of the teachers and students in the room. There is collaboration (not competition), support and guidance from the teacher, not direct instruction. And anytime, anywhere access to the school materials.
My biggest hopes for today’s students? That they benefit from this innovation, this revolution, and learn how to collaborate more, to interact more, to create and innovate. To see education as a route to new things, as a way to make meaningful change. Not to fight the system. I was in school during the time Pink Floyd released their album “Another Brick in the Wall,” with the lyrics: “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom, Teachers leave them kids alone.” My hope is that this will become as alien to our young people as the ancient Egyptians they study in primary school.
About Andrew Howard
Principal, Sandymoor School
Sandymoor, Cheshire, United Kingdom
- Blog URL: http://sandymoorhead.blogspot.co.uk
- Birthplace: Bristol, UK
- Website I check every day: There are so many! BBC News (to check that there’s not been a Zombie Apocalypse whilst I’ve been asleep), Facebook (I have friends across the world, so this is an invaluable tool for keeping in touch) and now Yammer.
- Favorite childhood memory: Playing for uninterrupted hours with my enormous bucket-full of Lego bricks. I would build complete worlds to explore in my mind – I would easily have been a Minecraft addict had the Internet existed when I was 12!
- Favorite book: I’m going to cheat here, as I love reading (my Kindle is always with me!). It’s got to be The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, however. I remember reading it on long winter Sundays; I would hide myself behind the curtains in the living room on Sunday evening, while my parents were watching the latest documentary.
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: An easy one – Office 365. . . (although I am loving my Surface Pro 3).
- What is the best advice you have ever received? “Never believe people when they try to limit yourself; always go for what you believe is the best.” (My college tutor, when we were discussing university applications…)