Just been promoted to head of computing? Terry Freedman can help you start as you mean to go on…
The title “head of computing” can cover a multitude of roles. You might, for instance, be expected to be the ICT co-ordinator too – so pick from this list the suggestions that will be of most use to you immediately. But first, why might you even want to make an impact? Why not just get your head down, do your job and let that be the end of it?
Clearly, the impact you have as a professional is important from a personal career point of view, but of even more immediate importance, in my opinion, is what you can do on behalf of your subject. If you’re in a primary school, raising the profile of computing may induce the Head to give you a couple of grand to buy a set of tablets. In a secondary school, your influence may inspire more pupils to choose computing in their options – it’s not just a matter of making an impact for the sake of it.
1. CARRY OUT A SWOT ANALYSIS
This is a great way to find out, relatively quickly, what’s good and what isn’t. The acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and you can make it as simple or as in-depth as you like. You could set up a survey in Google forms to elicit opinions, but that will take time and effort that could be better spent improving things. A far easier approach would be to ask a selection of teachers and pupils what they think about the set-up. What they come up with may not be able to be fixed quickly, but at least you can start planning ahead.
2. IDENTIFY BARRIERS TO ENTRY
Why aren’t colleagues using the education technology facilities? Why aren’t girls signing up in droves to do computing GCSE? Economists are useless at making predictions, but they do have some great concepts. One of them is ‘barriers to entry’. They apply it to the difficulties of entering a particular market, but you can adapt it for your own ends. Rather than trying to cajole people into doing what you would like them to do, find out why they are not doing it already – and then make it easier for them to do so.
3. GET OUT AND ABOUT
A really good investment of time is to use a couple of your free periods, or some time before or after school, to walk around and see what the facilities are like and how people are using them. This is essential for picking up some ideas, such as working with other teachers (see below).
4. LOOK FOR QUICK WINS
No matter how brilliant your predecessor was, there are always ways to improve things. Introducing a tabletsfor- all programme is one way, but that will take a lot of time and money. Look around: is there anything you can see could be changed tomorrow? It could be something as simple as putting a list of instructions with each item of equipment.
5. CREATE A BUZZ
This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but you can create a buzz in a quiet sort of way. Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. He was right. Ask for a corner of the staff noticeboard where you can put up news about equipment that staff can borrow. Contribute to the staff newsletter with a short column called “Top Tips”.
6. ENGAGE THE KIDS
The pupils are your best ambassadors. How can you get them really excited about computing, soon? How about starting a computer club, or arranging visits to places like the Science Museum?
7. COLLABORATE WITH OTHER TEACHERS
One way in which you can create a buzz and engage the kids is by collaborating with your colleagues. This may be more of a longer term strategy, but the idea is this: on your travels around the school or from chatting to colleagues, you may discover that the music teacher, say, uses cutting edge technology and teaches the pupils how to do things like sequencing. If so, discuss working together on a project which gives the pupils the chance to see how the two subjects are related to each other.
8. ENGAGE PARENTS
Parents are likely to be bemused by all this coding stuff. Arrange for a parents’ open evening where they can come along and try out Scratch and other programs for themselves. And make sure it’s the pupils leading the whole thing.
9. CREATE A DIGITAL LEADERS GROUP
Digital leaders are tech-savvy pupils who can train staff, and help parents, and do simple trouble-shooting.
10 CREATE A DIGITAL PIONEERS GROUP
Start a digital pioneers group. This is a group of pupils who will try out evaluation versions of apps and other things, and then give you feedback. You can include teachers in the group too. Having a digital pioneers group means you can evaluate lots more products without doing all the work yourself.
BUILDING THE BRAND
Think about the longer term too. How do people feel about your subject, and education technology in general? If you need to get other staff on board, then consider creating a space just for them. I turned an old music store room into an IT room for staff, and it was never empty. Someone else I knew converted a computer room into a staff-only computer room, complete with a technician on hand and, most importantly, tea and biscuits on tap! It’s all about making the facilities accessible.
Even if your concern is solely teaching computing and ICT, you should still think about the impression pupils have of the subject. If you can, set up an area where pupils can read books or magazines about computing, or set up a mini computer museum where old technology is displayed. (You don’t need tons of room for this; I once devoted the tops of the folder cupboards to it.)
Make sure there are examples of pupils’ work outside your classroom, under attractive and thought-provoking headlines such as “Should mobile phones be banned for under 10s?” (a great topic to discuss with primary school children!), or “Should driverless cars be banned?”. Change the display every half term at least.
Another nice idea is to have a computing logo and headed paper. Get the kids to design it. Run a competition with a prize of a £50 iTunes voucher. That in itself will create a buzz! Do it right, and you can create a bigger impact than you may have believed possible.
However, I do think it important to bear in mind that you are attempting to create an impact not just for yourself, but for your subject. If you come across as simply a publicity-seeker, it won’t be perceived well at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT and computing consultant, and publishes the ICT & Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org. He was the T&I Ambassador for 2014/15.
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