“We wanted to make the learning a two-way conversation, not just a one-way push.“
Joining Oxford Area School as Principal in 2015, Mike Hart focused on building knowledge and understanding of his community, students and teachers. This included a review of current reporting practices.
The results of this review, along with a Ministry initiative, prompted a substantial change.
Mike, along with his senior leadership team, Deputy Principals Sharyn Varcoe and Jacqui Paterson and Assistant Principal Lesley Inch, made the courageous decision to shake up the current model of reporting. Using their country ‘can do’ attitude they tested a new approach at the beginning of 2019.
We caught up with Mike and Jacqui to talk about the changes. In particular, what prompted a review and how things look a year down the track.
About Oxford Area School
Located in Oxford, 40 minutes North of Christchurch, this Area School has 550 students from Year 1 to 13. Originally, solely a farming district, the community has now diversified to include lifestyle blocks and urban commuters.
Oxford Area School’s mission statement, visible on their website, is ‘students are provided with an environment of excellence, innovation and creativity.’ This applies also to the teaching team as they constantly review and innovate.
Combating Lesser Communications in Later Years
A key finding in Oxford’s review was the drop off in communication and connection as the students moved up through the school. There seemed to be a direct correlation between engagement, achievement and pathways senior students were taking. This identified a goal that fed into their 2019-2021 strategic plan.
“When writing our strategic plan, we designed a piece of work around school engaging with whanau and whanau engaging with school from Year 1 to 13. Our goal was to avoid the drop off.“
In their 3-year vision they want to see active participation from parents sharing the learning that is happening at home. “We know that there is a lot of amazing learning happening in the home, applying skills they are learning at school. This learning needs to be a two-way conversation, not just a one-way push.“
Having gone through the evaluation process, the Oxford team were clear on what they needed:
- Google suite for active work
- Edge to streamline student management and
- Educa to celebrate success and share learning
“In our first year, we wanted an end of the year picture of these learning opportunities. The goal from Year 1 to 13, was that we could click on a student and look at this rich story of the learning throughout the year. We wanted to create these moments in time of learning and be able to look at progress.“
Staff have been involved in PLD throughout the year, looking at what makes a good post and what engages parents. Small things were important; the title, including an image, personalising a general post, asking the reader to respond to a question and outlining the next learning steps. Staff have critiqued their own posts and can track if the post has been successful.
Setting Goals, Celebrating Student Success
‘Our students show their parents their Educa posts. One of our families have 6 children and it is the children showing their parents the posts. We have had a pretty strong uptake from parents.’
The Oxford team also wanted a way to keep student goals visible throughout the year. Last year, teachers and students set goals. But we had no way to keep them ‘top of mind.’ They were not visible.
In 2019, students worked with teachers on their goals, posted in Educa and linked to the students’ portfolio. The goals include parent aspirations, added to throughout the year. Parents could see evidence of their child working towards their goal.
By linking the curriculum level and school values to each post, parents turned up to the 3-way conference with some knowledge of how their child was tracking both academically and pastorally.
To translate this into numbers, for November 2019, each student has between 5-8 new posts in their portfolio (although Mike explains that the posting requirement for this term was only 1). He feels his teachers are enjoying capturing and sharing the learning because it is current (337 parents visited Oxford’s Educa site in the first week of December). The ‘Parent engagement Graph’ is regularly been displayed to staff so they can see that their hard work is being read and valued by parents which, he says is really satisfying for them.
Linking to Curriculum
The new layout of the curriculum in Educa, (cascading tree display – organises the curriculum by subject as opposed to level) will allow subject specialists to only select their curriculum area. Mike believes this tweak will be well received, particularly in secondary, as it reduces the number of clicks.
“Over time and managing class workload, every click counts.” Following this interview, a new feature ‘multi-groups’ will enable students to be in more than one class. Specialist teachers will then be able to just view their class. Mike believes this will be a game changer.
The focus for the Oxford team this year is to improve consistency across teachers. They aim to increase the number of times a student posts their successes (versus teachers). And encourage the collaboration by sharing posts from home.
“Next year, we want to flip who posts and have student’s writing many of the posts and teachers commenting. This year, our Year 5’s up, were responsible for posting their end of year reflection in Educa. We will be looking to do more of this.”
“To increase efficiencies, Mike and his team are also looking to the Educa platform to record appraisal as it maximises efficiencies by consolidating documentation. “We will design this process collaboratively as we are conscious of our teacher’s workload.”
Capturing Student Learning Journeys
“Learning stories illustrate chains of learning events, highlighting the positivity and looking ahead to further learning.”
Indeed, Oxford Area educators are truly sharing the learning. To date, Oxford Area is among the most active users of the Educa platform. Some Oxford Area educators have written over 200 stories to date! As Jacqui Paterson explained, educators particularly enjoy using Educa because it allows educators to acknowledge learning in real-time and keep parents up-to-date about their child’s progress.
“Our goal was to click on a student and see rich stories representing learning over time.” Learning stories illustrate chains of learning events. They highlight the positivity and look ahead to further learning.
From Oxford’s perspective the change in reporting has been a success and they are excited about the results so far.
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