Fall 2018

Put Those Books Away. Take Out Your Cell Phones!

On April 2, 1965 TIME Magazine published a story about the prevalence of computers which included a provocative 50-year prediction about society. Education was not immune from the list. Among many of its predictions, TIME suggested people would be working less. A lot less. In fact 50% less, requiring citizens to adjust to a new world order of “leisurely nonfunctional lives.” Of course, we all now know this not to be true. Because of computers, people are actually working more. And phones have become absolute indispensable appendages in young people’s lives which TIME correctly foresaw as being “as close to everyday life as the telephone.” However, technology has led education down a scary, but also exciting, new path with limitless possibilities for teaching and learning.

Holy Spirit High School is nestled in the heart of beautiful Conception Bay South which is located on the northeastern portion of the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. It has a staff of 54 educators and nearly 900 students. It is the third largest school in the entire province. It welcomes a diverse and inclusive student body with a warm culture of acceptance, responsibility, and innovation whose mission is high standards and where “performance is continuously evaluated” not only for students, but staff. And at Holy Spirit’s core is the vision of running to technology, not running from it. And it’s captain? Dave Locke.

Dave is a 20 year education veteran, 12 of which in leadership, and 6 years as principal at Holy Spirit. He is a national Principal of the Year award winner. Dave is also a visionary. And, like most leaders, he is humble and shirks the spotlight, rather redirecting the limelight to the everyday warriors – his teachers. Nevertheless, he quickly, and perceptively, observed that fighting students over their cell phones was a losing battle. So, he did what all progressive and innovative leaders do, he saw an opportunity. Instead of a nuisance to education, Dave saw technology as an ally in learning. He invested the necessary resources and upgraded the school infrastructure so that every student had Wifi access throughout the entire building. Then, he led the school to embrace Google Classroom as a new way to view instruction. Throw away the pencil and paper. Let students work in a way they want to, not the way teachers traditionally wanted them to. And, through team-building, consensus, vision, values, and trust, the entire team were on their way.

Astutely, this line of thinking was completely congruent with research where “thoughtful educators have recognized there are a number of important kinds of student learning not measured most appropriately by paper-and-pencil tests” (Popham, 2008, p. 6). According to Dave “curriculum is everything, but technology is a part of that.” Of course, none of this navigational journey is possible without an agreeable and supportive crew. Dave is insistent that the successes at Holy Spirit were not due to him, but his team.  As Dave observes, successful schools are not the result of administrators but “buy-in from staff.” Teams win group championships, not individuals.

One member of that team is Mark Goulding. Mark is a seasoned teacher and English Department Head. He is also a risk-taker and not error-averse in new pedagogy. Mark has converted his classroom from textbook-centred learning to paperless ideology. Cell phones are not welcomed, but indispensable. Without a cell phone, or school-provided Chromebook, then learning is impossible. Students do all their work in Google Classroom. This has meant a tremendous increase in student motivation and engagement. Instant feedback. Formative assessment. Mark attributes this new era in learning to the administration’s commitment and “vision to integrate technology into curriculum.” However, has this vision had an effect on student learning? Let’s let the data be the judge.

The most recently available data published by the ministry in 2018 compares all schools on the compulsory standardized Exit/Diploma Exams. In Mark’s English Department, the school average on the English 3201 public examination was 69.7% compared to the provincial average of 67.2%. This may not seem significant but consider this fact; the percentage of students enrolled in a non-academic program in Newfoundland and Labrador was 27.0% and at Holy Spirit it was 3.7%. That means there are over 23% more students challenging a higher academic course than the rest of the province. The philosophy of the school being one that trading off lower scores on standardized tests is more important than trading off post-secondary opportunities. Yet, the school still outperformed the province in academic results when by every other metric they should not. And this is just English. The same narrative can be told in any disciple. Physical Education. Mathematics. Science. Take your pick.  

Is technology alone the reason? Of course not. Over the past half century technology has been touted as the panacea for all educational woes. There can be little doubt that technology has revolutionized our world and our classrooms. There can also be little doubt that technology is only as good as its user. It comes down to the teacher. In fact, the preeminent educational researcher John Hattie (2009) reported that the use of technology in a classroom “does not show major effects on learning if there is no teacher involvement” (p. 236).

So, what is the secret? Leadership. Hattie argues that there are generally two types of leaders in education: instructional and transformational, with the evidence supporting “the former over the latter in terms of the effects on student outcomes” (Hattie, 2009, p. 83). Dave leads a large staff. Being an instructional leader is hard work. It is hard work for the administrator and the teacher. But, Holy Spirit possesses that all important collective teacher efficacy, the #1 predictor of student success based on Hattie’s 252 influences on student achievement (2018). “Collective.” Therefore, it is leading a staff of believers. In fact, of the 54 staff, with multiple opportunities for transfer, only one teacher sought a transfer last year (to be closer to home). It is because of Dave’s philosophy to promote a “culture of feeling valued.” Again, looking to the English Department, or any department, we see that philosophy at work. When Mark migrated to a paperless classroom through the Google platform, he opined that it would not have been possible without the forward-thinking administration who viewed learning with technology “through the vision it was imagined.” This thinking also applies to any and all departments at Holy Spirit. Dave was very insistent on this point. While English serves as just one example, it is a microcosm of an entire staff where there is a view of administration that is visible, authentic, and connected. Dave could not be clearer that successes at Holy Spirit have little to do about him and everything to do about the staff. While TIME Magazine may have gotten its predictions wrong on many far-reaching implications of computers in society, it certainly did not understate its prevalence. However 50 years later, Holy Spirit has viewed technology not as stifling students’ brains, but stimulating them.  As a technology leader, Dave has embraced and championed the opportunity to grow young minds. Carol Dweck (2016) stated that “growth mindset is based on the belief of change” (p. 223), evidenced no more than in Holy Spirit. In modern classrooms with high and low achievers, effective teachers “preached and practiced a growth mindset” (p. 66) where all differences disappear. And, at Holy Spirit, what has disappeared is traditional instruction replaced with cutting-edge facilitation and increased student learning.  A formula for success for any school. Stephen Covey once said; “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” The next time you visit The Rock, swing by Holy Spirit and have a chat with Dave Locke, you will be glad you did – but make sure you bring your cell phone with your Google Classroom app.

TIME. (2015, April 2). The 50-Year-Old Prediction About Computers Will Make You Sad. Retrieved from http://time.com/3754781/1965-predictions-computers/
Popham, J. (2008). Classroom assessment. What teachers need to know. Boston: Pearson.
Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset. The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. New York: Routledge.

Scott Linehan has been an educator in Newfoundland and Labrador for nearly 25 years. His current position is English Program Specialist for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District. His Ph.D. is in Educational Leadership and his primary research interests include; student achievement and multigrade education.