So, that’s that. Week One is done and dusted, thank goodness, and there are only ten weeks until the next holidays. And what a week it was. In my role as admin coordinator, I was new to the level of organisation needed to get a school up and running – from really basic things like making sure that diaries are delivered on time (we failed in that one) and that all the students know where there going. I mean, it’s easy if you’ve got 20 or 30 students to show around, but when you’ve got more than 180 new students, then it gets a little more serious.
Nevertheless, it was a pretty successful week. By Friday, the new students knew their way around the school, had most of their textbooks (except for confusion over which version of the maths book to buy – damn you Australian curriculum) and had lockers issued to them.
But here’s the thing. The whole time I was there organising these things, getting agendas and schedules and timetables, I was there thinking that there has to be a simpler, better way to do things like this. I mean, I bet schools have been doing Week One like this for at least the last thirty years, and probably a lot longer than that. And obviously, it’s worked -reasonably well, so if it’s not broke, why try to fix it?
Well, simply put, I think it could be made to run more smoothly. Watching this week, there seemed to be a lot of confusion – a lot of people not sure what was happening – and that was just the teachers. No wonder starting high school can be such a scary event for students, and with the number of students diagnosed with anxiety disorders on the rise, it’s important, I think, that we consider the way that we might be able to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Personally, I think that there might be a connection between a smooth transition and academic performance in the early years of high school – for example, in England, we talked about the Key Stage 3 slump – where students, after leaving primary school, failed to make significant learning gain between Years 7 and 9. Part of this, I think, is linked to the way transition is managed – and also to teacher’s expectations.
So, what are the solutions for this, then? Perhaps not surprisingly, I think there is a real chance for technological solutions. Let me give you three simple examples of how such solutions might make a difference:
1) iPads and iTunes U. At my school, we really struggle with students bringing textbooks to school and parents have genuine worries about younger students carrying very heavy bags full of textbooks. We also have problems with lockers – students visiting them during class, there not being enough for everyone and so on. The solution? If all students had iPads, we could push custom-made textbooks out to students via iTunes U. At once, we don’t need lockers, there are no heavy bags and we don’t have to worry about people forgetting bags.
2) Calendars and Maps. There must also be a way to push this kind of information to students, and then use reminders to tell people what’s going on – we could probably do away with the interminable assemblies and so on. And if we build some kind of augmented reality/ gps thing into it, we could show students where to go – without needing to have them lead around like sheep…
3) Better use of data. This is probably the most important suggestion. There needs to be away to transfer rich, meaningful data about students from school to school, so that when they arrive, teachers know exactly where each Year 7 is working – and so can set their expectations as appropriate. This would address that ‘slump’.