Shirelands logo  A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Shireland Collegiate Academy in Smethwick, West Midlands and explore how their Learning Gateway is used in a number of ways to assist teachers, parents and students alike. This is something that has now been in place over a number of years however since February 2010 some significant changes and additions have been made in order to improve not only the way that students learn but how teachers can plan and execute their lessons.

I spoke to Sir Mark Grundy, Executive Principal and Kirsty Tonks, Director of e-Leaning to get an understanding of the continuous development of the Learning Gateway and how changes and additions have had a positive impact.

One area that really interested me was the lesson planning bank that has been developed.

Before this system was implemented, teachers had to plan every lesson. They may have saved them on the gateway or kept them in their planners. Staff planning was difficult to see and even more importantly difficult to share. The downside of either paper based or individually stored planning is that only they knew the details of their upcoming lessons – not very useful if they were off sick for instance and cover teachers would not have the correct information to keep the learning in the subject consistent.

Kirsty talked to senior staff and everyone knew that a system was needed that would easily facilitate the tracking and monitoring of lesson planning and also be user friendly. They wanted staff to understand and adopt the new system quickly and become part of their everyday working life, so a ‘’step by step’’ template was created, meaning that all staff could easily pick up the system.

I asked Kirsty if other schools wanted to implement this idea to their own Learning Gateway, what best practices would they advise?

‘’We gave as much support as possible to make it as easy for staff to take on board the new system and process and planned carefully its introduction and implementation. The time frame was short  - but tightly organised, so staff felt supported not “put upon”. There was training on how to complete the new Lesson plan format and the pedagogy behind the changes by Manny Kelay, Vice Principal for the Curriculum and it was presented very much as something that would save time and benefit all.

The e-learning team trained staff how to use the meta-tagged Planning bank correctly when uploading lesson plans and there was also an online help guide how to do this if they needed help at home or out of school hours. There was also an exemplar lesson bank for staff to dip into and see best practice and then a  regular monitoring system that reports to Senior leaders and Heads of Department set up which looked at the frequency and quality of submitted plans.We reviewed its impact termly and adapted where necessary.’’

The agreement to use the template immediately changed the way that staff planned lessons. In the first few months staff uploaded every lesson plan, but this only a temporary approach and after a few months they moved to a position where staff only upload one third of their plans.. They now upload one third of their lesson plans each week to a tagged document library. The ability for teachers to tag and filter the planning uploads means that lessons can be easily and quickly found by subject or teacher.

With this system of everyone uploading their planning to the Planning Bank has also meant that staff could look at other lesson plans across each subject enabling them to share ideas and techniques used in other lessons, opening up opportunity to make lessons more diverse and helps gain consistency of quality planning across the whole curriculum.

Before this system was implemented, teachers had to plan every lesson but they couldn't share them or really “build upon” them. This would not only take time, but not all teachers managed to get this done on a regular and consistent basis. With the planning bank, not only can lessons now be shared, but there is a sense of collective responsibility as their work is being recognized and helpful to their colleagues.