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Training our workforce for the unknown.

ISA, like all schools across the country, were given the order in March 2020 to close our buildings for a virus that didn’t even have a name at the beginning of the year and had only started to make the news the month before.

The global pandemic saw organisations having to radically change their operations over night. They were suddenly confronted with face-to-face interaction being very quickly replaced with a very hazy idea of what they could and couldn’t do.

The challenge then was not to implement a pre-existing vision, but to apply something new during extremely challenging times amidst unfamiliar territory. Which leads to the fundamental question: ‘How do you train your workforce for the unknown?’

Over the last 18 months, we have not re-evaluated the training we provide, but rather the way in which we deliver training; moving from a top-down model of standardised training to a collaborative model in which learning is bespoke and incremental.

As an international school, we are profoundly designed for adapting rapidly to change and within a day of lockdown being announced, we had taken the bold decision to transfer face-to-face learning to virtual learning.

By drawing on our global connections, we quickly integrated online models of learning that had been running in the Far East the month before the UK lockdown, including technological tools, and online classroom management and child safety protocols.

Radical as this change was, it was a very streamlined process. Teaching staff envisioned an online classroom, however, the unknown challenges were yet to be seen.

Our experienced teaching staff began to realise they couldn’t simply transfer the practices of a physical classroom to a virtual space. Despite virtual lessons working well with regular lessons and courses being taught with success, our teachers found that learning activities were severely limited online and, unless we diversified, online lessons alone were not a suitable long-term alternative.

The first hurdle to overcome was this recognition that a change was required, and how to put it into action.

Traditional training is often built on the deficiency assumption that there is a task the employee isn’t trained to do yet, therefore the employer provides the training required. However, this method is not ideal for an organisation such as ours, which is focused on innovation and staff development.

New situations, by their very nature, are difficult to predict and the skills needed to thrive particularly so. If the vision for change is confined to management rather than those who are implementing it, success will be limited.

By taking a proactive approach immediately after lockdown was announced, we stayed ahead of the game, anticipating areas where we would need to step up to train staff in order to support our community of 500 students and their families.

A ‘tech chat room’ was created – a space where teachers could chat and ask tech related questions for their colleagues to answer. It was also a space where they could openly discuss new and gain valuable advice and feedback. Our in-service day transitioned to a ‘skills share’ event whereby teachers could demonstrate any recent changes in technological practices and learn from each other.

This ‘Training as Sharing’ model had a number of advantages:

  • All staff wanted to learn more about the role of technology in education – the focus was on creating something new as opposed to making up for deficiencies
  • Staff were being trained by peers who could relate to the learning process
  • Learning was adaptive, timely and relevant
  • Training was broken down into bite sized, easy to digest segments with staff moving forward at their own pace

‘Training as Sharing’ didn’t replace existing models. We introduced new software with formal, standardised sessions by external providers, but it enhanced the overall culture of learning.

Staff alternated between learner and trainer and built their own sense of value. They were empowered to manage how and when to engage their training which encouraged feelings of autonomy at a time when they were being robbed of all sense of control.

Our skill sharing initiatives and the use of chat rooms to examine best practice will continue as pandemic restrictions ease. However, it is important to note that these training methods were not innovations that were plucked out of nowhere.

Our mission has always been to maximise the potential of each student and encourage lifelong learning. Graduates thrive in a fast changing, globalised world – it is no wonder that we do too

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