St Francis Xavier College unleashes Teams power with teachers-first strategy

Parachuting new technology into the classroom and simply hoping for the best is at best wildly optimistic. Certainly it was not an approach that resonated for Phil Sakellaridis, Director of Digital Learning at St Francis Xavier College, one of Australia’s largest secondary schools with 3200 students and 490 staff spread across three campuses in Melbourne’s south east.

Phil Sakellaridis and his Principal, Vincent Feeney, understand keenly the learning power technology can unleash when deployed well and used appropriately. The careful and strategic approach that the College has taken to learning transformation is now bearing fruit.

The College has updated its technology platforms and by the beginning of 2020 all students in Years 7 upward will each have their own device as part of a one-to-one initiative focused on ensuring equality across the school.

The school’s transformation began with a move to Office 365 which streamlined the technology landscape, bringing everyone onto a single unifying platform. Sakellaridis, who is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), says the school community immediately recognised the value of Office 365 and particularly OneNote.

He also recognised the transformative impact that Microsoft Teams could have if it was deployed strategically. It could even replace Moodle as the basis for a College-wide learning management system. But no parachutes – Sakellaridis wanted to get this right, and he wanted the teachers to lead the way.

Working with the IT Team, Sakellaridis had blueprinted how teachers could use the platform to create Curriculum Teams. The acid test was the roll out across the school’s two junior campuses which are physically separate and had experienced some communications challenges in the past.

Teams proved its worth as the unification glue – ensuring every teacher on both campuses was fully informed with access to the right information at their fingertips.

The introduction of Curriculum Area Teams (CATs) at the end of 2016 backed by training to explain to teachers the social collaboration possibilities that Teams opened up led to an explosion of interest and uptake. According to Sakellaridis; “This is one of the most effective things I have ever implemented into a school. Now I have Team for Lab Technicians, First Aiders, the Deputy Principals, and Pastoral Associates.”

There is even a form in Teams for teachers on yard duties that they can complete on their smartphone.

Email volumes have been reduced and wasted time sliced. And, because Teams links directly to source files and has a consistent unified approach to information management it’s much easier to find documents and files. “It takes everything a three-campus school was struggling with and has made it the most effective communication I have seen anywhere,” he adds.

Microsoft caught up with Phil Sakellaridis for a deep dive in how Teams is transforming teaching and learning.

MS: Why did you focus on teachers first?
PS: We wanted to make teachers the experts and give them two to three years to become well versed in Teams – ready for 2020 when the whole school will have one-to-one technology. Next year all the students will have our device and Teams will be installed. So, by the end of 2019 all teachers need to know how to manage, communicate, set up OneNote, manage file storage, set assignments and create tabs in a channel.

MS: How did you tackle training and professional development?
PS: A lot of our professional learning starts with finding the right resources in the Microsoft Educator Centre as an introduction – it’s flipped learning so that they understand the resource when they arrive and then learn more during demonstrations. There was some resistance at the start – people would ask ‘when do I email when do I Teams?’

So we explained one is about delivering a message, one is where you’re posting on a bulletin board. We had to create analogies to show how things still work together.

MS: Are you using this with the students yet?
PS: We started with the teachers, but I met with a group planning the Year 8 city experience in November. There are 600 students to manage in parts of the city – so we are creating 22 different teams the students will be added to. It’s a cloud communication facility so we can communicate to a particular group of students – and they can communicate back. And they can complete a city experience diary on Teams.

We also have a Team for the environment group that’s made up of three or four teachers and a dozen students. It’s been amazing to see the collaboration and work these kids have been doing and the flow on effect. They have been able to introduce waste cup recycling, water refilling stations, reusable cups. In the past they only had email – now they’re chatting and doing and sharing – putting clips from ABC24 in the chat channel. Without Teams I don’t think they would have that effect.

MS: Has it been challenging for students to learn?
PS: I have been using Teams with my Year 12 classes. They have been so used to emailing me – now I tell them to send me a chat because it could be answered by someone in the group. You have to teach people to undo their old practice and move into new – we’ve seen that with staff as well.

MS: Can you share examples of how this has transformed the college?
PS: Changing timetables was a big issue in the past – if students changed subjects or classes. Now we have one file that connects students to the subject’s Teams code and teachers to the class Teams code. If we teach the teachers to create codes they can enrol the students.

MS: Have you been able to measure impact?
PS: Some school survey data came out recently; we have seen a massive change in adaptive behaviour and innovation – it was measured lower in students and higher in staff, we think because staff have had access to Teams.

MS: And has being an MIEE helped your transformation journey?
PS: Absolutely – I want more teachers here to become MIEs. Being in the community sharing – it helps other schools succeed. It saves time and resources. The key thing with the MIEE program is that you are in it for the greater good. All schools in this country should be supporting and helping each other.


Our goal at Microsoft is to empower every student to achieve more and to do this we have a range of resources available to support educators in achieving better learning outcomes for all students. Find the right Windows devices for your students, deploy Office 365 Education with ease,  join our Educator Centre for free training and connect with others, or attend one of our MS Edu Meets or IT IQ Edu Meets workshops.

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