When Jay Halai returned to Green Valley Islamic College as principal in early 2021 it was a very different school to the one he departed in 2018 after serving as its deputy principal.
A new Board and fresh vision meant that the College was primed for a root and branch digital transformation focused on improving the learning opportunities for students. This modernisation paves the way for the opening of a new campus and rebranding of the South West Sydney based K-12 school which will be renamed Minarah College in early 2022.
When Halai first joined the College in 2016 he had overseas experience as a science teacher and school leader, and with a Masters in ICT and Education, he also had a deep understanding of how technology could impact learning. But at that time the College was not ready to transform and Halai left the school to work as an education consultant to school software specialist Sentral.
When he returned to the College as principal in 2021 the time was right for the major student-centric digital modernisation program that is now underway.
While the College was already a Microsoft school with an A3 Microsoft 365 licence, teachers were hampered by old hardware and limited software access. After having his transformation strategy approved by the new Board, Halai leveraged Microsoft’s agreement with the Association of Independent Schools to upgrade to an A5 Microsoft 365 licence providing additional capabilities and enhanced security, and working with ASI, ordered Surface Pro 7+s for all teachers.
While Halai’s transformation strategy is student centred, it begins by updating teacher devices and introducing a raft of online support for professional development and learning measurement.
To ensure staff were fully conversant with the new devices and Microsoft 365 capabilities, Microsoft supported a series of teacher training sessions ensuring staff were ready to roll at the start of Term Two. The next big hardware upgrade involved installing smartboards in all classrooms during the mid-winter break which allow teachers to automatically cast from their devices onto the smartboards.
The College has also installed five Loop Learn kiosks which manage attendance using facial recognition and also feature a digital thermometer to check the temperature of individuals, issuing an alert if someone has a fever posing a potential health risk.
New Digital Dawn
Green Valley Islamic College is now ramping up to start using Power BI to provide learning analytics to teachers. Data is collected during lessons using Microsoft Forms and, working with Microsoft partner MoQ Digital, the College is developing a series of dashboards that will use that data to display at a glance insights about how well each student is performing and where there is opportunity for improvement.
Teacher professional development has also been enhanced.
All 80 staff used Microsoft Forms to respond to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers assessment and Halai is now championing the use of SharePoint to store lesson content. He is planning to launch a coaching initiative when Covid lockdowns ease, which will promote teacher to teacher development and coaching, with staff encouraged to record segments of lessons and make that content available through a video vault to build a professional development learning library.
While Covid has introduced some delays, it has accelerated the uptake of some technology – for example all lockdown affected students are using Microsoft Teams to support remote learning. During the most recent Sydney lockdown Microsoft was able to support Year 12 students preparing for the HSC with the loan of 30 devices which allowed them to access online content to prepare for their exams.
“At the tail end of 2021 we are going to introduce BYOD for school students – the Surface Pro 7+ for upper levels of high school and Surface Gos for the younger years,” says Halai.
“My ultimate goal is to become a Microsoft Showcase School”, he adds. In the meantime he offers hard won digital insights to other schools.
I tell other principals ‘if you have Microsoft you probably have an A3 licence – upgrade to an A5 licence. Take my digital transformation plan and make it happen at your place – use it because Microsoft Teams is probably the best learning management system in the EduTech market.
“Australia looks around at what schools do in the United States, Canada, the UK – and they bring the best to the table – but no one is using Teams like they are in Australia and the UK.”
Halai’s ultimate ambition is to take the College to a “stratospheric level of technology” leveraging Microsoft platforms and toward the end of the year bringing in artificial intelligence to interpret learning data captured in Teams and via Microsoft Forms to allow teachers and students the very best learning success.