Backstage leaders

12th March 2004 at 00:00
Juliet Heppell discovers how Gillian Slater helped teachers put their courses online, while Dorothy Walker finds an ICT hero in Natalie Lansdell

Roger Taylor is well known throughout the Leeds area for wonderfully entertaining and motivating lessons as part of his hospitality course at Thomas Danby College. But he has extended his effectiveness by making his popular courses available online through the college network. How did he do it? Step forward Gillian Slater, who is busy leading Roger and colleagues into cyberspace - but without the blood, sweat and tears usually associated with moving a course online.

Gillian is so valued by her colleagues that they entered her for Becta's Post-16 Learning Assistance award. To Gillian's amazement she won, but this was no surprise to those on the receiving end of her inspiring work mentoring teachers in the use of ICT.

Gillian, a learning resources adviser with responsibility for ICT, is based in the Learning Centre at the college. Her ability to inspire and enthuse enables teachers to add value to their courses with online resources: "One of the most rewarding initiatives I am involved in is the support and training I give to teaching staff," she says modestly.

All members of staff are supported, but a particularly fertile group are those who already have basic ICT skills. Computer tuition is given during "free" periods and outside teaching times. For those teachers, seeing their existing paper classroom materials become interactive online is an incentive to develop further skills. Teachers use a range of techniques - online quizzes, discussion boards and web-based presentations.

Gillian was a librarian and has worked in FE in various roles for the last 10 years. She is mainly self-taught - which helps teachers relate to her - so she is no geek and her support is authentic, relevant and welcome. "I enjoy my job," she says. "My work with Roger has led to other teachers asking me for advice. With each teacher I work with, I learn more about the teaching environment and see how my work with them really affects lessons for all concerned."

"Our superhero!" That is how colleagues describe Natalie Lansdell, who for two and a half years has been ICT teaching assistant at Mersham Primary School in Ashford, Kent. Both teachers and pupils have reaped the rewards of her good practice. Now Lansdell is herself training to be a teacher, and finding her experience invaluable.

As an assistant she was based full-time in the school's ICT suite, offering support to teachers and their classes. And for Natalie, the role meant much more than simply ensuring that the computers were fired up and ready for use. As the teaching colleague who nominated her for her award said:

"Officially, Natalie works under the direction of the teaching staff. But in reality, the teachers rely heavily on her solid understanding of the computer programs, their application in delivering the curriculum - both in ICT and in other subjects - and the standards expected of pupils of all ages throughout the school."

Modest Natalie puts some of her success down to the fact that she was based in the suite all the time. "Because I was working with all the classes, I was able to see progression throughout the school. I learned about all the schemes of work, and the software needed to support them."

As a graduate in occupational psychology and a former careers consultant, she came to the job equipped with a good grounding in ICT, and her troubleshooting skills have proved invaluable. "Often she knows more than the experts who come to fix problems," says one teacher.

Natalie explains her recipe for success: "Ensure that you understand what teachers are trying to achieve. They differ in their approach, so ask them what they want to happen in the lesson and then work out how you can be of use and help make life easier.

"It is never a case of taking over the lesson, or thinking: I want to do it this way. You are supporting teachers in their role, but using your own initiative too."

* Teaching tips

* Communication with teachers is vital. Find out what they want to achieve, and keep them informed of developments

* Catalogue all resources, and update everyone when new materials arrive

* Don't just think "this is a wonderful program", think how it could be used

* Involve everyone - teaching assistants can be helpful in assessing the potential of new software

* Make sure you have time designated for research and development (GS)

* When training or supporting staff, concentrate on skills and ideas that can be quickly mastered and that make an instant impact on learners

* Show teachers how ICT can save them time

* Encourage teaching staff to look at areas of the curriculum that students may perceive as unexciting, and use ICT to transform the process into something interactive and engaging

* Web-based learning materials can be a great way to enable differentiation in the classroom

* Anyone who is looking to support teachers' use of ICT needs to be ready to take it to them (NL)












* www.thebritishmuseum. (NL)

* Runner-up

Catherine Jones Nursery nurse Wallace Road Nursery Northampton

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