When a 2017 discussion at high-performing Southland Girls’ High School in Invercargill, New Zealand, revealed frustration with the current state of the school’s technology, faculty and staff moved quickly to implement a substantial tech transformation. By the summer of 2018, the school had migrated to the cloud. Today, Southland Girls’ High School is thriving with Microsoft Azure and Office 365, and teachers and students have embraced Microsoft Teams and OneNote for communication and collaboration.
Transformation is a frequently used word in education. But too often, it’s thought of as an event or the transition from one system or technology to another. Actually, transformation is much more than that: it’s a state of mind and a long-term process. And in the field of education, it’s a commitment to improve the delivery of learning experiences to kids—experiences that can define a country’s economic and social future.
In New Zealand, Southland Girls’ High School has taken this transformative attitude to heart and turned it into action.
Shifting education from good enough to top-notch
New Zealand consistently ranks as one of the world’s best countries for education, and Southland Girls’ High School was already an exemplary school in an exemplary school system. Paul Goulter, National Secretary for the New Zealand Education Institute, credits a long-standing “culture among Kiwi teachers and a passion to do the best for pupils” as “key factors for a successful education model.”
In fact, Southland Girls’ High School had already been deemed a “high performing school” within New Zealand, a label that’s awarded by the Educational Review Office and signals that the facility’s systems and processes are so good that they don’t need to be reviewed again for another four or five years.
Many schools would be satisfied with that status, but Southland Girls’ understood that its processes and systems continued to be effective because of its unwavering commitment to constant improvement. So when a 2017 internal inquiry at the school revealed frustration with existing technology, faculty and staff worked quickly to investigate and implement changes that would improve teaching and benefit students.
To do so, Southland Girls’ partnered with pcMedia, a New Zealand technology consulting agency, to develop a plan and framework for a customized solution that would, in Principal Yvonne Browning’s words, “enable a more simplified approach, while also providing more collaboration in classroom tools.” That custom approach included a migration to Microsoft Office 365.
“A combination of dissatisfaction with old servers and slow internet meant Southland Girls’ was not prepared to achieve the government’s 2020 compulsory digital technology curriculum regulations. With the enthusiastic support of both pcMedia and Microsoft, we migrated all existing school-owned devices to cloud-based management with Intune for Education and deployed new Windows 10 devices for staff who were previously without a device,” Browning explains.
Transitioning from prospect to practice: a true partner
How did Southland Girls’ achieve such vocal buy-in for complex issues like school technology? In part, because the relationship they developed with pcMedia allowed them to explore all the possibilities before they committed to a plan, and because both pcMedia and Microsoft Education provided ongoing support for each of Southland Girls’ user groups.
“Microsoft came to Southland Girls’ in-house Board of Trustees, senior leadership, and the principal to demonstrate the Microsoft approach to modern deployment methodology, and how easy it is to deploy Windows 10 with cloud management tools like Microsoft Azure Active Directory for identity and Intune for Education,” says Browning. “We also saw the use of classroom tools like Microsoft Teams and OneNote, highlighting the value of and research around digital inking on devices,”—research that shows how digital inking in apps like OneNote can help unlock higher-order thinking skills, which is critical to engaging students to learn.
Taking pride in new technology
To help acclimate the school to new tools, faculty and staff held regular meetings, and pcMedia set up a ticketing system so teachers could raise questions and receive follow-up training. Microsoft Learning Delivery Specialists also worked hand-in-hand with Southland Girls’ teachers on the transition.
“We have to keep reminding teachers that technology is a tool for learning, it doesn’t become the learning,” says Browning. “So, there’s also work to be done around ensuring that the utilization of technology is appropriate to our pedagogy at the school.”
“Since the migration, a lot of staff use Teams to collaborate. They have working conversations, share best practices, and collaborate on files. They are working towards Microsoft Teams to manage their OneNote Class Notebooks and similar elements,” explains Browning.
And the teachers’ enthusiasm for these tools is evident. They’ve truly embraced the process of learning all they can about Teams, Outlook, and OneNote and feel a sense of pride and ownership of their successes in learning and implementing Microsoft educational tools.
“I think there’s been a really positive sense of accomplishment. [The teachers] feel proud of themselves that they’ve actually taken it on board,” says Browning. “They are proud that they are working in a different way by learning new programs and systems.”
Realizing the benefits of transformation
Southland Girls’ initial transformation will help them meet nation-wide technology goals and prepare them for a future where every student has a device. Currently, all of the school’s teachers have their own cloud-managed HP ProBook, while students share. But now that Southland Girls’ uses the cloud, the school is researching and planning to implement a student-owned bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.
In the next 18 months, Browning expects teachers and administrators to begin preparing for this BYOD future. Since, they’ve already begun “setting up the infrastructure to do that, like providing the staff with computers,” the next step will be instructing teachers on how to incorporate devices into everyday learning in a manner that boosts achievement.
Moving traditional on-premises infrastructure like identity and networked storage into Azure and using Office 365 and Microsoft Teams to increase productivity, collaboration, and file storage has also saved Southland Girls’ High School money and ensured the school is aligned with the strategic direction of New Zealand’s ministry of education.
As Principal Browning notes, “We are a school that actually embraces change. Change that’s based on research. Change that’s based on effecting improvements. Change that’s based on improving student achievement. And that’s why we chose Microsoft Education.”
“We’re a school that actually wants to lead the process of learning, not simply be the recipient of what everybody else has done,” she adds.