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AISL Harrow Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang, China

Building an accountable professional development culture with BlueSky.

About the school

Harrow Nanning (HILA Nanning and HLL Nanning) is part of the AISL Harrow Schools family, linked to the respected UK independent Harrow School, London. Established in September 2021, Harrow Nanning was the first internationalised school in the autonomous Guangxi Zhuang region of China. AISL Harrow Nanning offers a fully bi-lingual education for the mainly Chinese students, ensuring a strong foundation in the Chinese curriculum as well as an international outlook.

Key Takeaways:

  • Staff are more reflective and take ownership of their own learning pathways
  • SLT can easily identify priorities for development and see the impact of school improvement strategies
  • BlueSky’s online platform has streamlined processes and ensures consistency

“BlueSky is encouraging staff to reflect on their own practice, rather than simply being told what needs to be improved by their boss.”

Emily Gallagher

Deputy Head, AISL Harrow Nanning

Harrow Nanning

What are the challenges?

The first AISL Harrow international school was established in Bangkok Thailand in 1998 (which also uses BlueSky), and the group has only expanded significantly in the last five years. AISL Harrow Nanning opened in 2021, and was the first bi-lingual international school in the Guangxi Zhuang region of southern China. While the region is becoming established as a centre for international trade, the city of Nanning is relatively unknown by outsiders and this means recruiting qualified teachers for AISL Harrow Nanning can be tricky.

AISL Harrow Nanning’s Deputy Head, Emily Gallagher describes the situation: “We opened during Covid, which of course posed many challenges. Applications were a very drawn-out process for anyone coming into the country.”

“Although as a school we’re doing very well in league tables, and we’re winning lots of international competitions, recruitment in a place that no one has heard of is hard work. For the first couple of years, we had to be creative; we recruited expats that were already in the city and trained them up ourselves, putting them on a PGCE pathway.”

As the school grew, the senior leadership team recognised that capacity for managing staff performance management and development was becoming stretched.

“When we first opened, we were a very small senior leadership team – there were only four of us working with the compulsory education side,” says Emily. “Initially performance management and quality assurance were paper-based, but the time it took to monitor, make sure that everything had been input, and then analyse it, was becoming unsustainable.”

“We’re very fortunate that we’re a new school, so we can try things out. We used another program in the first year, but it couldn’t link to our professional development programme, which is why we turned to BlueSky.

How is BlueSky supporting the school?

When BlueSky was introduced to AISL Harrow Nanning, the SLT appreciated that it could be used ‘out of the box’, but that the platform could also be adapted to the school’s process. “I’m not the most tech savvy person, so the fact that BlueSky is already set up to use is a huge benefit,” says Emily. “It is also great that we can easily customise the audits that we use in BlueSky. Even moving from year one to year two, we have been able to adapt the templates as we refined the process.”

AISL Harrow Nanning uses BlueSky to manage the whole appraisal cycle, starting with a self-reflection, which is completed against the Teachers’ Standards framework in BlueSky.

“That’s been really useful, because you are able to see how the people that you line manage perceive themselves, and you can use that intelligence to frame the goals that you set for them,” says Emily. “It’s encouraging people to reflect on their own practice, rather than simply being told what needs to be improved by their boss.”

“BlueSky allows them to see their own improvement – when they do a second self-analysis in January, their progress is visually represented. This helps them to identify further areas to work on.”

Emily says that BlueSky is helping the senior leadership team at AISL Harrow Nanning to implement more consistent quality assurance processes, making it easier to assess good practice. “It helps us to make sure that all of the senior leaders are following the same processes and timelines for quality assurance and performance management, which means we can focus on school priorities.”

“We have used BlueSky to carry out an audit, based on the four domains of the Great Teaching Toolkit.”

“We captured quality assurance activities such as lesson observations and book scrutinies in BlueSky, and used that intelligence to identify areas of practice that needed further improvement. Through our audit, we identified that two of the domains needed to be improved, so we set that as the focus of our professional development days for all staff.”

“Monitoring the data on BlueSky made it possible to highlight which areas really needed that time and those resources.”

“Having the visual reports, rather than just a load of information, makes it so much easier, especially when you’re busy, and you can easily share that intelligence with other stakeholders.”

Non-academic staff at the school are also using BlueSky to track their performance management cycle, which means everyone has equal opportunity for development.

“BlueSky allows staff to see their own improvement – when they do a second self-reflection in January, their progress is visually represented. This helps them to identify further areas to work on.”

Emily Gallagher

Deputy Head, AISL Harrow Nanning

Harrow Nanning

What is the impact?

Emily believes that the practice of logging professional development activities in BlueSky has made the teacher appraisal process at AISL Harrow Nanning more robust and ensures staff understand the impact of their work.

“Being able to log evidence of work on development is really important. When we have performance review meetings, individuals can show us all the work they have done, for example, they can upload a training certificate, link to a document they’ve read, or a shared project.”

“We use the Projects area of BlueSky for collaborative work, such as our teaching and learning communities. Each community creates a project in BlueSky and individuals can link to that work as evidence of collaboration on research or best practice.”

“BlueSky makes it easier to hold people accountable for their own professional development and appraisal goals.”

Emily is responsible for overseeing professional development for academic staff, so recognises the value of an evidence-based approach to identifying training and development needs.

“Having all of the evidence from quality assurance activities, whether observations or conversations, logged in one place, is really useful. It means we can show why we want to focus on particular areas with professional development, and when we report back to headquarters we can demonstrate improvement in teaching and learning.”

AISL Harrow Nanning has supported its professional learning programme with BlueSky Learning, a comprehensive library of high quality, practitioner-led CPD modules for teachers and school staff. Emily says this content has been useful when the school has introduced new teaching programmes.

“BlueSky Learning offers really accessible content, particularly around language development and formative assessment. When the school introduced a phonics programme, the phonics course on BlueSky Learning helped teachers to define classroom strategies.”

“It is easy for our SLT to quickly identify modules that will help our teachers and we can then easily share that with our teams.”

What’s next?

Emily feels that there is scope to integrate BlueSky more deeply into quality assurance practices and refine processes at AISL Harrow Nanning.

“I’m looking at how we can quality assure extracurricular activities. I am planning to use BlueSky to create an audit that will help me monitor this.”

“We are starting to embed a culture where gathering evidence and logging it in BlueSky is a habit for staff. The longer they use it, the more of a habit it becomes.”

“We’re recommending BlueSky to other schools in the group – four of our sister schools are using it now. We find it so useful because you have all your people development under one umbrella. Staff find it really easy and accessible to use, and it really helps school leaders monitor and evaluate staff development, so they then start thinking about other areas that need focus.”

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