After three years of focus on growth, digitalization and innovation, I will soon leave my post as Director of Schools at Stiftelsen Viktor Rydbergs skolor. Here are my final reflections from this exciting time.
Planned with long-term strategic thinking, led by brave school leaders and powered by a competent and committed team, my main task has been implementing the goals for 2018-2020 in line with the organization’s vision. For all organizations, strategy and culture go hand-in-hand. Strategy often defines the “what” and culture often defines the “how”. VR’s strategy has been to grow with purpose. During the last three years, we have focused on:
Personalizing learning with instructional design
A specific and strategic focus on readying our organization for digital innovation has included three areas of priority:
- All schools use instructional design to achieve blended learning environments.
- Effective learning for every student – personalized learning that builds on each student’s needs, background, experiences and interests
- Prepare our teaching force – digitalization strategy; digital competences; efficiency and effectiveness
It has been my passion to better understand how kids learn. We have experts in this area within the organization that have guided our discussions and workshops. We have read books together, written articles and debated ideas – a lot! We have tested strategies, analyzed results and tested again. Teaming neuroscience-informed approaches with educational psychology, we have worked to create the most optimal learning environment where variation and personalization have become the norm.
Who knew this spring term would come with a final exam for this work? When the COVID-19 situation called for remote learning strategies, VR Schools were ready. We were able to translate what we had learned into an effective situation even at a distance.
By creating a cohesive ecosystem of digital tools and dedicating time to staff development, we were able to effectively meet the challenges of online learning. Other key components to our organization’s success in this area, structures of support (both pedagogical and technological), real investment in infrastucture (wifi, systems, etc) and our process of “pilot and scale”. In this organization, we try to pilot new developments in one school and then “scale up”.
You can read more about this whole process here:
Reflections from week 1 of remote learning – ”Wow, Worry, Wonder”
Reflections from week 2 of remote learning – ”What is good enough?”
Reflections from week 3 of remote learning – ”Creativity!”
Reflections from feedback of remote learning – EOY analysis
Maximizing effectiveness of organizational structure and central services
Grow with purpose – Our organization has gone from 2470 students in 2016-17 to 3850 students in 2020-21, 225 staff to nearly 400 staff members, and from 5 schools to 7 schools with three new schools planned to open in August 2021. Given this ambitious growth and our continued commitment to quality, VR schools have been working to create an effective and efficient central office that offers expertise and sustained support to each individual school.
To reach this goal, we have:
– Created HR functions to support staff
– Further developed our digital ecosystem for ease of use and management of accounts and access according to GDPR guidelines
– Streamlined accounting and reporting
– Developed a new communication plan
In all of this work, we have tried to marry the tradition and shared values VR schools have honored for more than 20 years with the new experiences, ideas and competences of our newer staff members.
Opening a new campus in Sundbyberg
In August 2017, we welcomed 174 year 7 students to temporary facilities for the start of VRS Sundbyberg. Three years later, we sent that group off in style as successful year 9 students ready to take on gymnasiet. In the third year, they moved to our newest campus – Landsvägen 66 in Sundbyberg. A beautiful new building purposefully renovated to serve the needs of modern learning. Today, we are happy to report that 99.5% of students are qualified to study at a theoretical gymnasium with a grade point average of 279.
As a partner in the process, VRG Sundbyberg, started in August 2019. Starting out with five classes in three different national programs, natural science, aesthetics and business studies, VRGS welcomed 160 students this year. We are focusing more than ever on the digital infrastructure at this school, with for example only digital materials powered by our LMS, Canvas. A theme running throughout the school is entrepreneurship. All students in all programs will study entrepreneurship. They will be trained in leadership, rhetorics and strategies of how to take an idea and turn it into action. After only one year, we are excited to report that in 2020-21, we have seen an increase in applicants for all programs.
Celebrating 25 years of quality in education while planning for the future
Throughout 2019-20, we have celebrated 25 years of quality education at VR Schools. In an organization that is always trying to do better and develop further, we wanted to really celebrate how far we have come. During this year, we have:
– Celebrated VR Staff throughout the years with a big 25years party, Staff Silver Party, specifically to highlight the achievements of our dedicated staff members
– Recommitted to “art and science” as one of our pillars with a professional development evening for all school leaders and our school board at Handelshögskolan looking at how art and the creative spirit impacts learning and eventually the development of our society
– Created a collection of 25 prominent alumni, 25 jubileums-alumner från VRG, who have shared their best memories and advice from their time at VRG.
– Dedicated our newest campus in Sundbyberg
– Each school has celebrated the 25th birthday in a special way during one of their traditional events
– This year’s VRG musical, “Rock of Ages”, celebrated this long standing tradition. It was a huge success and our best ever with 12 shows and a total audience of 6.000 people. Every year VRG students from all three schools join together with their teachers to showcase this amazing project.
Given all of these achievements, we can confidently “check off” our to-do list. We carefully measure and analyze results and feedback to gage how far we have come and what is still left to do. Key performance indicators like: grade point average, number of first choice applications to VRG, number of students in the queue to enter VRS schools, number of qualified applicants for every teaching position and more help us better understand our progress.
Yet beyond these quantitative data points, our truest picture comes from the feedback, the stories and the achievements of our students and staff. When an alumni lifts up the work of the student care team at her school as her fondest memory, or when a newly hired teacher comments on the unparalleled support they have received during their first few months, or when a parent responds to a survey “that my child has never been supported in such a professional way” or when Skolinspektion recognized VRG Odenplan as a school who serves high performers well – these comments and countless others, tell the story of VR schools.
As an employee who joined this organization more than 20 years ago (1996), I am really proud not only of the many impressive achievements, but even more so of the culture. Shared values of “kids go first”, “sharing is caring”, “everyone is a leader” and “not yet – growth mindset” permeate all that we do. It is this “can do” culture that makes this organization successful. It is this “we” culture that makes this organization strong and sustainable.
As I leave my post after three learning-filled, exciting and demanding years, I am reminded of a saying our Director of Technology & Innovation taught us in 2013 – Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast (a phrase originated by Peter Drucker and made famous by Mark Fields.) This is so true. I am impressed and proud of the concrete strategic development of this organization. I realize this does not come without hard work and commitment on the part of many. However, I am even more convinced that it is the culture – our shared values and agreed upon behaviors – that are the real win here.
Director of Schools, until July 8