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Rachel Coldicutt - 27 November, 2020

Category : Blog

How to reflect on rapid technology change and plan for the future

Schools have been on an incredible journey in the last year, adapting to completely new ways of working with technology to deliver virtual lessons, cope with staff and students offsite, organise complex logistics and report on a whole new range of data. But changing ways of working in such a short space of time means

Schools have been on an incredible journey in the last year, adapting to completely new ways of working with technology to deliver virtual lessons, cope with staff and students offsite, organise complex logistics and report on a whole new range of data.

But changing ways of working in such a short space of time means staff haven’t had the change to properly reflect on this change – especially since schools have remained open throughout the pandemic!

To discuss how we can use technology in a more positive way, we were delighted to welcome Rachel Coldicutt to ArborFest on 12th November to give the Keynote presentation at our customer festival. 

Rachel is the former CEO of Doteveryone and expert on the social impact of technology, having collaborated with many organisations in the charity and public sectors. She recently produced The Glimmers Report – a practical toolkit designed to support schools and community organisations to reflect on their use of technology and how to build resilience for the future. 

Rachel shared some really meaningful tips that schools can use to make sure as we move forward in a reflective way under the new Covid-19 status quo. 

Rapid change

First of all, I think it can be useful to look outside of the school context to think about where you fit in. Since March, society as a whole has had to pivot extremely quickly to cope with rapid change, living now more of less all of our whole lives on video or looking at a screen. 

We’ve started to accept new ways of behaving as normal and hardly remember things we took for granted as normal before. I’ve seen, for example graduations – institutions which haven’t changed their format for decades, transformed into a virtual events.


People have responded to new restraints incredibly quickly, and this pivot is completely unprecedented. When we think about change and progress, we normally think of things happening in a linear way; with a horizon in sight. We’re used to moving forwards a bit, then backwards a bit, then forwards again. We’re used to having time to learn the new rules and adapting as we go. We’re used to getting clues and cues so we know when change is having success. 

But during the pandemic, progress surged overnight. 2020 has been like having one foot in 2050 and one in 1630 – in some ways a lot of things have been taken away from us, but in other ways we’ve travelled miles into the future. What we need to remember is that we’ve moved into the future with the same skills and experience we had last year. 


No time for reflection

Everyone has been gathering around the technology, rather than the cultural or human elements of change. It’s only months later that we’re realising how exhausted we are, having had no down time to talk about the changes, or even to properly process the traumatic things that have happened. 

I drew the diagram above in June, but actually it’s probably better drawn like a fast heart rate, to reflect how we’ve been continually adapting to and integrating change at an incredibly fast rate.

Building foundations for the future

As we move forwards into a future that is uncertain, we should think about “recovery” not something that accidentally happens but something you have to nurture. At the moment, as we’re still responding and still don’t know how long the crisis will go on for, it’s important to think about how to look after ourselves, and to prioritise our culture, our team and our tools. 

The first step to moving forward is to recognise some of the compromises or problems that have perhaps been overlooked, such as burnout, lack of infrastructure and platform dependency, instead of storing them up for later. 

The designer Caroline Sinders has come up with the “digital duct tape” phenomenon which describes how, rather than having well worked-out infrastructure, we’re more likely to be using a collection of tools patched together that only sort of work.

We should also recognise the heavy negative focus that has surrounded new technologies – focusing on safety, privacy and a culture of worry – particularly in schools and the public sector when sensitive data is involved. This has meant that people tend to use platforms only in exactly the way they’re prescribed from fear of doing something wrong. But if systems are well made and safe, they should give you the freedom to adapt, improvise, and use them creatively. 

Practical tips for moving forward

The Glimmers Report is a toolkit designed to help schools and other organisations understand where you are now in terms of your use of technology and the impact it’s having, and to end up in a position where you feel you have the tools and experience to be prepared for change in the future.

When compiling the report I began talking to charities and other groups in March and April, most of whom had not really worked in digital ways before the pandemic, but had suddenly moved to operating almost completely digitally. We then carried out interviews and observations, brought together theory and a range of practitioners to share the kind of things they’ve experienced. 


The toolkit helps you and your staff reflect around three main themes:

  • Tracking your change

This section encourages you to capture and understand what has changed, what you’ve learned, what you’ll keep and what you’ll discard, helping you to move ahead with more certainty. 

  • Reflection on roles

These questions allow you to think about how people’s roles have changed, the skills people have gained, and how people have felt during the process. It also helps you reflect on the intimacy that might get forgotten when using technology. For example, without the usual in-person cues, how do we know when people are listening and engaging? How can we create space? How can we get feedback? How can we show applause? How can we celebrate achievements? You might ask these questions once, or keep asking them regularly to see how your responses change over time. 

  • Planning for uncertainty

These simple questions and prompts help you look ahead and forecast the opportunities and obstacles that are likely to happen, and how you will respond. This is different to how you might normally plan because you’ll be able to bring the skills and experience of dealing with uncertainty. Just the exercise of projecting as a group what you might do if something totally new happens is really important in building resilience.

Remember, we co-create technology

An important thing to remember about technology is that no two people use a product in the same way, and the way we use products is always changing. And they’re designed that way – rather than there being a prescribed way of using technology, most developers are fascinated by how their users adapt and integrate technology in their lives. 

So rather than thinking of technology happening to us, we should allow ourselves to adapt the tools we use around our lives and experiences, and to meet our changing needs.

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blank Sophie Elms - 24 November, 2020

Category : Blog

Women in tech leadership

As part of our focus on diversity and inclusion at Arbor, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our leadership team, which is made up of majority women. Sophie, Arbor’s Talent Acquisition Manager, interviews five of our female leaders at Arbor below. The lack of women in STEM and tech starts in education and the

As part of our focus on diversity and inclusion at Arbor, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our leadership team, which is made up of majority women. Sophie, Arbor’s Talent Acquisition Manager, interviews five of our female leaders at Arbor below.

The lack of women in STEM and tech starts in education and the subjects women choose, with only 26% of  STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering and maths) being women.  

Although this number is increasing, not all female STEM graduates go into jobs in the industry (only 22% are women), with computer science, engineering and technology the most affected. 

These statistics are sparking projects and events aimed to boost female representation in the STEM and tech sectors. Last month was Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in STEM, which aims to create role models to encourage more girls into STEM subjects and careers, and to support women already working in STEM.

Women in Tech Leadership at Arbor 

I’m very proud to say that Arbor Education is leading the way – six out of nine of our Senior Leaders are women and we have a high percentage of women in line management positions across the business. Our board has a female chair too. 

But what does it feel like to be a woman in leadership in the EdTech world? I recently caught up with five of our female leaders at Arbor (our sixth is on maternity leave!) to discuss their career and experiences. 

I’ve pulled out some highlights from the interviews below. 

Sonia Leighton – Chief of Customer Success 


What is your role at Arbor and what got you into the tech world in the first place?

“My team provides first and second line support, as well as training and onboarding for our customers. I’ve been working in tech for about 20 years now across a number of different sectors. I left university and didn’t know what I wanted to do… and landed in BT Group… and I’ve been in tech ever since! 

The thing I love about it is that my role – Chief of Customer Success – didn’t exist 20 years ago. It’s now one of the fastest-growing roles in the industry. So it’s just a super exciting space to be in!”

Maggie Wright – Finance Director 


Have you experienced challenges based on your gender in your career?

“When I was studying (Bachelor’s in Accounting and Master’s in Financial Analysis), half or more of my classmates were women. Yet today, women are still disproportionately underrepresented in senior leadership positions. We need to try to level the playing field to make sure that we start to see the industry become more equitable.

I think there are a few ways this can improve, for example seeing more female role models in tech leadership, participating in and promoting networks which focus on nurturing women’s career progression and, most importantly, improving access to funding for female entrepreneurs .”

Hilary Aylesworth – Head of Product

hilary ayelsworth

What advice would you give to women thinking of exploring a career in tech?

“Making the move from teaching to tech is a hard one to make, and the advice I might give myself back then, that I’ve learnt and reflected upon now, is I think the first step is mapping your skill set and really being clear what your strengths are. I didn’t know at the time that I wanted to be a Head of Product, I think that’s something that ended up fitting me very well, but I can see now that actually a lot of my skills were really nicely correlated with the specifications for a Head of Product kind of role. Also, mentorship is huge – whether you’re a woman in tech or a young person trying to get into tech, find somebody who you think does it really well. Spend time with them. Get to know how they do things!”

Phillippa De’Ath – Chief Revenue Officer


Have you noticed any significant changes in the industry from when you first started? 

“Despite 20 years in tech, Arbor is my first software job. I think the difference in  working on an enterprise software platform (as opposed to a mainframe) is that it brings together people who care about the end user, and that tends to require a lot of sensitivity to the challenges of work, understanding different ways of solving the problem. Different ways of thinking about the humans using the tools that you build and not just being in a big, sweaty data room with increasingly powerful engines but no thought to user experience.

The age of people we work with also influences our design and approach – the demographic of our heavily-female group is much younger than the industry average, so there aren’t entrenched ideas of how to do things.”

Harriet Cheng – Head of Marketing


There are a number of networking communities aimed at developing future female leaders within technology. Have you been part of any and are there any you would recommend? 

I think it’s really important for women to support each other at work through mentorship, community building, networking and coaching – in tech, but in all industries really. I’m lucky to be part of an amazing team at Arbor and to know women leaders at several other EdTech companies across the UK, who have all been really helpful for sharing advice and swapping stories. Beyond that, I go to events by DevelopHer, a nonprofit community supporting women in tech, and would recommend Code First Girls who my sister (a games developer) has mentored with before. 

I’d also like to call out The Girls Network who are excellent – they work with girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in schools across England. I mentored girls interested in tech through their programme previously and would highly recommend it.”

We know that female representation in leadership positions is also behind in education, with only 38% of Headteachers are women at secondary level, and at primary men outweigh women almost 2:1. We’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about these issues and how they relate to your schools you’ve worked in.

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