Wednesday, 26 September 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Top marks for the Coromandel’s Community of Learning

By Pamela Ferla

My interview with Tairua School’s principal Brendan Finn starts with delicious chocolate cake. The icing on top says “Congratulations Coromandel Principals,” which fits nicely with the topic of my interview - the Coromandel Community of Learning. Two slices later and Brendan started to explain this innovative initiative aimed at benefiting students and their teachers.

The New Zealand government introduced the Investing in Educational Success programme in 2015/16, as a move to address children’s barriers to learning.  A major part of this was the introduction of Communities of Learning, where groups of schools and early childhood centres work together to raise student achievement through shared goals and the building of teaching and leadership excellence.

Brendan acknowledged there was much scepticism surrounding Communities of Learning in the early stages, but the concept appealed to him and he wanted to find out more. So he applied to join an international exchange programme and last year spent time in Canada, where a similar programme had been introduced and was delivering successful outcomes.

“Communities of Learning had been going for approximately 10 years in Ontario and I could see significant benefits for everyone involved, including our students,” says Brendan. “It’s a brilliant concept. After all, education is a team sport. Isolation kills it, innovation and collaboration foster it.”

There are nine schools involved in Coromandel Community of Learning - Colville, Coromandel, Te Rerenga, Coroglen, Whenuakite, Tairua, Hikuai, Opoutere and Whangamata.

The principals of these schools spent 12 months developing robust relationships and learning about each other’s communities. They are now sharing their experiences. They meet twice a term, rotating the venue between the nine schools and also holding workshops online. Their last meeting was at Whenuakite School.

The group has drafted proposed challenges for the coming year, focusing on four areas -

  • Raising student achievement.
  • Strengthening cultural understanding and partnerships with parents and community.
  • Ensuring equitable outcomes for all learners.
  • Enhancing student competencies through localised curriculum design.

Some of the proposals to achieve these goals include -

  • Teachers sharing successes and failures as well as progress and modifications to curriculum.
  • Encouraging leaders to share and empower others.
  • Acquiring the resources to intervene in a timely and effective way to help students who are struggling.
  • Providing more support for teachers at the "chalk face" who are working with students needing specialised support.
  • Identifying how schools create opportunities for students to share their own interests and passions.
  • Looking at how learning opportunities are provided that are relevant to students’ everyday lives.

Brendan pointed out that while principals work as a team, each school retains its autonomy.

One bonus of the programme is what Brendan describes as “joint bargaining power” with the Ministry of Education. Through the development of a shared achievement plan, the nine schools within the Coromandel Community of Learning will be allocated 10 new positions for teachers to apply for.

“We’re also looking at advertising three or four research study grants for emerging leaders on the Coromandel," says Brendon. "We’re fostering our talent to the benefit of everyone.

“I see this as a reflection of the fantastic leadership of teachers across the schools involved in the Coromandel Community of Learning. They are all so passionate about the profession and making a difference.”

In another pioneering move, the group held a joint Teachers Only Day at Tairua School, with a total of 120 teachers attending. The day included two keynote speakers.

“Now we are getting interest from early childhood centres in the area,” says Brendan. “What we are doing here is pioneering a strategic direction where our schools learn together and benefit directly as result of capacity building across our region for the benefit of all. These really are exciting times for us all and its privilege to be a part this process."

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