Community celebrates launch of Rotorua Central Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako

Issue: Volume 96, Number 2

Posted: 13 February 2017
Reference #: 1H9d62

It takes a village to raise a child, and a community to educate a young person. That is the philosophy of the six schools that have formed the Rotorua Central Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako (CoL).

Rotorua Central CoL is very clear about a shared vision for its students. Intrinsic to the identity of the CoL are the central Rotorua school community, local iwi Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru and Te Taumata, a group of Rotorua businesses, and researchers from the University of Auckland.

The COL journey to date

It has taken two years for members of the CoL – Glenholme School, Malfroy School, Rotorua Boys’ High School, Rotorua Girls’ High School, Rotorua Intermediate, and Rotorua Seventh-Day Adventist School – to meet and learn about each other, build those relationships further and go through the various other stages, from sharing information and data to having their achievement challenges endorsed by the Minister of Education.

CoL lead principal Nancy Macfarlane says that one of the highlights for her as a CoL leader took place at one of its very first meetings.

“The principal of a high school said to me, ‘I’ve been the principal of this high school for 25 years and yet it’s the first time I’ve ever set foot inside Glenholme School’. For me, that was a real highlight because right at the beginning the CoL had already broken down some barriers and set some milestones. That was exciting and things have progressed and developed from there.”

Chris Grinter, principal of Rotorua Boys’ High School, agrees. “All schools are busy,” he says. “We focus on matters that pertain to our school and often we don’t connect with those around us. The marked difference since the CoL has been established is that we now visit primary and intermediate schools and they come to our high school. That collaboration is really useful and beneficial and the potential for that to make a difference for our young people is huge.”

The CoL has provided the opportunity to for CoL leaders to hear each other’s stories, understand what’s important about each other’s schools, students and whānau, and realise how much they all have in common.

“We’ve gained a great understanding of everyone’s school and the particular context in which they work and the people they’re working with,” says Gary de Thierry, principal of Rotorua Intermediate, “which all helps in terms of our growth and that of those we work with.”

Nick Brell, principal of Malfroy School, adds: “You go into the process with your own ideas for your particular school so it’s great hearing other ideas, fresh ideas, and that’s the point of bringing people together. You end up listening more than you speak and you learn a lot.”

As a past student at Glenholme School, Rotorua Intermediate and Rotorua Girls’ High School (where she is now the principal), Ally Gibbons is very excited about the CoL.

“To be able to work with the others on our achievement targets is exciting,” she says. “In terms of contributing to the CoL, this is a community and it’s about a community initiative for all of our students. Knowing the pipeline that they journey through before they come to us – what’s happened in their schools, what data they’re bringing with them, being able to put faces to names of the data – is great.”

Two across-school leaders have resulted from the CoL working together for the first time. Sue Caudwell is a junior teacher at Glenholme focused on students with additional learning needs and Caroline White is a secondary teacher at Rotorua Boys’ High School focusing on mathematics and, to a lesser degree, NCEA Level 2.

“What we found in the beginning was we were all coming from very different perspectives,” says Sue. “Being involved in the CoL has meant completely new ways of working and it’s been a fast-evolving process, so the key is to be open to learning and working differently.”

“We meet regularly,” adds Caroline, “and it’s great to find out what’s happening in the younger sector because primary and secondary don’t traditionally mix.”

Both agree they are learning a lot of new ideas from each other. “This includes different assessment tools and the language we use with whānau,” says Sue. “Some schools have parent consultations, some call it academic review days, some have whānau meetings, so we’re trying to use the same language across a student’s pathway and we’re doing the same with the The New Zealand Curriculum to help keep whānau engaged.”

The resource teacher: learning and behaviour teachers, or RTLB as schools know them, are used to working across schools in clusters. RTLB provide services to teachers and schools and these could vary from systems to working with teachers and from literacy to behaviour support. RTLB go wherever the need is.

Alison Ramson is an RTLB used to working across schools and these include the schools in the Rotorua Central CoL, so she has experience working in a collaborative model. Her work now includes working across CoL. “I’ve found that CoL have different characteristics but the main thing for RTLB is knowing what the targets are for each so RTLB services meet the needs of each CoL.”

In the past RTLB have this knowledge of the individual schools they work with but it’s now important for RTLB to have this knowledge of CoL so that their services are effective.

Navigating achievement challenges

At the launch Nancy presented the CoL leadership team’s implementation plan for their achievement challenges.

Important components for the achievement challenges are Evaluative Thinking and Theory of Improvement. Evaluative Thinking is a systematic reflective process that manifests as regular questioning, appealing to evidence, learning and developing a warranted argument – a clear chain of reasoning that connects the grounds, reasons or evidence to an evaluative conclusion.

Researchers Helen Timperley and Lisa Dyson from the University of Auckland are facilitating with Hinemoa Anaru from Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru a series of workshops on ‘evaluative thinking.’

Theory of Improvement serves as a platform for identifying evaluation questions and the kinds of evidence that might contribute to decisions as they are being made. The Rotorua Central CoL Theory of Improvement(s) provides a platform for the CoL leaders and schools to navigate in 2017.

Writing is the focus for the CoL this year. Their Theory of Improvement for writing involves buy-in from CoL principals, leaders, across and within school teachers and staff.

Implementation of the PaCT Tool Writing Framework in CoL will increase knowledge and practice and enhance sharing of best practice within and across the CoL schools. The goal is to achieve a common understanding of learning progressions and trust in the assessment data so that student engagement and achievement in years 5–10 in writing will increase.

The CoL has a detailed implementation plan to guide them through 2017 and that plan includes their three other focus areas, with reading the next to be targeted in 2018, then their Theory of Improvement for Students with Additional Needs (these are students who are two plus years below in reading or writing or students with additional learning requirements), and finally mathematics.

Strength in community connections

The Rotorua Central CoL has close to 2,000 Māori students so it seems fitting that their journey has involved close engagement with local iwi.

Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru currently works in 35 Rotorua schools and kura, including all schools in the CoL. It has co-constructed a Future Focused Learning Plan with each of the schools’ leadership teams, then helped with implementing the plan and building the capabilities needed to achieve the plan’s goals.

An important development has been to create Communities of Practice (CoP) as a way of fostering across-schools collaboration. Currently Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru has Te Ohu Hiringa, an iwi CoP comprising representatives from some of the local iwi/hapū, and one of their purposes is to discuss, support and advocate for iwi and hapū education strategies and initiatives that help to raise educational achievement for all students.

It has other CoP, including for junior teachers to meet and share practical ideas for integrating digital technology and building learner agency in junior classrooms. There is also one designed to increase and enhance teachers’ digital pedagogy and competence.

Because schools use a range of tools to assess student achievement and it is difficult to find a ‘common’ tool, it was suggested that Hinemoa Anaru and John Gifford from Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru work with a CoL that was close to identifying a common measurement tool and they found that the Rotorua Central CoL fitted the bill.

The hard work is just beginning

Educating every child in this community is the goal of this CoL and Lanea Strickland, principal of Rotorua Seventh-Day Adventist School, with 45 students, understands the value of collaborating across schools so that every student has an opportunity to access the education they need to reach their potential. Her inspiration comes from her mother Maraea, who was denied an education when she was young but has just completed her master’s degree.

Nancy says the CoL has its students very clearly at the forefront of everything it does. There is no denying the amount of work involved and there is also no denying the commitment of every principal, leader, teacher, RTLB, community member, iwi and others to the students, parents and whānau in this community.

Nancy is a worker, an organiser, a person who makes things happen and this is no doubt why she was chosen as the lead principal for the CoL. It’s been a journey for her, as she prefers to do the mahi in the background and the lead principal role has put her well outside her comfort zone. But she has learnt a lot and that learning continues, as does the mahi.

Nancy’s advice to other lead principals coming into the position is to build those relationships and collaborations. “Sometimes you have those relationships already as we did but it’s about growing them further, visiting and getting to know each other’s schools, and learning through knowing.”

This year will be an exciting year for the CoL as it starts the next phase of its journey with implementation of their achievement challenges.

“It’s an exciting time," says Glenholme teacher Susan Swann-Eason. “It’s a great opportunity for classroom teachers like us and for our tamariki, which is what it’s all about.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:50 am, 13 February 2017

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