Crossing the Tasman to go to school – a great opportunity

Issue: Volume 97, Number 1

Posted: 29 January 2018
Reference #: 1H9hE6

In its second year, the South Australia and New Zealand Principal Exchange offers principals unique professional development. Janice Gulbransen from Nayland Primary School, Nelson, and Chris Roberts from Streaky Bay Area School, South Australia, talk about their experiences.

The size and location of the schools was an adjustment and an enlightening experience for both Janice and Chris. In Streaky Bay Area School, some students come from a 60–80km radius and they take four buses to get to school. Far West Partnership Schools, the Streaky Bay equivalent to Kāhui Ako, are within 300km of each other!

Nayland Primary School on the other hand, is in central Nelson and their Kāhui Ako schools are within 5km of each other. Janice says, “I have a better appreciation of the geographical challenges area schools face and what a long day it can be for a lot of students and staff.”

Janice and Chris spent four weeks observing each other at their own schools. Janice says, “Shadowing Chris made me think about the decisions I make and why I make them, as well as being able to question Chris on how and why he makes his decisions.”

For Chris, shadowing meant their schools weren’t left to their own devices as he learnt alongside Janice. “I have a very capable leadership team and this exchange has helped develop their capacity as well.”

He also believes if deputy principals act as principals for the duration of the exchange, it would further their leadership capacity and allow principals to focus entirely on the learning opportunities the exchange offers.

The exchange was an opportunity for Chris and Janice to look at how they stay fresh in their thinking, to develop and learn – so they don’t get stale! Janice says, “I had to sit and think about where Nayland Primary is now and what the next steps might be.”

Chris and Janice agree that an open mind was critical to their learning experience.

Differences in education systems

Both schools have a focus on improving writing, particularly boys’ writing. In Streaky Bay, Janice was able to see John Fleming’s Explicit Instruction Model in action. Chris says this teacher-directed process of supporting literacy and numeracy has lifted results, particularly in writing. 

Janice wants to research this further and then take a couple of her staff to Streaky Bay to see it in action. She says, “It’s such a valuable experience to have that hands-on learning – to understand why something works and how.”

The exchange has been affirming for Chris in terms of some of the practice in his school. It’s also allowed him to explore new ideas and reflect on what he can learn from what is happening in New Zealand.

For example, despite Nayland Primary School having a small Māori population, cultural competence and awareness is intertwined in school life. Unfortunately, Chris says, Australia is years away from similarly embedding its indigenous culture, and is not helped by having numerous languages.

Chris also noticed the difference in the level of risk averseness between the two countries in terms of health and safety. At Streaky Bay, they are quite constrained compared with Nayland Primary School. He says, “In New Zealand, common sense prevails, but in Australia it’s over the top; when visiting an area school in the Nelson region I saw kids down the back of the school on their bikes without supervision – that would never happen at Streaky Bay.”

Streaky Bay School’s isolation and hot climate has meant adjusting their teaching to continue to provide learning and employment pathways for students.

Chris says, “When the wine industry was booming and creating jobs in South Australia, there was only one other vineyard 300km away, so our kids weren’t exposed to that industry.

“Now, they prune and harvest grapes in our school vineyard; the wine is produced offsite and comes back to us to put on our student-designed labels before being sold locally and across Australia.”

During the exchange, Chris visited modern learning environments in Christchurch. He says, “This was useful because in Australia, we have a focus on STEM learning and quite a few schools have received large capital works grants to promote STEM-friendly classrooms, which is about moving to an open-plan learning style.”

They also visited Nelson schools, and area schools in the wider Nelson region, which gave Janice an insight into how area schools work hard to overcome isolation while providing a diverse range of experiences for students. Janice believes that we could be better at sharing experiences and learning from area schools. “We are relatively close geographically; there really is no excuse!”

An ongoing bond

Even before the exchange, Streaky Bay Area School had a New Zealand connection. Chris says, “We’ve been fortunate to employ a New Zealand language teacher and he knew I would receive a traditional welcome so was able to prepare my mihi and he helped me learn it.”

Janice would have liked another week to get immersed in some of the initiatives at Streaky Bay. She says, “We’re searching for something to make a difference in writing and if we can explore things further that might be that catalyst for difference, why wouldn’t we and that’s what this exchange offered.”

A highlight for Chris was his family joining him in New Zealand in his last week and his three kids experiencing a day at Nayland Primary School  and Nayland College respectively. “They got to learn about what happens in schools outside Streaky Bay and they loved it.”

Chris and Janice agree the exchange isn’t just about them, but is also about what they bring back to their students and staff that will enhance learning.

They also agree that principals wanting excellent leadership development should apply for the exchange.

For more information about the programme, visit link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 29 January 2018

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