New network for learning support leaders

Issue: Volume 97, Number 11

Posted: 21 June 2018
Reference #: 1H9jKX

SENCOs and school-based leaders of learning support can now easily share knowledge and provide professional support to each other, thanks to the Learning Support Network.

A new network for those working in the learning support field means SENCOs will be able to connect, communicate and collaborate.

The Learning Support Network (LSN) is hosted by Massey University and is initially funded by the Ministry of Education. The online space houses resources that members themselves co-create, curate and evaluate. It also provides webinars with guest presenters, regional and national hui event notifications, publications, links to organisations and websites and videos by, and for, teachers and school-based leaders of learning support. Over time it will offer credentials towards a university qualification through blended learning modules.

One hub, two hubs, three hubs, four…

The LSN consists of four hubs, two of which are currently live.

Learning support leaders are now able to network and explore professional development opportunities through the Learning Support Network.

Hub One, the Open Network, is free to access. It provides a space for teachers to share resources and have informal discussions about the learning support sector.

Hub Two, the Member Network, is where teachers can join up through an annual subscription to view webinars, find out about learning support hui meetings, inquire into practice and read about other learning support professionals through the ‘spotlight on practice’ section.

Hubs One and Two both launched in February this year. Hub One currently has over 400 participants members while Hub Two has over 100 members. The last two hubs, three and four, are currently being developed.

Once it becomes live within the next month, users will be able to take short courses for professional development in Hub Three, Professional Learning.

In Hub Four, the Formal Network, teachers will be able to follow a formal learning pathway and work towards a tertiary qualification in Learning Support (subject to course approval by the Committee on University Academic Programmes). It is hoped that learning done within Hubs Two, Three and Four can be cross-credited into a tertiary qualification by 2019.

Creating the network

Mandia Mentis, Associate Professor of Inclusive Education at Massey University and one of the LSN designers, says most schools will have a leader of learning support or a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO), but the position can be somewhat isolating.

“SENCOs don’t have a formal pathway for professional development in terms of an ongoing qualification, so in 2016 we set up a national short course for the SENCOs. It had about 75 members and what we found out was that those on the course really appreciated the ability to connect with each other and share resources with each other. The LSN is based on the success of that network and wanting to continue the online forum discussions and resource sharing.”

LSN developers aimed to take an innovative approach by blurring the boundaries between formal and professional learning.

“In traditional learning models, professional learning and formal learning sit in two separate camps. We’re looking at blurring that boundary as we see learning as being lifelong, so that when you finish your formal qualification you should be engaging in ongoing professional learning.

We also see it as being life-wide so whatever context you are doing your professional work in, that’s part of your professional learning. And then life-deep, which is developing your professional identity within that community of practice. That notion of lifelong, life-wide and life-deep is important to us.”

This idea of blurring formal and informal learning means learners can incorporate their study into their everyday work context, Mandia says.

“It’s authentic learning, so SENCOs can learn as they practise – it makes it anytime, anywhere learning. It’s learning with colleagues within a community of practice, it’s relevant, it’s making a difference and it’s driven by the community, for the community. It’s learning that is much more integrated with work.”

A new online experience

Hobsonville Point Secondary School SENCO Vanna Blucher says she is a big fan of the LSN. Vanna participated in the small scale version of the network, which was trialled a couple of years ago, and then became one of the earliest members of the LSN.

“You spend a little bit of time looking through the resources and engaging with other centres, but what you get later on is this toolbox or kete of knowledge that you can pull from without having to reinvent the wheel. I think for any of us in our role that’s really helpful because we just don’t have time,” she says.

“No school is the same so whatever you find in there you can, generally speaking, either use straight away or you can adapt to fit your context.”

By using the LSN, Vanna is able to dig deeper into her practice and access the knowledge and skills to formulate best practice in her everyday professional life.

“There are webinars on there and there’s some deep thinking that goes with it. You can participate in a conversation so you hear other people’s ideas live as they happen. You get a chance to share and reflect with other people at the webinar on what you thought,” Vanna says.

“I like that level of collaboration. The fact that it’s online and that it’s national is really valuable because you’re hearing from all of the different SENCOs outside of your normal cluster. It gives you a different perspective and you hear different ideas.”

While schools offer professional development opportunities to all teachers, there was previously no professional development or professional learning group focused specifically on the SENCO role.

“They’ve been able to tailor the learning and tailor the site specifically for people in our roles and that’s really hard to find because not everybody gets that.

“The biggest professional need it meets is it feeds my thirst and desire for knowledge, and it makes me want to do everything better all the time.”

As well as providing an avenue for constant growth and challenge, Vanna believes the LSN will also make it easier for a SENCO to obtain a qualification around their current work.

“Because of the way it’s structured and because of the way it’s tailored, it’s not off-putting. It’s very welcoming, it’s very familiar, it’d be a very natural fit and a very easy way to go on to do the next step. It makes perfect sense.”

For more information visit the Learning Support Network(external link) website.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:12 pm, 21 June 2018

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