Partnerships find solutions to complex challenges

Issue: Volume 102, Number 15

Posted: 16 November 2023
Reference #: 1HAdkN

A research practice partnership which combines academic researchers, professional learning providers and educators to address complex challenges faced by schools, kura and kāhui ako is providing sustainable and tailor-made professional learning and development for some Auckland schools.

Tamariki at Bucklands Beach Primary School will benefit from consistent data collection and the development of PLD designed to address issues with  writing.

Tamariki at Bucklands Beach Primary School will benefit from consistent data collection and the development of PLD designed to address issues with writing.

As a new cluster, Te Ara Bucklands Beach Kāhui Ako has found that working with the Learning Schools model has offered many benefits to its five primary schools, one intermediate school and one secondary school.

With a diverse multicultural population, as well as increasing numbers of neuro-diverse students, kāhui ako co-lead principal, Kelly Slater-Brown says that writing was an area that needed work, particularly post-Covid.

The Learning Schools model was developed by a team including Associate Professor Mei Lai, director at Te Pūtahi Woolf Fisher Research Centre at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, Waipapa Taumata Rau. Mei and her colleagues have been working on a research-focused version of the model since the early 2000s. It’s one of many models and provider opportunities that schools can utilise, and one that has seen success for Te Ara Bucklands Beach Kāhui Ako.

“We wanted to work very closely with schools to solve urgent shared problems of practice,” says Mei.

The original version of the model has a long history of trialling, testing, refining, and developing understanding across countries and contexts. The new version led by Mei in partnership with Tui Tuia has the same processes and partnerships, but shifts the focus from generating research as a key outcome of the partnership to the professional learning and development  (PLD) aspects of the original model.

Drilling into data

As part of the Learning Schools model, with the support of Learning Schools data analyst Dr Serene Wang and the Learning Schools team, schools and kāhui ako gather and analyse data to establish and define a challenge that schools are facing. The initial data collection phase is designed to establish the most influential actions that can be taken to address the hypothesis for change.

Within Te Ara Bucklands Beach Kāhui Ako, data collection was done across the schools, with 20 percent of Years 3, 6, 8 and 10 tested on a descriptive writing piece of work – around 370 scripts were marked and moderated.

“We were looking for consistency across the kāhui ako. Writing leaders went around and delivered a writing stimulus consistently in different classes, then left the teachers to supervise. Then we took every fifth script and anonymised them for marking,” explains Kelly.

“The scripts were all mixed up across the schools and levels. Every school provided some across-school leaders, within-school leaders, deputy principals, writing leaders and we all had some PLD with Tui Tuia at the University of Auckland on how to mark and score consistently.”

The resulting day of professional development provided upskilling opportunities for all involved.

“We would mark for a while, and they would teach  a way of moderating that you could go back and use  with your staff.

“We were interested in the e-asTTle writing areas, as well as the final score. The process told us that  structure and ideas were somewhat lacking across the schools. But we could see that as we were marking, because a lot of children chose not to plan, or they didn’t plan well. Spelling and grammar across the kāhui area was good,” says Kelly.

Once the assessments were marked, the data was inputted by the Tui Tuia team and reports were produced for each school, as well as a report for the whole kāhui ako. 

Good consistent data has provided a starting point and will allow the kāhui ako to measure the impact of their mahi.

Perry Rush, programme director for educational leadership at Tui Tuia, explains that when a school or kāhui ako gets in touch with a problem of practice or an achievement challenge, there is often a sameness to what the data is telling principals.

“You’ve got a problem with writing, it’s largely with your boys, it’s been ongoing for the last five years. Every year the data says the same thing and your response is to try to find a writing expert to teach teachers how to get better at teaching writing.

“Our challenge is, why are we doing what we’ve always done and getting what we’ve always got? How do we really drill down into what that data is saying with a deep understanding of the context of the school in partnership with staff,” he says.

Spelling and grammar were good across the Te Ara Bucklands Beach Kāhui Ako.

Spelling and grammar were good across the Te Ara Bucklands Beach Kāhui Ako.

Domino effect

Mei describes the initial data collection phase as looking for the domino that can be flipped over to hit others to effect the greatest change.

“Sometimes there are so many issues. The data analysis is quite central because we have to understand what is going on before making assumptions. There’s a danger that the more senior we get, we may more quickly jump to conclusions based on our prior experiences.

“The goal is not to turn teachers into statisticians, but to support them to use evidence that leads to more effective practices to  support their students,” says Mei.

An example would be a secondary school that is struggling with literacy. The data may show that some students are not meeting curriculum expectations and struggle with many aspects of literacy at the same time.

“If a student is struggling to draw the key points from a text, it’s going to impact every single curriculum area. That’s most likely to be the domino; the most important thing to gain some traction across first,” explains Mei.

Every phase of the model is used as a learning opportunity, for example  marking and moderating opportunities are used to upskill and build capability.

Making sense together

After fully understanding the complex challenge in
phase 1, the Learning Schools model grows into phase 2, the resourcing phase.

“What is our best attempt here at bringing change? What are the dominos that we push over? Once that hypothesis has been established, phase 2 is really backing up the school with additional professional learnings,” says Perry.

The Learning Schools model is designed for complex challenges that require more than ‘off-the shelf’ PLD packages, says Mei.

Following the data collection phase, Te Ara Bucklands Beach Kāhui Ako held a PLD day where writing leaders from all the schools looked at the outcomes, talked about the strengths at their schools, and areas that needed to be worked on.

While the overall results were quite similar, each school in the kāhui ako will be doing PLD to cover different issues, and some schools have booked professional development for teacher-only days with a writing expert. Having consistent data means that schools can define what they need from PLD providers, says Kelly.

“Sometimes when you bring in an outside person, you have to push hard to get exactly what you want. But this now will be, ‘What have you noticed? What do you need in your context? What can we tailor to help your school?’”

Co-constructing PLD

When co-constructing professional learning, Mei says they look at all the data with schools and work together to unpack how they can make PLD actionable and practical within the structure of the school.

“We think the partnership is important for getting everybody on the same page and figuring out all the right knowledge bases to make this thing happen in the school.”

For Te Ara Bucklands Beach, a kāhui ako-wide PLD day will be held in term 1 2024 working with literacy leaders on building capacity around the deeper features of ideas and organisation. 

These leaders will take the PLD back to their schools and the writing assessment will be repeated in term 2 to measure the impact on teaching and learning.

Kelly is principal at Bucklands Beach Primary School and says after her school received their report, staff met to discuss and break down the information.

“Our area was around structure which was one of the things that had dropped off after Covid. I released my associate principal, Moira Rowlands, who is also the writing curriculum leader, and two staff at a time who marked the remainder of their e-asTTles with Moira, who inputted the data immediately.

“They looked at strengths, areas for focus, and what was happening around structure and planning. She did the day’s professional development with them at the same time, which was powerful, and they came away feeling that was the best PLD they’d had for a while.

“It was on the spot, instant feedback and they were able to look at their own writing samples in depth,” she says.

Sustaining the model

By phase 3 of the Learning Schools model, the goal is that the school or kāhui ako will have the knowledge and skills to tackle other complex challenges.

“The whole idea is that by taking people through this process, not only do they sustain a particular piece – the problem, the solutions, co-created PLD and continuing to embed that new practice – but they can see there’s a process you can go through if you’ve got another complex challenge. We all have lots of complex problems in schools,” says Tui Tuia practice partner, Brenda Martin.

For Mei, “if it’s a simple thing, use the simplest solution. But we are interested in the much more complex, tricky places where schools and researchers don’t necessarily have the answers individually, but we can work on them together.”

Read Research-practice Partnerships for School Improvement: The Learning Schools Model(external link) by Mei Lai, Stuart McNaughton, Rebecca Jesson, Aaron Wilson.

Te Poutāhū | The Curriculum Centre facilitates and offers a wide range of PLD support. To find out about all the Ministry of Education’s offerings, and see which might best suit your school or kura, visit link).

To learn more about Learning Schools, visit link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:29 am, 16 November 2023

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