Principal exchange inspires on both sides of the ditch

Issue: Volume 95, Number 19

Posted: 25 October 2016
Reference #: 1H9d5E

Photo of Tracey DavisIt was Tracey Davies’ first visit to Aotearoa and it began with her first pōwhiri.

The principal of Richmond School in Adelaide arrived at Te Wharau School in Gisborne as one half of the South Australia/New Zealand Principal Exchange Programme.

This inaugural exchange was jointly established by the New Zealand Ministry of Education and the South Australian Department for Education and Child Development. In the spirit of building connections and gaining practical experience, the programme enables two principals from schools with similar-sized rolls to switch places for one term.

Tracey says that from her first day as principal in Gisborne, she felt overwhelmed by both the kindness and cultural richness of her new school community.

“I missed my [Adelaide] school and I missed the kids, but I absolutely loved the Māori culture,” she says.

“I loved the songs, the meaning, the language and I just loved that the kids wanted me to learn it and celebrate their culture. And I don’t know how to explain kapa haka. We have school choir and school band but kapa haka – it’s so incredible! There were so many experiences like this."

“The students taught me so much – their language, their culture, their appreciation for everything that they get offered, their smiles in the morning, and their humour.”

Tracey says that while the welcoming pōwhiri was unfamiliar to her, it was a sign of very special things to come.

“When I went for my pōwhiri, I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was so nervous. When it finished I just said thank you."

“At my farewell assembly on the last day, the kids called me with their song, and I can’t even explain that – the feeling. A couple of the older girls had tears in their eyes because we’d been on a journey together.”

Tracey is reflective about how the exchange has changed her as a principal, which includes but is not limited to playing the ukulele and experiencing her first earthquake.

“My Gisborne students have taught me about the importance and significance of whānau – not that I didn’t already share that – but they’ve reaffirmed for me that it’s about relationships and allowing them to know and own their own identity."

“I learned to play the ukulele with a group of students and teachers and I even bought one."

“On the first Monday of Term 4, I’ll walk into my Adelaide classroom and go ‘kia ora’ and they’ll look at me and think, ‘What’s happened to her?’

“Then I’ll get my ukulele out and I’ll ask what kai we’re having,” she laughs. “It’s going to be interesting.”

Diversity is our strength

"While there are differences between the South Australian and New Zealand education systems, both share a desire to make school a better place for all students," says Tracey.

“A great help to me at Richmond School is our governing council – terrific people who want to make school a better place, not just for their kids – for all kids."

“We talk about how we can get better. I present our student improvement plan to the governing council and they are part of the external review process, which is equivalent to ERO."

We have a great school, we work really hard and we have a common agenda. It’s all about being better today than we were yesterday. That’s the mantra for our staff and kids.

“Steve will no doubt tell you that their decile 2 rating doesn’t tell you much about Te Wharau School, and I know our category 5 rating at Richmond is the same – it only relates to the amount of money you have."

“What we have in spirit, the unity, whānau and community far outweighs any of that. We have a saying at Richmond that our diversity is our strength and we are rich in lots of ways, and I know at Te Wharau it’s the same."

“There are some amazing, passionate community and whānau-minded people making a difference. The buildings are full of pride, classrooms vibrant, conversations deep – that’s what matters."

“At Richmond School it is the same: we have 42 cultures and 36 languages and we celebrate them all. It’s about pride and respect and giving all our families a voice. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Curriculum

Two years ago Richmond School started using the online Australian Curriculum, which replaced the previous 10-year-old curriculum.

“At our school, the curriculum is the what, it’s not the how,” says Tracey.

“If I’m a year 3 teacher and I join Richmond School, then it’s really clear what my students are expected to achieve at the end of year three learning. How we get them there is up to individual teachers or groups of teachers to decide."

“Previously, the curriculum had a two-year cycle so it was always a grey area. For example, if students are in year 1 and they’ve already achieved this and they don’t have to do it in year 2, are they an A or a B? "

“Teachers found that really difficult because they were doing a lot of prejudging. With the new curriculum, it’s on the evidence of what that child’s done that year, so there are really clear indicators."

“What I like about The New Zealand Curriculum is that it has examples. So if you are achieving this level in year 1 in maths, here’s an example of what it would look like. So you can take the child further or know what you have to do to get the child to reach that target.”

Partnerships

Tracey explains the South Australian ‘partnership’ model, which is similar to the New Zealand system’s Communities of Learning/Kāhui Ako. Richmond Primary School is in the West Torrens partnership and includes another 17 institutions, ranging from full and part-time kindergartens to primary schools, special schools, a school of languages, adult senior secondary schools and mainstream high schools.

“Like anything, you have to form relationships before you can even start to do anything else,” she says.

“When you get 17 leaders in a room with different agendas, schools, contexts, and headsets, it’s really hard to find common ground straight away. You have to open up your data, which is no different from a teacher sharing their practice. You have to feel confident and comfortable with your peers to talk about things in a trustworthy, productive way."

“We had to develop protocols and a partnership improvement plan, similar to achievement challenges here. We had to work out how to use our data when it’s so different."

“However, I believe that it’s now given me access to a group of colleagues that I can ring up about anything. I can ask them to tell me their stories – how they did this, did it work, how can I learn from their experience?"

“Slowly but surely, while I have absolute clarity about my responsibility to Richmond, the relationships I’ve nurtured from being in the partnership have allowed me to think about ‘our’ kids because they’re from ‘our’ patch, our partnership."

“There were times of absolute frustration at the beginning – what was the point, we’ve been out of our school for a whole day and what have we got out of it and who’s going to do the work that we’ve missed doing. But it’s one of those reflection things. Now, I can feel real traction,” she says.

Inspiring work at Te Wharau

Tracey will take some ideas from Gisborne back to Richmond School.

“I’ll be recommending some of Te Wharau School’s processes to my governing council, such as online enrolment, online visitor sign-in and initiatives around student voice that they do so well,” she says.

“I like the way the Maths Support Teachers programme works at Te Wharau, as well as the personal inquiry work teachers do with their own practice. Teachers own it and they can say: this is what we’ve tried and I’ve still got to do further development. It’s something I think I’ll introduce when I get back,” she says.

Tracey was impressed by Te Wharau’s CHARM programme – cooperation, honesty, attitude, resilience, and manners.

“I like the authenticity of it, I like that the kids know it and they get it,” she says.

“I could say to the kids – are you being charming and what part of charming were you? They might say, I was cooperating, and I would say well done for being charming! I loved that.”

Challenges of the exchange

An integral part of the exchange involves reflection, says Tracey.

“I did a lot of reflecting – why I do things the way I do, why do I lead the way I do? I hope I was helpful in some ways and was able to contribute to Te Wharau’s leadership journey. As a leader, you’re expected to have a certain amount of knowledge but how do you get that prior knowledge so on day one you can do the things a leader is expected to do."

“There were some things I didn’t know or wasn’t privy to so I couldn’t take part in some of the dialogue. I didn’t know enough history and I knew I wouldn’t be there long enough to make decisions with long-term implications, whereas in your own school you just know."

“Steve and I both would have liked a glossary of acronyms!”

Highlights of the exchange

“The highlight of my exchange was the people, the people, the people!” says Tracey.

“They were so welcoming. When I arrived at Gisborne airport, I was met by staff and a member of the board and they continued to look after me. They instinctively knew when to take me out to do something, when I needed my own space, when I was missing home – they were like family but they weren’t family. I feel like I’ve known some of them for a really long time, not just a school term."

“I’m really thankful for their trust and for them being powerful learners because there was this unknown person coming into their world who was going to be their leader – I can only imagine how they were feeling because I know how I was feeling."

“They were so inclusive and asked things like, ‘Come and have a look at what we’re doing, would you like to come to our class, do you want to come to a boil up?’

“Someone said to me, ‘This exchange is not just about being a better leader but about being a better person’. I have no doubt that through this experience I am going home a better person. How can I not be?”

Powerful learners

In 2015 Richmond Primary School embarked on a journey to develop skills, traits and dispositions that represented a ‘powerful learner’. We want our children to be successful in whatever path they choose in life and contribute positively to society.

We established a common understanding of what a powerful learner is and the dispositions we wanted and needed to model and, in some cases, explicitly teach to each other, our students and community.

We now have a culture where we take risks, never give up, learn from our mistakes, have a go and ask questions, to name a few. The exchange enabled me to walk the talk and be an example of a powerful learner to my staff, students and community – of this I am really proud.

I enjoyed sharing our journey with the Te Wharau community – we made some great progress – and they are continuing their own journey, which I look forward to hearing more about.

I also want to thank the Ministry of Education in New Zealand and the Department for Education and Child Development here in South Australia for the opportunity and support they gave me.

– Tracey Davies

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 5:30 PM, 25 October 2016

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