I teach in a secondary school and am an across-school teacher for a community of learning (CoL | Kahui Ako).  I am part of building a new form of educational leadership charged with addressing the systemic underachievement for some of our students. Your reaction to these first two sentences will depend on if you are a supporter or a cynic. Either way, I urge you to read on.

Supporters of Kahui Ako tend to focus on the failures of our educational system. “Time for radical change,” they say.  “The system has been failing students for decades and this new approach is what is needed to deal with the wicked problems that we face.”

Disclosure: I am a supporter.

The detractors of communities of learning? Well, I have heard them describe CoLs variously as like dropping a new cog into an already running engine or, more bluntly, as a neo-liberal waste of time and wasted on self-serving ladder-climbers. In my own school, the ‘knockers’ tend to make snide comments about what I got up to on my ‘days off’, roster me to relieve classes or supervise students because ‘you’re not doing anything, you’ve got a free then’ and they say things like, “If I had your job, I wouldn’t just run talkfests, I would actually do something.”

So it was with interest that I tuned into the recent media reporting about how CoL’s are functioning.  However well-intentioned, there was disappointing lack of substance and a disturbingly poor use of statistics.  It is not good enough provide survey summaries, quote from a policy playbook or tweet from the sidelines. There is a lack of information about what a working Kahui Ako looks like and a troubling lack of voice from the teachers and principals out there ‘in the field’.

In the Kahui Ako that I work within, we are crafting new ways of working that are founded on manaakitanga, ako, whanauatanga and mahitahi. We have aspirational goals about creating systematic changes that focus on qualitatively different inputs that will, in time, allow us to meet our achievement challenges.  And we do stuff. And it is bloody hard work.

Pleasingly, you don’t have to rely on my anonymous anecdotes.  Academic research is underway into how communities of learning form, and then learn to function.  I have personally been interviewed and I believe the findings about the conditions for growing good leaders and building great communities will be both complex and insightful for educators.

Against a backdrop of a dedicated, but stressed, educational workforce, it is important to make room in your day to inform yourself of what is happening locally within communities of learning. There is the real possibility that there is a quiet paradigm shift happening in your community.

So, I urge you to contact the across-school teachers in your own community of learning and find out for yourself the details of what is happening. It is only through this dialogue that we can get back onto our shared common ground; improving outcomes for students.

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