IES: leveraging strong leadership for big gains

DELANEE DALE, principal of Maungawhau School in Mt Eden, Auckland, says participating in a Community of Schools will allow for better collaboration with neighbouring schools.

What first attracted me to the IES Communities of Schools initiative was the potential to work collaboratively with like-minded schools in our local area. Having experienced the benefits of being involved in the Learning and Change project led by Dr Brian Annan for the previous two years, I knew first-hand how powerful it was to work collaboratively and cooperatively with other schools on an achievement challenge.

Too often, as principals, I believe we can become bogged down with the administrivia of the role, where principal cluster meetings and forums are driven by communicating new legislation. What I loved about being part of the Learning and Change network was the honest dialogue which occurred around really important issues, such as student achievement, and the inroads we made in addressing these issues. This was not a top-down, principal-driven solution, but really involved our staff, students and whānau.

Derek McCormack, vice-chancellor of Auckland University of Technology, recently published in The New Zealand Herald an article entitled ‘Straight-A students can’t ignore the C-skills”. By C-skills, he is referring to communication, creativity, curiosity, collaboration, cooperation and caring within a sense of community.

These skills are strongly connected to the intent of The New Zealand Curriculum (see the curriculum’s vision/values and key competencies) and the skills that we hear extolled at educational conferences and in our professional reading. These skills that we wish to develop in our students, we can, as professionals, model and adopt.

Sharing experiences and expertise

Joining a Community of Schools has meant that I work more closely with three other schools within my current principal cluster, but also with schools from an adjoining cluster, who also contribute to the same secondary school. This has enabled us to make strong connections with a new group of schools, from primary through to secondary, and a local kindergarten. Having to agree on some achievement challenges as a group has ensured that we are already working collaboratively by talking face to face, sharing information, our experiences and expertise.

The sticking point for most schools is the lead principal role. This has not been an issue for our group. All schools bar one in our Community of Schools are on a 4–5 year ERO review cycle. This, I believe, is indicative of the strong leadership/capability within our group, yet we all agreed very quickly on a lead principal. The rumours and gossip about the lead principal having control over other schools and trustees was, in fact, a misnomer. It has been clarified that the lead principal will be responsible to lead the contract around the agreed and approved achievement challenges.

For our school, which is a large primary school (650 students currently), we can reward leadership within our school with Management Units, but we sadly lack funding for teacher release. Joining a Community of Schools will provide us with further opportunities to acknowledge specific teacher expertise to work across our schools and teacher expertise to work within our schools during school time, which will develop teacher capability and, in turn, will positively impact on all our students.

I believe that I have been employed to do the very best that I can for our students. Participating in a Community of Schools will be a powerful mechanism to enable this to occur.

Joint Initiative: Putting children at the centre

JAN TINETTI, principal of Merivale School, Tauranga, believes the Joint Initiative Communities of Learning model puts children and their learning needs over administrative structures.

As principal of Merivale School, the only decile 1 school in Tauranga, I get approached almost every week by someone with a new innovation that they assure me will accelerate the academic achievement of our children. Over the years, our team has become very adept at evaluating the promises being made.

We have developed a framework to measure the effectiveness of any initiative to ensure we only implement something that will enhance the lives of our children and our community.

So we looked closely at the Government’s Investing in Educational Success scheme to see how effective it would be for our children and community.

When looking at any initiative, we use the following questions: Does it put children at the heart? Does it focus on the challenges that we face at Merivale School? Does it maintain the integrity of the Merivale community culture? Does it ensure Māori potential is realised?

Using these questions as our guides, we concluded that in its present form the IES Communities of Schools model was not for us.

We concluded it was too focused on administrative structures. The model seemed inflexible in its ‘one size fits all’ top-down structure. For instance, in our school community we have identified the need for a seamless delivery model of education from our contributing early childhood education centres to our schools.

We need to ensure that collaboration with those ECE centres is authentic and that we would be equal partners in any new initiative. That does not fit with the IES hierarchical approach. Yes, we could have invited our ECE colleagues into collaboration, but the model clearly started with schools and that would have undermined real collaboration.

At Merivale, the curriculum is delivered through both English medium in our mainstream classes and te reo Māori in our Māori medium classes. Our community values both sides of our school as equals and strongly asserts both must develop together while maintaining their own integrity.

Our team believed that participation in an IES Communities of School cluster would identify a narrow achievement challenge and would disenfranchise one side of our school. As the majority of our cluster schools do not offer Māori medium options, there would be a real risk that this team could easily be marginalised.

Children’s learning the driver

But now we are looking closely at the Joint Initiative Communities of Learning model and are excited about the possibilities this model offers our children and our community. This model is about children’s learning. The children are at the heart and their learning is the driver, rather than administrative structures.

The model is responsive and flexible with time, money and people. It is shaped by the community itself, therefore communities can better meet the needs of their children and local community.

For instance, it supports our identified challenge to create a seamless delivery model of education right from early childhood because our ECE colleagues can be equal partners in developing solutions. The ability to pool time and money means our community could see our primary and ECE teachers working together in an approach best suited to all of us.

While there are required leadership roles, the ability to have a range of other options could ensure that a role could be established to ensure the needs of our Māori medium team aren’t marginalised.

Our school community supports the concept of a shared responsibility for leadership across the community rather than one leader role. This flexibility will allow communities to choose from a range of leadership skills that their community needs, rather than have one leader doing it all.

It gives schools and ECE centres the opportunity to choose teaching roles and resourcing, such as time and professional learning and development, that focus on cultural competency, community engagement and on learners’ transitions. We strongly support a major focus on Māori and Pasifika achievement.

This model is a big breakthrough and represents one of the biggest changes in many years to the way we deliver education. But as a school principal, what’s really excites me and my colleagues is that, once again, children and their learning needs have been put firmly back into the centre of the picture.


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