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Country calendar: Making it work for us

Introduction to the NLC

The sector leader chose the title Country Calendar: Making it work for us to reflect the rural values that underpin the NLC, that they share who they are 'warts and all' and are 'making things work for them', while ‘having a bit of fun as well'. This case illustrates how educational knowledge can be successfully filtered through a specific lens to provide external knowledge and understandings to a professional learning group.

The Country Calendar NLC was formed in 2008 to support the development and implementation of school-based curricula. The eight principals who make up this NLC are all from small, rural primary schools with rolls ranging from 14 to 185. Maintaining their links to the country and to a rural lifestyle is important to these schools; as are their unique identities. The schools involved are also linked through other activities and associations within their wider geographical setting. However, they are smaller than many of the other schools in the region and this was seen as a defining characteristic in determining their needs with regard to implementing a local curriculum.

The initial focus of the NLC was on understanding the New Zealand Curriculum and what it meant for the participant schools; a sense-making exercise. This shifted to the need to develop school-based curriculum that met not only the requirements of the New Zealand Curriculum but also the needs of their individual communities.

The activities and processes

The NLC meets once a term at the sector leader’s school for three hours. The meetings begin with a ‘what’s on top’ session enabling the principals to share current professional concerns. The rest of the meeting is focussed on readings and other materials the sector leader has gathered from sector leader professional development days, organised by the regional advisors. Each school also shares their progress on their school-based curriculum. The principals are reimbursed financially for their time with a lump sum payment of $125 per meeting. This is seen as recognising the difficulty they have in attending meetings and the cost to their schools.

There is a very strong sense of volunteerism in the way this NLC works. Each of the principals is doing what they need to do; what they would have done anyway. However, through sharing their ideas and progress they make the workload easier for both themselves and other members of the group. What is taken and used by individuals is entirely up to them; the purpose of the meetings is to make a range of ideas and resources available. Further, through the expectation that they will share progress in the development of their local curricula there is an added driver to get tasks completed before meetings.

The benefits to those involved

The NLC has enabled the principals to stay true to what is important to them and their schools, without losing sight of the bigger education landscape beyond their local communities. It has enabled them to focus on curriculum in the context of small schools. Further, the NLC has provided a forum for focussed professional conversations that these principals otherwise struggle to have, due to the size of their schools. In many ways it has become a senior leadership team.

The relationships that have been formed, the conversations they have had and the willingness to share resources and ideas have been the highlights of this NLC for its participants. The development and sharing of schools-based curriculum has both empowered and affirmed the principals and what they are doing in their schools. The benefits they have gained from participation include the opportunity to network, to springboard ideas with other school leaders and to learn what others are doing including how to avoid mistakes made in the past.

All the participants agreed there were real benefits for their school communities from their engagement with the NLC. These benefits were primarily related to the professional learning the principals receive, their access to new trends and pedagogies and a deepened knowledge of the New Zealand Curriculum and how it is being implemented in schools. Further, the NLC meetings were seen as re-energising the participant principals; as reigniting their passion and enthusiasm for change. What they were shown by their colleagues was a catalyst for change in their own schools. As a result of sharing at the NLC meetings many of the schools had developed vision pictures, which formed part of their local curriculum, reflecting what was important to each school and what their goals were.

Ingredients for success

One of the main ingredients for success, for this NLC, has been the strong interpersonal and organisational skills of the sector leader, who was described as an excellent communicator; able to translate what s/he has learnt into something accessible and relevant to others.

The strong similarities across the schools mean they have been able to focus on what is important for them. They have also meant the sector leader has been able to filter what was provided at sector leader huis to ensure relevancy to the NLC.

Further, the small size of the schools means that the principals involved all have some teaching responsibilities. This has made the work of the NLC more directly linked back into the classroom.

Other enablers mentioned include the reimbursement paid to each principal making it easier for them to be away from school, the very structured agendas and the expectations that they will have material to share, that they will have done their homework.

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Published on: 17 May 2011


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