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The honest teacher: True confessions of a language teacher on the path from confusion to clarity

Introduction to the NLC

The title for this case study depicts the journey of those involved as the NLC has deepened their understanding of the New Zealand Curriculum and its implications for them as language teachers. The choice of title was motivated by the sense of finding a sense of direction; of putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

The Honest Teacher NLC is interesting in terms of its shared leadership model with all the leaders being middle managers (HODs) rather than senior management. This story reflects the need for such groups and potential issues with implementing the New Zealand Curriculum at a secondary level. Further, it highlights the importance of accessing external experts.

The group is comprised of teachers from six secondary schools and was established at the beginning of 2010. The schools differ in many ways, including both co-educational and single sex schools, urban and rural, and an integrated school. Developing an understanding of what the New Zealand Curriculum means in practice for language teachers is a key focus for the NLC. The participants want to close what they saw as a gap between the document and what it means in the classroom.

The NLC is led by a leadership group of three teachers, who are all Heads of Languages (HoDs) in their respective schools. Along with sharing the organisational load, the leadership team allows for significant professional and personal development in relation to the leader’s roles as HoDs.

Activities and processes

The NLC provides an opportunity for the language teachers at each of the participant schools to come together on a regular basis. This group had met previously but the NLC reportedly has meant a higher value is placed on the meetings and there is more focus.

The meetings have a clear structure and purpose. They are organised by the leadership team but hosting meetings has been shared across the schools. This is seen as beneficial as it cuts down travelling time, creates buy-in and shares the planning load. Seven meetings were held in 2010. Three of these were led by school support services advisors and focused on effective language teaching and learning, including key competencies, teacher as learner and inquiry-based teaching. For one of the cluster meetings funds were used to bring Gunhild Litwin to a meeting, which was described as a highlight for the participants, clarifying many of their concerns.

NLC funding has been used for teacher release time, travel and the cost of external speakers. Online communication has been through email and a central wiki. This wiki is used as a repository for information about meetings and to share resources. All NLC documents are posted on the wiki including the workshop programme and notes from completed workshops. The leadership group were funded to attend the NZ Association of Language Teachers conference in 2010. From the conference they were able to bring back both resources and new knowledge to the NLC.

The benefits and highlights for those involved

Amongst the benefits for the participants have been the opportunities to share ideas and develop an understanding of the New Zealand Curriculum and what it means for classroom teaching and learning. They reported growing in confidence through meeting and working with others. Benefits for their wider school communities included being able to share resources from the NLC with their colleagues at school. Also mentioned were the good ideas they were able to put into practice in their classrooms.

A number of examples were provided of material being taken back to schools to trial. One such example was co-creating lesson plans with students. After hearing about the idea at an NLC meeting one participant decided to trial it. The concept was now being used for all senior classes and was flowing through to other departments in the school. Another participant described working more closely with a teacher from another school. They intended to share classes across the two colleges.

Ingredients for success

Good communication was reported to be one of the main ingredients of success for this NLC. The wiki has played a central role in enabling communication across the NLC. Also important has been having one person as a central co-ordinator, who ensures all communications are sent out. Other ingredients mentioned by the sector leader include sharing the leadership and having the support of the advisors and access to external experts.

The other participants in the NLC reported ingredients such as having a clear aim and purpose; teachers who are passionate about the work of the NLC and support from senior managers in their schools. They also talked about the need for access to outside expertise and having a leadership team who were willing and able to make things happen.

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Published on: 17 May 2011


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