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Dream sleepers: Wakening the dream in everyone (archived)

Introduction to the NLC

The Dream Sleepers title reflects the overall purpose of this NLC. While the principals are not viewed as having 'lost the dream', the concern is that it has been 'lost in administrivia.' The NLC is seen as a way of reinvigorating the principals; of 'wakening the dream.'

This case study illustrates how it is possible to facilitate professional learning conversations that critique and challenge practice at an early stage in the life cycle of a cluster. The shared belief of the participants was that they did not have three years to work on developing trust or shared understandings, before they began to work together at the desired level. The needs of their students were more immediate than that. As a result they formed what has been called an “intentional group,” one that is highly deliberate and focussed on the task.

Five principals, from urban primary schools, belong to the Dream Sleepers NLC. They cover a range of deciles. The membership was purposively selected to ensure a group with the same philosophical values and beliefs. The goal of the NLC is to provide 'a better place for kids to achieve at' in each of their schools. They want to 'go beyond superficial chit chat...to go quicker into a model where [they] could bare problems.'

The work of Patrick Lencione on high performing teams has informed the processes and culture of the NLC. Lencione believes that trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and attention to results are critical. This NLC purposefully engages in deep conversations, critiquing practice and helping each other solve ‘puzzles of practice.’

Activities and processes

Initially the principals met for one day to talk about what they really wanted to do and achieve. They employed a facilitator for this day and focussed on Lencione’s work. At the end of this day the mechanics of the group were outlined in a team charter describing how things would run and clearly articulating the purpose of the NLC.

Since then the NLC has met once a term. Each of these meetings follows the same agenda incorporating three key activities. First is the sharing of a ‘puzzle of practice’; something that is happening, or has happened; providing an authentic learning situation that enables deep reflection. Successes and challenges since the last meeting are then shared before engaging with a professional reading provided by one of the members. This reading will be related to the ‘puzzle of practice’ from the preceding meeting. The reading will have been circulated prior to the meeting.

All members have a role at each meeting and the responsibilities are rotated. For example, the principal who presents the ‘puzzle’ at one meeting will provide the related reading at the next.

Staff from the different schools have also had opportunities to visit other schools in the NLC.

The benefits and highlights for those involved

The benefits for the Dream Sleepers participants have been their continued professional growth as a team and as individual principals. They reported being more likely to stop and consider different points of view and engage in learning conversations as a result of their work in the NLC. They also reported having moved out of their comfort zones, becoming more self-aware. One principal reported being less grumpy at school! Also mentioned were improved understandings of the New Zealand Curriculum and the support and guidance received from colleagues.

There have also been a number of benefits for their school communities, in particular with regard to capturing student voice. Four schools have begun to capture student voice as part of the teaching/learning cycle and all five schools have talked to their students about what authentic and rich conversations look like. In one school class blogs have enabled students to share their insights. Other outcomes for schools include the establishment of professional learning groups.

Highlights have included the ‘puzzles of practice’ and the use of video to deconstruct practice. Linking the reading to the ‘puzzles’ has meant that the research has become more relevant to their daily practice.

Ingredients for success

The Dream Sleepers NLC was purposively formed based on the philosophies and value bases of the principals invited. This meant that there is agreement on the big issues while they are able to challenge each other on their practices. This was seen as important for the culture of the group. Everyone in the group is held accountable to both the students in their schools and to themselves.

The charter is an essential ingredient of the success of the NLC. It can be referred to whenever needed and clearly describes the expectations and protocols for the group. Spreading the work load and ensuring relevancy by directly linking the professional learning to practice have also been important ingredients.


Published on: 17 May 2011