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Coffee, cake and twiducate (archived)

Introduction to the NLC

This NLC has a dual focus and the sector leader wanted a title that reflected both of the foci: the collegiality and support participant principals show each other, and the emphasis on meeting student need through technology. Hence the name Coffee, Cake and Twiducate.

This case is interesting because of the unique nature of the sole charge schools involved, and because of the focus on technology. It exemplifies networking and interaction between multiple communities of practice, through and within the NLC, and how important these communities are for small, relatively isolated schools. It was formed in 2010.

While it is 'officially' comprised of four schools there are nine sole charge schools within the wider geographical region. Invitations are extended to the principals at these other sole-charge schools to attend any professional development days planned for the NLC. Some of these additional schools also belong to other NLCs.

One of the goals of the NLC is to provide a network of support for sole-charge principals who have unique needs due to the size of their schools and the potential loneliness of their role. This includes reducing their workloads as principals and classroom teachers. There is an intention to moderate online for National Standards.

The other goal is to utilise digital technologies in ways that minimise the isolation their students can also face. Using tools such as Twiducate, Voice Thread and Skype the NLC is hoping to enable students from across the schools to not only communicate but also share and peer review their work and undertake joint assignments.

Activities and processes

The NLC meets regularly at a central venue for professional development days. These always involve external experts and, as already mentioned, colleagues from other sole-charge schools. In 2010 they had three such days focussed on using digital technologies, the moderation of mathematics, reading and writing, and National Standards. They began each of these days with a ‘what’s on top’ session during which principals ‘unload’, sharing professional concerns in a safe, understanding environment. In addition, members of the wider sole-charge network regularly share resources and materials. They support each other informally between the meetings, and there is regular communication between them.

The benefits and highlights for those involved

The main benefit reported from this NLC for the principals was the networking and the opportunity to share resources, concerns and solution in the context of very small schools. The NLC plays a critical support role, for not only its direct membership but the wider network also. For the members of this wider group, their colleagues are often the only people they feel they can really talk to about the educational and management issues they regularly face. As all the principals come from a similar professional context there is a strong empathy for, and understanding of, any issues aired. Other benefits mentioned include access to good professional development through external experts and the creation of a wiki, where they are able to ask and answer questions and share resources.

There have also been benefits for their school communities. The introduction of Voice Thread was seen as providing a valuable tool for enriching and widening the learning experiences of students, and was a highlight for many of the principals. This was evidenced in the way in which students from across three schools were sharing their writing, commenting on each other’s work and developing friendships as a result. Other students were debating across schools using Twiducate.

Another benefit for the wider communities was the professional learning experienced by the principals, which enhanced their leadership. The resources and new ideas they have been able to bring back to their classrooms also benefit their students.

Ingredients for success

A key ingredient for success, for this NLC, has been its focus on the needs of sole-charge schools. This has meant the activities of the NLC are all immediately relevant to the participants. Another key ingredient has been the high levels of trust between participants, their respect for confidentiality and honesty, and the cohesiveness of the group as a whole.

Also mentioned were the qualities of the sector leader who is passionate about the NLC, collaborates and consults, and makes things happen. S/he is flexible in the planning of professional development sessions, willing to make changes to ensure the needs of the participants are met.


Published on: 17 May 2011