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Network learning communities at John McGlashan College

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In this video, Iain McGilchrist talks about his involvement in a network learning community and how this has supported him in his role as a secondary middle leader.


So in Dunedin we have a network learning community, focused on English, where middle leaders, mostly HODs, but there are some less experienced teachers, we meet several times a year and we discuss many of the issues that do get discussed through English Online and other forums like that. We look at our programme planning - we look at ways of doing less, but doing it better, and working a bit more smartly. It was a very good way of rolling out principles, values, key competencies of the curriculum, and getting some really good dialogue, discussion and understanding going about that.

It was a very very good way to avoid the trap that I fell into when I first saw the draft version of The New Zealand Curriculum. I got all excited and I turned to the back and I looked at the achievement objectives, and I thought ‘How can I rule up my mark book?’ I thought of all the pretty colours and all the pens I could use, where the columns would go, and that’s not the point of it. Through that network learning community - I think the keyword there really is 'community' - it has been a very good way of, in some cases, arguing and sharing ideas, and critiquing other people’s ideas. I think, certainly in my case, I felt a lot more confident in dealing with things - we don’t feel so isolated and on our own, and we don’t feel so vulnerable and under the microscope when we have things like department reviews or curriculum reviews or ERO.

Being part of the network learning community has been terrific for the way we have further developed things in English here. I think it’s definitely given our department here the confidence to think about things before we rush into them... We don’t rush into them any more. We think carefully. We implement slowly. We keep monitoring how successful these changes are, rather than making enormous wide ranging changes and we don’t really have a clear idea of how successful they are. I think it’s really given us the confidence to take our time and do it right.

I think it’s really useful for any head of department to look outside their own school, as well, and how they might share their own learning. There are many ways you can do that. You could, for example, offer to present a paper at a subject association conference or you may get involved with English Online or any other online community. I know that with English Online there are lots of people on there who just watch, they lurk and they read, and they could contribute because there are doing lots of great work, that I know, and I’d really recommend that people think about doing this because it improves your own teaching enormously. It improves the way you do your own planning, it gives you the confidence to try something new, it really does.

There are quite a few challenges in being involved with learning outside of my day-to-day job; of course, balancing the time is the biggest one. But I just find it so much more beneficial to get involved with smaller projects than to take a day off school and go and do an in-service course somewhere else. It really personalises the learning specifically for you.

My advice to other secondary middle leaders who are looking to extend themselves in this way is - try something. Start small, pick a little project. One really good example of that is a level 2 English class I taught last year. There were some very interesting characters in there who I knew from around the school. They were a wonderful class and I was just concerned that because they were all such diligent students, mostly, that they would do their utmost to give the correct answer. Out of that came the Maverick English project - some people might have heard of that from English Online. That started so small, like just a little one word - maverick - that we would use in the lesson. Then it became a way of thinking; then it became a way of planning; then I was asked to present a paper at conference about it. Doing that one little thing, deciding that I’m not going to let my students write the predictable answers in an essay, I’ll call them mavericks, and we’ll encourage innovative thinking. That changed the way I planned my whole senior English course.

Published on: 18 Jul 2011