FOR schools in rural and remote areas, where access to valuable educational opportunities is often scarce, it makes sense to pool your resources. Brendan Maher principal of Coolah Central School in central New South Wales learnt this early on in his teaching career. "My first posting was Brewarrina Central School, so I learnt firsthand that being in a very rural remote school, you need to have support there. "My next position was deputy principal access of the Western Access Program and, from that, I sustained and grew a learning community of 16 schools. "I saw then the power of using technology mixed with quality teaching and leadership, and how that can create fantastic opportunities for rural schools to offer more," Maher says. In an effort to find out more about connected learning communities and really harness their benefits, Maher is jetting off on a five week study tour in March, to visit some of the best examples in Australia and New Zealand. "I start by flying out to New Zealand [and] spending two weeks there working with Core Education, several universities looking at distance learning and development of school networks around curriculum and teacher quality," Maher says. The educator will then work with Charles Sturt University, University of Newcastle and Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, looking at connected learning and development of quality teaching in remote areas, before heading south to work with the Tasmanian E-schools. Maher will look at how that supports curriculum sharing, diversification of curriculum, and staff professionalism. "So, it's looking at the way we use technology, more importantly using what we currently have to support each other." His trip has been made possible through a $15,000 Premier's Teachers Mutual Bank New and Emerging Technologies Scholarship he won last year. Like any meaningful school excursion, Maher will have work to do when he returns. "By June/July I'll have a final paper submitted to the Premier's Office, but I am working on pilots of the ideas already ... in terms of sharing senior curriculum between some of the central schools in my area, to offer more for the kids here, trying at a cost neutral basis." One initiative he is looking at is a staffing pilot for connected schools. "As an example, we have a position here next year where we're going to be delivering 2 unit music ... Baradine [Central School] has a fantastic legal studies teacher. So as a transfer, or a bit of a barter system, they deliver legal studies to us, we'll deliver 2 unit music [to them] through videoconferencing, face-to-face, a full-blended learning model." Photo: Brendan Maher, middle, with Premier Barry O'Farrell and education department Director-General Michele Bruniges.