For several years the growing number of experienced principals moving towards retirement had been touted nationwide as an emerging problem and many surveys were indicating that there was a dearth of ably qualified people ready, willing and able to take up the batons.
How then to build the leaders of the future?
Move forward four years and the Nirimba Learning Community (NLC) is now a thriving hub of nine diverse schools providing targeted professional development for all staff at all levels of teaching proficiency and leadership experience.
Key to the ongoing success of the NLC is a shared belief in the importance of collaboration and promoting best practice, combined with shared leadership of all planning and decision making.
Meetings take place each term and allow all nine senior executive teams to meet and discuss how to enhance and promote teaching, learning and leadership in each of the schools.
Excellence through Community
First to be developed was the community network logo and viable head teacher networks.
Networks where collaboration and planning based on identified faculty needs would shape all subsequent professional learning.
The NLC has had a direct impact on students and classrooms across the nine schools.
The provision of regular inbuilt evaluation has ensured that relevance and continuous improvement are a central feature.
The increased ‘buying power’ of a community of schools allows the planning team to secure a range of speakers/experts/educators to address group identified areas of need connected to the whole student.
Also intrinsic to the success of the community is that each of these very different schools has provided contextualised and research-based expertise in different areas: boys/girls education, middle school initiatives, andragogy, intensive English and this expertise is shared through a variety of forums, at four different levels.
Senior executive meetings, head teacher (HT) network meetings, Key learning area (KLA) specific meetings and NLC wide sessions incorporating more than 500 staff.
All of this professional learning is responsive to staff identified interest, need and projected NLC future directions.
Some other key initiatives have been the leadership mentoring program that has enabled staff to ‘shadow’ DPs and principals from other schools.
The Executive Development Day that focussed on building the skills needed by the executive to move into the next stage of their careers and the Aspiring Leaders Day where 40 classroom teachers gave up their Saturday to attend TPL on building leadership.
Cross-NLC STEM project development days and a positive behaviour for learning sharecase also added to the growth of staff and leadership.
A final significant initiative is the NLC Awards in which staff who are demonstrating excellent practice in leading, teaching or administration are nominated to receive an award.
Working smarter rather than harder
That ‘isolation is the enemy of improvement’ is an oft-quoted maxim and this is especially true of teaching – a paradoxical profession in which we are surrounded by people yet undertake many of the essentials of the classroom alone.
One of the major successes of the NLC has been in working together to translate systemic priorities into efficient, localised quality practice and to ensure that all change is manageable and workable in each school context.
A community of schools affords staff at all levels increased opportunities to learn and collaborate, thereby more effectively developing their capacity to work in new ways and meet new and evolving educational challenges.
One final ingredient in the NLC’s success is that it was not an artificially created community, rather it grew organically out of the shared recognition that in changing and challenging educational times, schools need to work together.