In 2004 I was compelled to write an article where I described the manner in which a cluster of schools worked together to bring about school improvement . It was published in Curriculum Perspectives: Vol. 24 No.2. At the time I was Principal of a P-12 State School in Central Queensland and privileged to work with the committed principals and staff of the schools surrounding me.
We embarked on forming the cluster with the main aim being to encourage the sharing of talents and skills of teachers across the cluster, provide professional development that was meaningful and purposeful, develop a common approach to effective assessment and reporting and most importantly, provide smooth transitions for students entering secondary schools from the 5 feeder schools. In effect, we were seeking to build a professional learning community.
We began by sharing our visions for our individual schools and sought to find a common ground in the direction we wished to take our cluster. We also needed to identify our own strengths and areas where we could build our capacity in curriculum knowledge and understanding. This required us to firstly think about our own professional development needs.
We acknowledged, as a group, that to be effective in leading change in our schools we needed to be curriculum leaders. As a consequence, many months of professional development in leadership, pedagogical practice, stage based learning, Middle Schooling philosophy, and integrated curriculum design and assessment and reporting commenced.
We took our learnings to our respective staff and provided professional development ‘in situ’ either personally or by calling upon each other. It should be mentioned that to access district (now regional) professional development was not always possible for us due to distance and cost.
As time progressed, working parties were established within the cluster of schools to take carriage of the various components to building a learning community, which ultimately resulted in staff taking on leadership positions within their schools and later, being successful through gaining promotions to other schools.
A common language of improvement developed across the cluster in pedagogy, planning and assessment and reporting. The structure of units of study was in an integrated format and parents and students were regularly consulted about the curriculum content and delivery. Our communities had a voice and became more engaged with their schools.
One of the teaching Principals in the group commented that the approach we took was particularly valuable to small schools stating, "We are no longer inventing our own wheel. We are working in unison with one large wheel turning. I can see that it is really making a difference to my students – particularly those whom I previously found difficult to motivate.”
The approach we took as Principals in a cluster in 2003 clearly demonstrated the value of working together to achieve optimal success for our students, staff and indeed the entire school community. And here we are 15 years later! We now see learning hubs and clusters of schools being established with similar intentions to those of us in the rural cluster all those years ago.
So it's a simple concept - If we work together we can only succeed in our quest for continuous school improvement. It just makes sense!