Friday, 31 May 2019

Dancing on the Shifting Carpet - Natural Hazards & Resilient Communities

Over the last two days I have attended the Natural Hazards Research Forum. Although quite a departure from my professional educational focus, there is still a lot in common with my blog themes 'Dancing on the Shifting Carpet' and dealing with uncertain futures.

I would say i attended, rather than participated. I would have liked to raise some questions during panel discussion, or in the case of many, make some statements that weren't really questions, but i felt very out of my depth professionally. So i left it to the scientists in the room and listened, took notes, will be following up on research links, and had quiet conversations with many people during the breaks.

I attended as an 'end user'. Though the terminology 'end user' was bandied about a lot over the two days, i felt the meaning was pretty fuzzy. I thought for many, the end user could be the organisation who had commissioned and funded their research, with specific purposes in mind. I felt qualified to identify as an end user, as the research and issues being discussed significantly affect me as someone living with Natural Hazards at Awatarariki Matatā.

So i was there to listen to what the best and brightest in Natural Hazards Research had to share about their work and what the implications could be to support our community at our time of need.
At the moment our community is being asked to consider managed retreat with an acquisition strategy that will be on the table for a short while (if at all - where is the money?) at the same time we are subject to a regional plan change request instigated through the Whakatane District Council that could result in our property rights being extinguished. This is 14 years since the debris flow event of 2005.

I was heartened to hear from many of the researchers that they are engaged in participatory research with high levels of community involvement and co-construction with affected communities. This was also quite sad to hear personally, because why hasn't this process happened for us?!
One of my hopes in attending was to extend my networks and identify potential experts who would be willing to look at our situation and work with us when we get to the Environment Court (i can't see where else this will go to achieve resolution). However, i wasn't brave enough to solicit this during my time there, as early responses were cagey, most worked for organisations that were already captured by our councils (meaning they had already worked with our Council, and therefore had a conflict of interest so they couldn't work with us), and some of the panel discussion about political risk highlighted the reluctance of some scientists to be bold and work with the hard issues 'this decision could be career ending.'

It was really interesting to hear of all the work going on, and be in a completely different professional space. How useful was it for me? It doesn't feel like it has been very useful at the moment, but perhaps in my notes are some gems that will make a difference when the time comes, or a connection made that will step up and be useful to us in the future.

Iain White, University of Waikato raises the points that it just isn't the hard science - social science is really important too. It's time that the hard conversations were had, instead of continuing to kick the can down the road. Iain is supervisor to PHD student Christina Hanna. Her work about Retreat should be available in September and we are looking forward to reading the chapter about Matatā.
There is a lot more work being done in this are $100 million in the Budget for this Research Stream. I will be definitely watching this space. Here is the twitter stream from conference, much more coherent than my notes.

Friday, 10 May 2019

It's Official No Communities of Online Learning

Yesterday in Parliament the Education Amendment Bill (No 2) went through it's 3rd reading and was passed into law. This officially means there will be no CoOLs (Communities of Online Learning) in New Zealand.

Hon. Nikki Kaye argued to keep in place some provisions for online learning, and made an amendment to include a Review of Online Learning (which was not passed). Her argument was that you can't take this away without putting something in it's place. We supported this argument as we were working towards being a CoOL and relying on it to support the development of online learning moving forward. Yet the government counters that there never were CoOLs anyway, so why would you need to replace them, and that online learning has been happening successfully in schools for many years so therefore the status quo remains.

The VLN has been operating in schools for 25 years this year (10 for the VLN Primary). But for the last decade the VLN communities have been seeking a way to be sustainably and fairly resourced in schools, to grow innovative ways of learning online and to develop this really successful collaborative model further to be accessible for all NZ children. We looked to CoOLs to be the vehicle for this.

To assume the status quo will continue is not helpful to the work the VLN communities have been doing and undermines the potential of what they can contribute to NZ education if they were fully supported. The reality is, Secondary VLN communities are completely self funded through their participating schools. This is additional funding schools have to find to access this learning. This has been a challenge in enabling equitable access for secondary schools, in the disparity and inequity of funding given to Te Kura who provide similar services, and to the viability of regional clusters. Over the last decade several clusters have disappeared (CantaNet, AorakiNet, WestNet, TaraNet, CoroNet, BayLink).

The VLN Primary would not exist without partnership with the Ministry of Education. Our small schools can't afford to completely self fund this collaborative initiative. Over the last decade we have proved that there are important benefits for our children in collaborating to extend their learning opportunities. Yet, every year we have to go back to the Minister with cap in hand, to make a case for continued funding. Surely after a decade we need to get this right, get the funding right, get the framework right.

Some consolation, and its encouraging to hear Minister Hipkins say, that there is some work that needs to be done in this area, and with our recent consultation with the Tomorrow's Schools Review Taskforce, I am cautiously optimistic we will be able to move forward with online learning in a future focused schooling system. We will wait, and advocate, and be persistent about following through on any opportunities for our schools. I hope we can get there sometime in the next decade.

Finally to note, a huge thanks to Hon. Nikki Kaye who has been a champion of future focused learning and the VLN Primary over the years. Without her support the VLN Primary would not be where it is today.

You can read the whole of Hansard and video here. There is lots of discussion about VLN, Virtual Learning and Communities of Online Learning throughout.

VLN Primary Submission to Repeal of Communities of Online Learning
Future Schooling, Communities of Online Learning and Rural Education.
VLN Primary submission to Tomorrow's Schools

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A Research Agenda for Online & Blended Learning

With Communities of Online Learning coming closer on the horizon NOW is a good time to determine a research agenda that will inform regulations for CoOLs and best practice for online learning in NZ. There is a body of local research I have written about previously here, and some of this research goes back two decades and is still relevant today. A thorough literature review and scope of the current educational landscape would help identify gaps and needs and raise key research questions.

I recently read an excellent paper by Cathy Cavanaugh that provides a good insight into how research for online & blended learning should be undertaken.
"To truly understand K-12 online and blended learning research, you have to dig deeper
into the components that make up K-12 online and blended learning. In other words, there are so many variations in design, instruction, facilitation, purpose, and content, no single study will answer everything we need to know about K-12 online learning. It is more important to explore the components and the research surrounding those components.
In addition to digging deeper, there are at least five key areas that any K-12 online and
blended learning educator should consider. They include:1) asking the right question; 2) answering the critics; 3) appreciating the complexity; 4) understanding resources; and 5) exploring current research."
The right question is NOT Is face to face learning or online learning better? The answer to this is "K-12 online and blended education is as good as, and is sometimes better and sometimes worse
than face-to-face education." It doesn't really tell us anything. We need to finding out under what conditions does online and blended learning work well.
Cathy gives some examples of findings such as - we know that successful online students are self-directed and motivated; Colleges of Ed are not preparing teachers to teach online; successful programmes not only train their teachers to teach online, they also train their students to learn online; high quality programmes push the boundaries and are underpinned by good data.

Learning Spanish online - VLN Primary School 
Answering the Critics - this resonates with me because of the huge criticism of online learning that resounded when CoOLs was announced, from people who had no knowledge of this area of education. These critics don't understand that online learning "is a multi-faceted process that involves such things as high quality and interactive content, teachers with strong and specific pedagogical skills, training for parents and students, and strong mentoring and scaffolding opportunities."
Instead they "see online and blended education as replacing all teachers with machines or they picture a student sitting alone watching videos for 8 hours a day. As a matter of fact, one of the most raised concerns, particularly related to online education, is that online students get no social interaction. Many of these ‘critics’ do not realize that online students often spend more time interacting with their peers and teachers than face-to-face students do. They don’t understand that online classes often require students to leave the computer to exercise (i.e., PE class), to go visit a pond (i.e., science experiment), or to go to a museum (i.e., history or social studies)."

Make sure you read the whole paper here.

I am really looking forward to being part of the development of Communities of Online Learning  and ensuring we have high quality online learning opportunities for our children.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


In April I was quoted extensively in this article by Education Review on the VLN Primary & CoOLs. I discussed issues of sustainable resourcing, privatisation, competition & accountability. This article stemmed from a discussion with Jude Barback (Ed Review) ahead of the release of the Education & Science Select Committee report on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill. The report was released quietly with no comment from the media (except for the PPTA) and hugely overshadowed by the simultaneous release of another pivotal education review report the Productivity Commission report on 'New models of tertiary education.' The cynic in me would wonder if these two landmark educational policy reports were deliberately released to dilute the comment and feedback. So much to read, so much to process!

So what was in the Education & Science Select Committee report in relation to CoOLs? Well not much. There was very little of substance that has been amended from the original proposed bill apart from the extended timeline and the amalgamation of the section on provisional accredited cools into the main section on Cools. So really no surprises, this report reflects the majority view.
The concerns noted by the minor parties are also echoed in parts of our submission to the committee and it is good to see they pay particular credence to submissions from Dr Michael Barbour (Michael is on our Governance group). You can read the full report here.

Since the report was released there have been a couple of Q & A reports and a Departmental report. The Departmental report is a summary of key points raised in the submissions - 40 pages on CoOLs. Q & A's I have summarised the parts on CoOLs in this document.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Effective networks = Collaboration

Collaboration is a key theme in my research question and in my reading I have found it is closely linked and underpins effective school networks. Santiago & Fullan (2016) equate effective networks with collaboration that deepens learning, grows professional capital and is a positive driver for system improvement.
They say that on its own mandated collaboration (top-down) nor grass roots (bottom-up) collaborations will work. Effective school networks need both approaches. 
In the NZ setting you can see CoLs (Communities of Learning) as being driven from the top down; although necessary as they provide the resources, structure and support necessary to sustain long term collaboration. Offset this with grass roots collaborations that have been happening for many years - ICT PD clusters, VLN communities, LCN networks & many more. These have been where the heart of collaborative practice and communities of learning have grown in NZ but have been unsustainable because they have lacked the ongoing systems resources and support.

Dr. Cherie Patel-Taylor
Patel-Taylor (2014) supports this view distinguishing between systems collaboration and a culture of collaboration. 
Systems collaborations are more technical in nature - structures, roles, resourcing - they are necessary but not enough on their own. A culture of collaboration takes place in the the learning spaces within and across classrooms and schools, and involves a focus on sharing practice, co-constructing new learning and evolving cycles of inquiry.  Patel-Taylor (2014) defines collaboration as “the process of sharing learning and engaging in dialogue, to create joint new learning that informs future actions focused on the learning of leaders, teachers, students and/or the wider community, over time” (p 8).

School leaders need to be just as concerned for students in all schools as they are in their own schools - this is indicative of a higher moral purpose and 'Systemness' where people deliberately contribute to and benefit from the larger system (Santiago & Fullan 2016). It can be illustrated as well in this adaptation of Spackman's Model:
Derek Wenmoth - adaption of Spackman’s Moral Scale of decision making

  8 features of effective networks

  1. "focussing on ambitious student learning outcomes linked to effective pedagogy;
  2. developing strong relationships of trust and internal accountability;
  3. continuously improving practice and systems through cycles of collaborative inquiry;
  4. using deliberate leadership and skilled facilitation within flat power structures;
  5. frequently interacting and learning inwards;
  6. connecting outwards to learn from others;
  7. forming new partnership among students, teachers, families, and communities;
  8. and securing adequate resources to sustain the work."
    (Santiago & Fullan, 2016, p 10)
Essential features of effective networks in education - Santiago & Fullan 2016
What features do you recognise in your schools cluster, CoL or network? Where are the missing pieces that would make your network more effective and sustainable? Read Santiago & Fullan's work linked below for a really good overview of this.

Santiago Rincón-Gallardo, & Michael Fullan. (2016). Essential features of effective networks in education. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 1(1), 5–22.
Taylor-Patel, C. (2014). Networking – Weaving the net; gathering the pearls. Auckland, N.Z. Retrieved from
Wenmoth, D. (2013, February 16). Change or Die: vision, trust and support. Retrieved 30 April 2017, from

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Collaboration - different viewpoints

The simple definition of collaboration can be a double-edged sword - working for the collective good or conspiring to change the status quo. This is a reflection of the current education climate where schools are being strongly encouraged and incentivised to form collaborative Communities of Learning. In the educational sector, some look at this from the view of No.1 (image below), and some see No. 2 and are skeptical that collaboration risks undermining their own schools and is a tool of the neo-liberal agenda and school reform. I think they are both right but from the point of view of No. 2, I think we are long overdue for a system change (without the ideological jargon & baggage of  a neoliberal agenda).

To read more about the lead up to Communities of Learning in NZ:
The benefits of collaborative groups particularly for rural principals is recognised:

Iain Taylor - NZPF President 2016
"Collaboration is a practice that professional educators have always incorporated in their practice. It provides the opportunity to share both challenges and solutions and to create solutions where they don’t exist.
Collaborative groups are also great sources of PLD for schools and many share resources which they then agree to channel into a common area for development, whether that is for teachers within schools or for leadership. It has always been a challenge for isolated or rural principals to participate in collaborative groups for PLD, because of the extra travel component.

However, it is perhaps even more important that rural principals are able to connect with each other because they are already isolated with little or no contact with other principals. [my emphasis] The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) has become very popular with isolated schools as they can collaborate at least virtually, even if not in person."