There are a group of small rural schools located near Sale, in East Gippsland, who are doing things differently. The Sale cluster consists of eight schools with a total of 275 students. These schools vary in size from 16 through to 73 students.
Like many smaller rural schools, they have faced numerous challenges to ensure they provide their students and communities with the quality educational opportunities they deserve, need and desire. The schools have historically collaborated on sports carnivals and large excursions. However, the Cluster recognised that they could build on their collaborative success and broaden it to other areas of their schools such as curriculum development and provision, staff utilisation across the cluster and leadership collegiality.
Through this collaborative mindset, a shared approach in their curriculum planning and provision was developed. As the collaboration strengthened a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was developed in 2018, which became the framework for the formalisation of the collaborative vision for the future:
“The Sale Rural Cluster believes that all of our educators are collegially responsible to work together for improved teaching and learning in our schools and community.”
While providing an overall framework for the cluster, the education leaders recognised that the MoU would not necessarily lead to change in teaching and learning unless those involved had a willingness and commitment to make the collaborative approach work. As a result, the Principals meet on a regular basis and work tirelessly to bring staff together and ensure learning programs are developed across all of the diverse educational settings.
The Cluster now provides a broader range of curriculum, learning activities, resulting in improved outcomes for students. Staff from across the Cluster meet together in year level groupings every term to reflect on their practice and develop their collective planning, shared resourcing, and assessment approaches.
One example of this approach is the Cluster Science program, which is delivered to students in the upper year levels through a blended learning approach of online platforms, complimented by joint learning days.
Additionally, at the beginning of each year all staff (both teaching and support) across the Cluster are involved in an extensive Professional Development program that allows for the development of collaborative intentions and programs for the year. The collaborative approach has also allowed the education leaders to develop the leadership skills and capacity of their staff, especially through the development of Cluster middle leadership roles.
The CEP worked as a facilitator and critical friend to aid the development of the Sale Cluster. This has allowed the schools involved to engage an independent and authoritative voice on rural education to assist in the creation and maintenance of an innovative approach to education provision in the Sale rural region.
If you would like to find out more about the Sale Cluster, or how the CEP can assist you in building a collaborative approach to learning and teaching in rural Australia, please get in touch with the CEP.