Last week at a rural school in East Gippsland (Nambrok Denison PS), buses of students from across the Sale Rural Cluster starting to arrive to be involved in an engaging day with their peers to explore the learning theme “Community and Technological advances” with students being involved in learning how these themes were relevant to health services, farming, water conservation, to name a just a few areas of learning.
As students entered the gate at Nambrok Denison, many were heard to say:
“I hope Mary is here cos it was great learning with her last time we came together”
“I hope I get to work with Steve on some of the activities today.”
The cluster day was the latest initiative of the “Cluster Integrated Unit” approach – schools working together on an agreed learning focus, developing learning within the concepts focussed at each school during the school term and coming together at the Cluster Day to celebrate student learning and explore how such concepts are utilised in “real life”. Cluster staff pooled their resources and contacts to bring together community agencies and develop a senior and junior timetable for the day. Students were grouped together to maximise socialisation with students from different schools.
In addition to the student focused learning throughout the day, the structure of the Sale Rural Cluster Days allows for staff to be released from the student activities to come together with fellow staff from their nearby schools to begin the planning for the next focus of learning. This provides a great opportunity to share their experiences, expertise and knowledge with each other, thus building their capacity as educators.
While the cluster has had a long history of working together and facilitated learning for students within areas such as team sports, camps and other extra curricula activities (which are still a key area of the clusters work), the leaders were keen to strengthen the cluster to enhance the learning opportunities provided to their students due to the challenges of schools size, and to focus on improving student education performance.
This was initially seen in 2016 where “middle leaders” from each of the cluster schools held regular meetings with other teachers from across the rural cluster to build peer networks and share the expertise and resources that existed within each individual school setting. The aim of this approach was to focus more on improving student outcomes by fostering an inclusive and best practice attitude to teaching and learning. It has been important over the last 18 months to have the middle leaders leading the teachers rather than being a directive through a ‘top – down” approach.
The long term goal of this approach is to develop a cache of resources around each concept that cluster staff can draw upon and add to, thus enhancing the learning experience provided to students in these smaller rural schools.
Such an approach also aligns with the Wellington Network’s Challenging Learning initiative.
The Sale Rural Cluster has recently become involved in the Country Education Partnership Rural Cluster initiative which will see education leadership teams involved in a range of professional learning activities facilitated by Maggie Farrar from the UK, and supported through a “critical friend” provided by the Country Education Partnership. The desire of this “next step” is to strengthen the cluster and to explore creative approaches to education leadership, utilisation of staff, and sharing of resources – thus enhancing learning opportunities for all students and staff, and support the improvement of student learning outcomes.
In addition, the Sale Rural Cluster will also be involved within the Department of Education and Training “Professional Learning Communities” initiative which will begin during during Term III and involve classroom teachers involved in a range of activities that will build their capacity in working together and hence improve learning within their communities.