Better Public Services Result 5 - Case Study: No school is an island: meet the Waitakere Community of Learning
A group of 12 diverse schools in West Auckland are collaborating by sharing their knowledge and skills to help all their students achieve.
Communities of Learning (CoL) enable teachers to work together to share and benefit from each other's experience.
Introduced by the government in 2014, CoL form part of the Investing in Educational Success initiative, and aim to lift student achievement and offer new career opportunities for teachers and principals.
The Waitakere CoL is made up of 12 West Auckland schools: Birdwood School, Henderson North Primary, Holy Cross School, Pomaria Primary, Ranui Primary, St Paul's School, Summerland Primary, Western Heights Primary, Henderson Intermediate, Liston College, St Dominic's College and Waitakere College.
Waitakere College deputy principal and CoL leader Shona Smith became involved in the development of the CoL in August 2015.
"The process of bringing the schools together started in late 2014 and took time, but from a broad and varied place we emerged with a shared purpose and vision," she says.
"It's important each school in the CoL maintains its uniqueness and is successful, but it's just as important for each school to work together, to maximise teaching quality and lift educational achievement for every student."
The Waitakere CoL is comprised of a diverse group of students and teachers.
"Waitakere College principal Mark Shanahan was instrumental in the formation of our group," says Shona.
"From the start, Mark took collaboration to a new level when he suggested creating a CoL that included both state and Catholic schools."
The student population of the Waitakere CoL is ethnically diverse, with 21 percent Māori and 29 percent Pasifika in the 2013-14 primary cohorts, along with similar proportions of Pākehā and smaller numbers of other groups including Asian, African, Middle Eastern and European migrants.
Waitakere CoL conference participants being welcomed into Waitakere College
The Waitakere CoL held its first conference in June this year.
The meeting brought together Across Schools teachers and Within Schools teams to begin sharing knowledge and ideas on how to lift achievement for all students.
This involved looking at data from all the schools in the CoL and pinpointing particular areas that needed positive change.
That change includes raising achievement levels for Māori and Pasifika students in reading, writing and maths, increasing the percentage of Māori and Pasifika leaving school with NCEA Level 2 or higher, and improving the retention of Māori students.
"We have strong Māori and Pasifika representation across the CoL including on boards of trustees and a genuine commitment from all teaching staff to lift their knowledge and practice of culturally responsive pedagogy."
Shona says the boards of trustees across the CoL have been supportive and committed and all 12 have now signed up to a shared 'memorandum of agreement', and hope to hold a combined board meeting later this year.
"We know however that the real challenge is still in front of us, as we discover what actions and interventions in practice will make a difference to student achievement.
"It is one thing to know the challenge but how to actually make change is the bigger challenge."
A shared vision
Shona says that by combining resources, the schools that make up the Waitakere CoL can begin to realise their big plans.
Two plans in particular are to involve more whānau and community input, and consult students about what they believe would help them through school.
"Our students are our success story and we want them to share their journeys and dreams. Our job is to listen, enhance their stories, support their journeys and help them realise their aspirations," she says.
Another plan is to build more effective transition processes to support students as they move from primary and intermediate and into secondary schools.
"Some of our schools have already held combined Matariki celebrations, which brought parents and whānau from the primary and intermediate schools into the secondary school to watch their tamariki perform. This is just a tiny first step towards creating smoother pathways for all our learners," says Shona.
"Most of this year will be spent getting to the start of the implementation process and while we can't do everything, we will definitely give everything we have to ensure our achievement challenges are realised and the journey for our entire CoL community is inclusive and rewarding."
"We are working as a team rather than as islands and we will gradually understand what is possible at each school - we know we can't do everything!"