A $359m education initiative announced by the Prime Minister last week has a direct focus on raising student achievement. It involves recognising excellent educators by creating four new management roles for schools – change principals, executive principals, expert teachers and lead teachers. A major tenet of the plan will be a focus on collaboration between schools.
If National wins the election, it plans to introduce the four new roles from next year.
Change principals: tasked with turning around a struggling school. Twenty positions nationwide, each receiving a $50,000 allowance per year on top of their base salary.
Executive principals: ‘highly capable principals’ with a proven track record who will lead and mentor other principals in their community. Two hundred and fifty positions nationwide, $20,000 allowance per year.
Expert teachers: will work with the executive principals in specific areas like maths, science, technology and literacy. One thousand positions nationwide, $20,000 allowance per year.
Lead teachers: ‘highly capable’ teachers with a proven track record who will act as a role model for teachers in the wider community. They will have an open classroom to allow other teachers to observe and learn. Five thousand nationwide, $10,000 allowance per year.
The commitment of such a large sum of money to support what is effectively a 'culture-change' strategy for New Zealand education heralds the most significant change since the 1989 reforms of Tomorrow’s Schools which sent us along the pathway of school autonomy and competition.
PPTA President Angela Roberts says that the $359m investment, while not being a silver bullet, is a positive step and she believes that the new roles will lead to more collaborative approaches. She says that enabling schools to support each other rather than compete against each other is a good response.
Gail Gillon, pro-vice chancellor at the College of Education, University of Canterbury also welcomes the more collaborative approach and says that the government has accurately identified one of the key challenges in the schooling system.
It appears that most public response to the initiative has been cautiously optimistic. While this is a good start, as educators, we can’t afford to be uninvolved, standing back to see if it will work. Real transformation of schooling needs to involve everyone. To bridge the gap between good ideas and effective action we will need to act collectively, each one of us personally stepping outside our ‘autonomy bubbles’ and starting to make a bigger space for collaboration in our professional lives.
So how do we shift our mind frames from acting as working groups – as people acting alongside each other, to functioning as teams where collective action contributes to a whole result? History has shown that events where large numbers of people have made a powerful move together have usually been born out of an experience of difficulty or injustice. Maybe education’s current disparate impact on a large percentage of New Zealand children makes this one of those important times.
However with the best will in the world, we can’t all be executive principals and lead teachers. So where to begin? Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher is about small, sustainable acts and appropriate technologies. His notion of ‘smallness within bigness’ is useful in determining the value of our individual input. We can start small.
So, in partnership with National’s initiative, what if several thousand acts of real collaboration and teamwork by New Zealand teachers were equally as powerful as an investment of $359m? Working together, could we exponentially increase this investment in our future?
Let’s not just stand back to see what happens, let’s lean in, operate within Schumacher’s ‘smallness within bigness’ notion and function as a team with this initiative. An opportunity for a ‘leg up’ has appeared – let’s take it.
For all of the officially released documentation about the initiative see http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/EducationInitiatives/InvestingInEducationalSuccess/KeyInformation.aspx
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