We continue to make progress towards our cluster goals and while challenges remain, the achievements of the regional cluster are significant so far.
The key goal of developing the capacity of the core group of teachers, both in their ability to develop strategies for effective blended learning and their willingness to lead change has continued to take priority. There is little doubt that the majority of this group of teachers continue to make progress in their adoption of effective strategies for blending learning. This is quite visible with the growth in the use of online class spaces (whether using Moodle or another tool), but also in the rapid adoption of ePortoflios with students. The latter seems to be an area of real interest and development across the country at the moment and the idea of learner centred spaces has real appeal for many of our teachers and schools
The involvement of a significant number of new teachers at the end of last year and the beginning of this has been heartening. As a result of intensive nature of the first year a small number of teachers dropped out of the University course and involvement in the project. Most of these schools failed to find a replacement, meaning they were only involved at a peripheral level. A growth in the numbers of teachers this year, means that the vast majority of our schools are involved as well. This has been an important development for the future sustainability of the regional cluster and the continued development of cohesive approaches to blended learning. We need our schools to share and work together on this in the future and it doens’t help when a few aren’t really involved.
What has been especially interesting is the growth of teacher leadership amongst the core group. A real sense of community has been developed over the course of last two years and the benefits of this are becoming very visible. Where once we (the official project leadership I suppose you would say) had to give a lot of direction, now the teachers take the initiative and direct themselves and each other. As has already been mentioned, they have organised themselves into focus groups and are actively collaborating on common goals. Our goal of getting teachers working together virtually, as well as face to face is now a reality as we see teachers who are now very comfortable working with others online. It reaffirms for us the power of teachers as leaders, but also the development of communities of practice for professional learning. Connecting teachers is a key driver of the regional cluster and should also be a key component in any approach to professional learning nationwide. It works exceptionally well as long as it is focused.
There are still challenges that continue to slow progress. While we have the backing of the majority of principals, actively engaging them in what is happening and the future of the regional cluster is a work in progress. We have laid the foundations in some think tanks for senior management, but this is an important year in seeing whether this will help in planning for the future. Once the funding has finished will principals be happy to just go back to what we were doing before? If not how do we continue to make progress on the key goals of the regional cluster without funding? Engaging principals in these questions and finding solutions is vital.
We also continue to have one or two teachers who end up on the periphery, because of workload or a lack of motivation / engagement. While this has improved markedly, it is still a frustration that we might lose someone at this late point in proceedings. Teachers being able to balance workload with the goals of the project is a real balancing act. Currently teachers are working on reviewing their schools’ and the cluster’s readiness for networked schooling / learning. Many are working in groups on this which helps manage the workload, but I know it is a constant strain on teachers who are often already overloaded. It is important that project management (us) keep in touch with teachers and help manage difficulties when they arise.