Grassroots: where the best change happens

Pizza evening PD and bus tours for ECE members and new educators to see a variety of practice – NZEI Te Riu Roa branches and area councils are sharpening up…

Pizza evening PD and bus tours for ECE members and new educators to see a variety of practice – NZEI Te Riu Roa branches and area councils are sharpening up their game to provide what it is members need on the ground, including relevant PD.

In Kaiapoi, Bridget McCall (left) is a fourth year primary teacher, and chair of the local area council (AC).

“We aim to make it worthwhile for members. We don’t want them to feel they’re giving up a Saturday morning for nothing – they get something out of it.”

The AC meets once a term, and like many branches and ACs around the country, it is becoming more focussed.

“We’re quite spread out geographically, so those of us on the AC talk by teleconference. And we’ve employed a secretary to do things like pay the bills. It saves a big job for someone.”

At the term meeting, there’s a speaker to bring people upto- date with developments in the sector, followed by group meetings for ECE, primary and support staff.

“The different groups have set tasks to do – identify people for hui or different roles, organise PD, and so on. We have a big morning tea so people can get through. We finish with PD, and people can stay on for lunch and a chance to socialise if they like.”

McCall is enthusiastic about the AC role, saying it’s not onerous and gives opportunities. “I get to collaborate with some very knowledgeable and experienced members. I enjoy it.”

It’s also given her a chance to practice public speaking. “I don’t enjoy that – but I’m getting experience at it!”

Take the time to get it right

Educators and other experts are calling for more flexibility in how $90 million of PLD is spent

Everyone can more or less agree that the current model of PLD doesn’t work. Government says it spends $90m a year and doesn’t know what it gets. Big providers want “sensible policy”. And schools can’t get money for what they need.

“Every teacher has a responsibility to identify their PD needs, “ says Fairburn School principal Frances Nelson. “And we also need to provide school-wide PD to meet goals in the strategic plan.”

This translates to very specific PLD needs, says Nelson, which may not be a match with what is on offer from Ministry of Education PLD contracts.

However, the government has announced, as a part of a current review, that it intends to only fund PLD on numeracy, literacy, science, digital “fluency” and a pilot on health and PE, related to obesity.

It is also moving toward only funding clusters or communities of learning (CoLs) – which Nelson says would be “disastrous”. Most schools aren’t in a CoL, and their success will depend on authentic relationships built over time, rather than schools being driven into structures under threat of lost funding.

Flexibility needed

An inflexible model would also go against the current trend toward personalised learning, says Dr Cheryl Doig, recent board chair of CORE, a large national provider.

“We’re living in an increasingly complex world, and schools need to be flexible with adaptive thinking. The ministry’s promoting this with the building programme (modern learning environments) and the same flexibility is needed in PLD.”

Doig is now director of the consultancy Think Beyond and isn’t going to jump through the hoops to become one of the new “accredited” providers. The complex accreditation process means there is likely to be fewer providers from next year, just at a time when schools are looking for more choice.

The new PLD model is to be operational in 2017, with an announcement on the Education Council’s role in its delivery expected in June that year. But given the tensions to be resolved many are hoping this will be delayed until 2018.

Ingredients missing

“It would be much better if time was taken to get it right,” says Jan Tinetti, principal of Merivale School in Tauranga.

“The focus of PLD and who delivers it is determined by government, and we’ve been doing PLD on maths and literacy for years now. It’s taught as standalone content rather than being informed by context.”

Tinetti sees the two missing ingredients as cultural intelligence and inclusive education. “It has to be a pre-requisite that the providers can work with Māori and Pasifika students and they understand inclusive education.”

Tinetti says that government’s intention is there, for students to do better, but the problem of underachievement is not being solved.

A recent OECD report on how to lift the achievement of low performing students talks about teachers having high morale, struggling students getting support early, resources being distributed more equitably, and teachers having more freedom. Anyone listening?