Thursday, 12 March 2020

The power of collaboration

I have written before expressing my opinion that the media, by attacking schools that attempt to be innovative, are simply demonstrating institutional racism. In short the argument goes like this: our education system has historically failed Māori and Pasifika learners disproportionately. There is nothing wrong with those learners, but rather there is something wrong with the system. If our society is to realize the benefits of the skill, the talents, and the humanity, of that section of our population, the system has to change. Attacks on those proposed changes are therefore attacks on attempts to create real equity in society. Economically, socially, and morally, we shoot ourselves in the foot, it is something of an 'own goal' to attack those attempting to create change in our current education systems and structures. Some say why change a system that has worked? To which my response would be 'worked for whom"? Who says it has worked given that there has previously been nothing to compare it with? And anyway, can we seriously claim it has worked when it has failed significant groups in our society?

Today I was privileged to be present when educators from 23 secondary kura from across our region got together to share their evolving practice under the title 'Secondary Flexibility'.  We were brought together under the banner of Grow Waitaha, This is an organisation set up to help schools transform their practice, to make themselves fit for purpose in this new age where the future is so uncertain, in an age when we have much less idea than we ever had about what learners need in order to survive in their future because the pace of change is so rapid. This was an amazing exercise in collaboration that is not normal in the world of education. The previous competitive schools model meant that schools were afraid to share practice in case they gave away an edge to their competitors. We were left with small pockets of innovation that in themselves were limited because it is often difficult to see the bigger picture when trapped in our own bubble. However we continue to see that education at least is stronger when we collaborate, when we share knowledge and expertise. In short, OUR CHILDREN ARE BETTER OFF when we share our expertise. The competitive schools model simply created winner and loser children.

You could observe stuff at the surface level like the passion in the atmosphere, like the desire for change that was visceral to say the least. These are people who totally understand the moral imperative, who understand that we can no longer tolerate leaving a growing proportion of our population behind. These educators were unashamedly sharing their work on the sorts of innovations that they believe will create greater equity in our system. And there were lots of cool things happening. Interestingly we are all on the same journey. It's not as if each school is following a significantly different journey. Rather we are all on the same journey, but adapting the thinking to suit our communities, things like the readiness of community, or staff, or students, to adapt to change, or the capacity to resource change.

We are all talking about systems that build stronger relationships with learners (at Hornby High School we call this Wānanga time). We are all talking about changes that connect subjects across the curriculum (at Hornby High School this is Hurumanu), destroying the subject silos that have been the feature of secondary learning in our secondary schools since.. well , since forever as our teenagers might say.

At a deeper level though I think there is something much more significant happening. I previously wrote that schools are often afraid to put their heads above the parapet for fear of being sniped, of being shot down, by a contemptuous and hideously ill-informed media. Today was different. Today we stood shoulder to shoulder, announcing for the whole world that we are committed to a better education for ALL rangatahi, that we no longer believe the lie that the western education tradition is the best and only way to cause learning. We all acknowledged without saying that there is stuff we don't want to get rid of, but we were all also acknowledging that what we do now is no longer enough, if it ever was.

You see, the impact of this stuff is real. In achievement Hornby High School accelerates writing achievement at twice (yes that's TWICE) national averages as a result of our engagement with The Manaiakalani Programme and its 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy. Hornby High School has maintained attendances at an average of over 90% when attendance rates across the country have been declining. That's called engagement. Maybe, just maybe, we DO know what we are doing.  Maybe, JUST MAYBE, the profession of educators does know what it is doing.

I am proud to be a part of a kura that is pushing the boundaries, a kura that wants the best for all learners, not just a privileged few. And today we saw that we are not alone, and in fact never have been. We now know that we have good company on this amazing journey. We have a whole community of educators with us in this work to change lives and communities.

This is the power of professional collaboration. This is the way of the world, this is the. way forward in our work to empower and embolden our rangatahi, to set them on their journey to better lives for themselves, and for all.

You see, the whole IS more than the sum of the parts. As one famous thinker once said 'you can judge the quality of a society by the way it treats its weakest members.' Today showed that as educators we are determined to treat our young people, some of our weakest and most vulnerable members, in the best way we can imagine.


  1. Wow Robin - you have articulated this so well, from the individual school innovations through to the collegial sense of us standing shoulder to shoulder. Thanks so much for the shout out and your consistent championing of positive change....Chris Jansen

  2. A very passionate post Robin and well said on identifying the rationale for a new way of doing things. I love the data on attendance and achievement and see the growth in your kura and across your cluster. Well done.