A couple of weeks ago we held a day (and night) long meeting for CantaNet Principals in Tekapo. This was a significant event and the very first time we had got all the principals together since the amalgamation. As you could imagine it was a perfect opportunity to get everyone on the same page. The focus for this meeting was to develop a shared vision for the future of the cluster and develop clear goals and actions for the next three years. While we didn't quite get those concrete actions we would have liked to, we did develop very clear goals and priorities for the cluster which you can see outlined in the graphic below.
I did make sure principals had lots of reading prior to the meeting (although a little later than I would have liked) so everyone had an opportunity to prepare themselves and we could then use the time for what was needed - discussion. This included a full agenda, a strategic document (see below) that highlighted the major issues and a booklet of relevant blog posts from this site (using Fastpencil). The morning session still consisted of information giving, but I did really enjoy the panel discussion on the future of communities of schools. The panel consisted of Professor Niki Davis (University of Canterbury), Ken Pullar (OtagoNet), Carol Moffat (GCSN), Trevor Storr (CantaNet), and Eddie Reisch (Ministry of Education). Each one of them contributed to a very though provoking discussion which raised some key issues. The big one being "Where to from here?" No easy answer to that.
The afternoon session was more focused on developing a response to the various challenges we face. This took a while to get going, but I think that it had a lot to do with how the room was set up. We were seated in a rather large U shape which is not ideal for facilitating discussion within such a large group. Things really started to move when we broke into smaller groups which then fed back. This then led into dinner and a quick evening session where we wrapped things up.
While we didn't get those concrete actions we wanted we have clearly identified our priorities and I am very confident all principals have a common understanding of where we are going and why. While the online programme was the priority for virtually all, it was heartening to see support for the future development of blended learning and teacher collaboration. This has been a significant focus of our three year Ministry funded regional cluster with WestNet. The challenge now is to look at how we can continue the momentum without Ministry funding. It is do-able, but will require some careful thinking and planning from us and our schools.
The issue of resourcing / funding is always one we come back to. Basically we have hit a ceiling as a cluster. The financial contribution from each school will not be increasing, but we have a long way to go to really mature what we are doing. We have basically proposed and received endorsement from the principals to explore other ways of organising ourselves and alternative funding streams. As always, much to do over the next few weeks.
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SNAP Darren - back full circle to the bottom line of where do the $$$ come from. We can prove a great case for networked schools collaborating in online learning, blended learning, and professional learning and have everybody on the page agreeing that this is great for our students and our schools but when it comes time for turning out the pockets to put into the kitty all we can find are moths....
Schools will never see a clear return on their investment if they don't fully embrace the potential of networked learning, it will always be an add-on, nice to have, but the first to disappear when money is to be found. Never has it been a more important time to have schools prepared to face a future of networked learning with the advent of UFBiS and a Network for Learning. It is great that the MoE has provided seed funding, ICTPD funding and technical support of VC bridge, tools etc over the years to get us where we are today, but what is missing out of this equation looking forward, is the continued support needed for the people layer (that's us) to lead, co-ordinate, mentor, cajole and drive that change in our schools.