Beyond the Magpie
Research informed approaches to teaching and leading at Long Bay College
Article by James Heneghan and Lauren Wing
Change is often a complex process that often requires complex solutions. It requires the ability to “sift and sort”, to make sense of our shared “why”, “what” “how” and critically “who”.
At Long Bay College we have been on a change journey. Our “why” being grounded in our school values of “care, community, respect and creativity”, our “who” being our school community and most significantly our akonga. Our “how” and “what” being how we have delivered our change and the foundation on which we now seek to sustain the gains we have made.
Our journey has involved an ongoing commitment to professional learning, the formation of strategic plans and the delivery of initiatives that have nurtured equity, capability and made significant differences at our school.
Long Bay College is a co-educational secondary school on the northern, suburban fringe of the North Shore of Auckland. We have around 1500 students and were founded in 1975, into what was at the time a rural, beach-side locale. Long Bay’s surrounds have changed substantially over the past 47 years, bushland, dairy farms and chicken roosts replaced by modern townhouses and shopping precincts.
As a school, we believe in a culture of extraordinary care and seek to ensure that all learners feel supported, connected, and safe. We believe in knowing the student and knowing how best to support them, and we believe in fostering authentic personal excellence where everyone in our community strives for their best. We are proud of the success of our learners and know that success looks different for each of them. We have high rates of University Entrance, NZQA scholarship, Endorsement, and Achievement of NCEA L1, L2 and L3 as well as high rates of post-secondary employment and trade entry. Slightly over 60% of our students are first or second-generation immigrants. We are proud of our diverse learners and the cultures they bring with them. As a school, we seek to respond to the needs of our learners and the voice of our community. In doing that, we seek to identify deficits and stridently reject deficit theorising. We ensure that our “why” and our “who” informs our “what” and our “how”. In identifying our ways forward, we are research informed and always context driven.
With an array of challenges in front of us, it could be easy to act as a “magpie”. To seize the brightest, shiniest or “trending” solution in front of us, put it into practice in our school and hope for the best, all the while eying up another shiny solution on the horizon. With polarisation in the educational sector between “traditional” and “modern” approaches evident, solutions can at times be adopted or disregarded based on where they may sit on the continuum between them. As a college, we have been mindful of the need to find solutions that allow for sliding on the continuum, rather than anchoring in one end.
We are also mindful of the fact that complex problems require complex solutions. As we seek to respond to the persistent and contextual challenges we face as a college, we know that a simple solution can sometimes be too good to be true, as meaningful solutions must seek to foster changes in how we think and act, provide space and time for experimentation, refinement and reflection and give opportunities for the development of adaptive and collective expertise. Finally, as we seek to make change, we have also sought to be conscious of the emotional effects of the change process, especially over a prolonged time, with contextual challenges such as Covid-19 in the mix. Ensuring that staff feel safe with the pace and nature of change, and secure that it will be embedded over time has been both a learning and a priority as we have moved through the past five years.
Enacting strategic change requires the support of middle leaders. This goes both ways. Leaders must understand and be on-board with the changes, while at the same time they must be supported with the skills and attributes required to support their teams to enact the change as well. As such, we have focused on ensuring that our middle leaders have the support structures and theoretical backing to allow them to lead effectively through a change process. This has included disrupting the traditional ‘line manager’ senior leader-head of faculty dynamic, adapting it to a ‘critical friend’ framework in which the faculty head is supported to develop as a leader as well as a leader of others. While more traditional ‘business as usual’ remains and is critical to the functioning of a school, school direction is not driven by it.
Beyond this, developing the collective efficacy of our heads of faculty has also been vital. We have drawn on a range of voices in educational leadership, including Viviane Robinson, Colin Donald, Russell Bishop, Melanie Riwai-Couch and Craig Randall. This base has allowed us to plan and deliver research-backed professional learning, with consistent messages and a focus on growing our leadership capabilities and capacities. Focuses for our learning and growth have included “Deficit” and “anti-deficit theorising”, “relational trust”, the mutual reinforcement of trust and collaboration, accountability and “above the line” thinking, collective efficacy, solving complex problems, “student centred leadership”, cascading goals, ways of knowing and supporting cultural competency. This collective learning has been useful for our heads of faculty, creating a shared understanding across teams, allowing us to work as a collective group more effectively as well as with our own faculty teams; These supports directly scaffolding our approach to strategic leadership.
Like all schools in New Zealand, we have a strategic plan. To make that plan lived across the school, authorship of it in action must exist across the school community. All of our faculties have four consistent action plans: “Te Tiriti o Waitangi”, “Academic achievement”, “Exceptional learning” and “Leadership”.
“Te Tiriti” fostering initiatives supportive of cultural competency, mātauranga Māori and mana orite.
“Academic achievement” fostering and securing initiatives grounded to secure a student's academic outcomes and secure them in achieving personal excellence.
“Exceptional learning” nurturing our college wide educational philosophy and supporting the highest quality teaching practice.
“Leadership” cultivating the capability and capacity of the teaching and learning teams across the College.
The development of a contextualised educational philosophy that addresses teaching and learning within the College has been an ongoing focus since 2018. Initial work identified that our teachers strongly valued research informed practice and wished to deliver pedagogies from across the modern to traditional spectrum that best served our learners in the context of their specialised subjects. Our review of research literature and our Aotearoa, New Zealand lens directly considered Graeme Aitken’s “Effective Learning Time” model. The work of John Hattie and Russell Bishop directly informed a consideration of high-quality approaches to pedagogy. The work of Mere Berryman, Melanie Riwai-Couch and Melinda Webber informed our understanding of “cultural competency” and “cultural responsive practice”; That research lens informing our consideration of work from overseas: John Swellers “Cognitive load theory” and Zaretta Hammond work considering the relationship between teaching for memory and valuing a student’s ethnic and social identity and its related intersectionality supporting the developing of our three exceptional learning principles.
Our three exceptional learning principles being:
Tikanga: Our living classroom culture for learning
Ako: Know the student, know what to teach, know how to teach it. Know it has been learnt
Mahara: Teaching for memory – Learning is a change in memory. Teaching supports that change.
We strongly believe that Mahara overtly links to cognitive load theory and we consider that the substantial body of research supports that all teachers should consider the implications of cognitive load in their classroom and for their learners. Our consideration of cognitive load theory builds on this and supports cultural and relational competencies and pedagogies. It is summarised below.
Our work from 2018 and going forward develops a shared pedagogical model that has supported our teachers in learning and strongly identifying as “North-East” teachers as described by Russell Bishop. Our work in relation to leadership, shared strategic action and exceptional learning has acted as scaffolds to set our compass collectively in a “North-East” direction. These scaffolds have helped to establish new “business as usual” approaches in the past five years and have supported student success and nurtured “personal excellence” at a time of unparalleled change and disruption in education. Securing and sustaining our work in developing our models of practice has now become a significant focus for the College as we move into 2023 and beyond.