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Leading learning and responsive PLD at Ngatea Primary School | A leadership inquiry PT 1

When principal Neil Fraser (Ngatea Primary School) saw an opportunity to access virtual opportunities via Enabling e-Learning community groups, he  set about to ensure similar opportunities and possibilities were available to his own staff at Ngatea Primary School. What resulted, was a personalised response to PLD that endeavoured to meet both adult and student learning needs.

This three-part blog series will take an in-depth look at what happened in one school to enable teachers to have more individualised ownership of their own learning. This first installment introduces the future-focused ideas and clarifies the school’s special character and perceived needs. The following posts will disclose the inquiry intentions, interventions and outcomes for teachers’ learning at Ngatea Primary School.

Overarching key ideas include:

  • Leadership in a future-oriented learning system
  • Responsive culture for PLD
  • Personalising learning through the use of technologies
  • Virtual learning opportunities (VLN, Twitter, Facebook)


Current educational climate


As educators, we’re part of an educational climate that is becoming increasingly aware of the potential for online professional learning networks; to create new connections, expand accessibility, diminish physical barriers, invite participation and facilitate, ignite and sustain new learning. In Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning (p23), it reads, 

In addition, the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband across New Zealand, the growth in e-learning, and rise in the use of mobile devices combine to offer further powerful incentives to explore blended and virtual, user-driven professional learning (Johnson, Hedditch, & Yin, 2011). 

With the influence of new technologies (web 2.0 software and social networking platforms) and 21st Century learning pedagogies that highlight the need for authentic, relevant, timely, personalised learning, it is no surprise that educators and institutions are reviewing their existing models for professional learning and exploring the possibilities for a variety of learning opportunities including virtual professional networks. 

Part 1: One school’s journey


Ngatea Primary School sits about halfway between Auckland and Tauranga, 15 minutes from Thames in the Hauraki Plains region. They have 280 students on their role. 50% farming and 50% from the township attend the school. Around 10.5 FTTE. Because they are not close to any major centres, travel to face-to-face PLD opportunities provides some barriers in terms of time and financial costs. They are not on any professional learning and development  projects and are self sustaining in their PLD, utilising blended (face to face as well as virtual) learning opportunities for staff.


When two worlds collide


Enabling e-Learning facilitates virtual opportunities (synchronous and asynchronous) so that schools can engage in conversations about how e-learning can help raise achievement for all tamariki. Online facilitators also broker connections with and between community members, while encouraging ‘champions’ to become more visible as they endeavor to engage more with others online. 

The online facilitator observed Neil Fraser (principal of Ngatea Primary School) was becoming more visible online - Twitter feeds, VLN membership and most notably, increased attendance and participation in Enabling e-Learning Live events. The same time Neil saw the value of pursuing his own learning online, he set about to ensure similar opportunities and possibilities were available to his own staff at Ngatea Primary School. 

The drivers for change

Ngatea Primary School is dedicated and passionate about meeting the needs of their students. When the school renewed their school charter they realised, “that children were coming to school mainly to eat their lunch and play with their mates”. The school community set about reviewing their charter and the way they operated as a school - including a review of their school values, vision and mission statements. It was a collaborative process that involved the Board and all the staff. “Whatever words we put down on the vision meant equally for staff and for students” reflects Neil. 

Ngatea Primary School community set about to negotiated a vision for learning that encourages both students and teachers to utilize e-tools to help learners become collaborative, self-driven learners (New Zealand Curriculum). This is indicative of the Empowering stage of the Vision Statements and Beliefs strands of the Leadership dimension in the e-Learning Planning Framework where,

VISION: In our school the staff is actively involved in the review of our vision and rationale for e-learning.

If the school’s vision was to encourage all learners to become self-driven and collaborative, then there was also a realisation that implementing a ‘top-down’ model for teachers - by putting restrictions on learning and saying, ‘this is how you can come to enjoy your staff meetings’ wasn’t being true to the school vision. Instead, they wanted a learning model where teachers could access the learning in much the same way they were encouraging their students to do so, reviewing ‘just-in-time vs ‘just-in’case’ learning opportunities. This also aligns with current findings and research around, What makes for effective PLD? (Derek Wenmoth)

Neil saw his role in this as leading (not necessarily leading everything) - more about creating an environment where staff could take risks. Neil saw himself responsible for providing opportunities for the staff to grow. This was more indicative of the Engaging phase in the Focus of Leadership strand in the Leadership dimension.

LEADERSHIP: In our school leadership is actively leading curriculum focused e-learning, including digital literacy, resulting in improvements.

Additional drivers to provide timely and relevant PLD for staff included: 

  • implementing modern learning pedagogies
  • leading e-learning developments from within
  • switching the school to cloud server solutions
  • GAFE, Google platforms and Gmail

e-Learning had become an entrenched part of the learning culture at Ngatea Primary School. Constant cycles of review address; the school’s vision for learning,  infrastructure and personnel to sustain e-learning in their school. At the heart of this is a need for on-going authentic opportunities for professional learning and development. This didn’t necessarily mean accessing PLD in the traditional sense (school-wide, policy driven, directed from above), rather it means finding flexible ways to address the individual needs of adult learners. (Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning p.3, Karen Melhuish).

What did they do?


The story continues - in, Leading learning and responsive PLD at Ngatea Primary School | What happened PT 2 and Leading learning and responsive PLD at Ngatea Primary School | Where to from here? PT 3


  • Kaye Gillies (View all users posts) 27 Oct 2015 8:42pm ()

    Thanks so much for sharing.  I love hearing actual stories what others have found do and don't work for them.  It is also great to see where some of your thinking comes from i.e.  Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators' professional learning.  I've had a look at this and would also highly recommend this.   Thanks for sharing.

    Regards Kaye Gillies

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 28 Oct 2015 1:45pm ()

    Thanks Kaye for your interest and reflections. I've passed this on to Neil Fraser . Next part of the story...what they used and how they did their PLD...stay tuned for more.

    What about your story? Have you or your colleagues been accessing PLD via social networking tools/platforms too?

    Image source: 1

  • Kaye Gillies (View all users posts) 28 Oct 2015 7:55pm ()

    Hi Tessa,

    As a school this is a journey we are yet to go on. However I really like the ideas presented in the onine social networking... article and have forwarded the reference for this document to the principal of our school. I see incorporating social media as a deliberate part of PD as very valuable- especially for targeting individual teacher learning needs and interests in a small school  

    I am also in the throws of applying for a job at a school which is beginning the MLE journey and so am enjoying exploring possibilities advantages, etc of MLE.  Much of what I see in the MLE is a mirror of structures used in the Montessori system.  I would be very pleased to be able to combine my Montessori training with such an environment.  Should I be successful this is an exciting journey I will be looking forward to going on.

    Personally I am really enjoying the VLN and know I am expanding my ideas knowledge and ability to lead through following groups that are related to my knowledge gaps.  Seeing what something could look like is really valuable.  Thank you.

    Kia ora

  • Hamish McLean (View all users posts) 28 Oct 2015 2:12pm ()

    Hi Tessa,

    Here is that video you showed a thumbnail of.  Its almost two years old now, and things have slightly changed here at Ngatea Primary (NPS) , but essentially it shows the what and how NPS does what it does.

    Tomorrow night from 5-7pm, we have our 'Ignite - Sundowner' PDL conference.  We have these each term, with a different presenter each time.  Stephen Lethbridge is presenting on Maker Culture for T3.  This is one example of how our staff get PD, and we have opened it up to other schools in the area as well.    A way of engaging in teacher learning throughout the year, and not wait for that 'one' conference.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 29 Oct 2015 12:19pm ()

    Wow thanks for sharing Hamish, it is so inspiring to see students articulating their learning so well and unprompted. So many elements of quality teaching and learning have come together to help make this happen. I see how the PLD would be integral in your learning culture because of this. smiley

  • Lisa Dinning (View all users posts) 29 Oct 2015 2:40pm ()

    Wow! thanks for sharing this is a journey we are starting to take at our school.  Although I can see some of the techniques I am already using in my single cell class - feeling hopeful.

    Great to see the children being able to articulate so well.

    How does this process of articulation go with NE?

  • Lyn Jones NAPP 2015 (View all users posts) 01 Nov 2015 2:53pm ()

    This is so fabulous and reminds me of a school I taught at where revolving time tables were place and I loved teaching that way.

    I feel inspired and know this is a learning journey I want to take and drive in my class. I wonder what it looks like for year 1-2's and how I can develop it in a low cost way to fit in with our community. Perhaps I can visit Ngatea School and find out more!

    Thank you everyone from my single cell classroom!


  • Neil Fraser (View all users posts) 08 Dec 2015 8:35am ()

    Hi Lyn

    Our learning environments are very organic and responsive to the various learning needs of our students. We have unpacked a lot of the learning from Year 7-8 to adapt in our middle and junior areas. Although it is far more teacher directed in the junior areas, there is still plenty of scope to develop learner agency. Some examples: The 3 teachers pitch to the students the medium of art they will be working in to give the students choice. Students make their choices for various reasons: they have a particular relation with a teacher, or they prefer to try a different medium. Another example: In Written language, teachers conference with students during the week and identify their next steps. The following week this is followed up by running needs-based Literacy workshops for the students, e.g. finger spaces, capital letters, punctuation, etc - it all depends what comes out from the various conferences.

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e-Learning: Leadership

e-Learning: Leadership

Exploring leadership for change, vision, policy and strategy that integrates ICTs into learning.