Log in

Leading learning and responsive PLD at Ngatea Primary School | What happened PT 2

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


Part two: What did they do?


In part one of this 3 part blog series, we shared how Ngatea Primary School saw a need to meet the vision for their learners by creating personalised, authentic and responsive professional learning opportunities for staff. The first installment introduced the future-focused ideas and clarified the school’s needs. In this post we unpack inquiry intentions and interventions while the final post will touch on outcomes for teachers (and learners) at Ngatea Primary School.


Several years ago, as Google Drive and Gmail started becoming available to schools, Ngatea Primary School made the shift to the cloud where accessing digital data online, through the cloud-based server and using Gmail was becoming the norm. There was a need for professional learning and development, particularly around cloud-based solutions and the impact of GAFE in the classroom.

If Ngatea Primary School wanted their children to be interactive, personalised, collaborative, online, then their whole staff’s professional development would need to be the same. What was good for the classroom was good for the staffroom. The belief being, if teachers have the same experiences as the students, then they in-turn will grow more understanding, more skills and confidence and be in a better position to be more effective in the classroom. Principal Neil Fraser couldn’t see how the traditional model of PLD; that historically relied on working day between 9-5pm, with face-to-face workshops was going to meet the needs of his time-poor teachers or model the personalised learning in a rich e-learning environment, that they wanted for their students.


“While many continue to question the skyrocketing costs and value of a college education, future-focused leaders are re-creating learning experiences by blending technology with the human experience. “(p.1 Future-Focused Leadership: Three Mega-Trends Influencing Distance Learning

Fortunately for the staff at NPS, Neil Fraser is one of those future-focused leaders.

Two catalysts for change

The responsive PLD model at Ngatea Primary School for staff is relatively new. By the second term in 2014, there was a new way of running PLD for staff.

1. Professional Learning Groups  model

A catalyst for this new thinking was when the Deputy Principal, Karla Hull attended a Future Schools conference in Sydney. Neil Fraser researched the event on the Internet and saw a photograph of teachers sitting around engaging in learning groups, (PLGs) inside a teaching space. Neil says, “And it then struck me well ok we don’t always have to do PLD in the afternoons either.” This is when Neil realised releasing teachers during class time would have huge potential impact for their learning.


2. Leader as learner modelling


As Ngatea is geographically removed from the main centres, Neil Fraser took the initiative to seek alternative professional learning opportunities online. He recognised the potential for social networking tools like Twitter and the Virtual Learning Network to help further his own learning. Neil joined the VLN and started attending LIVE webinar events in the Enabling e-Learning calendar. One in particular was about, Ways to build your online professional learning network using VLN/Enabling e-Learning communities. During the event Neil realised this was a huge PLD resource that would fit with their PLD philosophy at Ngatea Primary School and afterwards made contact with the Enabling e-Learning online facilitator and requested a series of virtual webinars delivered to support his staff.

Implementing change


Ngatea Primary School has four open or collaborative environments where one teacher from each of those four areas meets on a Thursday afternoon, from 1:30 to 2:30 for professional development. They also alternate staff PLD, where one week they will meet together in the staff room and the other week they will meet in one of their learning areas. Every second week, Neil or Karla release the staff during school assembly, so that they can undergo PLD. Because of this, 8-10 teachers can attend these sessions.

Neil and Karla co-ordinate the PLD internally to ensure individual staff needs are being met. Each term the PLD differs. It varies in terms of the school’s key learning areas, as well as well as being responsive to individual staff needs. Staff get an opportunity to express their PLD needs by nominating areas of interest and need for the following term. They have collaborative modelling sessions, where they trial new ideas to model with their own students and on occasions, have included the students as part of their professional development as well. Often the PLD is driven by strategic planning as well as staff appraisal, but not always. It is more responsive than that. As Neil says,


“Because just like kids learn in the classroom, something’s happened this past term and some of the teachers say ‘hang on’ I need some more help in this area, obviously something which happened in the classroom, but it might be something out of left-field, which you are not even planning for yet.” Neil Fraser.


The model is responsive in terms of shifting needs and timing. Sometimes the learning is ‘just in time’ where staff put their names down and negotiate and prioritise PLD, based on an understanding that due to limitations, they cannot always allocate time and resources to everything and everyone. The model shows increased staff ownership for their own learning needs, while building internal capacity. When the staff share as experts, it needs to be relevant, authentic and professionally prepared. It needs to have rigour and value.


“There are two key principles in terms of effective professional learning that are relevant here: the centrality of the socially-positioned, co-constructed approach, and the importance of learners being to able to drive their own inquiries into their practice.” (p 22, Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning)

So it was the same for Ngatea Primary School. Staff experience what they would expect their students to experience in learning, including - meeting deadlines, preparation for learning sessions with reading, research to reflect on their practice.


Blended methodologies


The leaders at Ngatea Primary School have a strong belief that virtual networks can provide to access to resources and support from others (including experts), beyond the constraints of time, location and money. Neil shares how connections are made,


“Well now it’s quite easy through Twitter, but also probably through the VLN that way, but also these are the people that we’ve sort of got to know by going to conferences and different places. The nice thing about it, nobody’s charged us yet.”

So far, several different people have been approached nationally and internationally, to provide external mentorship via virtual webinars and Skype. The duration is to usually 30 minutes, to allow another 30 minutes for staff to engage in professional dialogue. New ideas, outcomes and practice is realised as a result of these sessions. When people have not been available, webinar recordings have been accessed for staff PLD.



Image sourced from Creative Commons


Neil Fraser observes that access to virtual learning experiences have, “Multiplied our opportunities for learning, and personalised it.” Neil summarises there are several drivers for this change:


  1. Visible connections with a known, familiar people in a PLN (Twitter followers, online facilitators)

  2. Timely, practical and accessible way to fulfilling their PLD needs in their school

  3. Teachers able to engage in learning experiences that involve e-learning - just like students


The responsive PLD culture at Ngatea Primary School  is designed to meet a variety of individual teachers’ learning needs in a co-constructed, teacher-led way. The education system is also moving towards an increasingly collaborative model. One of CORE Education’s 10 trends for 2014, describes Networked organisations as; more fluid, borderless, relationship-based organisations, where new partnerships are formed and collaboration encouraged and respected within a high-trust model.


On reflection


Ngatea Primary School has recognised new and emerging technologies to enable personalised learning to take place anytime and anywhere across different platforms and in different timeframes regardless of location. Social networks, including the Enabling e-Learning community groups have provided a learner-driven network to flourish where collaborative, self-driven learning opportunities can help to impact on teacher practice. What is happening at Ngatea Primary School in terms of blending the PLD, is also exciting and  innovative.


Join us in the final post, as we explore the impact on teachers and leaders in this leadership inquiry focused on responsive PLD @  Leading learning and responsive PLD at Ngatea Primary School | Where to from here? PT 3.

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

Image sources: 1, 2, 3



  • Vicki Hagenaars (View all users posts) 07 Dec 2015 7:07pm ()

    Wow! Having just read both blog posts to date I am looking forward to the third one.  

    Neil, congratulations on overcoming the barriers you and your learning community identified for professional development.  It is great to see a senior leadership team prepared to put the time into allowing teacher capacity to grow through release at a time of the day that ensures the learning will be absorbed.  Having time to not only digest but dissect the learning undertaken is also another bonus and one I am fully aware of as a year-out-of-the-classroom facilitator. I love that the students have also been included - it is good for them to know their teachers are as much a learner as they are themselves.

    Meeting the needs and being flexible enough to change directions as teachers have an 'aha!' moment is something that is straight out of Universal Design for Learning.  It equally sets the scene for teachers to be prepared to do this themselves as their own learners build knowledge. I love the independent, individualised timetables, the spaces that allow different styles/modes of learning and teachers who are working in a collaborative environment. 

    The Twittersphere is a powerful learning tools for teachers.  This is one form of social media I drop in and out of about as regularly as I do the VLN - which is not as often as I should!  I will look for Neil on my next visit and follow him - it seems the journey he is on is one that aligns with my own philosophy and beliefs.  

    My own journey into developing my professional learning community occurred when I joined another amazing online educator network - the VPLD (Virtual Professional Learning Development).  I have been lucky enough to be mentored through this group by some amazing people, now mentor others myself and my growth has been exponential - I have found my tribe! 

    For those of you out there reading this that are lurking in these communities - offer your voice.  Neil and his team would not be where they are now had they not done that, neither would I and a hefty number of my colleagues.  Your voice, story, ideas, wonderings are important and will feed the reflective thought of others who read them.  Then comes the real magic - the chance to think about, reflect on, question about and read further information when you get your replies from other community members. 

    Well done to NPS - you are definitely setting a benchmark that others will follow.



  • Neil Fraser (View all users posts) 08 Dec 2015 8:41am ()

    Thanks for your feedback, Vicki. We are trying to be responsive to teacher and school needs. It's important to get away from the "being done to" mindset to one that is meeting the needs of individual and cohorts of teachers. It does become quite powerful when teachers realise that they can drive their learning. And should it be any surprise? No, as we all know this is true for our students. Therefore, why not for our teachers? And for that to happen, we must shift from being a "top down" to a "bottom up" school.

Join this group to contribute to discussions.

e-Learning: Leadership

e-Learning: Leadership

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