Log in

NEAL Milestone#4 - Reflective Summary

NEAL 2011

The NEAL Regional Cluster Group represents 28 schools, most of which are located on Auckland’s North Shore.  Our schools are a mix of primary, intermediate, and secondary schools and represent an eclectic mix of teaching spaces, models, and physical structures.  Hence, reinforcing the need for our programmes to be varied, flexible, and timely.  There are schools and teachers already forging their own paths and demonstrating interest and skill.  We seek these leaders out, invite them to share with others and initiate opportunities to work together. Our goal is build a stronger community amidst the digital landscape; one that connects passionate people, creates new networks, and ultimately, improves teaching and learning for all.

The past year has been very much an attempt to complement and strengthen the eLearning space in which NEAL and its teachers reside.

Creating an online environment, where our users could learn about local PD opportunities and share teaching and learning resources, was key.  It was agreed that our community needs to understand exactly what is available to determine what they need and when they need it before feeling comfortable contributing on a more frequent and consistent basis.

With this in mind, we stripped back the lens and focused on specific key people, Blair Willems, Margot McKeegan (GCSN), and Andrew Cowie (NEAL.) From these individuals, we also consulted other like-minds from the local and national community.

The NEAL site, www.neal.school.nz was co-created with these and other members of the Greater Christchurch Schools Network (GCSN) and NEAL (Alan Curtis).   Using a Drupal platform already familiar and user friendly (but also reflecting the local character), was an important first step in this collaborative process. Once we determined the ‘look and feel’ of the site, the content was carefully considered.  What was working with the GCSN’s site that NEAL could learn from?  What were some of the areas of the site that needed to better reflect the needs of the community?  This process not only allowed for NEAL to determine the most effective content, but it also allowed for the GCSN to reflect and reconsider what they already had, and hoped for as their own site evolved.

The importance of an active and timely Event calendar was very important in reaching people initially.  NEAL worked hard to learn as much as possible about local community events and how they fit into our schools’ needs and that which was also reflected in the wider cluster goals of NEAL.

To encourage dialogue and continued collaboration between our teachers, we often encouraged the use of our Forum on the NEAL site.  The whole ‘blogging’ culture seems to be a space in which many people are familiar and comfortable. While we had a few telling reflections here, we did not generate the volume we had hoped for.  It was determined that our site was still in its infancy in this respect, and our programmes and personnel needed more time to develop. The forum content would follow!

We also encouraged third parties, such as Learning Network NZ  (Sue Maloney) to share their programmes, as well as eTV (Gresham Bradley), Online Assessment - Orbit (Peter Tait), the National Library (Lisa Oldham) and Watchdog (Sarah Ingram/Ben Davies), and others.

In many cases, NEAL endorsed events sometimes included these groups, and the greater the collaboration on events, the better the attendance, not only for marketing, but also in fine tuning the specifics to NEAL schools;( ie. How might this directly affect the teaching and learning in my school?), so it wasn’t perceived that the event was a sales pitch.

NEAL was hoping to generate a ‘cycle of increased engagement’ (COIE) (not an ‘official’ acronym) with our teachers.  From a teacher’s perspective (who might be new to NEAL), the idea was that we could provide the following in hopes of effectively reaching, and keeping people involved:

1)     HOOK – a local, relevant, and timely promotion of PD or an event that appealed to interests and passions of a lead teacher. This teacher find their entry point through recommendation by a colleague, directive from principal, or discovering on NEAL email list or website.

2)     DIALOGUE with community members in the context of this event, either with the facilitator or group of teachers and participants. This might begin with a conversation between facilitator and teacher, outlining  and emphasizing the importance of this particular session.

 3)     REFLECTION and SHARING of KEY IDEAS – the teacher would then take the information from the session back to his/her school and share the key ideas and merits as they might apply. This would then result in either core user group emerging from the school to engage further, OR, in addition, the individual having the core group of other teachers from previous event from different schools, filling this niche. The idea being that even the art of collaboration with other groups outside of one’s school benefits in the thinking that can be shared within school.  An approach of ‘best practice’ often emerges through different points, and it is only later that we realize their impact once the big picture is re-examined.

4)     RETURN, REVISIT, RESTRUCTURE –the teacher would return to a series of workshops either by attending next-step sessions with other teachers from around NEAL, or, (and this has proven most successful), the teacher books in facilitator or specialist for his/her particular school and restructures it appropriately.  This occurred with MyPortfolio where both Campbells Bay Primary and Epsom Girls’ Grammar attended initial ‘taster’ sessions and subsequently booked additional sessions tailored for their school.  This is turn gave our specialist, Heath Sawyer and facilitator, Andrew Cowie a better understanding of what some of the needs were in order to be flexible and in some cases, provide feedback to MyPortfolio around how the tool is being used and how it might be developed long term.

An example of how the classroom practice was impacted was during the neXpo – Intermediates.


Students from Takapuna Normal Intermediate were experimenting with different media in ‘Digital Stories’.

We started off with using wikispaces to support our writing activities:


 After working for several weeks on developing and sharing different writing skills, where students also gave feedback and shared their ideas, it was time to put together our ‘Choose Your Own Terror’. The outcomes of the story depended on the choices made by the reader.

The difference with this story was that instead of pages, there were slides.  In each of these, in addition to text, we used multimedia to convey contents of the story. Video, audio, and a variety of graphics were used throughout the slides and on the wiki.

By the time we were ready to present our story to the other Intermediate schools, the students had demonstrated collaboration within their groups at school, whether it be supporting one another by offering synonyms for descriptive words, or editing and embedding different media within the slide show. They all learned something from a different member of the group as different strengths and passions emerged throughout the project.

The result was a collective ownership of and genuine engagement by the digital story.

Once shared, the students listened to some of the ideas around PREZI, by Murray’s Bay Intermediate.  This particular cloud-based piece of software gave many of our students ideas around the power of non-linear presentation tools.  The discussions between the lead teachers and students followed throughout the session. 

The students and the lead teacher (Anna-Marie McAleer), returned to school and, within a few days, were integrating PREZI into their presentations, stories and other assignments.

When we all knew we would be sharing, especially to a group outside of our school, it lifted everyone’s expectations and performance.  The key lesson here, whether it be with teachers or students, is that greater ownership of learning leads to a more dedicated and sustainable engagement.  

This is something that motivates others to follow and get involved.  The collective drive of different people sharing their ideas, expressing their successes/ barriers and overall, demonstrating enthusiasm for learning, has been the most effective result of our community coming together.