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Greater Christchurch Schools Network : Reflective Summary Milestone 3

What did we do?

Despite the major disruption of the earthquakes and subsequent aftershocks considerable progress has been made towards achieving our goals. Some schools were closed for up to four weeks which is a significant piece of time from the planned programme. 

Initially many principals stopped all professional development activities because they wanted teachers and students to concentrate on the classroom without any interruptions at all.  

From the outset it was quickly apparent that many schools needed resources.  So under this imperative resource building workshops were held for morning and afternoon schools, as well as after school and early evenings.  The building of the GCSN champions network, many individual visits to schools, GCSN Moodle workshops and the planning towards a video conferencing network across the region, particularly for senior students, is well underway.   

The emphasis in particular has been on the senior school and we have built a very good relationship with NZQA who supported two of our workshops.  The conversations at these workshops have provided us with clear directions for the next stages.   

Many businesses have been keen to assist and there is work underway to provide a high definition bridge for both business and education. 

The GCSN website is starting to provide a valuable conduit for reporting and information sharing. We were given significant access to resources from overseas repositories at no cost for one year for local schools.  This was a wonderful and most generous offer which was made available to schools. 

The technical team of GCSN has proactively supported schools in their decision making of purchasing and identifying suitable equipment and infrastructure.  Schools have fed back their appreciation that they are not be approached individually and this is being done as a collective.  It reduces the time and energy that individual schools have to outlay.  Principals do trust the technical GCSN teams expertise in this area.

We are also blessed in having the close relationship with the South Learning Centre, Christchurch Public Libraries.  They have been tremendously accommodating for the project and the local high schools.  Space in Christchurch is at a premium and being able to easily book this facility has been a godsend.

In summary there have been:

  • 29 workshops held for teachers
  • 6 team meetings for planning
  • 3 principals meetings attended
  • 15 individual school visits
  • 15 individual school workshops
  • Estimated teachers involved
  • 1 principals reference group meeting and 1 audio conference
  • Several interactions with Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economic Development, New Zealand Qualifications Authority
  • In the last 18 months there have been over 50 meetings with business representatives.


What was important for us?

The reflective process followed by GCSN was important because it focused on open communication and connectedness with and among participating schools. The existence of the GCSN website that has provided a highly effective tool for communicating ideas and information and reflections among teachers. A new section on the GCSN website was developed to address teachers' learning resource needs.  The appointment of GCSN champions are an important conduit for information between principals and staff, among teachers in writing workshops and with GCSN personnel.

There have been constant discussions with GCSN committee members with school staff at the numerous professional development and training sessions in such areas as the use of GCSN Moodle, Wikieducator workshops and video conferencing among schools.  These are organised and run by GCSN personnel or their contracted experts.  

The regular meetings of the GCSN organising committee focus on the achievement of the national goals and identify further actions.

Regular visits by a GCSN representative to individual schools involve discussions about successes. They identify required technical and pedagogical support.

The value of these wide ranging sources of information and reflections is that GSCN has been able to build an accurate picture of ICT development in Christchurch schools.  It has been able to identify needs accurately and tailor the necessary support.  GCSN has also been able to retain a high degree of flexibility in responding positively to challenging circumstances in Christchurch during 2011.

What happened, as a result?

The extensive efforts of the network has been most effective in providing support for teachers and encouraging reflective practice in a range of contexts in training workshops in Moodle and e-asTTle, in the meetings of secondary school champions under the auspices of GCSN and the high degree of collaboration, caring and sharing among secondary school principals. 

In addition, in many schools, the use of fibre networks has been a high priority for professional development programmes, even when schools in Christchurch have had to confront significant time and funding constraints.  The support that teachers provide for each other in the use of ICT within the settings of individual schools has been a highly effective form of encouragement in improving teaching and reflective practice. 

The reflective practice developed among schools resulted in schools supporting one another during a time of emergency. This was exemplified in the creative sharing among teachers and their awareness of the importance of critical thinking if they are to take full advantage of fibre networks.    

What have we learned?

Key lessons for the cluster are that when disaster strikes relevant government departments and agencies can be inward looking and do not seek to use the networks, or are unaware as to what is currently available and working outside.

The second lesson is the enormous goodwill that exists in schools to support those less fortunate with resources and the willingness of all to deviate from original planning to create new opportunities which are relevant.

The third lesson is the creativity of teachers to think ‘outside the square' and seize new opportunities when they are made available.  The teachers have contributed significantly to the planning which will take us through the next few months.

What are our next steps?

An important part of the programme through 2011 will be to encourage the contact and collaboration among teachers within and across schools in using the available technology to develop learning and teaching practice.  The enhanced GCSN website will be an important means of ensuring that the reflective practice already occurring continues to be a powerful tool for preparing students as effective learners in an exciting but unpredictable world.

The next steps are to continue working with the GCSN champions as well as principals.  (It must be remembered that many school principals face tremendous work in rebuilding damaged schools let alone building morale both inside the school and also in the community.) 

This term there will also be an emphasis on working with primary schools to create sub clusters across the city in joint projects.

The other major development which has arisen from the NZQA work with teachers is the importance of critical thinking. 

We are thinking of both workshops and online resources for both teachers and students both at primary and secondary levels.

In addition, a business case is being developed for GCSN which we hope will assist with building sustainability at a local level.

What are the other issues affecting us?

Schools is still the uncertainty around who the fibre network providers will be.  There are currently 60 schools connected to fibre through Enable networks and a further 40 contracted to connect when the successful bidder is chosen.  Late last year the Ministry of Education decided not to support the drop costs into schools until the selection was made which was quite understandable.  We believe that the ensuing delays with Crown Fibre Holdings selection together with the earthquake has slowed progress which is really disappointing for those schools still awaiting connection.

Sustainability in the future will be an issue although when one considers the large number of schools in this network (91) the funding as well as the level of funding available, great progress has been made.  Many of our schools are fearful of what the flow on effects of student losses will have on funding streams.  It is estimated that over 200 teachers will be redundant at year's end.

Another issue is for those schools who have fibre to their server rooms but have little or no internal network to bring the advantages of fibre past the front door.  So many learning opportunities for both students and teachers are missed.  The NEN trial is making this clear.  Therefore we have a two tier system: schools who have robust internal networks and those who are best marginal.  The researchers on the NEN trial will find significant differences because of this.

The KAREN  bridge is now heavily subscribed by the tertiary sector.  Therefore we will struggle in the long term to access that bridge.  The current Ministry bridge is old and has quite low specifications which will detract from the experience that we want new users to have.  The new VC units schools are purchasing are all high definition and it needs to be matched with a quality bridging experience.