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The Power of using Online Environments

The Power of using Online Environments

Achieving our goals through the delivery of professional development with a cross-curricular lense

The Context
One of the aims of Our School Charter 2011-2014 states:

  • All students are able to access The New Zealand Curriculum as evidenced by progress and achievement in relation to the National Standards.

To achieve this we have a curriculum goal which states:

  • Implement, monitor and review programmes and teaching practice that strengthen literacy and numeracy achievement at all levels of the school.

What we did

In order to achieve the goal above we knew we had to find ways to work “smarter” not necesarily harder (as the saying goes). In 2010 our journey with the  Tauranga Moana ICTPD Cluster Professional Development Programme began, as well as this we were also in the final stages of a First Chance Literacy Professional Development Contract and in 2011 we would be coming on board with culturally responsive practice.  This would mean that there would be even more competition for time and resourcing.  

Offering PD with demonstrated impact

So our question became: how do we maximise the impact of these professional learning programmes with only a certain amount of teacher time for professionl development available to us. Michael Fullen’s seminar paper in April 2011 on “The Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform  gave us our starting points. He identifies five characteristics of systems that are successful in achieving change (or in our case our goals)

  • Focus on a small number of core goals

  • Put energy into the quality of the teaching profession

  • Make a large investment in school leadership

  • Create learning working conditions for teachers

  • Use data - but in a non-judgemental way

So we now had a clear vision for implementing a professional development programme to achieve our goals. We decided to:

  • Review assessment procedures in regards to reporting to parents.
  • Develop onlne learning as a vehicle for providing 21st century literacy and numeracy opportunities for our students
  • Develop virtual classrooms with literacy and numeracy sub pages as a means of recording student achievement.

We invested heavily in building internal leadership capacity from the get go, providing opportunities for “invitational leadership” amongst staff.  We also built in a requirement where all teachers were expected to have a professional learning goal relating to e-learning. This would enable us to deliver PD strategically with different groups of teachers opting in to both cluster and school driven PD on an as required base. One of our most popular type of sessions attended at some point by most staff were “unconference” style cluster workshops. The opportunities to meet with other teachers from the cluster, who taught in the same area of the school as you did, became a valuable, collaborative and “just in time” sharing time.

One of our ICTPD cluster goals (goal 5), which linked in beautifully with this, was  the development of online reflective practice.  As a last added measure we also made this goal and the reflection on it part of an attestation requirements. Teachers used a blog in uspace to write their goal and reflect on it with feedback and feedforward cycles coming from team leaders and senior management through commenting on blog entries.

Our Lead Teacher facilitated professional development meetings, upskilling the staff with the technical skills to make Virtual Classrooms which promoted literacy and numeracy.

Web 2 tools and classroom page modules, like the media gallery and the discusion forum, soon became the focus for the professional learning. This happened as teachers started to make connections between their own online reflective practice and the ability of the online environment to provide authentic reading and writing opporunities for their students. There were also “aha” moments for teachers about the links between digital citizenship (goal 1 of our ICTPD cluster programme) the development of our school values and learner models and culturally responsive practice.     

Throughout the year many of our readings focussed on innovative and integrated learning, e-portfolios and digital citizenship. We gave these out as hard copies and in online discussion forums (Our Virtual Professional Learning Community) to meet the needs of our learning community.  

Optional and compulsory workshops were offered to develop ICT knowledge and skills.  The professional learning sessions were initially run in the school holidays with sometimes up to 80% of staff turning up to them. Our ICT cluster facilitator supported staff by co planning lesson sequences with them and by modeling how online tasks, online commenting on blogs, participation in online discussions could be worked in to our tumble boards as part of our literacy teaching and learning programme.

What we achieved

  • All classes now have a class page and many subpages that reflect their students learning journey.
  • Students in one of our senior classes also trialled E-Portfolios.
  • Teachers have reflected on their virtual classroom goal and have also discussed and shared their progress during team and staff meetings.
  • Children are accessing and using their virtual class pages to support learning throughout all curriculum areas.  http://goo.gl/xninI
  • All classes are using online resources to support learning and in particular inquiry.  
  • Some classes are now developing interactive learning tasks to engage and extend students through a digital format. http://goo.gl/sgEQj
  • Many students regularly share their learning which has been recorded in their virtual classroom with their parents and whanau.  
  • The children have passwords and are able to access their virtual classroom from home.  
  • Some parents are beginning to respond to their children's contributions online.   

Arataki School Journey

Our Next Steps

In our 2012 Charter http://arataki.ultranet.school.nz/WebSpace/831/ we have identified the need to continue the development of online learning with an aspirational goal that all students are able to:

  • access Ultranet from school and home

  • participate and contribute in our digital landscape, in order to reflect on, celebrate and share their learning digitally.  

The teachers are continuing to explore 21st century e-learning pedagogies focusing on developing aspects of Culturally Responsive Practice through a more blended approach to their virtual classrooms, encouraging students to continue their learning at home and with their whanau. Whilst we have some whanau interacting with their child’s learning at home we would like to build strategies which enable this to a higher degree. This may involve  a focus on devloping our e-porfolios practices throughout the school, in alignment with our School Values programme, CRP, key competencies and reporting to parent procedures.

Dene Langley - Principal of Arataki School


  • Tessa Gray

    Thanks for sharing this story Sandy and Dene. A lot of thought has gone into this reflection and Arataki school community must be pleased with how far they have come to achieve their goals for blended learning - through the use of virtual classrooms and learning reflections in Uspace.

    It has been interesting to read how both the teachers and students are using this space for teaching and learning, self-reflective purposes. This reflective summary offers the what, how and why of it all Smile

    I think everyone can relate to the future steps identified, where Arataki school wants to find ways to support family and whanau to engage with their students learning online. Others have started to share their journey so far, these might be worth a read as well: