A peer group of schools that can exchange ideas and draw inspiration from each other’s experience has boosted the performance of the schools involved.
The Connection was created by Social Ventures Australia in 2014 to support outstanding and developing school leaders and teachers in school communities experiencing disadvantage to develop collaborations with other like- minded school leaders and industry, government and tertiary education providers to improve student outcomes.
Since it started, the program has connected 50 schools and nearly 3000 educators in NSW, SA and Victoria, benefitting around 50,000 primary and high school students.
Principal, Kevin Mackay OAM, at Dandenong North Primary School, says “The values we get from being part of The Connection are multitudinous. We've got connection with other high performing schools, that we obviously learn from, we've got interstate connections that we never had before that are really marvelous because you learn what's happening in other states, and we've got the best practice connections which allow us to tap into really cutting edge teaching and learning”.
Students at Dandenong North Primary School achieved NAPLAN results far above those of students with similar levels of socio-educational disadvantage. The school’s student observation program has allowed students to exercise agency and metacognitive abilities in their learning.
Principal, Adam Wilson, from Stirling North Primary School in South Australia says that since joining The Connection in 2016 and introducing project-based learning methods that allow students to lead their own learning, the school has turned around declining enrolments and engagement.
“We have had improved NAPLAN results for years 5 and 7 in Numeracy and Reading in recent years. An incredible achievement is that 93 per cent of students can now articulate their learning goals. Over the last three years instances of negative behaviour have reduced by 45 per cent, and suspensions reduced by 59 per cent. Our goal at Stirling North Public School is to build 21st Century skills in our students – to ask critical questions, reflect, collaborate, problem solve. We want our students to leave Year 6 with all the skills they need to become employable.”
Principal, Christine Cawsey AM, Rooty Hill High School in Western Sydney, NSW sees sharing effective practice as the key to system-wide school improvement. “The value of the network is in the fact that it has been done across state boundaries, which is rare. Connecting across those boundaries, that’s powerful systems leverage. We have much more in common with some interstate schools [in the Connection] than some of our local schools. There’s power in working with schools with similar value sets, and similar ways of working.”
One initiative that the school has shared with other schools in The Connection is their ‘Creativity Wheel’ developed with Professor Bill Lucas, a tool which helps teachers to design programs that allow students to develop their creative and critical thinking by exploring the dispositions of imagination, inquisitiveness, persistence, collaboration, and discipline.
The school received an Innovative School of the Year Award in 2016 and 2017. Throughout the school’s time in The Connection they recorded improved student engagement and learning. Student attendance rates increased, and the number of negative behaviour incidents fell significantly.
At Elderslie Public School near Campbelltown in NSW, school leaders brought back ideas from visits with schools in South Australia and introduced new ways of giving students more responsibility which has transformed their learning environment. Their student led School Ministries have just won a NSW Education Department 2020 Secretary's Award for an Outstanding School Initiative.
Principal Melissa Clarke says, “The secret to improving our impact as classroom teachers, was to simply ask our students what they need, now we have students actually teaching lessons in our classrooms planning with staff, co-designing lessons with the teachers.”
Results from the program have been published in a new report – Unleashing the Power of the Collective in Education – by RMIT’s Policy, Strategy and Impact team. They found that The Connection is having a positive impact on teachers’ collective capability, school improvement practices and student engagement and learning outcomes.
Professor Tom Bentley, Executive Director for Policy and Impact at RMIT, who co-authored the evaluation report says: “The evaluation found The Connection sets a distinctive example of how system-wide school improvement can be achieved, to help close the inequality gap in Australian education.
“The Connection is, an exciting, living model for building learning capability and collaborative leadership development at a school, community and system level,” he says.
Education Director with Social Ventures Australia Suzanne Cridge says: “We have seen schools in communities that experience high levels of disadvantage accelerate their journey into learning power houses and level the playing field for their students.”
The evaluation by RMIT found that after 3–5 years of participating in The Connection
“These achievements show that when schools are facilitated to connect their work and support each other, it’s an effective and efficient way to find, share and then develop new teaching and learning practices that are fit for purpose and drive better learning outcomes for children,” says Ms Cridge.
“We want to expand this valuable network – our vision is to create a ‘new education normal’ for all Australian students, where the quality of a young person’s education is no longer a postcode lottery,” said Ms Cridge.
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