The building blocks of a collective learning culture

The building blocks of a collective learning culture

In August, The Educator revealed the winners of the Hot List 2020, recognising and celebrating the best of what Australian education has to offer in an extraordinary and challenging year.

Among the winners, which included principals and head teachers through to school managers and other industry figures, was Murray Cox, principal of Newling Public School in NSW.

Cox is the key figure in the development of a collective learning culture at the school – one that is focused on students’ achievement and driven by the belief that all children will succeed.

Under his capable leadership, Newling has undergone significant staffing and structural changes, which includes the implementation of a whole-school collaborative teaching model.

Below, The Educator speaks to Cox about the school’s unique staffing model, its unwavering focus on wellbeing and what’s in store for teaching and learning at the school in 2021.

TE: What has been the leadership approach you have taken at the school during this difficult and challenging year?

This year, more than ever it has been important to remain visible and accessible to the school community. Our communications needed to be clear, honest, and compassionate, acknowledging the rapid changes and sufficiently filled with hope to keep inspiring our whole school community to forge ahead and keep learning together. The school has been viewed as a safe haven and the clear and visible protocols we have put in place have been reassuring and put the parent’s minds at ease. As a leader I have had to constantly update our understanding, almost daily, and alter or reconsider strategies rapidly to meet new challenges presented. 

TE: I understand that you have developed a unique and strategically designed staffing model at the school. Can you tell us more about this?

Newling has a highly effective team-teaching model that provide consistency in every classroom and caters for the individual learning needs of every child. The team-teaching approach was developed to do away with the traditional withdrawal model of learning support that was ineffective and created disruptions to classroom learning. The school looked at evidence and consolidated funds for additional teaching staff to be provided to every classroom, with the amount dependent upon identified student need. Each class has two teachers permanently on each class, and at times the classroom will have three teachers during English and Mathematics sessions to provide additional support throughout school intensive reading program, speech support and numeracy programs. This is primarily in the Kindergarten and Years 1 and 2 one classrooms, as this is identified as time of schooling when we will have the greatest impact, by building deep foundations for learning and developing strong learning habits. Newling’s collaborative teaching model utilises the experience and expertise of a K-2 Instructional Leader and has established a position of Instructional Leader 3-6. The Instructional Leaders work with all teaching staff, in the classrooms as teachers and in weekly scheduled meetings, to build their capacity as teachers and builds skills and understanding of how to best cater for student literacy and numeracy needs. The Instructional Leaders also provide relevant, high impact professional learning for all staff and are integral to the school improvement practices. The Instructional Leaders and collaborative teaching structure, has a direct influence on the improvement of the teaching practice in each classroom and consequently significantly improved student outcomes. Academic improvement has also been matched with improvement in student attendance and improvement in student wellbeing and engagement measures.

TE: This year has been a distressing one for students as well as staff. How has the school been keeping a finger on the pulse of student and staff wellbeing?

The school culture of Newling is positive and respectful, with wellbeing a collective responsibility for staff, students and community. Students thrive in a predictable environment and throughout the year we have maintained this consistency in school routines as a priority.  As soon as permissible we reintroduced extracurricular activities so that school year and routines were as consistent as possible.

TE: Looking ahead into 2021, what are some of the key learnings from the pandemic that the school will be implementing to ensure that student and staff are supported to be their best?

This year has confirmed that students learn best when in front of a teacher in a classroom. The social connections and interaction in learning are so important and these personal interactions with peers, teachers that are not achievable through use of ICT. Parents have greater appreciation for the role through their own experience with remote and flexible learning and better understand the tireless work being done by teachers in every classroom, every day. The seamless way teachers adapted to remote learning was exceptional. Staff spent long hours preparing material for learning-at-home packs, their willingness to adopt new communication techniques, their ingenuity and creativity have kept students engaged and progressing with their learning. All the staff looked forward to the day when students returned!