It is a time of change in education. Big changes. In New Zealand, we are adopting a new approach for schools. Instead of being relatively independent entities, schools are being encouraged to join a community of learners (COL) - that is, a community of schools. When I say encouraged, I mean that it is not compulsory, but as the Ministry of Education will prioritise any free professional learning for the schools inside a Communities of Learners, it seems pretty imperative to try to join up if you want access to that, for a start.
The idea is that together, the learners (teachers and students) will be able to draw on the strengths of all contributing schools. Which is admirable - I like this image that was shared with me at a conference last week. There is a lot of potential for schools to draw on the strengths of others.
The average number of schools in a COL is around 10 and they include primary and secondary schools, so there should be a reasonably wide range of expertise across the schools. Together the schools are expected to look at their data and formulate achievement challenges which reflect how they will, as a group, improve outcomes for their learners. The Ministry of Education will then aim to provide the professional development that the community needs, if the expertise is not available in those schools.
The disadvantages that I see coming are firstly that small schools, particularly those which are isolated, will miss out. These schools have very limited budgets. Often their clientele migrate to far off boarding schools and so they are not feeder schools for any secondary schools and so they are unlikely to be able to form a COL easily.
In addition, when communities of schools are in close proximity to each other, they will likely adopt the "flavour" of that community. I believe this means that in a low socio-economic region, the school will likely adopt a low socioeconomic outlook and likewise for high socioeconomic areas. Personally, I would like to see a lot more cross pollination of ideas and resources that can help raise achievement for the learners. The way that the COLs "form, storm, norm and perform" and develop their collaborative identity will be crucial to avoid glitches caused by competition and ego clashes.
These are my initial thoughts around the COLs and I do realise that the landscape is changing by the day. I welcome any feedback and discussion on this subject.