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Ōtaki Kāpiti Collective

Part 5 of 5: A series on collaboration

A little background to the collaborative initiative

A collective of Ōtaki Kāpiti primary and secondary schools have worked together for several decades to enhance schooling across the Kāpiti Coast.

COVID-19 has had an impact on relief teacher pools for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Additional teachers not able to come into the country because of closed borders
  • Relievers choosing not to work to reduce their chances of getting the virus
  • Relievers filling the gaps and teaching full time
  • Relievers self-isolating due to being close contacts or having the virus

This has become more of a problem with the virulent nature of Omicron and the expectation that schools will remain open with the Covid Protection Framework in spite of having COVID-19 cases. 

During this first term of 2022, the pressure on teachers has been significant and many schools have struggled to arrange relief teachers. This has been true of the Ōtaki Kāpiti schools whose number of available relievers dropped significantly. Though we generally have 93 relievers on our register, last year we only had 50 relievers available to cover the needs of the schools with some relievers choosing not to work to reduce their chances of getting the virus. However, collaboration has helped the Ōtaki Kāpiti schools during this time of reduced availability of relievers and, in particular, it has supported equitable access to relievers for all schools in the network.

Working together to place relievers in schools 

This is not a new initiative. The Ōtaki Kāpiti network of schools has been working together to place relief (emergency/sick leave) teachers into the participating schools for 25 years! However, the value of this long-term initiative has become more apparent as it has responded to the challenges of COVID-19. Initially, the process for supporting the placement of relievers in schools was a manual process and took a lot of time. However, prior to the pandemic we upgraded our approach by the use of an app solution called StaffSync which all schools now use while also retaining their collaborative reliever scheme. The new app has made the service more equitable and efficient. It has reduced the time spent on behalf of all schools from a full-time position to five hours weekly for the provision of emergency staffing and it has particularly supported us during the COVID-19 pandemic. Relievers have always had their favourite schools – leaving some schools finding it harder to source relievers than others. This collaborative approach has meant that the needs of all schools are considered equally, and the needs of all schools are equitably met. Check out this article for more information about this collaboration.

Collaboration – an important building block

Collaboration is nothing new for these Ōtaki Kāpiti schools. We have been collaborating in a variety of ways for decades. This shared administration of the pool of relievers is only one of many initiatives or “Forays” (as The Collective calls them) into collaboration by the group of schools. However, this already existing collaboration has made it easier to respond to the challenges presented by the pandemic and has supported equity and efficiency for each participating school. 

In terms of collaboration, The Collective of schools has developed a network approach in which groups of schools or teachers/leaders within schools, identify a need and intentionally build effective relationships around that need to accomplish goals and provide support to each other – that is, we build a network of relationships. Leadership is distributed - different schools lead different networks although a small network may not have a lead school at all. The networks are of different sizes and shapes. Though many schools belong to a number of networks, some schools may only belong to a few. The purpose of the networks is to support the diverse needs of schools and there is no expectation that all schools will participate in a network. Rather, schools make decisions about where they will participate based on their particular needs but also on what they have to contribute. 

Another collaborative initiative: reducing the digital divide

The Whakaaro Hou Trust ICT Devices Trust Administrative Network – a now defunct network - was tasked with supplying digital devices to individual students at affordable rates. The Trust took the financial risk away from parents/whānau who might otherwise struggle to purchase a device. This network was all about removing financial barriers to students accessing the digital technologies and ensuring there was no such thing as the “digital divide” in Ōtaki Kāpiti Schools. As such, it truly showed equity in action. This network, though now no longer needed, supported students to remain connected to their learning over the last two years of the pandemic.

Accessing community and charitable trust funds

Though much of the work done by the wide array of networks is done on a cost recovery basis, The Collective does work together to access funds from community organisations, the local council and other charitable trusts. Again, working together means schools are not working in competition with each other and diluting the value of the funds for the region. Rather, they are deciding on priorities and applying for funds on the basis of collective need.

Stable but responsive ecosystem

This is a stable ecosystem of networks with some elements that have remained consistent over a long period of time, and it is underpinned by a stable set of principles, with the first being equity – ensuring that all schools have what they need. The second principle is efficiency. However, though stable, the network is also responsive and able to adapt to changing circumstances as they arise.

What have you learned?

Any school or school leader who is part of a collaborative learning community must make a genuine contribution to the day-to-day life of that collaborative community. In many ways genuine collaboration requires all members of a group to step up and take on a leadership role at some stage or another. This happens in the Ōtaki Kāpiti Collective in a very natural and authentic manner. It is not about one person or one leader but rather highly distributed and equitable leadership (organic) where everyone pitches in when they are ready and able. Having a wide range of forays on the go at once gives all members opportunities to be involved in an area of interest/focus and at the level that best suits them and their school. 

Another key point is the lack of remuneration for principals in these roles ensures that everyone is taking on a role for the right reason. The very nature of our collaborations encourages everyone to take a turn and do their bit. People participate, contribute, or lead when and where they feel that they can be most useful. No one is judged and everyone is given ample time to make their own choices regarding their contribution to the group.

For Waikanae School the administration of the Relief Teacher Service is something that we were able to do for our colleagues at the time that Staffsync was being released into the market. We saw an opportunity and had the capacity to improve a shared service. It is important to note that both Raumati South School and Raumati Beach School had run the service in the past at times when it suited their schools and personnel to do so. Leadership of this administrative initiative has been spread across three schools and multiple principals in the 30 years of its operation. I have no doubt that other schools and principals will take on the leadership of this service over the next 30 years!

What advice do you have for other schools?

Trust is the cornerstone of any effective collaborative learning community. To build high levels of trust within a community, members must actively build strong personal professional relationships. In fact, to have a high-quality professional relationship you need to firstly have a solid personal relationship. There is a critical mass of members that is needed for the right ‘ethical culture’ to develop and then be sustained. Take the time and give yourselves the opportunity to do this by building relationships, acting ethically and developing mutual trust with your colleagues. A final bit of advice for those in a collaborative community, one does not need to be the best friends with everyone all the time, but one definitely needs to be friendly with most of the people most of the time. People and relationships really matter!

So, what is next?

For the Ōtāki Kapiti Collective it will be more of the same. That is, finding ways that can work together to enrich student learning, develop teacher capacity, improve our pedagogy or to lighten each other’s administrative loads. Our latest Foray, which is led by Paraparaumu College, has been the localisation of our Truancy Service for the 2022 school year. Another school stepping up and taking their turn with another Foray. We are all in this together! Here’s hoping that the funding for this local initiative will continue and this initiative becomes embedded in our community. 

As far as the provision of a district wide Emergency Relief Teacher scheme, the combination of a very efficient app (StaffSync) and our own people ensures that as a group of schools we have equitable access to all of the relief teachers available to us at any given time. Our solution is not the cheapest, but it is effective, meets all regulatory compliance needs and is very easy for everyone to use. Collaboration has made life so much easier during these pandemic years.