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Working in clusters: Some top tips from the Hereora Cluster

"The new knowledge comes not out of the minds of individual group members, but from the relationships between them" (Jane Gilbert, 2005)

What does it look like to work in a cluster? How do you work together? When collaborating in a cluster there are multiple considerations, and multiple layers that need to be considered and involved. It takes time to build relationships and understandings with staff and students, as well as parents and whanau across the schools and Early Childhood providers.

Sharing ideas for classroom practice or professional learning and development is important. However, sharing is not enough. It takes strategies such as pooling funding. Also, teachers and early childhood practitioners need to know and understand their roles in the network and the benefits for everyone should be clear.

Effective collaboration includes focussing on common needs and priorities, and inquiring using evidence. There needs to be several layers of inquiry, because the process of constantly checking is important. You deliberately move through a spiral of inquiry at a cluster level.

For the last year and a half, the Hereora cluster has been working in the 'uncomfortable' stage of developing a hunch, and sometimes returning to scanning' to come back again to a hunch. As part of this there has been a process of reducing vulnerability between network members, and the leaders have been active in fostering cognitive conflict in a way that combines trust and challenge. 

The cluster has become involved with, and started a number of professional learning groups that enable them to share and support each other's initiatives, as well as collaborate together and build relational trust. They also have a student leadership hui, and a culturally responsive hui. For the kapa haka festival there were 600 in the audience on both evenings. The culturally hui group are working together to develop collective waiata. In addition, there have been whānau and community celebrations, and students have had time to work together and have done fund raising for the hospital. The looking at the how and the why before the actions can be tough, but is incredibly valuable.

When the cluster schools started meeting together there was a sense of competitiveness. Over time, however, as people have got to know each other, they are now sharing practice, ideas, and collaborating. Meeting for social drinks, and farewells to celebrate a person's time with the cluster, as well as with their school. 

People come and go, and new people come on as a Cluster develops. There is a lot of unknown, and comfort with ambiguity is important.

Some of the key tips that the Hereora Cluster share are:

Plan for the edges

Thinking creatively of ways of including all members of the cluster, including the Early Childhood sector.

Build your vision

Julia Atkin's work helped scaffold the Hereora cluster as they re-visited their vision and worked to align their plan. They strange space between values and principles is tricky to work through, but is worth going through the "long, slow hard work". Collaborate, inquire, aspire where the 3 principles that underpinned the Hereora Cluster vision, which then led into actions. The vision is 'where you want to be' although you write it as if it is where you are now. 

Ideas for practice: Poutama

One of the tools they used was Poutama.

Timatanga (starting point)

  • What cluster work is totally relevant to our values / vision?
  • Space of opportunity
  • Ideation - what practices could we introduce to replace old practices?

Progress step

  • Ask questions put them up
  • provide possible answers
  • ask one more questions for each answer

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Comment by Janey Nolan on November 2, 2015 at 9:14

I really like the statement, " working in the 'uncomfortable' stage of developing a hunch, and sometimes returning to scanning' to come back again to a hunch."

I also think the concept of the "strange place between values and principles is tricky to work through".

A really thoughtful post.

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