Connecting in the Valley

Most schools in Australia would consider themselves to be a part of a network, and the 7 Department of Education schools in the Fitzroy Valley are no different. However, unlike schools in towns or cities the distance between schools is rather large:

(Tech footnote #1: The excellent ‘My Maps’ feature on Google Maps was used to knock this up; I love the new custom icon feature on show here, too!)

Understandably, with such large distances involved you can imagine that it’s not often that teachers in the Valley get a chance to meet face to face. Additionally, when you consider that two of these schools are ‘1+1’ schools (just 1 principal and 1 teacher) and another two are ‘1+3’ there’s a definite need for teachers to be able to meet and converse, both from a professional and a social perspective.

With this in mind, I was keen to put the possibility of a Valley-wide common school development day on the agenda when the 7 Valley principals met at our Kimberley Senior Leadership Team conference in October last year. It was quickly established that there was an appetite for the proposal, and after a few teleconferences, many group emails and plenty of behind-the-scenes hard work the 2016 Valley Big Event came to fruition!

Valley Big Event Poster

(Tech footnote #2: The Google app Fotor makes creating posters like this child’s play, even if the creator (me) made a mistake with one of the dates…)

We were able to use some of our network funding allocation from regional office to pay for charter flights for the folk at Wananami and accommodation for the four schools more than 30km from town. All schools committed to the two days, with the Saturday being billed as ‘trade off in one day’ – those in WA DoE schools will know what this means. And then we were able to secure an outstanding and diverse range of presenters, including Diana Rigg from PLD resources and John from Big Picture Education Australia whose programs are widespread throughout the primary and secondary settings in the Valley, respectively.

So how did it all go? It was absolutely fantastic! We’re all Stronger Smarter schools up here and we’d all do variations of a ‘Check-in’ before we meet with our staffs. This was the first one I’d ever done with 90 odd people at once though:

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Then it was into 2 days of concurrent sessions tailored to the needs of each phase of learning. This was strategic, as it enabled, say, all of the lower primary teachers to be together to discuss their practice and build connections with those teaching the same level in the other schools. We were even able to secure the excellent Office of Aboriginal Education team to present the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework professional learning to our Valley AIEOs, saving them an 800km (or more) round trip to Broome for the sessions scheduled by central office. And of course the teachers and school staff located in the communities out of town enjoyed the chance to have a drink and a dance with their colleagues at the social event on the Friday night.

The plan is to make this an annual event, and if the teacher feedback is anything to go on then we’d be crazy to shelve it after just this year. Here are a few of pics of the PL sessions in action – enjoy!

IMG_20160610_090320 IMG_20160610_093224IMG_20160610_093915 IMG_20160610_090505IMG_20160610_094403IMG_20160611_090232 IMG_20160610_094724

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