Hero photograph
Calf and Lamb Day
Photo by Rachel Whalley

Rural Education, Virtual Learning and Collaborative Practice

Rachel Whalley —

There are many challenges in being a principal in a small rural school in New Zealand, but when principals work collaboratively across schools they can relieve some of those challenges and provide benefits for their students and themselves.

In 2017 I received a TeachNZ scholarship to complete my Masters thesis Collaboration across New Zealand rural primary schools: A virtual learning perspective

This year I have presented on my findings to NZEI Curriculum Hui, Rural Principals conference, RERG (Rural Education Reference Group), FLANZ18 and ULearn17.

Some of my findings were:

Principals are experiencing challenges regarding:

  • access to curriculum and PLD
  • stress of a high workload and not enough time
  • expectations around their role as principal
  • having adequate staffing and resources
  • communicating and working with others outside the school

These challenges are compounded to create an environment where our schools and our learners, are effectively being excluded from many opportunities. 

Benefits of online collaboration:

  • a connection to the wider world
  • access to curriculum subjects
  • catering for special interests & diverse learners
  • learning alongside peers their own age
  • interacting with teachers other than their own
  • prepared children to go to secondary school
  • engaged families & communities
  • students retained in their schools

Key ideas:

  • Online learning is beneficial to learners but one small part of their whole learning experience. 
  • Local place based curriculum is really important for engaging students and involving community & not always the best fit for online collaboration across schools. 
  • Blended learning was considered to provide a good balance between online and face to face learning. 
  • Online collaboration is beneficial for teachers too - we should be doing more of it! 

Recommendations to government:

  • Address the problems faced by rural school principals in particular staffing concerns;
  • ensure that new government policy around Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako, Communities of Online Learning, and the schools funding review is cognizant of the needs of small rural schools, ​ ​and provide guidance and resourcing that support schools to collaborate online;​ 
  • reduce the digital divide for rural communities, both in schools and in homes.

​ My full thesis, summary of findings & recommendations and poster presentation are attached below.