An Exploration of the Collaborative Practices within Learning Networks of New Zealand Schools
This thesis investigates the practices of participants in three “clusters” of New Zealand schools associated with the Extending High Standards Across Schools (EHSAS) project funded by the Ministry of Education from 2005 to 2009. The investigation addresses four questions: (i) What collaborative practices were used by the participants in the EHSAS clusters? (ii) Do the research participants perceive the collaborative practices that they used as making a difference to student achievement? (iii) What do the participants perceive as the benefits and limitations of collaborative practice? (iv) How consistent are participants’ perceptions with research findings in the field? The thesis begins by searching national and international research in order to define effective collaboration. It is argued that across certain relevant studies, the key purposes of collaboration are for teachers and students to learn and improve in order to reach the common goal set by the cluster. Associated practices can be used to build skills and knowledge in teachers, school leaders, and cluster members. Following this, a Grounded Theory approach was used to analyse and interpret data that emerged from the three clusters’ milestone reports and interviews with cluster members. The analysis found that the leaders of EHSAS clusters believed that shared leadership across principals is essential to cluster work, and that a hierarchical cluster structure is the best way to transmit knowledge from leaders to teachers. They also believed that if they shared resources, ideas, strengths and expertise with one another they would then have knowledge that would be useful to teachers wanting to change and improve their practices, and raise student achievement. Despite some of their beliefs being consistent with research literature on effective collaboration, according to the literature, many of the EHSAS leaders’ practices would not have enabled the learning and improvement that they espoused to be leading. The final chapter of this thesis identifies where EHSAS leaders’ beliefs and practices were inconsistent and what this means for future research and the implementation of similar projects aiming to promote collaboration across schools.