Analysis of the key lessons learned from clusters who exited in 2008

The key lessons learned, outlined by exiting clusters in their final milestone report, cover a wide range of topics, both at cluster and individual school level. There were 40 exiting clusters that contributed over 400 individual statements about the lessons they learned while on the contract. These statements have been organised thematically and summarised. There were eight clear themes. Within each theme, there was a range of responses, which are collated under subheadings where appropriate:

Cluster setup

A number of clusters talked about the challenges of forming an effective cluster. Some of the issues that arose were:
  • too wide a geographical spread was not workable within a single cluster
  • there should be a limit on the number of schools within a single cluster
  • it is more important to consider clustering with schools that have common philosophies of learning rather those close geographically
  • the tension created when working together with schools who you were also competing with for students
  • schools and teachers can be overloaded by taking on too many projects at once
  • some schools did not seem to be aware that the ICT contract focused on teaching and learning rather than ICT skills when they joined a cluster and it meant that their progress was delayed and hampered
  • having a cohesive approach across primary, intermediate and high school could be rewarding and beneficial


The importance of effective leadership within clusters and individual schools was a very strong theme to emerge from the statements.

The managment team
  • The team worked best if made up of principals, lead teachers and the facilitator
  • Regular meetings were a way to keep the cluster functioning well
  • Interactions at management team meetings helped individual schools to develop their own school vision
  • Starting management meetings early in the contract meant the cluster became stronger

  • Strong leadership and management of the cluster was needed
  • Directors needed to organise regular meetings of the management group
  • There could be issues around directors working with other principals – it was hard to tell them what to do

  • Principals being ‘on-board’, committed and present at meetings was considered vital to cluster success
  • Principals should ‘lead from the top’ and needed to drive the PD
  • They needed to have an understanding of ICT in education pedagogy and be supportive of the cluster programme.
  • They needed to know their staff well.
  • They were effective if they distributed and shared ideas with staff
  • They needed to be aware of the barriers facing staff and then build in support to overcome these

There was a large range of facilitation models within the clusters.
  • It was important for some clusters to have flexibility with how facilitators were utilised
  • Some clusters changed their facilitation model when refining what would work for their cluster
  • Some used in-house facilitators from schools (with release time) and felt this was effective as it built internal capability
  • The value of having a facilitator was that they had a ‘bigger picture’ understanding of the current ICT landscape and an overview of what was happening in the different schools
  • It was important that a facilitator could work with a range of teachers including the least confident and that schools felt they have ownership of the programme rather than the facilitator
  • Having regular access to a facilitator who could work with individual teachers was seen as a contributor to cluster success.
  • It was recognised that it could be difficult for a facilitator to work in many different schools with a range of philosophies
  • A good facilitator gets to know the teachers they are working with so they can find out what works for each person

Lead teachers
The selection of the lead teacher was extremely important for moving the school forward
  • It was more important to select a lead teacher based on their emphasis on learning rather than technical issues but it was still important for them to be competent ICT users
  • For sustainability and capacity building, it was often better to have more than one lead teacher in a school
  • The development of lead teachers was essential to support change within the schools
  • Lead teachers were effective as they were a way to keep communication open throughout the cluster and they could provide in-school support and coaching

Statements also focused on the needs of lead teachers and what support they should receive.
  • One cluster felt it important that lead teachers received management units in recognition of the extra workload
  • Lead teachers needed time in order to carry out their role effectively and needed to have access to technical advice and support so that they could focus on teaching and learning
  • They need support from senior management and opportunities to work with lead teachers from the other schools

Cluster staffing issues
A number of clusters commented on how cluster staffing had impacted on the progress of the cluster.
  • High turn-over of staff was seen as a major challenge with many reporting a loss of momentum within the cluster or in individual schools as key staff left.
  • It was considered useful to have systems set up for inducting new staff to the cluster

Developing a cluster learning community

Clusters reported that building an effective learning community was crucial to success. Responses are organised around the following areas:
  • The power of a cluster learning community
  • Developing shared vision and philosophies.
  • Face-to-face cluster community building.
  • Building online communities.
  • National conferences.
  • Individual school communities.

The power of a cluster learning community
  • The ability to share between schools and with other clusters was a huge strength of the contract with everyone able to learn from each other
  • Sharing helped keep up the momentum of the contract and was a way to learn new ideas and provide support to each other
  • Workload could be reduced through sharing expertise and resources
  • The learning community helped to reinforce the place of ICT in education through discussions
  • By having cluster staff present to each other, they gained in confidence and skill with some going on to present at national conferences organised with that premise in mind
  • The centralisation of resources for clusters in ICT PD Online was also useful

Developing shared vision and philosophies
It was important that clusters worked to align values and beliefs between cluster schools
  • Dialogue between schools and being non-judgemental were part of this process.
  • The differences between cluster schools needed to be acknowledged with a realisation that not one size fits all and that rates of change will be different in each school.
  • It was useful to focus on the areas in common at cluster level while individual schools worked on other areas where there was no commonality
  • It was important to emphasise within the group that this contract was about enhancing teaching and learning over a skills driven programme and that there needed to be a focus on how the use of the technologies impact on student learning
  • Teachers needed to understand the pedagogy before moving onto practical aspects

Face-to-face cluster community building
  • It was important for the management group to meet regularly
  • Teachers needed to be given opportunities to work with teachers from other schools within the cluster
  • Clusters had success with ‘cluster shares’ where teachers travelled to one school for mini-presentations and workshops after school
  • Cluster expos were also successful for many with a need to consider the needs of individual schools when putting together a programme
  • Visiting other schools to see authentic uses of ICT in action was an effective form of PD. It was important to be flexible in the methods of collaboration across the cluster

Building online communities
  • Online spaces could be an excellent tool when teachers use them regularly to share ideas though it could be difficult to keep them up-to-date and relevant
  • It was useful to build online space as it could then be used to collaborate past the end of the contract and as a place to locate shared resources

National conferences
  • Attending conferences was a powerful experience for delegates
  • Sending a group was an effective way to generate discussion and support change
  • It was important to consider carefully who would best benefit from attending the conference and lay down expectations of how they would feed back to the schools on their return
  • Conferences helped attendees catch the vision of what ICT can do to benefit teaching and learning and were an excellent source of professional development in the context of a three year project cycle.
  • Conferences made teachers aware of the wider professional learning community and provided a positive environment in which teachers could feed back their learning over the three year cycle.

Individual school communities
  • It was important to focus on what Michael Fullan calls ‘Lateral team building’ where everyone learns from each other
  • Teachers needed to see themselves as learners and also be given opportunities to step up and run professional development for others
  • Teachers needed time to share and try things in a supportive environment

Effective communication

  • It was essential to have regular, high quality communication between schools involved in the contract
  • Setting up electronic communication systems between schools and within each school was a way to put ‘positive pressure’ on cluster staff to become more familiar with these ways of working
  • Having a shared calendar of events that all cluster staff could access meant that people were aware of upcoming opportunities and could easily check dates and times

Strategic Planning

Goal setting and planning
  • Clusters discovered that it took time for change to occur. They needed to take this into account when planning. Some overestimated what they would accomplish and would recommend making it manageable by not trying to do too much in the first year
  • By researching new ideas and initiatives, clusters saved themselves time and energy by adapting the work of others to fit the cluster context
  • The action plan should enable schools to participate as a cluster with shared language while keeping their own identities
  • At school level, time needed to be spent on developing a shared vision and developing a strategic plan
  • This plan may need to be revisited more often than every three years with the current rate of change
  • The plan needed to reflect the needs of teachers and the school as a whole in terms of infrastructure (planning purchases with a sound educational rationale, systems and set up) teaching and learning pedagogy to reflect 21st century learning skills and key competencies and a professional development programme which caters for teacher and school wide needs
  • There needed to be alignment between the cluster goals, the school-wide development goals, and the ICT strategic plan goals
  • Getting the input of students into new initiatives could lead to co-constructed learning opportunities and raised student motivation and engagement
  • Management needed to be aware that if they were bringing in new systems and initiatives then they might need to abandon other traditional practices so as not to overload staff
  • Individual teacher goals and needs were identified at school level and then were supported by lead teachers and the facilitator (2). It was effective to expect evidence of planning for ICT to be built into planning documents

  • Purchasing of ICT equipment needed to be matched directly to specific needs which had been identified by teachers and had a specific purpose in raising schools’ achievement
  • It was important to maximise the use of what was available in the schools and the most effective ICT infrastructure was not always the most expensive
  • Giving equipment to staff that ‘nag’ for it was effective as they were most likely to make the best use of it
  • Keeping the BOT and parent community informed of the importance of technology in today’s society meant that they were more likely to support the purchase of infrastructure.
  • There was a greater demand for access to equipment as teachers gained in confidence and competence with ICT
  • The cost of maintaining infrastructure was a challenge for many cluster schools
  • The TELA laptop scheme also enabled teachers to make large gains as they had more opportunities to ‘play’
  • There needs to be a minimum level of access to avoid teacher frustration
  • It was important that any hardware was reliable in order for teachers to use ICT effectively for teaching and learning
  • If there were issues, these needed to be addressed quickly. Having access to technical support as needed is vital for successful integration
  • Technical providers could also block innovation by not allowing schools control over their networks. Schools needed control so that they could access online tools and could unblock sites as needed
  • The school ICT infrastructure should work for the teachers to support teaching and learning rather than the teachers having to work for the infrastructure (1).
  • The choice of learning management system was important and needed to underpin the learning provided by the staff. One cluster felt it would simplify things nationally if there was a single LMS used across all schools

Cluster implementation

Motivating and engaging teachers
  • Teachers needed to see the benefits to teaching and learning in order to implement ICT in the classroom
  • They needed time and space to trial and implement new ideas and practicesTeachers began at different starting points and progressed at different rates, so this needed to be considered when organising a professional development programme at the school
  • Teachers learned best by doing rather than being told and many needed to be confident in using the technologies themselves before they could use them effectively in the classroom

Effective professional development
  • Professional development for teachers worked best when accompanied with follow-up tasks
  • While the focus of the PD was on changing the pedagogy, some basic skills sessions could help bring up the confidence level of staff new to using ICT and those teachers also benefited from progressing in small steps with time for consolidation
  • At times, it was better to have workshops held at an individual school as then it could be tailored to meet the needs for that school and staff felt comfortable to ask questions
  • Teacher only days were an effective time for staff to develop their skills.
  • A variety of approaches when working with staff meant that all styles were catered for, for example, one-to-one, coaching and mentoring, and practical workshops
  • For some, teacher release was preferred as it valued the PD by not expecting a teacher to always do it after school in their own time while other teachers did not want too much time out of their classroom
  • PD needed to be targeted on what was happening in the classroom.
  • Practical classroom support and modelling in the classroom was a really effective form of PD. Any in-school support and facilitation worked best if the pressure times (such as around exam times) were avoided
  • It was useful for other school staff such as teacher aides to receive support and training, as they were often working with the students directly
  • Action research was a way for teachers to design their own inquiries and helped deepen their understanding of the use of ICTOne cluster reported that action research wasn’t considered relevant by their staff.

Meeting the needs of students and involving them in PD
  • Students learned well by being able to collaborate on tasks and by being given basic skills and then being able to discover for themselves how to use a range of ICTs
  • Teachers did not always have to be the experts
  • It was more effective to pass on knowledge and skills to students in authentic contexts
  • An effective ICT programme could lead to more engaged, motivated and enthusiastic students
  • Having students present to teachers was an extremely effective way for teachers to see the power of using ICT and teachers could then learn from the students

Monitoring impact of the programme

  • Schools needed to be reminded about the importance of completing tasks and keeping evidence/ documentation
  • One successful strategy used was to have all cluster staff develop SMART goals and then use reflective journals to record their progress against these goals. This meant that the teachers had to critically reflect on their own learning and the learning of their students
  • Teachers needed to be reflective and to be willing to alter their practice as they moved through the contract
  • Systems at cluster and school level needed to be built in to support reflective practice
  • Critical reflection is essential to developing effective teaching practice
  • Some schools built ICT into their staff appraisal system as a way to prioritise this development
  • By walking around the school, changes could be seen in classroom practice
  • It was important to take time to celebrate progress and quality work within the school, while still looking at how to further improve

Sustaining development

  • It is important to consider sustainability from the outset of the cluster programme. Building internal capacity of lead teachers (or in-house facilitators) was an important part of this
  • Clusters planned to continue some combined events past the end of the contract such as lead teacher meetings, cluster expos and chances for teachers to meet from the different schools.
  • Keeping a shared online resource space was also seen as a way to continue working as a cluster.
  • There needed to be plans in each school to continue a programme of professional development for staff once the cluster had finished
  • Internal structures within each school needed to be examined and developed to support ongoing development
  • Each stage of development needed to be embedded before moving to the next step
  • It was important to have a way of inducting new staff to the school so that they understood the direction of ICT within the school