Deconstructing Michael: Part One Vision

Who is Michael you say?  Well Michael Barbour, Assistant Professor in Instructional Technology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.  And I’m not really deconstructing him.  It is more a discussion on the main themes of his paper on the Virtual Learning Network.  This is the first post in a series on the topic.

If you would like to view the full report then please click here.  I thoroughly recommend our own school leadership does.

Part One: Vision

Here is a sample of Michael’s findings on how successfully the eLearning clusters develop vision.

The importance of vision and leadership for school development has long been recognized (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar & Fung, 2007; Yee, 2000), but this has been slow to be recognised in relation to leadership across schools (Stevens & Davis, 2011). A vision provides the leadership a specific goal that they are able to work towards, along with a way to describe the overall purpose or function of the initiative to potential partners and outsiders. One of the most interesting themes that emerged was that the clusters that had the greatest level of support from their partner or participating schools were those who were able to articulate a vision for the cluster that went beyond the provision of distance education courses and opportunities that the tools could provide. Those clusters whose vision focused on the ability to provide distance education across the participating schools, or were based solely on teachers being able to use the tools to connect their students or themselves with like-minded colleagues, were the same clusters that were struggling to exist or were failing to emerge.

Probably a valid analysis, but it does highlight a couple of points I would like to elaborate on

We are one of those clusters “with the greatest level of support…” and I count myself lucky that we are.  Most of our principals are interested, engaged and keen to maintain momentum.  However, the vision of what this cluster is all about does vary across that group.  Some would quite happily leave it all about VC courses while others see the importance of developing a broader vision that encompasses collaboration, development of teacher networks, blended learning as well as fully online courses.   To me that is a bit of a problem.  Until all principals come to a common understanding of what the cluster is all about, progress towards something that is truly a community of schools will be an issue.  It is extremely important that visioning is a shared process.  Too often in the past the visioning has been led by the ePrincipals who “sells it” to principals.  I have seen the problem with this sort of approach up close up on a number of occasions.  Lots of head nodding and agreement, but no real engagement on that vision.  Things have been going well for the last couple of years, with no major support from the Ministry and I am happy that we have achieved some sense of sustainability, but it absolutely essential that school leadership plays a major part in developing a vision for the future of the cluster.  Maybe that vision will include a move towards an even larger network of schools.  There is a certain urban network close by that might be a starting point for that…

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Comments

  1. Thanks Darren for choosing to look at this report in more detail. There are lots of conversations to be had among the VLN Community about many of the themes that are written about by Michael and I’m looking forward to discussion on this at our AGM next week.
    I think having a shared vision is the foundation on which strong school collaborations are grown and it’s not an easy thing to achieve and maintain. Sharing the vision is important as it is the motivation behind school ownership, participation and ‘buy in’. Yes ‘buy in’ to the vision can vary in degrees between all the school participants and that can be a challenge when some have a baseline minimum expectation & others are more wide ranging & encompassing beyond just the online classes. One of the challenges i found in developing and maintaining this vision and therefore commitment from schools was changes in school leadership – new Principals, or key people moving from their schools. These changes in school personnel are very difficult particularly when we are talking about commitment and participation in the VLN Community, which still after 10 years of life, for many, is not still not part of the mainstream educational landscape or even featuring on their radar.

    • Thanks for the comment Rachel. Again, I have been very lucky with incoming Principals, each of whom have added something to the cluster. For example an influential (positively) principal has been replaced by a DP from an OtagoNet school. Another supportive principal has been replaced by the DP from our founding school (Oxford). The vast majority of those who have come in seem to be enthusiastic about what we do. Many of schools have been in the game a long time so its part of their culture. It is perhaps a bit different with a relatively new cluster.

    • Rachel – and I suppose this can be for Darren too – have you found that it helps to get a greater level of school buy-in than simply teh school leadership (i.e., the principal and deputy principal)? I ask because Rachel’s comment about changes in school leadership is understandable, if it is only the school leadership (or a select few teachers within the school) that have bought into particiating in the VLN e-learning cluster. Many of the schools that I visited within the more mature clusters seemed to have buy-in from a significant number of the staff, not simply those directly involved in the VLN or the school leadership. When I visited schools that were in struggling clusters, it was often only the school’s leadership – and in extreme cases, not the school’s leadership, but only those directly involved in the VLN – that had bought into the cluster’s vision.

  2. Darren, first of all I’m a little flattered that you’re taking the time to systematically address the various parts of the report I prepared and I am quite looking forward to the future entries. I did have a question and a comment about your entry above.

    As CantaNet is a recently merged cluster, I am wondering if you notice any specific trends in those who are happy for the cluster to simply provide distance education and which of the two former clusters they used to belong to? I ask because as a recently merged cluster, I suspect that you’re still in the process of developing a shared vision that combines what the two former clusters were all about, so that you have a single, common vision to move forward.

    The second thing that was wondering about was whether the principals who would be happy with simply the provision of distance education would still respond that was all to the vision of the cluster. Basically, I’m asking if I were to talk to these principals, would they be able to articulate the CantaNet vision as more than just distance education – even though that is really all they want out of the cluster. I ask because there is a difference between a principal that believes the vision of the cluster is only distance education and a principal who knows the cluster has a larger vision and just chooses not to participate or take part in that larger vision.

    • Interesting question Michael. There is no real trend apparent in principal “buy in” to the vision. I know of principals in both of the old clusters who are only really interested in the VC side of things. And in answering your other question – yes I would say that virtually all principals understand the current vision, but as you say ‘choose’ not not participate. They are in the minority though.

      This is an important year, because we will trying to bring all the principals together face to face to revision for the future. We have yet to do that with the new cluster. Also planning to form a principal working group to plan for the next five years.

      • Interesting… I’d be quite interested in this revisioning process, and if there is anything I can do from a distance to help you facilitate the process, please let me know.

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