Deconstructing Michael: Part Two Funding, Resources and the role of the ePrincipal

In part two Michael analyses the resourcing of the clusters and in particular the role of the ePrincipal.  He makes the point that no ePrincipal could clearly define the role so it will be very difficult to gain funding from the Ministry (which is what most want).  I have pulled a few points out below.

In the case of the e-learning clusters the funding and resources often described as being required included funding for the role of the ePrincipal and other cluster leadership, teachers for the distance education programme (both to teach the courses and to support students at the local level), professional development – both face-to-face and online – for those involved in cluster activities, the asynchronous (e.g., learning management system) and synchronous (e.g., videoconferencing bridge and equipment) tools, etc.

…all of the ePrincipals interviewed, and almost all of the participating school principals and deputy principals, indicated a desire for the Ministry to fund the ePrincipal.  Arguments for this funding ranged from the nature of responsibilities of the ePrincipal to the view that the ePrincipal should be viewed in much the same light as the principal of a regular school. What was most interesting was that when asked the ePrincipals themselves were unable to articulate a clear vision for what the role of ePrincipal entailed.

Given this inability to firmly and consistently define the role of the ePrincipal, beyond a description of what each individual ePrincipal was responsible for, make constructing a case for this funded position difficult – if not impossible.

What is leadership?  Is it this?


Or this?


I think the ePrincipal leadership model is fundamentally flawed and always has been.  It was premised on one person leading school innovation in eLearning across a whole cluster (working with in school leadership of course) which tends to conflict with all the current research on school leadership.  We have seen a move away from an emphasis on ‘heroic’ leadership in schools to more of a shared or distributed model where the school acts as a learning community.  In a learning community leadership is viewed as an action driven by any and all within.  It has nothing to do with formal positional roles of leadership (although the principal has a key role in developing a school culture that supports this).

Why then do we see the role of an ePrincipal as the key driver in an eLearning cluster?  Why a single person who has the very difficult job of managing a complex set of goals on their own?  Where is the sustainability?  How are you building leadership capacity? What happens if and when that person leaves?  Someone else has to start right from the beginning or at the very worst the cluster falls apart.  I would rather see a team working together across a more regionally focused network.

To be fair the clusters have developed since the ePrincipal project began in 2008.  There are two of us working together within CantaNet – okay one is part time, but it is something.  I also see that FarNet / HarbourNet have a team of three (although rather hierarchical in its organisation) which is a move in the right direction.

If we are ever going to get funding from the Ministry again we need to re-imagine the organisation of the eLearning clusters themselves and in particular the leadership of them.  This is difficult when we are stuck in a model that I think promotes strategic thinking that is rather insular and cluster-centric.  Progress has been made though and it will be interesting to see whether the N4L kick starts some change.



  1. Darren, I do’t think strategic thinking that is insular and cluster-centric is the problem. There are several clusters that have membership that span beyond their national geographic reach because schools have an interest in what their cluster is supporting. The question becomes how will the system (i.e., the VLN-loops) react when you have two Wellington Schools and three Auckland schools that wish to become part of CantaNet or OtagoNet because they feel an alignment with the visions of those clusters? Or when a Christchurch or Dunedin school wishes to become part of WeLCom? While the geographic focus was useful to address an identified need, if the cluster is based on a true vision – as opposed to simply being in response to a local need – then it should have the ability to attract interest from schools beyond its traditional geographic focus.

    It you had schools all over the north and south island, then creating a job description that may the ePrincipal more of a secretarial person – at least in terms of this distributed leadership, and also in terms of the kinds of administrative duties that thlplpey’d undertake – then you’d need few of them and I think you’d have a better case for national funding. This is one of the reasons I continue to push rationalisation, which seems to get resistance. I referenced it again at the DEANZ conference on Friday (using OtagoNet, DunedinNet and SLIC as an example), and had strong resistance to the idea on the basis that the local needs might not be the same (and not from Ken, who along with Hazel, were the only non-Ministry VLN people at DEANZ).

    In a conversation I had around the VLN-C AGM with someone they indicated that too often the visions of the clusters were not real visions, but simply strategic plans to address a local need. As the need becomes addressed that the so-called “vision” becomes the way the cluster does business – often due to the individual leadership’s investment in that “vision.” This gets back to my recommendation to split the sustainable and mature categories of the matrix. As I said in the report, there are several sustainable clusters, but I’m unconvinced that there are any truely mature clusters.

    But I wonder if this would be the case if you had the distributed leadership model that you reference above, as opposed to the traditional hierarchical model that all of the current clusters have.

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