Networks of expertise
The Networks of Expertise (NEX) are made up of 36 subject and learning area associations and networks led by expert kaiako and teachers across Aotearoa New Zealand. They are funded by The Ministry of Education to enable specialised and tailored peer to peer professional development and support for kaiako.
In 2017 the Ministry of Education piloted the Networks of Expertise (NEX) initiative with Education Outdoors New Zealand (EONZ), New Zealand Health Education Association (NZHEA) and Home Economics and Technology Teachers’ Association of New Zealand (HETTANZ).
EONZ, NZHEA and HETTANZ worked in partnership to provide PLD support to their communities of kaiako and teachers in their respective subject areas. A key element to their way of working was the establishment of a Kaiārahi role in each of the organisations. The Kaiārahi provided meaningful, timely and expert advice in the form of one-to-one email and phone discussions, in school visits, resource and lesson planning support and more. Their guidance and leadership in the role as the "go to" and direct link for personalised support proved incredibly valuable and continues today.
The pilot phase demonstrated the success of a collaborative way of working, led by expert kaiako and teachers, to respond to the needs of their members and to grow the capabilities of their networks and communities.
The Networks of Expertise grew significantly in 2018, with the Ministry of Education allocating NEX funding to over 40 kaiako and teacher-led associations across a range of subject areas. T.R.C.C. won the contract for national coordination of the NEX initiative, a significant moment in its history of contribution to PLD.
Over the course of the next few years, NEX grew their existing membership bases, connected colleagues across the country through online platforms and face to face events and further established networks of peers supporting peers. They grew their libraries of resources supporting teachers to develop Māori-centred contexts for learning, provided lesson plans, culturally inclusive materials, NCEA assessment support and exemplars as just some examples, and delivered quality, responsive PLD that supported curriculum aims as well as curated individualised PLD to support members' needs and goals.
For experienced kaiako and teachers, NEX funding provided the opportunity to mentor and build the capacity of their peers. For many beginning teachers, access to NEX support in their subject or learning area was an important aspect of their well-being and career development. For many in geographically isolated areas, NEX communities proved to be an invaluable support system for those who were the only specialist teacher in their school. For those with low levels of professional learning opportunities available in their area, NEX were there to assist.
Feedback from kaiako and teachers on the impact of NEX activity was positive. They reported higher confidence using resources and implementing what they had learned from NEX workshops, as well as reporting more confidence in their roles. The opportunity to connect with peers at NEX events was also a highlight.
There is a lot to be gained by interacting with subject specialists. While this is a key aspect of a course itself, the networking between sessions has proven invaluable.
Perhaps one of the greatest advocacies for the NEX programme was its collective response in Covid-19 in 2020.
With the option of face-to-face PLD removed, NEX had to grapple with event cancellation and their activities shifted to enabling online learning support alongside their counterparts in education. With the traditional style of PLD delivery challenged, a shift to online PLD meant NEX were nimble and adaptable to teachers' needs at that time.
Not only did NEX expand and grow their digital presence (which for some was already active) but they addressed changes to the delivery of education and PLD by creating, in a relatively short turnaround time, new resources specific to home learning and shifted planned face-to-face support to online mediums. Many offered free membership to to the broader communities of kaiako and teachers across Aotearoa New Zealand during lockdown, and they worked around the clock to increase online presence including the provision of webinars and Zoom sessions.
Student welfare and need was a top priority throughout and network support, immediate and far-reaching, positively impacted learners and their whanau with home learning pages made available as well as resources for those who had limited access to technology over the lockdown period.
Another strong focus during the 2020 lockdown was teacher well-being. NEX offered check-ins and drop-in Zoom sessions, informal catch ups and timely email and phone support.
Post lockdown, NEX prepared to support the transition back to school, teacher burn out and tiredness, a shift of focus to internal school requirements rather than external PLD, travel restrictions and reluctance, and a greater need to support students with NCEA examinations, especially for those in Auckland who faced additional lockdowns and timeline changes.
With many turning directly to subject or area experts for support, NEX demonstrated the strong relationships they had built with their member base and communities and went above and beyond in the level of support they provided to the education community.
2021 has seen another remarkable step in the NEX initiative, with the addition of Early Childhood and Primary networks, role based and learning area networks, and the Teacher Development Aotearoa (formerly T.R.C.C.) contracted by the Ministry of Education to take on a larger role in its coordination as the Network Hub.
The work of the NEX continues to be diverse and varied, and the fostering of peer to peer networking is allowing for the sharing of collective knowledge and best practice that has been shaped over the last few years. Over the course of the next few years, through engagement with iwi, hapū and mana whenua, NEX will help support teaching practices that acknowledge and are respectful to mātauranga Māori and promote local curriculum development. NEX will continue to build on growing leadership and cultural capability and delivering quality PLD that is cross-sector and responsive to the needs of their members. Some of the NEX will be providing complementary PLD support to the NCEA Change Programme and the implementation of the Aotearoa New Zealand's Histories curriculum.
Recent participation at NEX events and conferences has been humbling with record numbers of educators attending face to face PLD and networking opportunities back on the cards. The excitement is brewing.
All of this work could not be possible without the group of passionate, benevolent and talented NEX leaders who have embraced the ideas of community and collaboration and continue to graciously give time and goodwill to create opportunities for others.