Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

7.1.1 Telling a story with data

Yet it is more than creating a structure for meeting and reporting, the Network has credibility because it integrates into the structured meeting schedule tools that have value for helping teachers to ‘see’ progress. We liked how one participant reported on this phenomena: “I might really connect to the story personally and emotionally but if I add in the quantitative data, I can draw in others to this story… A habit of formally reporting will get us into the habit of thinking and reflecting and following up on the cycle of inquiry.” Her description of reporting data inquiry as a ‘story’ struck us as an important way of illustrating how teachers in the Network have learned to construct and share ‘learning stories’ as ways of verifying their claims of success. This could also be described as “showing your work”—a form of accountability that is structured into the Network—and a primary means through which impact on student learning can be demonstrated and measured.

Data collection is important and is built into the Network inquiry process described earlier in this report; but it is the case study summaries teams are required to complete that provide written documented evidence of change. In another section of this study we summarize selected cases of AESN inquiries completed, and showed extensive examples of how learning was measured and reported. However, it is not simply the data from each inquiry completed that can be used to ‘show impact’ of an individual inquiry. Case studies were also being used to amplify their effect. How is this accomplished?

We heard throughout the study that Network members disseminate and share information all the time. They do this at the structured events of the Network (such as the regional showcases) but they also use each other’s completed work as ladders or levers through which to advance thinking in related ways. So what goes on in one district or school is often drawn upon and read by other members of the Network, and this sparks new conversations driven by the questions “Could that work here?” or “Could we apply parts of that approach to our inquiry?” As one AESN leader suggested in her discussion of how cases are used as catalysts for deepening their own inquiries, “Our focus might be on reading performance of Aboriginal students; in other districts, their focus might be completely different, and it is a way of drawing in those ideas that could inform what we are doing. What better way to pull in exemplars that work with different groups?” In this way the effect of one inquiry amplifies, builds on, or creates a new space through which to innovate and apply new ideas to existing practices. In the literature review, this type of network connectivity was described as having weak ties; by drawing across diverse approaches teacher learning is enriched and extended. This builds on the already strong ties that exist locally as information is shared among inquiry teams and between linked schools. Mitchell and Sackney (2009) argue that successful networked organizations need to have elements of each if effects are to be amplified or extended. The network structure, and the sharing of cases in particular, provides a means of supporting both types of knowledge sharing so that the activities of members in the Network can effect greater change.

The world has narrowed due to technology, but I believe that the face-to-face meetings allow us to examine our thinking thoughtfully, slowly, and create connections both in learning and community. I think that we need to create more opportunities for people to meet, talk, share – and grow as learners. There is abiding and deep respect for Judy and Linda. They create a sense of accountability in each of the members of the Network. It is hard to explain – it is not a personal sense of accountability to them, it is a sense of accountability to the Network and the learning that takes place in the Network. It is a sense of urgency, of importance, that this is work that needs to happen. They make you feel the need to create change for the students. When I walk away from a Network meeting my mind is churning – what can I take from this and implement? what do I need to think further about? what is going to create the best opportunities for my students to learn? Being with like minded people is a gift. I talk about giving voice to our students, I believe that the Network is giving voice to the members. I have been in the Network for 10 years. It was the first time that I thought I was hearing an authentic message about learning. Not what someone wanted me to hear, but a real assessment by members immersed in this learning community.