Murray River Project
A cluster of enthusiastic country schools along the Murray River in Western Australia joining forces to implement high-impact teaching and to align their practice to the evidence. These small schools when combined as a cluster suddenly had all kinds of big school energy.
An initiative where teachers volunteered to take on extra training in the midst of quarantines and restrictions. But armed with bucketloads of positivity and humour, nothing could stop us learning, implementing and sharing together. Affectionally known as the Murray River Project — collaborations between schools like this should happen way more often.
Having a local public school to attend feels like an Australian birth right. They are a staple ingredient of hundreds of small towns stretching to every corner of the expansive West Australian landscape. When we get it right, they are sanctuaries for our kids. We’ve travelled thousands of kilometres to visit teachers in regional and remote schools — we’ve flown in rickety single engine Cessna’s from the 70’s and dealt with all kinds of travel-related minor disasters like lost luggage, cancelled flights, and cut off highways. We’ve road tripped across nearly every part of the state, and now even covered parts of the ACT, NSW, Tasmania and Victoria. We’ve done countless hours on the road together, mostly spent arguing about all things teaching and every single other idea that comes up. Travelling can be rough, but when we visit teachers who may be a little isolated, they always seem grateful for the support. Small schools can sometimes be forgotten a little, but we know from experience how beneficial it can be to receive those visits. Teaching is hard and having someone come work with you in your classroom can give you just the spark you need.
The schools collaborating in the Murray River Project are all small public schools with ICSEAs below 1000 — North Dandalup, Jarrahdale, Carcoola, and Dwellingup Primary Schools. These rural schools that are either close to the river or nestled among beautiful jarrah forests are not particularly isolated, but they are small and remote enough that the logistics to access in-school instructional support can be tricky. Fortunately, collegiate principals Barry France and Donna Snow from the Department of Education’s Leadership Institute and the program’s lead principal Melanie Osborne from North Dandalup had a vision that would allow all of these schools to access high-impact teaching professional learning. A partnership was formed between the four schools and the Murray River Project was born. We travelled down to meet teachers and to test the waters and we were blown away how positive the teachers were.
The design of the project would allow the schools to simultaneously access the Shaping Minds – Research to Impact course, which includes us visiting the schools to provide in-school coaching and support over the year. There was also a huge effort to extend the partnership to include high-performing Rostrata Primary School in Perth whose teachers had completed the course over 2 years and were in the final stages of developing their own in-house instructional coaches. The Rostrata team would end up travelling down south to attend workshops and offered extra support via resource sharing and zoom calls. Rostrata’s generosity and the mentorship provided by their coaches was a crucial part of the Murray River Project’s success. Our friends at Rostrata are pure gold.
The efforts of teachers were the real highlight of the program. Despite all of the drama going on in the world at the time, these teachers and leaders doubled-down on what matters most at schools — teaching and supporting students. At our final workshop, there were some heartfelt stories of success shared. Each participant rated the course meaningful and recommended it for other teachers, which for us is the ultimate bit of feedback. That our peers felt it was worth their time and effort.
The Murray River Project was only possible due to the support of Schools Plus. No extra Department of Education funding was received. Schools Plus recognised the potential of the initiative and we were awarded a Smart Giving grant that covered the majority of the costs involved.
A colossal thank you to the students, teachers, and leaders for all of your hard work. Also a big thanks to Schools Plus for believing in us. We really enjoyed getting to share the experience with you all. For more information, you can read the Impact Report below.
— Jared and Jordan