North Coast Initiative for School Improvement - An Australian telling of a Canadian Story

Starting in 2014 a group of Northern NSW school leaders, Southern Cross University Academics and NSW Department of Education representatives worked with Dr David Townsend (who was at that stage working for Lethbridge University) and school and district educational leaders from Alberta and British Columbia to share ideas on effective professional learning, innovation and school (and system) improvements. There were two key components to this project:

  • The introduction of a process to enhance leadership capacity through collaborative inquiry and generative dialogue
  • The opportunity for school leaders from NSW to participate in self-funded study tours to Canada each year in April


Case Study

The North Coast Initiative built upon research that showed that building the capacity of educational leaders in turn led to significant school improvement. The capacity of school leaders could most effectively be nurtured through collaborative processes that supported professional curiosity and a commitment to improving learning outcomes for all students. School leaders, and more recently school teams have been supported to meet approximately every 30 days in groups of at least three people to determine guiding questions around an area of professional growth that will have a positive impact on students. In monthly meetings the agenda:

•          Revisits the guiding question

•          Looks at what has been done over the previous 30 days

•          Looks at the evidence of impact

•          Explores what has been learnt; and

•          Outlines what will be done over the next 30 days (and why).

We currently have schools from close to the Queensland border, in the New England area and as far south as Foster Tuncurry involved at various levels in implementing these ongoing professional conversations and projects for growth. In some schools all staff are holding 30-day conversations and are now moving to include students in the same process. Other schools have just commenced the process.

We have supported this process with help from Dr David Townsend who visits four times a year and travels around NSW working with schools. Southern Cross University staff continue to work with interested schools. We also have schools partnering up and providing support between schools each month. Some schools have established internal processes. Some Directors of Educational Leadership are using the model to hold 30-day conversations with small groups of principals.

We have also supported the project via a series of symposium days and with annual study tours to Alberta and British Columbia where participants can homestay with school leaders and visit schools to observe teams in action. We have also presented at Canadian Educational Conferences in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Banff and Vancouver Island. In 2019 we held our 6th Study Tour. We have hosted Educational Leaders from Canada for school visits and symposia.



See attached journal article.


Chaseling, M., Edgar Boyd, W., Smith, Robert J., Boyd, W., Shipway, B., Markopoulos, C., Foster, A. and Lembke, C. (2017). Uplifting Leadership for Real School Improvement – The North Coast Initiative for School Improvement: An Australian Telling of a Canadian Story, Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 63.2, 160-174.


Uplifting Leadership for Real School Improvement - The North Coast Initiative for School Improvement

Specific reference to Gonski 2.0


Recommendation 1

Embed a focus on individual student achievement through continuous learning progress in the policies and practices of all schools and systems, with the expectation that each student should achieve at least one year’s growth throughout each year of schooling.

Recommendation 2

Develop and disseminate evidence-based tools and resources to assist early childhood education providers, primary, and secondary schools to implement best practice approaches to supporting parents and carers to engage in their children’s learning throughout their education.

Recommendation 13

Create a continuously improving profession through the provision of high-quality professional learning for teachers; appropriate to their career stage, development needs and the changes rapidly occurring in society.

Recommendation 20

Provide school leaders with access to a variety of professional learning opportunities appropriate to their career stage and development needs and recognise and harness the skills and experience of high-performing principals by enabling them to share their expertise across schools and throughout the system.



Finding 8

Research and experience internationally confirm that ongoing professional development for teachers—some mandated by the school or system, and some through participation in professional learning communities—is an essential part of a teacher’s workload in high-performing education systems.

Finding 15

School leaders are called upon to play a variety of roles, including leaders of learning, business administrators, and culture setters. Participation in ongoing quality professional learning is essential to help school leaders to continue to develop across each of these dimensions, with a particular focus on their role as leaders of learning.