Small town, big mahi

15 December 2021

Supporting learners, Supporting staff, Strategic Leadership and Change

After 46 years in the education business, it would be easy for the Ashburton Learning Centre to say they know all they need to know—but, that’s not how they operate. They’ve been upskilling with Ako Aotearoa to make sure they’re meeting the growing and changing needs of their community. Here’s their inspiring story.

When we arranged a Zoom interview with the Ashburton Learning Centre to record their story, we assumed we’d be meeting with their manager, Mary Philip. But, when the call launched, there were six staff members beaming back at us—and one behind the camera. A testament to their dedication, they were keen to share with us, and you, the important mahi that they’re doing and the impact that Ako Aotearoa’s Professional Learning and Development (PLD) courses are having on the team and their teaching.

The Centre works with over 300 adult and 200 primary school students, aged from seven to 80+, with a range of learning needs. The support they provide is equally diverse, including workplace and apprenticeship skills, vehicle licence preparation, literacy and numeracy, computing and technology, financial literacy, English as a second language, and Te Reo classes. They also coordinate the BOOST Programme, providing literacy support in 99% of mid-Canterbury schools. As if that isn’t enough, they approached both Work and Income and ACC to offer support to their clients, and they’ve recently been contracted to work with refugees from Afghanistan. They are a small, humble organisation punching well above their weight, because they care deeply about learning and the opportunities that it creates in their community.

The staff have done several PLD courses with Ako Aotearoa, including WordWise, Essentials, and the Reading Toolbox, and Mary says that, along with the expected skill development, it’s increased their sense of collaboration. They may teach independently, but they come together to share their ideas and experiences, and to support each other. They mentioned that the design and delivery of Ako courses guide them in putting their new learning into practice, including the constructive facilitator feedback, a wide range of practical strategies and resources, and connecting with other course participants on the journey.

“We do quite a lot of PLD and [the staff are] always really keen to do it, so they must be getting a huge amount out of it.” ~ Mary Philip, Manager, Ashburton Learning Centre

Greater understanding of neurodiversity, and dyslexia, in particular, has been an important focus for the Centre and, as a result, they’re now well on their way to achieving the New Zealand Dyslexia-Friendly Quality Mark (DFQM). This initiative, developed by Ako Aotearoa, aims to increase inclusivity and promote supportive educational experiences for adult learners with dyslexia. To achieve DFQM status, an organisation must meet required standards of leadership, quality of teaching, the teaching and learning environment, and key stakeholder relationships. The Centre believes this accreditation, while honing their already impressive processes, will shine a light on all the hard work they do behind the scenes and enhance their standing as a hub of their community.

The Centre’s staff are championing the normalising of neurodiversity, incorporating positive psychology to encourage their learners to live and thrive, no matter their obstacles. They hope the implementation and growth of the DFQM will help to increase awareness of neurodiversity, and the various strategies and new technologies that can assist learners to achieve their goals. The Ashburton Learning Centre is doing the hard mahi, leading the way in top-quality inclusive education to prove that learning is for everyone.