People often ask about the Remote Numeracy Project and the research that has been undertaken for this project. I feel very blessed, lucky, and/or fortunate to have been able to conduct this research but without the support of the schools and systems, this research would not have been possible. By and large schools have welcomed us into their communities. Life in these schools is very busy and unpredictable. Some may say that about all schools, however, it is manifested many times over in a remote context for a range of reasons. So it is not a surprise that negotiating access to schools can be a very time consuming process and, sometimes, frustrating process. There are university deadlines placed on researchers with regards to processes around travel – bookings, flights, travel approvals, insurance etc. So these compliance issues shape the travel arrangements at the University end. Working with schools often has meant many attempts are made to contact and then negotiate times for visits. There is a fine line between chasing up schools and harassing them. It always felt a success when a school would commit to being part of the study, and better still when a date for the visit was confirmed. In one case, we had been trying for months to include one school in a field trip where we were going to a few other schools. It was when we were already in the field that the school confirmed that they would be involved. The cost of the field trips is very high, so while in the field, we adjusted our schedule to include the school. Fortunately it was a small 2 teacher school and we were able to conduct the field work over a day or so, albeit with long travel times outside school hours to get to and from the school. Had it been a larger school, this would not have been possible.
We have had some schools not wanting to participate in the study for various reasons, while others have taken some negotiations before we have been able to access the schools, including in one case where we visited the school twice before the principal felt comfortable in allowing us into the school. It has also been the case where there have been a lot of negotiations only to been refused access to the school. Some schools have adopted a ‘policy’ of no outsiders unless it is official school business. A lot of trust must be established as there has been a long history of schools being used by researchers for their own careers, writing negatively about the schools, and/or not giving anything back to the schools. Then we have heard stories of researchers who enter the remote Indigenous context with little to no understanding or appreciation of the highly nuanced contexts. My secondment from the University to work for a year or so in a very remote school as principal and CEO gave me considerable credibility when working with the schools as I had a reasonable sense of the contexts within which the schools and staff operated. On top of researchers wanting access to schools, remote schools are also bombarded with wrap around services coming into the schools on a regular basis, officials from systems and organisations seeking to visit the schools and many other visitors to the schools. It is little wonder that schools are circumspect about being involved in research and things that take them away from their core business of education. The promising part of this project is that it is about talking about the successes of the school and the positive things that schools are doing. It is descriptive not evaluative and this has helped in accessing schools.
As a project we have been very aware of paying back. At the end of each site visit, a case study is written up of the school that describes the practices that the school is enacting. These are written in a very short turnaround period so that, in most cases, the case study report is back at the school within two weeks. This reassures the school of our intent to write a (positive) story about the school. This puts enormous pressure on the research team as the reports are very detailed in terms of content but also colourful and include many photos of the school and the surrounding area. The inclusion of a desktop publisher who creates the layout for the reports has been very beneficial for the project since the reports are suitable for schools and the wider community. The reports have been valued by the schools, and in many cases, have formed part of the school reviews. This is one way the project pays back to the community. There are other reports that have been written. The interim report was designed for the systems and schools involved in the study so that they could have a sense of the research being conducted. A further report has been generated with the specific intent for documentation and collation of some the more frequently occurring pedagogical practices that have been developed by the schools. This was a written document that was provided to the participating schools.
A strength of this project has been to celebrate the work of schools and teachers who are working in very challenging contexts. In these sites it is often easy to lose sight of what is working and what is positive. This research has allowed people in the sites to talk about the good work they do and this has been reported to us on many occasions as a very positive experience for the participants. The case studies report on, and document, the whole school experience and is shared across the school as well as beyond the school.