We want to ensure schooling at Waipāhīhī is relevant, effective, and powerful, for the children of today. The shift in the use of our physical space and in the educational understandings of how children learn best underpins this. It is evident in the way our teachers are teaching and our classroom spaces are being used. Improving the learning of our learners is the primary goal and there are a number of initiatives that are working towards this. In visiting our classrooms you will see less closed doors, children moving fluidly across traditional classroom boundaries, teachers collaborating in their teaching, and students begining to self regulate and manage their learning, with expectations and support appropriate for their 'age and stage'.
Our focus at Waipāhīhī is to adaptively change our teaching and learning practices (pedagogy) to ensure we are best meeting the needs of children in the 21st century. Most parents today were in school when the teacher directed the learning and the students did as they were told. Chalk and talk was the medium, there was little technology. Today classrooms look, feel and function quite differently :
"During the 20th century, the concept of learning underwent important developments. This shift is reflected in the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum which is to develop students with lifelong learning competencies namely, relating to others, using language symbols and text, participating and contributing, managing self and thinking (Ministry of Education, 2007).”
Today learning is socially constructed and the environment plays a crucial role in what is learned and how the learning is experienced (Nuthall, 2007). Significant bodies of research on what improves learning, and landmark studies such as John Hattie’s Visible Learning (Hattie, 2008) mean that we now have a much better idea of how learning occurs. As a result of these developments and others, we know that quality learning is a combination of the following elements:
The role of technology is vital in each of the above as it puts the learner in control, and enables personalisation of the learning. In the 21st Century the impact of the internet, online collaboration and the access to knowledge have fundamentally changed learning by shifting accessibility. Students now want to control where they learn, what they learn about and how they learn. The traditional classroom is no longer the only place students go to learn as the ubiquity of technology has reinvented and accelerated the learning process (Care, Griffin & McGaw, 2012).
What does Collaboration look like?
The traditional view of teaching is one teacher with the sole responsibility for a classroom of children. Teachers often feel that their classroom is their own private island and each classroom is different to the next (Little 1990). There are few jobs in society that require an individual to work entirely on their own. Most jobs require communication with other individuals to ensure best practice. Cooperation amongst educators is essential to ensure there is continuity and cohesiveness within schools. Collaboration involves a greater partnership between educators.
Watkins (2009) distinguishes between cooperation and collaboration with the idea that cooperation implies individuals working together to achieve individual goals, while collaboration involves working together to achieve a group goal. As a school we are examining and exploring the ways in which collaborating with each other improves our learning and the learning of others. It’s not just about having open rooms, large spaces, and access to digital devices. Collaboration is about working with others to use strengths to accomplish goals. It’s about being part of a team, doing your part, and demonstrating commitment and perseverance. This way of working together allows children and adults to build a stronger and deeper understanding of concepts, as they are challenged, supported, and affirmed in collaborative environments. Learners can more ably identify their strengths, express their ideas, and build empathy towards others.
Our challenge as teachers in our school is to develop our abilities to set tasks and learning opportunities which teach and foster these skills. We are learning alongside the children in partnership with them.
Our staff are committed to working with each other as partners in learning. We need to ensure we have shared goals to improve the learning experiences of our children in what is a fundamentally different time where change is the only constant! This is not about changing things for change’s sake, but about finding better ways to engage with today’s students. Children are now part of a world which is increasingly technologically advanced. Communication and interaction is becoming shaped and dictated by our digital skills. Our digital initiatives and professional learning opportunities for staff are helping us to think about the ways in which we capture children’s engagement by using technology as a tool to deepen learning. They also help us to think creatively about the ways we use technology to be effective in helping children make connections in their own learning, and most importantly, make connections with others.
Changing practice within a building paradigm from the past!
Most of our school buildings were built in a time when direct instruction was considered the only pedagogy that resulted in effective learning. “Factory-style’ learning (where all students learn the same things, at the same time, in lock-step fashion) has largely disappeared from our classes. However the actual classroom layout largely remain as they were originally designed, and still retain the suggestion of factory-style learning. The collaborative practice inside our learning spaces is working to change that perception. We want our practice to define the space we have and not to let the space define our practice!
Our schools property plan focus for today and into the future requires us to be strategic with the intent of how we take our space development to a new level. As a school that is situated at one of the ‘growth ends’ of Taupo it is our responsibility to advocate and develop a plan that will see our whole school environment and site develop proactively to ensure we best meet the learning needs of the 21st century learners that are with us now, and, of those that are yet to come.
Through being innovative and creative in our thinking and design we will further support and strengthen the connection between our learning environment provocation and our pedagogical initiatives.
At the heart of it all is the desire to challenge our own practice so that each one of us innovates and changes what we do to meet the need of each and every learner that we work with. We want to give our Waipāhīhī kids every chance to enjoy, challenge and extend their thinking at every level. Strong collaboration amongst us all is a key part of ‘how’ we can make that happen.