Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dream Big and Be Brave

We are feeling quite frustrated with the time that it is taking for the the design process of our new school, to become a reality. We have been at master design process now for two years.  As a learning community we need to keep moving and changing to develop our teaching and learning to support the transition to our new school buildings or as if we are already in our new school buildings.

We started with wondering how could the current buildings be reconfigured in a way that they would support collaboration, personalising learning and flexibility.How could we create spaces in the interim that could be rearranged to support collaboration, experimentation and innovation?  Could the current spaces be tweaked so that teachers and learners could move around, have choices on where they could learn? How could we move from regular classrooms with desks and a white board which designated the front of the room to spaces that lend themselves to interdependent, co-operative, presentation areas and a range of gathering spaces?

We were brave! We knocked out walls and created spaces for teams of teachers to collaborate.

The first space we did this with created a learning zone from two old classrooms - we just pushed back the sliding doors and two teachers of Year 3 and Year 4 students worked together. 
The biggest challenge in this space was the acoustics. We added soft furniture and lined the open trusses and this treatment has improved the sound issue. 

The next thing we did was to knock a hole in the wall of another two classrooms - this also created a second space where two teachers could collaborate. Continuing to utilise the premise of Fullan's idea of "Value what you Value" - those teachers who were prepared to work in these spaces were able to choose different furniture to experiment with. This was on the understanding that they would remove their teacher desks and several other pieces of furniture on the "less is more," philosophy. Note the fantastic igloo that these classes have built out of recycled milk containers - as their cave space!  All the furniture in these spaces can be easily shifted so you can have all 60 students together for presentations. Full wireless, AV and interactive white boards, with the addition of mobile TV maximize the impact for students learning and there is a lively learning buzz in these remodelled spaces.

Now look at what we have just done in this term break. This strategy  is even more radical and I think very bold. See the class doors and panels in these learning areas - well they have been removed. Actually 3 classroom entry sections have been removed out of 5 classroom sections in total.

We have created super learning spaces! There are 5 or 6 teachers working in these spaces with up to 180 students. We have essentially created a space that can work for teams of 3 or 2 or across 5 or 6 teachers. The wireless access has also been upgraded and the year 5 and year 6 students have moved to "Bring Your Own Device for Learning". However we already have a ratio of 1:2 computer devices across the school.

The teachers in these super spaces will now trial different ways in how to  utilise the spaces available will add value to the learners experience. They will be exploring the opportunities the new environment provides. Linking back to Fullan's ideas in the previous post - this is a serious physical restructuring that will enable the school vision around learning to be stretched  by teams of teachers and learners. 

The teachers will have opportunities to explore how other schools with super-sized - spaces have utilised their enviroment to support learning. They are also encouraged to reflect on the range of research that is available.

Initially they have been encouraged to discuss the following within their teams:
  • What are their agreed ways of working as a team?
  • Consider different ways of collaboration, which will they be utilising?
  • Will different areas be utilised for different purposes?  If so what furniture will be needed?
  •  Where are the GO TO spaces
    • ·         For all?
    • ·         For half?
    • ·         For teacher groups?
    • ·         For a quiet space?
    • ·         For working in groups of twos or threes?
  • How will students be grouped to support their learning?
  • How will student learning be tracked and supported?
They have also been encouraged to look at this work Professor Stephen Heppell which I thought was quite practical and inspiring. Also this  of Melissa Heppells teaching space at IPACA. This will help to visualise different learning spaces and ideas to build on.

These teachers have agreed  to develop their use of spaces in different ways over time. They are all excited about the possibilities. It will be an interesting journey which I will be able to focus on writing about. This will be a real test of the idea that the environment is the third teacher. In our case we are testing the waters as we take our learning vision "Engage, Enrich, Empower" to a new level. We are certainly dreaming big and being very bold and brave in our latest transition strategies.

What are your thoughts about these strategies? Do you believe the environment is an enabler to driving learning vision? Have you any suggestions to share? I look forward to your comments.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Where to start? Extend What you Value!

I always remember reading in one of Fullan's leadership article "Visions That Blind" the statement,  "Extend what you value".

Fullan quotes Shein, (1985) observation "The process of developing collaborative work cultures is complex. It requires great sophistication for school leaders: to express their own values without being imposing; to draw out other peoples values and concerns; to manage conflict and problem solving; to give direction and to be open at the same time".

I often think we feel locked into organisational systems in terms of the way that we do things, and that these ways often go back to how schools were organised in the 1960s or back in even further. We need to rethink last years  organisational structures in our schools to align with what we want to happen today, to drive our vision around personalizing learning to a reality.

In the article above Fullan expresses the need  to have recruitment action to allow for the development of leading collaborative culture in schools. He contends that teacher professional development based on collaboratively developing the school vision is required in the short and long term. This will allow the development of a collective understanding of the learning vision of the school. The areas of focus he suggests are:
  • collaborative inquiry
  • reflective practice
  • growing technical expertise
  • restructuring 
A key organisational event that ticked the boxes above that we employed was to create a new leadership position where the school leader, with prestige of salary and release from classroom teaching would lead professional learning and e-learning (blended learning) throughout the school. Effectively this school leader would map the professional learning, curriculum and ICT use in the school. This was an unusual move for a school in New Zealand of under 400 students at the time. It was pivotal to the first restructure of our infrastructure to support strengthening collaboration and personalising learning and coherence around our vision development. 

We decided a good place to start was to define what we want in terms of teaching and learning. What would that look like if it was in place in every learning area of our school. 

This professional learning collaborative inquiry is ongoing.  The model involves collaborative inquiry, reflective practice, growing technical expertise and restructuring. This professional learning model has developed a strong sense of purposeful teaching and learning practice which has led to new ways of organising teaching and learning. This has supported the process of redesigning old spaces, structures and practices that support our vision of "Engage, Enrich and Empower".

This infrastructure change and inquiry based professional learning is a strong transition component for readiness to move into our new buildings in the future. It also led to other innovative organisational and physical changes that support  transition and coherence of our school vision. These I will explore in the next few posts. I look forward to your thoughts.


Organizational culture and leadership: A dynamic view, by Edgar H. Schein. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1985,

Monday, July 6, 2015

Transition to new learning spaces

In 2010 at Freemans Bay School we demolished a large subsiding classroom block and replaced it with a new two story block. Each of these new learning zones has five classrooms based on a studio style with the classrooms surrounding around a large shared space. 

The remaining school buildings have since been identified as past their use by date for various reasons and we are now at design stage to rebuild the rest of Freemans Bay School. The school will basically be a new school and the only buildings that will remain are the ones completed in 2010. This will include 5 learning zones for up to 90 students each, library, administration block, hall  and the outdoor spaces associated with the buildings.

Rebuilding the whole school and creating a new school, staging the demolition, keeping the school running while the building project is in process is a challenge in itself. However the biggest challenge is leading the change management process to align teaching and learning practices with the school vision.

Our school vision of "Engage, Enrich, Empower" underpins our plan to align teaching practice and school vision to innovative learning environments that ensure that students have the skills to be successful in the 21st century. This is a priority for the school and for our leadership team.

I am also interested in influencing our Ministry of Education's national policy and processes that would give traction to aligning teacher practice with design purpose. It makes sense to me to have an educational lens over every stage of the process, including the technical discussions. I believe that schools need to be supported to develop their teaching and learning vision so that their is a readiness to make it happen prior to the shift into the new buildings. The Ministry of Education needs to explore their infrastructure, policy and resourcing to enable this to happen.

I have decided to do a series of posts on my blog to describe and reflect on what we are doing at Freemans Bay School to support our learning communities  transition to their new innovative learning spaces - even though the time frame for them moving into the new learning spaces is probably two years away. 

I am hopeful that some of the followers may join in and make comments for some interactive dialogue. I look forward to utilising this blog to articulating my thinking and to having some sharing from others involved in similar processes.