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.


  1. Hi there, how do you deal with kids that don't handle large groups or noises well? We've got one of those, and have been advised against any open plan school, but I'm sure you have an answer?

    1. Thank you for your very good question. If learners want to work in a quiet space we have a dedicated area or they can use headphones. For those that dont like large groups they can work in a small group. Its all about student agency, choice and knowing yourself as a learner

  2. How did the kids co-operate in the same rooms with different years?
    Year 3 and 4 teachers working together?