Accept the status quo? I don’t think so

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending time at Pinehaven School (Year 0-6) in Upper Hutt (a huge thank you to Kaylene Macnee and her staff).  I had a blast!  It is fair to say that I had been craving being in a school environment and so had been really looking forward to the visit, but I also had a sense of trepidation at how I would cope interacting with a much younger group of young people than what I am used to.  I left at the end of the day absolutely fizzing from what I had observed and experienced, and eager to return.  I can only imagine that that is how their students must feel at the end of each day!

I had arrived early and so was shown to the staffroom to wait for about 20 minutes until it was time to go down to the classrooms.  What soon became apparent as I looked around me, was that this was a place of learning.  And by that I don’t mean that yes it was a staffroom and therefore I was obviously in a school.  It was clear that the staff room itself was a place of learning, and the message was very clear to me that at this school the teachers were learners.  The walls were covered with evidence of teachers engaging in professional learning – examples of questioning to use in mathematics; leadership purpose and practice specific to Pinehaven; beautiful kete attached to the wall, inside of which were laminated cards with strategies for teachers to use with students, whānau, and community; a write on wall next to the kitchen space where teachers had contributed to a particular topic and then were being asked to place ticks next to items they most agreed with; there was evidence of student data, and evidence that this was informing discussions with staff.

I was spending time with the Korimako Learning Hub, Year 5/6.  (At lunchtime during one of my conversations with the students a year 5 girl explained to me that Korimako was the bellbird, which could often be seen in the local area.)   The school has taken a very traditional 3 classroom block, knocked down a few walls, and opened it up whilst at the same time still allowing for quiet spaces. There was an assortment of different classroom furniture, and the walls were colourful and vibrant with student work, the school values, and student learning progress.  It is now a very collaborative teaching space with three teachers, and whilst they still each have a class, the learning that I saw taking place was across all three spaces with students moving between the teachers to meet their needs.  I arrived in time for their maths block for the day.  All three classes were briefed in the central ‘classroom’ and were then instructed to move off to either a workshop with a teacher, independant learning (variety of styles – iPad, pen/paper, whiteboard desks, maths games), or ‘prove it’ with the learning coach.

One of the workshops was being held outside on the school bike track.  This sounded right up my alley so I decided to check it out.  Kids grabbed helmets from bins on their way out of the classroom and headed up to the bike container where there were at least 30 school owned bikes set up next to the 500m bike track (there is also a ‘pump track’, more bmx style).  As the kids raced out I could hear them shouting ‘yay, we get out of maths’ – while the maths might have appeared hidden to them at the beginning of the workshop, by the end of the workshop the learning had been made very visible as we talked through where we had seen evidence of maths.  For example:

  • estimate:  students had to estimate how fast they thought they could ride around the track (the scene was set for them by explaining that cars drive past the school at 30km/hr, on the motorway at 100km/hr, and planes fly at 936km/hr, therefore how fast did they think they could bike around the track)
  • time: students had stopwatches and had to measure the time it took their partner to complete one lap of the track
  • conversion: if the bike track was 500m, how many kilometres was that?
  • compare: students compared their times – who was faster?
  • Students wanted to take it further and compare times on different types of bikes.  One young boy was going to come back to the bike track with his own bmx and get his Mum to time him, because he was very sure he could go faster on his own bike.
  • They also noticed how much some of them were puffing at the end of a lap, so we talked about how we could also measure their heart rates and inquire into whether the students with the fastest lap time also had the highest heart rate (they have a science group who have been investigating heart rate so they suggested that they could come out and take the measurements)
  • speed: students were going to take their measurements back to the classroom and calculate their speed

The intention of this workshop was to show students how maths is relevant to real life.  So while the students might have thought they were getting out of maths at the start, by the end of this opportunity to engage in an authentic, meaningful task, they had taken from it some rich learning, and a desire to keep exploring this learning!

Back in the learning hub I witnessed and engaged with students building their number knowledge, working independently, in small groups, or with a teacher.  Students were able to identify their current learning needs and their next steps.

I also had a chance to walk through the new entrant learning space.  Again the school had taken two classrooms side by side, put in a large window between the classrooms, and opened up what had been a large cupboard (teacher workspace?) between the rooms and so now students could move between the two spaces – the students called this the Narnia cupboard, and it was complete with fairy lights!  Two teachers were working collaboratively in this space with a larger group of students.

Lunchtime was a hive of physical activity:

  •  it was Wednesday Wheels day so there 30-40 students on the basketball courts with their scooters.
  •  students were accessing the school bikes to go on the 500m track and the pump track.
  •  a teacher was holding a Jump Jam practise in one classroom
  •  a teacher was holding a hockey skills session in the hall
  •  a teacher was holding a rippa rugby practise out on the field
  •  I met a couple of girls who were out on the field choreographing their dance routine for the Talent Show
  •  kids were playing on the playground

After lunch I was setting up for my PE session with the Year 5/6s, when the Year 1 class came out to the bike track.  It was fantastic to see so many students in the short time that I was at Pinehaven School, make great use of this resource.  And as was soon very evident, the students were not only learning some great physical skills while on their bikes but some other qualities too, such as resilience.  One young girl just ‘did not want to bike today’ as she told me, having first decided to bike against the flow of traffic to get back to the start sooner, and then just dumped her bike altogether.  Her teacher soon came along and with some encouragement and altering of her seat got her back on her bike… for about 10 metres when she once more decided she had had enough.  Her teacher then pulled off a perfect balance of ‘warm and demanding’, telling the young girl that she had been given some support and it was now up to her to find the solution for getting herself and her bike back to the start.

I witnessed a lot of this during the day… teachers encouraging students to problem solve and self manage.  Whether it be with regard to other students property they had found, relationships with other students, or their learning.

I also witnessed Te Reo Māori being a ‘part of what we do here’.  It was clear to me that Te Reo was not just a few labels here and there, the date on the whiteboard etc, but it was being spoken by the teachers and by the students in their daily interactions and programmes.

My session in the afternoon was lots of fun, thanks to a great bunch of students with a willingness to learn and a desire to please.  They were engaged, they were supportive of each other, they were polite.  They could tell me what they had been learning in maths and PE, and articulate their school values; evidence that these were not just written on the walls, but were part of the school culture.

I left Pinehaven School yesterday eager to return; it was a welcoming, happy place to be.  I wanted to applaud the teachers and the leaders of the school for the way in which they were looking after their young people.  They were allowing for learner agency, they had positive relationships and safe learning environments.  They were being innovative and providing authentic learning opportunities.

I also left with a growing sense of concern that NZ Secondary Schools are not moving fast enough to keep pace with the innovation that is happening in many primary schools, and the ever changing world that we live in.  I feel that until secondary schools start breaking down some of the barriers of timetabling, and subject silos, that they will be doing young people a huge disservice.  I cannot accept that the current structure in most secondary schools is serving the best interests of our young people, and I cannot accept that there are too many barriers and attitudes in the way to changing this.  Timetables are of our own creation and attitudes are but a mindset.

It struck me that every secondary teacher in NZ would benefit from spending a day in a primary learning environment, to grasp a deeper understanding of where their learners had come from, and then really begin to question whether they were building on those young people’s learning experiences, or stifling them.  (As sadly I read about on #BFC630NZ feed this morning) Equally it would be valuable for primary teachers to spend a day in a Secondary environment, because while today I am suggesting that there is a lot to learn from good practice in our primary schools, there is also a lot to learn from good practice in our secondary schools, and again that awareness of where the learners are headed.

Secondary and primary teachers have a tendency to undertake professional learning specific to their age, and as is often the case for secondary, subject specific.  And so this most often occurs in isolation from each other.  It is vital that we start conversing more. What we should be sharing with each other are effective teaching pedagogies and these are true for any age and stage.  My desire is to see more conversations occurring across these two sectors, and more sharing of best practice, and less focus on content.  Twitter, #Educamps and #EduIgnite have really opened my eyes to this and created opportunities to do this.

I was challenged to consider that perhaps I was in the minority in my thinking towards the need for change in secondary schools, and I imagine I probably am.  Certainly not on twitter or at said #educamps and #eduignite, but these in themselves currently represent a small percentage of the teaching population and an even smaller percentage of the secondary population.  What is needed in NZ schools is leaders with a fire in their belly, who are brave and courageous.  (Great to see the beginnings of @ldrchatnz #ldrchatnz)  So is my thinking too idealistic?  Do I continue to accept the status quo?  I don’t think so; those that know me will know that that is not my style.  So I will continue to do what I can to ‘fracture the glass’ and cause a ripple in the pond, and effect change where and how I can.

Quite apt that I am a fan of Dr Seuss and it is his birthday 🙂

dr seuss


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