A few weeks ago, I invited the kindergarten teachers at John XXIII Catholic Primary School, Stanhope Gardens to share their observations following visits to innovative schools such as Silverton PS. These teachers returned re-energised and excited by the possibilities.
For me, their journey demonstrates a professional maturity; a willingness to work openly and honestly, sharing the accountability for their own and their students learning. It also confirms that we are delivering on our strategic intent to provide teachers with a rewarding working life by exposing them to exemplary practice and solid research.
This year we have been on a journey. Our ‘thinking’ as teachers has shifted and we have reaped the rewards of seeing just how creative, independent and capable our students can be. Our thinking has moved from what we should teach and when, to how the children learn best and how we can support this learning.
We have learnt so much about learning from each other; from the children; from our shared reflections on the learning that’s happening; from visiting other schools and from taking a few risks ourselves and letting go.
Initially our discussions were about developing the ‘flexible learning space’ and how we would teach in it. We designed the room as a ‘teaching environment’ and challenged ourselves to work as one. We didn’t want to see three separate roll groups working within the space, so we set up the room to look like one class with all the desks together and whiteboards, data projectors, dress ups and equipment placed around the edges.
Though the ‘space’ doesn’t look like this anymore and our thinking about the space has changed, we’re glad that we at first did this and not just from an organisational perspective. If we hadn’t, we may have retreated to our own corners and done our own thing and that was not what we wanted. Instead it encouraged us to work together as a team, it helped us monitor the children and importantly it helped the children get to know each other.
The ‘space’ now has really become a ‘learning environment’ that, we believe is stimulating and exciting for our children. We have spread out those desks and instead developed contained, defined spaces that allow for quiet time, individual learning, small group work, whole group instruction, role plays and explicit teaching that suits our learners and their emerging needs.
For example we can have a teacher working with a small group of 5 or 6 children for explicit modelling or interactive writing, while other groups may be larger.
Groupings are flexible and the teaching and learning is different, because it needs to be to meet their needs. The children seem to understand that they all need different learning experiences and they don’t question why other groups may be doing different things.
These changes have come about because we, just like our children have been learners this year and have benefited from the professional learning we have encountered. The input from others, the dialogue amongst ourselves, the visits to other schools, the conversations we’ve had, our own readings and research into best practices for our students has enhanced our ability to differentiate or personalize the learning.
We take time each week as a team for reflection and planning. We constantly talk, evaluate and refine what we are doing together. We share ideas and problems and together come up with new possibilities and solutions. In our earlier meetings we focused very much on the routines and organisation required to help make the space work and as a result have developed real strengths in organisation. Our reflections now however have shifted to focus more on their learning and how we as their teachers can improve it. We have provided the children with a ‘thinking space’ and have begun teaching them how important it is to think, take time to plan and reflect on their own learning, just like we do.
We have realised the powerful impact we can make to their learning by allowing them the opportunity to follow their own passions or interests. We’ve seen firsthand that in a self-chosen activity, students are most engaged. Their learning is richer and our teaching becomes more purposeful and timely. We have made this a priority and have dedicated time to student centered learning each week.
Over the year we have learnt so many things. We have learnt to collaborate, take risks and trust in our colleagues. We have built relationships with each other, all our 90 children and their parents. We have shared in all our student’s joys and challenges and have witnessed some wonderful gains. Every day three home groups come together to sing and pray as one, it’s hard not to be touched by the reverence of the children. It’s not the ‘space’ that matters. It’s what we do in the space, and for us that’s about doing what we can to improve all our children’s learning.