There are schools and then there are, as Yong Zhao says, schools like Templestowe College (TC) in Melbourne. This is a school that walks the talk in terms of students’ agency and voice over their learning. Hence their motto, ‘take control of your learning’. The impetus for transformation was a serious decline in enrolments and facing imminent closure (TC now has a student population of 1000+ students). What changed was their narrative about learning and teaching.
From the outside, TC looks like any other Australian high school but what is happening within the four walls is what differentiates the school. For example, there are no year groups. Year 7 is a foundational year where students study mandatory subjects like Maths and English. The curriculum is basically deconstructed between Years 8-10 and reconstructed in Years 11 and 12 (graduation year). Classes are developed on ability and interest giving students a lot of choice within the current structure. Each class is 70 minutes and there are no bells. The first 10 minutes is a masterclass given by a teacher to develop a key skill. The remaining 60 minutes allows students to work on projects with support from the teacher all the while aiming to develop a culture of independent learners.
Technology is utilised everywhere in the school and the progress of each student is tracked over the course of the year. Every student that arrives at the school has an individualised learning plan developed in Year 7 based on strengths and interests. Parents get feedback every four weeks and formal reports once a term. The school doesn’t pay lip service to parent voice either. Policy decisions are inclusive of the whole community such as making school uniforms optional. Students are also encouraged to apply their skills in practical ways around the school and are reimbursed for their time.
For me, the three big takeaways from TC are:
- Every member of the school is valuable – decisions need to benefit everyone.
- Say Yes to ideas unless it is too expensive, time consuming or would hurt others.
- The model can’t be replicated but the mindsets can.
TC is not the solution for how we provide quality learning and teaching. The staff at TC will tell you that it is the best approach for their learning community. Schools like this become an example of what can be done and what’s possible. We cannot extract the intellectual rigour, analysis and innovative practice from TC – they’ve learned the work by doing the work. What the rest of us can extract is that change can and is happening so let’s take control of our learning.