Destination Christchurch 2019: What I learnt about learning?

It’s the learners who matter, not the curriculum, not the teacher, not the timetable, the learners.

This past week Christchurch-based colleague, Cheryl Doig and I facilitated a week of professional learning for Sydney-based school leaders.

Sharing my reflections here:

We visited school working within the NZ system and simultaneously stretching boundaries of ‘what’s possible’. These schools reflect a growing shift, communities who are prepared to challenge convention.

Why? Because learner engagement matters, it becomes the driver. This is what is measured before achievement. Authentic student voice is sought. After all, happy, interested and curious learners want to come to school. Learners are asked:

“How challenging is the work for you?”

“Where do you think you will have success?”

As one principal said,

“Break every silo to implement change – not just tinker around the edges.”

Silos, the things schools normally ‘do’: subjects, timetables, staff meetings, age/grade groupings and teachers in control of their domain. Instead think, “Maths teachers needed to be literacy teachers as well”.

How did it work?

To unpack this question, Gislason’s School Climate Model, outlined by Cardellino and Woolner (2019) is very helpful,

the success of the learning environment can be understood in terms of alignment between the interdependent elements:



staff culture

student milieu

together define the environmental quality of the school. Should one of these elements be significantly out of joint…then a design may falter in its intended purpose”.

P. Cardellino & P. Woolner (2019) Designing for transformation – a case study of open learning spaces and educational change, Pedagogy, Culture &

Gislason, N. 2010, “Architectural design and the learning environment: A framework for school design research” Learning Environment Research, 13: 127-145

Each of the schools had new or refurbished school buildings and learning spaces, however, the provision of material elements (ecology) alone is, of course, insufficient to see the transformation.
(These points are aggregating a range of ideas)


Building design, technology and other material elements

  • Shared spaces, zoned areas and homebases
  • Teachers and classes in the open
  • Variety of furniture – purposefully considered
  • Attention to acoustics (emphasis deliberate)
  • Welcoming entry to the school, buzzing with activity and library as part of this space
  • Kitchen on each level, accessible for learners
  • Multi-level school, connected by broad stairs
  • No teacher’s desk in any learning space


Assumptions, values and patterns of thought and behaviour

  • Why, why, why do we do what we do?
  • Teachers observed engaged in a variety of ways: explicit teaching, small groups, one-on-one.
  • Equip teachers to effectively utilise 100 minute blocks
  • Know learners beyond academic
  • Recruit teachers in a group process
  • Learners first mindset
  • Adaptable and flexible
  • Collaborative problem solving
From: Collaborative Design of Learning HCC Tuakana April 2019


Learning and motivation, social climate.

  • Choice in focus – PINs: Passion, Interests, [learning] Needs
  • Self-directed learning
  • Mentoring and pastoral care consistent with values
  • Autonomy and choice in learning focus
  • Strong links to family and culture
  • Uniform dependent on the culture of the school
  • Asking: “How challenging is the work for you?”
  • The hum of productive noise
‘Connect before correct’ –


Teaching, scheduling and curriculum

  • In each school – 3x 100 minute periods/learning sessions
  • Subjects were not siloed, but connected
  • Timetable changes every five weeks
  • Range of curriculum subjects synthesised into three strands: STEM, Humanities, Kinesiology
  • Learning supported by teachers through
    • Integrated curriculum courses
    • Passion and interest-based courses
  • SOLO taxonomy used for assessment and measurement of learning
  • Collaborative design of learning and timetabling
    • Teachers had freedom to develop courses
    • Teachers pitch ideas for courses to colleagues to decide what’s next
  • Timetable all classes for a year level at the same time

A huge thanks to Andy, Karyn, Brad, Hamish, Ian, Steve, Sean and all the amazing learners, educators and community members we met, from Haeata Community Campus, St Thomas of Canterbury, Ao Tawhiti, Rolleston College and Lemonwood Grove School.


2 thoughts on “Destination Christchurch 2019: What I learnt about learning?

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