Disruption has characterised this city. In February 2011, the land was disrupted by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake, causing significant loss of life and severe damage. Then in March 2019, there was ‘human’ disruption, with significant loss of life once again. I see a great sense of community and optimism in the people of Christchurch, where both resilience and fragility co-exist. Transformation that has been fast-tracked out of necessity.
Since 2011, the city rebuild has been underway. Since then, I’ve visited three times, noting the progress as buttressed buildings are replaced or renovated. The downtown city is becoming bright and vibrant once again, and the bumpy roads smoothed out.
Christchurch is not being fixed up to restore ‘business as usual’, it is being transformed, creating a ‘new normal’, especially in education. Many schools were damaged and families relocated. Schools needed to provide a place for students, not just for their learning, but to strengthen a disrupted community. Immediately after the earthquakes schools were closed, they shared sites, splitting their day in two with other schools damaged in the earthquake. Schools were merged and new schools were birthed. For some families, the generational tradition of attending the same school was broken. As a grander educational plan was worked out, the Ministry of Education grasped the opportunity to transform school and learning.
A few months ago, I started to think about a NZ study tour. I started talking with Cheryl Doig, a former Christchurch school principal and local mover and shaker , leadership futurist Think Beyond. With Cheryl’s encouragement and insight I realised that we have much to learn from this city and Destination Christchurch emerged – a week long professional learning deep-dive to understand the transformation of learning and culture here in Christchurch. We started to put legs to the idea, so I set off this week to find out more.
Prior to the earthquake, many of us had heard about the city-based Discovery 1 and Unlimited schools with their unique student-centred character. For the past eight years the students had been in a temporary location, that is, until this week. On 6 May 2019, the two schools as one returned to the city, to their purpose-built space. On 8 May, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the new home of Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School.
At Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery school, every student develops an individual education plan. They do not have to follow the regular class route to obtain qualifications or aspirations, but map out their own learning pathway.
As we plan Destination Christchurch, Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School is one that we hope to visit. Haeata Community Campus is another school that inspires innovation and challenge thinking, as they push boundaries and traditional thinking about schooling.
The NZ Ministry of Education utilised the disruptive opportunity to re-imagine school for the future. As I walked around with the principal at each school, I heard first hand experiences of growing vision, student ownership, shared teaching models and inclusive leadership, seriously messing with that known and trusted institution that is ‘school’.
As many schools in Australia grapple with change, which might include transforming practice, creating optimal learning environments and supporting wellbeing across the community, we have much to learn from the Christchurch experience, as in one place it presents of microcosm of change.
I do hope that you might consider joining us for this immersive professional learning experience – Monday 5 – Friday 9 August. 2019. Head over to the Destination Christchurch page to find out more and register.