What a privilege to visit the fabulous Breens Intermediate School today! For those readers from other countries, an intermediate school is a "bridging school", between primary school and high school. It covers two year levels, Years 7 and 8. They are quite unique in the fact that students only attend these schools for 80 weeks.
Principal Brian Price showed me around his fantastic school and I was able to speak with various teachers, leaders and students. The classrooms were built in the 1970's, but once again, this is an example of a school adapting their traditional environment to enhance teaching and learning. About 5 years ago, many of the internal walls were replaced with windows, to open up the classrooms and deprivatise practice. The school has also reorganised some spaces, taking storage rooms and specialist spaces where able to develop three learning "hubs". Furniture has been adapted and purchased to create flexible learning areas.
Discoveries at Breens:
When students enter Breens, there is a rigorous induction process. Interviews are held with parents, teachers from the feeder schools and with students. The year begins with a three way conference. Teachers do their best to place students in a class where they will experience the most success. Students do have a home class, but there is ownership of all students by all teachers.
Within the learning hubs, the teachers plan and teach the students collaboratively. As a staff, they visited several Auckland schools for inspiration, and attended the "Think Forward" conference. Senior leadership has also played a vital role in the development of team teaching.
Breens has strong values underpinning the school culture. The students have a deep understanding of the values and they are an integral part of everyday life in the school. The school's visual metaphor draws on the community, family and feeder schools as the supports to grow strong students.
Each learning hub has three teachers and up to 90 students. Two of the hubs have large gathering places, where the students assemble each morning. This means the day starts with shared karakia and waiata. Notices and messages are shared. Students and teachers can also work in this space throughout the day.
The school also has an excellent library, known as COIL - Centre of Information and Learning. Students can access this anytime. The library area has been really well developed, featuring several "rooms within rooms". A support person is available to help with research and there is excellent ICT access.
Breens is a BYOD school, with students able to bring a device of their choice to support their learning. There are also multiple technologies available around the learning hubs for student access.
Teacher spaces have been developed in each hub. Team Leader Nathan Maclennan, described how easy it is to collaborate in the teacher space. Planning, professional conversations, moderation and reflection occur on a daily basis. The teachers plan using google docs, so plans are easily accessible. Assessment is also recorded on the google docs - teachers can make anecdotal notes about students that can be accessed and added to by the other teachers. In some cases teachers are focusing on specialist curriculum areas, for example, one teacher doing literacy groups, another doing maths groups.
Students have a lot of ownership and independence with their learning. In one of the blocks I visited, each student had a personal timetable and knew when they would meet with a teacher for workshop style instruction. Meanwhile, they had negotiated tasks and challenges to be working on. Students were motivated and engaged, working in a variety of spaces and using ict tools to suit their purpose. This year the students are also responsible for their own blog, which they are using as a record of their learning. This was also inform three way conferences and provide a way of sharing learning with families.
Goal setting is authentic and visible. Students set goals each term, then reflect weekly on their progress. Breens is introducing a coaching model called "Learning Advisors" where students will meet with a coach to discuss their progress on their goals. Mentors will also share their own goals, and model active listening. Students will develop skills to share with their peers and give feedback and support.
The students I spoke with at Breens were very articulate when talking about their learning and how they were using the space in the learning hubs. One comment some Year 8 students made, was how well they knew the Year 7 students in their hub. They said in their past school, those year divisions were quite strong, but in this environment, it didn't matter.
I left Breens, inspired with some new ideas to try in my school. The teachers and students are definitely demonstrating the values of being bold enough to try new ideas and it's a beautiful thing!
How can I make goal setting in my own class more purposeful and effective? Younger students often find goal setting difficult and easily forget their goals. How can I make goal setting an integral part of learning for my Year 3/4 students?
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.