Waimairi Visit Reflection
Something to look at… http://www.waimairi.school.nz/educators.html
In week 8 Kayla, Kelsey and myself spent a morning at Waimairi School. Waimairi School is widely praised for its collaborative staff and student led learning environments. Our focus was to see what was happening at this school and take away ideas that could be implemented at Gilberthorpe School. Mike Anderson, principal of Waimairi School hosted our visit and we are very grateful for his time and the opportunity.
Waimairi is yet to undergo their rebuild and so currently operate out of traditional single cell blocks, which have been creatively modified to provide flow through between the classes. This allowed for greater collaboration between teachers and children. We typically saw two classes working in a shared space with one teacher involved in Literacy/Numeracy instruction with a small group and the second teacher facilitating learning with the rest of the children.
The things that inspired us during our visit were:
- There was a high level of engagement in every classroom: Every child was engrossed in their learning.
- The use of SOLO Taxonomy to provide a universal framework that the children could use to self assess. The classrooms were filled with visuals with hand signals providing a kinesthetic way to communicate your thinking.
- There was a structure in place to ensure that the children’s project was purposeful. Before embarking on a project the student carried out a plan that was structured around SOLO. This put emphasis on the why (why are you doing it?) ensuring that the child’s task had a purpose and involved thinking and learning.
- A strong supportive staff culture was evident within the school. In this time of change and exploration staff were given trust to try new things, to work to their individual strengths without judgement. This seems to the the foundation of success in a developing environment.
- Knowing the learner is a vital part of education. Equally as important is knowing our staff. Our children are all at different stages in their learning and as teachers we are all at different stages of our learning too. Our needs are as unique as our learner’s needs. A change in education delivery will require a lot of adjustment, exploration and learning for staff and children alike.
- Staff at Waimairi were allowed the freedom to plan in a way that suited their way of thinking. There was an expectation that all staff could demonstrate (through written document or verbal discussion) the learning needs of their students and how their program was meeting their needs. This is a system built on trust and of knowing the teachers.
- Mike stressed the importance of knowing why you’re making changes. There is a lot of hype around the changes that are occurring in our education system and of course it provides a great marketing opportunity for school furniture suppliers. When designing our school we must always consider the purpose we are trying to achieve.
- Our visit promoted thought around the type of apps that children have access to at school. Waimairi favoured the use of ipad apps that provided Redefinition activities (apps that require creative thinking such as Explain Everything or Book Creator). These are apps were the outcome can not be achieved without the use of ICT (SAMR model). Apps such as Maths games were not favoured as there is little difference to the outcome of playing a Maths game with or without ICT.
After our look around the classrooms, we regrouped for discussion and questions. We wanted to know how children were transitioned into this style of education delivery. Mike highlighted here the importance of the metacognitive framework (SOLO). He cautioned that while we want to develop children into autonomous learners that this does not occur simply because you have knocked down walls and filled the space with funky, brightly coloured furniture. Within any school there will be children with a variety of needs regarding the amount of direction they need to make appropriate choices regarding their learning. As teachers we need to know the needs of our students and cater to them, assisting them in the direction of autonomy and supporting them on their journey.
Waimairi School have taken a slow, considerate approach to their changes. They have taken the time to trial, reflect and adjust.