Sunday, March 27, 2016

Our Learning Environments

A recent initiative at Silverdale Normal has been creating new signage to reflect what we stand for as a learning community. This has been on the back of over a year of considerable change as a school. It is a special time as our learning environments now begin to reflect the vision that has been created by our community, staff and students. This blog post is an attempt to outline the process we have followed to meet our goals of re engaging our community and providing the most effective learning environment for our learners.

The process began with the creation of a shared vision for what we wanted for our learners.  However engagement with our stakeholders wasn't going to happen without the creation of an environment of trust and improving relationships.  

A decision was made to concentrate on being highly visible at school and in the school community and to engage in conversations to show we listened, we cared and we wanted the best for our learners.  This helped create trust and assurance that our team was on the right track.  It also gave us valuable information about what were the big issues that our community were wanting action on.  

The research of Atkin and Simek encourage organisations to first consider the 'why'- the beliefs and values of the school.  We completed this activity over many staff, parent and community meetings in which we considered what it really meant to be a learner and what success meant for our learners in their lives.  The catchphrase that stuck was 'Make a Positive Difference'.  

Over the course of consultation it was highly apparent that whilst Literacy and Mathematics were absolute essentials of foundational learning our students would need far more than this to be successful in an environment in which knowledge was changing and growing at such an exponential rate.  The vision of the Silverdale Normal School Learner developed over the course of many meetings, discussions and debate.  An aspect we are particularly proud of is the way it merges beautifully with the intent of the Te Whariki (early childhood curriculum) and the IB student profile and curriculum (with 95% of our students attending Berkley Normal Middle School).  

Each individual puzzle piece is important, however the aim is over the course of six years at Silverdale Normal School our learners will be made aware of the dispositions, recognise the dispositions in others and will predict when to use these habits in their lives.  It is our belief that these dispositions represent what it means to be a powerful learner.  

This vision, and the collection of student and teacher voice, along with support from lecturers at the University of Waikato encouraged leadership to consider what this meant for our learning environments.  There are currently so many acronyms floating around MLE's (Modern Learning Environments), ILE's (Innovative Learning Environments), and Flexible Learning Spaces.....  From viewing many of these spaces all I have seen is large spaces filled with new furniture.  A decision was made to carefully consider what a 'Fit for Purpose' space would look like for our learners. One reading in particular by Thornburg (2007), convinced us that a 'fit for purpose' learning environment was a combination of a shared vision, pedagogy, space, collaboration and technology.  


A recent addition to the schools environment is the continuation of reflecting the schools vision and learner.  A wonderful group of New Zealanders have been selected to rename our learning spaces.  These NZers who have made 'A Positive Difference' were chosen by the staff, students and community and will provide excellent models and reflection points for what SNS Learner attributes they used in their lives.  

Whilst each of these initiatives in themselves are not large, it is the coherence that relates back to the beliefs and values of our organisation that have helped create a real sense of engagement and involvement in our school community. 

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