Saturday, August 8, 2009

Latest Learning Matters

Last week I had the privilege of leading a full staff development day for the teachers and teacher-aides at Wairoa College. Wairoa College and Wairoa itself have a lot of similarties with Opotiki College and Opotiki.

The obvious similarities are the low socio-economic status and high percentage of Maori in the community and on the roll. However, there were some other strong similarities. The young people I met were open, friendly, inquisitive, cheeky but respectful and hospitable. This is also how most people find our students.

The teachers and the teacher-aides were passionate about their work and, like our staff, keen to explore whatever they could to provide even better educational outcomes for their young people.

As we do, they certainly have some challenging situations to deal with with some of their young people and a small group on their staff are resistant to change. This would certainly be the case in most schools.

Like us they are spending a lot of time discussing how best to engage their young people so that they have success at school. This involves exploring innovative ways, such as restorative practices, to manage difficult behaviour and investigating more relevant and engaging curriculum models.

The last of these is certainly the focus of Opotiki College at the moment. Restorative practices are firmly embedded in our school, but we still have work to do in developing an appropriate curriculum for the 21st Century.

Currently the Aspiring Leaders Group at Opotiki College are working on an investigation into what is an effective teaching approach which will meet the needs of our students. The work they have completed to date is exciting and will form the basis of the teaching approach which will be practiced at our school.

At the same time we are developing our thinking around the junior curriculum for our school. Our work has been influenced by our experiences with our recent Three Day Wananga and with our pilot programme with a home-roomed Year 9 class with an integrated curriculum approach. The work has also been influenced by the research we have read and the exploration that was done by myself on my sabbatical last year and visits to Vancouver and Singapore this year.

We appear to be moving towards an approach which has a common theme for all junior classes across the school for each school term with the teachers of each class meeting fortnightly to plan collaboratively around the theme, discuss appropriate teaching strategies for that particular group, share assessment data and discuss class and group progress.

At the same time clear learning targets will be developed for each class based on a sound assessment of where each student is beginning from. Working in the collaborative Learning Teams teachers will work together to enable students to attain their learning goals.

These are only the first steps towards our ultimate goal of having students carry out their learning in authentic contexts, researching real issues in teams and presenting real solutions to real audiences.

This is exciting learning for our staff and learning matters.

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