Sunday, 23 March 2014

Why a modern learning environment.

I spoke with the AP DP group on Thursday about the value of a modern learning environment. At Albany Senior High School we have such an environment. I will record here my notes on the presentation that I gave.

"All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts and stimulates the persons in that space." 
                                                                                         Philip Johnson

The question is do we throw up some classrooms and have business as usual OR do we think about the needs of our students now and consider different types of spaces?

 When I started teaching nearly 40years ago I was very excited to be going to a new school  - it was the 68 design. I was a bit disappointed, however, to be taken to my classroom which was a prefab at the back of the school which up until then had been used as a PE storeroom. There were no stairs and we had to make a leap up in to the classroom. This caused much hilarity for everyone, of course, and for a first year teacher made things pretty difficult to manage. I did not have an easy time. I made that clear to the senior management and after several weeks the Deputy Principal came down to show me how to do things. As he jumped in he made some comment about needing to get the damned stairs fixed. He stood in front of the class, barked out orders and not surprisingly the class did exactly what he said. As soon as he left the students uttered several expletives about him and his pedigree and as for me it was business as usual.

The reason I wanted to tell that little story is that when I reflect on that story what I see is a huge dereliction of duty on the part of the senior leadership team in the school. That environment was not respectful to me and it was certainly not a respectful learning environment  for the students. And I was of the opinion which was backed by the management that it was my fault.

If the role of the senior team is to ensure good teaching and learning then for both teachers and students then that was not the way to go about it. I was tremendously enthusiastic and keen to be the best teacher in the world  - not too easy when you are stuck in a prefab in the back of the school with absolutely no support.

And so to what I have noticed about  working in the new environment.

For the teachers  - a different way of interacting with the students. - no barking orders from the from the front of the room - a quieter, more respectful tone - more being alongside students.

For the teachers -- a different way of interacting with each other. - A massive opportunity to see other teachers teaching and to learn from them. - particularly when teachers from different subject areas are teaching alongside.

For the students - a different way of interacting with each other and the teachers.  - a comment made by a student - "It's too hard to be a dick in front of 100 students "
For the students - a different way of accessing space
     eg - small group formations for tutorial groups, traditional formations for subject classes, groups fit for purpose on the impact project days, common room spaces during interval and lunch.

For the leadership team
     An opportunity to ensure accountability of your teachers  - both praise and challenge. It is absolutely the responsibility of the leadership team in every school to ensure the teachers are well supported and the students are getting the best learning experience possible.

For the school
     An opportunity to reimagine the learning, the timetable, the way space is used.

"I absolutely believe that architecture is a social activity that has to do with some sort of communication and that to change the environment is to change behaviour."         Thom Mayne