Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Building Schools for Key Competencies

Three events have jolted my brain into action. A tweet from the seemingly ever pondering Cheryl (it's the photo). A visit from friends at Torbay School and a session with the ever popular Julia Atkin on building Key Competencies in your school.

Lets start with the fact that many schools are prefabs, crappy old buildings, toilet blocks jammed in cloak bays (cloak bays? never seen a cloak at school!), and disconnected learning spaces. So yes, some schools are fortunate to have new blocks, purpose built spaces bla bla bla. I dont think this automatically banishes you to a default mindset of "we cant do it". The KC's : managing self, relating to others, thinking, participating and contributing. So how do you physically set up a school that supports the KC's? How do you build a school on the KC's?

There are many ways to get the job done and this is one theory, its nothing new, and it's only a suggestion that works for us, it doesn't mean it will work for everyone.
Its the old chestnut - vertical forms - I look at it from a few perspectives. I believe that kids learn heaps of stuff when the teacher isn't around, those social skills, standing up for yourself, real role models from their peers. I might think this, but Nuthall did the research (see earlier post) teachers cant always control what kids learn. So if the learning, the values, the KCs are practiced and learnt when the teachers aren't there then maybe we should try to set up the school so that when we aren't there kids of differing ages (role models) are present. When teachers are present (we do the KC's too) we can direct and model the KC's, we can focus on them, have them as goals, but when its just kids we have no say as to what happens.
So vertical forms, multi level teams, small schools within a school, call them whatever you want, they work. Imagine the kid who is pissing around at a lunchtime and kids follow this behaviour, having kids of more maturity about when the 5 year olds are eating dirt, fighting over a toy, whatever. Role models are everything. How many 5 year olds are amazing role models? If you physically have classrooms of all levels together around the school you may be starting to encourage the positive role models, it's the KC's implementation on a real level. Having the kids work together when directed by the teacher, organising real interactivity between learners of all ages, going on trips together, sharing learning together will spill over into the playground if it's genuine. If your school is set up to make real collaboration work amongst kids then you are getting there.
Hows this: Mrs Podgorani was at pak n save and a mum came to her and thanked her for the way Little Podgorani (year5 at the time) was a great friend and genuine buddy for her 5 year old who had just started at school. The young 5 year old had gone home and talked about her friend at school, how they were mates, how her friend was helping her with her learning and playing with her in the playground. When two of your schools mums are talking at the supermarket about the success of the vertical forms then you've cracked it.

Recently I met a guy who said "yeah I do buddy reading", my mental model of that was one of a cold cup of sick. I know buddy reading can be great, but it can be rubbish too. So if it's setting up structures that support the learning community for our kids then I'm all over it.

So if you're in a Julia Atkin workshop, stuck at a table of teachers who do buddy reading and palm that off as vertical forms and role modelling, or reading twitter and looking at future schools discussions, or talking with kind hearted visitors about why you do things, then try to make connections. I want to draw a symbol like Prince and call it Extended Abstract.

Perhaps its easier to see rather than explain, but think vertical forms done well, on steroids, and working for kids.


Melinda Bennett said...
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Melinda Bennett said...

Couldn't agree more Luke. Certainly works well for us at our school, and although we are small it is a model we are looking to expand as we grow. It creates so many leadership opportunities for so many children of all ages.

Podgorani said...

This is an easy thing to comprehend in terms of coming from a small rural school where the set up is automatic. It just seems to be a no brainer. There are heaps of different reasons why its successful too, like teachers supporting each other, teachers who help each other with strengths. breaking down those big school barriers and making all teachers being teachers of every student in their team not just their class. and more

Podgorani said...

i suppose that the building future focussed schools session might be all about the interweb, cloud, and other stuff but i saw some congruence and ran with it. wouldnt mind going to that session but have prioritised a holiday up north over a week in Chch.

LesleyTait said...

Great post Luke. Totally agree about vertical forms, we have been trying them out in all different forms for a few years now and really like the "behind the scenes" learning that develops in a family type atmosphere. Whoever said that schools should be organized with heaps of kids of the same age all bunched together--quite unnatural really.

Podgorani said...

Its not rocket science is it Lesley, but by gum it can be effective. I love it when teams, whanau, rivers, whatever you want to call them, do great stuff, it's what powerful learning is all about