Will our children fit into the big wide world…do they have to?

Often the talk around the objective of education can get ahead of itself. We talk about educating to be part of a global economy etc… but when you look at the clip below you can see how massive the world actually is. We don’t actually have to part of the big wide world, we can stay here and make a difference in our place. It also demonstrates the flexibility required to be part of any community and how a successful community is made up of many contributing factors, done well. They key factor for this blog is that we are all basically similar, but there is difference.

This is the theme for most of my commentary in education. My experience, firstly as a teacher of children and then working within the adult world that sets policies around children, is that the greatest challenge is personalising learning for each individual children. For 1 teacher between 20-30 children it is hard to get that 1-1 time. WE set challenges and each child integrates with it in their own way, particularly as they get older. The result of this is that learning is very social and generally children learn in groups either with the teacher or working with each other. Dialogue is a big part of how we things at Kelburn to give us agency and understanding. They have a high level of trust with each other and enjoy the social construct that is co-learning. There is real power in children’s conversations and it enables students over time develop the ability to give and receive feedback and express their views. ideas and innovations. It enables them at secondary school to be able to respond to assessment tasks with a high level critical view and fresh perspectives. This feedback we receive from our colleges is that Kelburn kids do this extremely well. This flows into their place in their communities – that being able to respond  to the challenges that are in front of them and make a difference. Our new learning spaces will really support and empower this.

The video below shows that Aotearoa New Zealand is a speck of dust on the visual of ‘the world as 100 people’, but at Kelburn we are real, we do exist and we have things we need to do to help make a difference. A lively, dynamic, flexible and student led learning environment will help this process.



The way children learn inside a school has changed!


On the right is a typical looking class from my childhood.  Maybe the desks were occasionally joined together in groups and if we were really lucky, these desk groups changed every term.  This approach was considered ok when a teacher’s job was simply to pass on facts or information in an industrial model of education.  If it was really important we would copy it into our books! And we were always tested by being asked to write our knowledge down!

What type of pedagogical intent is shown here?  i.e desks in rows. How does that promote collaboration or even quiet reflective time or working with others? It doesn’t.

When I walk through school every day I see that children’s learning opportunities are huge and so diverse from when I was at primary school 40 years ago. If you look at that picture above, some of our classrooms look quite similar, but not for much longer. The teaching inside has changed immensely and the way the child works inside them is all about a child having a chance to be a communicator, a teacher and a learner, not just a listener.

John Edwards talks about students becoming lost in a “sea of blah”. The teacher dominates, does all the talking and shares ‘their’ knowledge with the whole class. The child being a passive and compliant learner.

However….it is no longer possible to know what knowledge people will draw on as they move through life.  Students would need to constantly update their content knowledge. And we also know that students don’t learn like that (i.e lbigstock-multi-ethinic-arms-outstretche-682999781.jpgistening to a teacher talk has a very low retention rate).  We know that children enjoy being part of a classroom and actively doing or inquiring is a considerably more powerful way of learning because it associates a number of different aspects into the learning equation.

Alternatively students who are critical thinkers, risk-takers, creative and self-directed can learn by themselves, and therefore can learn anywhere at any time. They become interested.

Teachers were considered “Knowers of Knowledge”. But students are no longer empty vessels to be filled with endless facts and figures.  I recall spending weeks and weeks learning the flags of the world and capital cities.  Older students now can ask their phones and have the answer in 2 seconds if theimages.jpgy need to know!

This is not to say that we want our learners to be ignorant and not have some base level of general knowledge.  I would be disappointed if students looked at a $5 note and said “Who is that?”, but rather than just knowing that Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Everest in 1953, I would hope they would also be able to identify his enormous contribution as a NZer and the wider contribution to the world, and how they could apply some of these attributes to their own lives. Progress however indicates that our $5 note most probably won’t be in existence by the time our new entrants have left college!

The historical education system tended to focus on “just in case learning”, with lots of facts & knowledge just in case you need it.  Brilliant for pub quiz but not necessarily important for the future.

Amesbury-Primary-open-plan-classroom.jpgEducation now should be just in time, students able to access and create knowledge anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

To enable this, the role of the teacher has changed to building a learning community where we believe that everyone brings different prior knowledge to a topic and no two people learn the same thing in the same way at the same speed.
If this is the case then it doesn’t make sense to have a classroom set up with everyone facing the front doing the same thing at the same time.

The extensive planning that has contributed to designing the new teaching and learning spaces!

Slab 1 have been poured and the structural steel has been bolted in place this week so we have our building growing above the ground. Soon we will really see the building starting to form.

I thought this week I would briefly reflect on the work that has been done in preparation for the new build. While it was publicly announced in December 2015 that Kelburn was to receive an $8.5 million new school, the process of reshaping the school started well before that. The engagement of Nigel and the team from DesignGroup, and their significant design experience, and the Board/staff team visiting schools in Christchurch, Auckland and Australia identified new design techniques and new shapes for learning. At the same time the teaching team were constructing methods of teaching for the new spaces, and these were shared with the community at public meetings in 2015 and 2016.

In October 2015 the senior management team wrote a paper that summarised in a page their 18 month exploration on new learning spaces. Whilst offering a slightly different model of teaching and learning, it still recommended the concept of the Home Learning Group which will operate in 2018 and beyond. Children will still have a teacher to go to guide them in their learning, but they will work with other teachers and other children as part of their learning experience through the days. In addition to this the senior leadership team identified the following recommendation to the design phase…

December 2015 –

“Over the past 18 months, teachers have been inquiring into more collaborative learning arrangements with our students and in schools around the country, and in Australia. We have found that our students need a significant adult that they know is their teacher, and that they like a space that they can call their own. KNS action research has shown that because of their collaborative learning, children strongly associate with their class group: this includes their teacher. Teachers value the social diversity and interactions that these classes bring. Our school also has a differentiated curriculum design in order to make learning processes open-ended and to cater for the diversity of student learning, learning styles and interests.  

Our improvised and creative approach to learning means that each class needs to have a space where social, oral and arts learning can take place at anytime – learning in the moment. We have found that groups of students having individual learning spaces with the option of working collaboratively in a collective centralised space is key to each team within the school. Creating spaces where students, staff and parents can meet, collaborate, share and innovate is a key concept design that the KNS staff and board want to replicate across the school.

We have been exploring the concept of moving from single cell to more connected learning spaces. In our travels throughout New Zealand and Australia, the key messages gained were that spaces need to be:

  1. Creative – they inspire students to want to learn so the space must send positive messages to the students and teachers that work within them.
  2. Flexible – that they can be re-purposed as per teachers/students requirements – spaces that are agile and personalised allowing for fundamental class groupings.
  3. Age appropriate – purpose built for the age of students that will be learning in them.
  4. Connected- to the outdoor environment and throughout the building to ensure visual connections.
  5. Adaptable – enable a variety of learning activities to take place in the same space.
  6. Be acoustically sound so that dialogue and multiple literacies  with students  can take place in a variety of settings.
  7. Accessible – Enable ease of access for all its users.
  8. Enhances the un-used, or weather dependent spaces to that they can be utilised.
  9. Provide like for like in ensuring design features that work are retained.
  10. Aesthetics- pleasing to the senses and aligned with children’s creative activities.

This input saw the addition of the breakout spaces in the design of the new buildings so there are numerous places for children to work at whatever they are studying, as well as the larger learning studios. A  key factor of the teacher contribution was our commitment to creativity … which is a key aspect of our pedagogy and our school vision – ‘Where students learn creatively and strive for excellence preparing for lifelong learning … Kia auaha te ako a ngā ākonga me te whai i te iti kahurangi mō te akoranga tūroa.’

In support of these parameters, A really useful 20 minutes clip (and quite humorous) which is 10 years old now is Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on creativity and the arts. It connects the messages above with the new spaces. It does give reference to the diversity of children and why different ways of doing things for our children’s differences is the way to go.




Some key agreements includes

Will it be loud?

One of the questions people have about new learning spaces is ‘won’t it be noisy’? Many people have experienced learning in an open plan environment from the 1970s, with very few of these spaces remaining today. Modern school design appears to be like it is returning to these past design methods…but is it the same though?

One of the big shifts in school property development in recent times is the adoption of minimum building standards. Many of us experienced teaching and learning in a prefabricated classroom. I spent my first 3 years of teaching in a year 3-4 class of 32 in a prefab. These old 67 sqm buildings met the absolute minimum building standard and with a desk for every child there wasn’t much spare room. Now prefabs are just used for emergency accommodation and will eventually be phased out of schools over time.

New school building design must meet a really tough set of  MOE standards. Much of these things are invisible but add hugely to the building.  In this decade schools have had to spend allocated property money on upgrading facilities to meet these high standards. Kelburn is so lucky to be able to build a brand new facility with the best available materials. Back to noise…acoustics is one thing that has changed dramatically with new wall linings and ceiling materials absorbing sound so much better than the reflective type linings of old.  Lighting is another aspect that has developed, furniture options are so much more diverse… these things available to us now  were never in place in the 70s and 80s open learning classrooms which were often crowded and cluttered places.

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One of the big shifts for the new spaces is the different styles of learning that goes on in classrooms now. It is not desk bound – there are times for working alone – quiet study or reflection and then times for working together – social experience or collaboration or co-learning.  Our new building spaces caters for this type of learning so much better than our current building, and in reflecting on the evidence this design will enhance the learning for the children.

Crucially the current staff have taken part in PD that has had an emphasis on designing, encouraging and managing different types/styles of learning experiences to fit the appropriate learning of context. Our manaakitanga work has been focussed on our children adapting, being flexible and working together in appropriate ways and so children shouting at the top of their voices in a big open barn will not be what we expect to see, hear and feel in our learning environment at Kelburn in 2018.

Last week I mentioned that current building design is international (for innovative countries) … Here is a really good article from Finland about their learning design revolution currently sweeping through their schools at present. It is an excellent and easy read.  Click here. 

Why is our new building different to our old building?

This is my first post to help bring to the Kelburn community in line with how things will look like in our school in 2018.

Our  new building is under construction on the old top court and once completed and we are all in there things will be both similar and different. This has been a long and considered process over a number of years. The most significant change in the new design is that the children won’t be in groups of 20 something and in one room with 1 teacher, like we experienced in our schooling. There is similarity however in that each group will have 3 spaces ( juniors 4 ) to learn in and there are other spaces to work in as well. While the footprint is the same, the utilisation of the space in the design is different. These design changes reflect the modernising of the education system that is influenced from the modernising of our society. While workplace design and activity has changed over time, school spaces have not. The modern designs reflects this change and are well researched, international, innovative and allow flexibility to learning spaces.


This blog, over time, will add to your knowledge about how we will do things in 2018. The crucial thing is simple – teachers will still teach, and children will still learn. Much of the modification comes from us having better knowledge about learning ( and the use of space), and how children learn given the tools that are available to us now.

Some things we know about our children’s learning –

  • they learn in different ways and have different strengths
  • they like to experience working with other teachers, not just their home room teacher.
  • they enjoy variety
  • they like to own their learning process, they like flexibility and choice
  • they like quiet spaces and social spaces
  • they like to learn from others and do things with others
  • crucially – they can learn anywhere, anytime and anyhow

At Kelburn our children are social, supportive learners…when I walk through the building today I see this in action now. I see huge support for each other… children do not learn alone. They know however, as individuals, they need to set learning goals and they must produce a collection or portfolio of learning across the year that shows growth, improvement and excellence that reflects our school vision –

Kelburn Normal students learn creatively and strive for excellence, preparing for lifelong learning  –  Te kura o te Kelburn kia auaha te ako a ngā ākonga me te whai i te iti kahurangi mō te akoranga tūroa.

Have a look at this short clip from Mark Osborne from CORE-Ed presenting a really useful background to the change of building design in NZ. It is 3 minutes long and sums things up in a nutshell. Click here to view