Day 14: Christchurch

Christchurch seems to be a very fitting last stop on my journey to explore future focused learning. Talk about a city having to reinvent, reimagine, and recreate itself for the future! In this city, in the midst of rubble, ruin, and abandon, you see so much creativity, imagination, innovation, and whimsy. If there were a city in the world that embodies "growth mindset," this city would probably be it.

Christchurch has endured a long process of rebuilding since a major earthquake in 2011. A recent 2016 earthquake caused additional set-back. There is construction EVERYWHERE in this city and crews seems to work day and night! People I have talked to describe progress as slow because there aren't even enough construction companies and crews to keep up with the demand. Walking around the city, progress is evident and you not only feel what this city must have been like previously but you also get a sense of what an amazing city it will be again...future focused and reflective of modern times. Perhaps Christchurch will be for our modern era what Napier was for the Art Deco era.

When I was planning my trip to New Zeland, I was surprised by the number of schools with modern learning environments concentrated in the Christchurh area. Then someone pointed out to me that it is the result of the earthquakes. Natural disaster provided the opportunity for many schools in this area to start fresh and rebuild with the future in mind. The result is a collection of schools with forward-thinking pedagogy and uses of space. The first school I visited today, Waitakiri, is certainly an example of this.

The school opened just a little over a year ago but the Principal Neill O'Reilly is quick to point out that it actually is not a new school and has a rich history. Waitaikari is the result of two schools that merged to form one. The school of nearly 700 learners is broken down into teams of about 100 mixed year students who are then broken into 3-5 home groups within a "learning studio." The school has chosen the term "learning studio" over the traditional term "classroom" or the other commonly chosen modern term "hub" because they believe learning space should be a work in progress rather than a gallery.

In these learning environments, teachers work collaboratively to cause learning for their students in a personalize and intellectually stimulating way. Waitakiri leadership lists many benefits from a collaborative model of teaching:
  • Deprivatises practice and makes teaching visible
  • Raises teacher content and pedagogical knowledge
  • Increases agency and enhances teacher well-being (share the workload)
  • Builds trust between colleagues (you see each other's genius!) 
  • Allows for multiple perspectives on a child (and many adults who may connect with a child)
  • Provides constant professional learning
Waitakiri emphasizes that true co-teaching is very deliberate and requires consensus, compromise, and communication. Jacqui Malham, Deputy Principal, said, "build your foundation of effective pedagogy and the rest will come." Again, I was hearing the message that the heart of everything is still quality teaching and learning. I had an inspiring morning at Waitakiri. 

In the afternoon, I ventured across town to visit Avonhead School. I had the chance to sit down with the Principal of the school, Charles Levings, and tour all of the learning spaces. Avonhead was one of the first "renovated" modern learning spaces in Christchurch meaning they transformed their existing building and grounds to adapt to their desire to modify their pedagogy and adopt a more collaborative teaching model.

Mr. Levings emphasized that Avonhead prefers the term "Flexible Learning Environment" over other terms like "Mondern Learning Environment" or "Innovative Learning Environment" (terms that are almost becoming "buzzwords" in this part of the world and can have a negative association.) He pointed out that "Flexible Learning Space" can also be misinterpreted as just the furniture (in fact he said his teachers were overly focused on the furniture in the beginning). At Avonhead, flexible learning space is reflected in the entire environment. Learning spaces are light filled and connected to the outdoors.  Large doors can be opened and closed to divide and configure rooms in different ways. Furniture can easily move and often serves many purposes. Teachers and students have freedom to choose optimal spaces for their teaching learning. At this school, all of the teachers transitioned from self-contained traditional classrooms to the collaborative teaching environment and all of them said they will never go back! 

Oh...almost forgot...Waitakiri had one of the COOLEST outdoor play spaces I have ever seen!
Check this out...


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