Friday, 16 September 2016

Thomas Haney High School - Vancouver


 Here we are at another school which is a member of the Self Directed Learning Coalition in Canada. In comparison to our first visit this is a really different approach to self directed learning compared to our previous school. Looking at a contrasting school is what we came to the other side of the world to see. This means we were able to take further learning from the school that we did not see at our previous school visit, as well as discover a few more things that we must consider to ensure we provide the best learning opportunities for our students.

Things we noticed:


The students were our guides and gave us a perspective of the school from their eyes. They were amazing. The self directed approach to learning in this school certainly has provided the students with a fabulous base of interpersonal skills. Something that I noticed and it was definitely highlighted by the teachers, was that the students could engage with adults in a positive, mature and natural way. The relationships between the adults and the students was very much open and collaborative and helped to better facilitate the learning for the student.

Learning and structure:
Learning is structured through guides and students were observed working not only independently but also collaboratively with each other. The students create their timetables with the school counsellors with a scaffolded approach over time. This ranged from a more set structure in the first years to over time the constraints being gradually removed to allow for more student agency and ownership.

Learning guides help to provide curriculum consistency. This seemed to be very like a department in NZ teaching from a scheme. The learning guides are seen as a base - the must dos of the curriculum. The hope of the learning guides is to ensure that a consistent curriculum is delivered but also allowed for each teacher to still demonstrate responsiveness to the learners in front of them.

The halls were something we looked at that could really work for us during our independent learning time. Each learning area had a space (called the halls) that was supervised and facilitated by subject specialists. Students chose to work in an area of their need at the time and they spoke highly of not always having their own teacher to work with. This helped to foster positive relationships with adults for the students and enabled students to receive the necessary subject specific support in a timely manner.

Teaching advisory:
Student services offered an opportunity for students to receive counselling on many levels - including pathways advisory. The Counsellors really helped the students to select their courses. Originally this was an element of the school philosophy that was a key activity of the Teacher Advisor. The school has moved away from the course selection and guidance being delivered and supported by the teacher advisor and the Vice Principal remarked that this was due to structural constraints and community influence. Teacher Advisors are still having ongoing conversations with the student around mapping their flexible time each day - both in the morning and the afternoon.

Overall curriculum:
Wider curriculum opportunities were available, being more than just the STEM. Students were offered a range of subjects that were broader than just the curriculum learning areas e.g. Equestrian, Automotive, Photography and having access to make a space possibilities. Students had access to working in an authentic and experiential way outside of the school if the student had an interest in this area. The school was not bound by the institutions of the timetable and were responsive to individual need and creating flexible timetables when and if required. The staff were seen to have a real can do attitude when it came to being approached to support individualised learning programmes that needed a specialised approach outside of what was the 'norm'. The answer seemed to always "yeah we can do that".

There was evidence of integration but this was not necessarily based on the school philosophy, it was mainly generated through teacher interest and a want to contextualise the learning.

Students talked about being empowered to be assessed when they were ready. They spoke highly of the responsiveness of the teachers to help them and for the teachers to offer assessments in different modes if the students were proactive in asking for it. The philosophy at the school seemed to be highly agentic. If a student is proactive and knows what they want they will be able to engage with the teachers in a mature and responsive way. The students we had spoke positively about being able to drive the learning.

For those students that can not manage their learning then this might not be the school for them. Students spoke about losing quite a lot of the cohort that they started with, remarking that "this school is targeted at those students that really want to focus on academic achievement, this is a place that you come to because you know this way of learning is going to work for you".

The moments that really got us thinking:

  • There was a real tension that exists between what might be good for learning and the teacher union contracts. This was highly evident in discussions and a lot of the recent strikes and union actions have clearly influenced the pedagogy in the school and the overall development and professional learning for teachers.
  • The moment we walked in the school aboriginal education was visible and highlighted. What was interesting though was that the first nations principles had only just been introduced a year previously. The newly revised curriculum (which very much sounded like the NZC - introducing competencies and values) is being introduced in the district. The first nations principles have been woven throughout the document and it was remarked that through ongoing engagement it was believed that these concepts would be developed over time. If further support was needed in any aspect of indigenous principles then outside district support  (which happened to be based at the school for the district) can be called on to support a teacher if they may want to look at the principles in practice.
  • Professional learning in the school was dictated by external forces (new curriculum and union contracts) and was covered over 5 days and 8 afternoon sessions in the year.
What have we learnt:
Thomas Haney has demonstrated how we can scaffold self directed learning over the years to  slowly develop student agency in a supportive and facilitated way. 

We believe pedagogy and vision should drive the learning across the board for student learning and improvement. The concept of 'Ako always' is something that we value at Rototuna and really is a driving philosophy about not only the students always being the learners but also the teachers. I think that we need to work collaboratively with our staff to ensure that everyone sees the value in professional learning to not only help us to deliver cutting edge teaching and learning but also as an investment in to our own selves as professionals. As an SLT we have to ensure that we always go back to the 'why' and ensure that we include our curriculum leaders in the decision making of our professional learning programme.

I think we need to maintain our stance on how we see priority learners. Culturally responsive pedagogy has a definite place in our underpinning philosophies and will be embedded in to our overall school vision, strategic plan and everyday teaching and learning delivery. This is not because the Ministry says that we need to focus on Måori student success, but because we know it is right. We want to ensure that every single student in our school receives an equitable education and has the opportunity to achieve high academic and personal success. We will ensure that our teachers understand, acknowledge and are responsive to deliver programmes for successful outcomes for all students in our school.

The Vice Principal, Jeff Curwen and Principal Grant Frend Thomas Haney High School. Sally Hart, Natasha Hemara (me), Karl (Teacher from the States) and Megan Barry.

No comments:

Post a Comment