Saturday, 4 October 2014

Choose to be More at Clarkville

What’s it taken to CHOOSE TO BE MORE at Clarkville?

From Pene Abbie, Principal, Clarkville School

We are a small, semi-rural school on the outskirts of Christchurch, people used to say they wanted to send their children to our place because of this – being small and rural!
It seemed that these two traits immediately determined a culture of great learning.
Those of us on the inside knew it took more than this and we have spent the last seven years “reshaping our learning culture.”
So what does this mean – and why, if our learners are doing pretty well, would we want to do anything differently?
The process of reshaping the learning at Clarkville has required deep scrutiny of all we believe about great learning and all we know about great teaching. It has required us to consider our world and the world of our children and look beyond what we already know and into what we have no clue about.
The result of this thinking and dissecting and inquiring has been to firmly place the learner at the centre of all we do, be and understand.
What we know is it is no longer enough to fill up a child’s day with learning activities or fill up a child’s head with knowledge- school is no longer the bastion of learning so instead, what we must provide is experience based in relationship, authenticity, choice and high expectation.  A day full of richness that causes engagement and motivation and results in achievement!
So what do we believe?

We will be people who know what to do when we don’t know what to do

This means we will provide learning experiences that
      encourage and inspire creativity
      demand collaboration and connection
      enable personal academic success
      help us to be adaptable self managers
      challenge our thinking and make us wonder
      require us to problem solve and take risks
      promote effective global and digital citizenship
We recognise and seek the learning opportunities in every experience
This means we will experience learning that is
      anywhere and anytime
      lead by anyone
      personalised and authentic
To meet our needs we develop and use learning spaces in innovative and creative ways.
This means our learning environments
      promote collaboration, sharing together and working independently
      allow for flexibility and choice,
      are defined by all of us
      exist within and beyond the school boundaries
      develop a legacy for the future
Our sense of belonging and ownership comes from having strong learning-centred relationships

This means as a community we will
      Know you and value what is important to you
      Build, enhance and restore relationships
      Communicate effectively and openly
      Expect to work together successfully (no matter our age, position or ability)
Nice rhetoric you may say but what might that look like? What evidence do we have?
We regularly host visitors interested in our learning culture. Our MINT think tank students act as tour guides for these visitors. The tour begins in our junior team where our five and six year olds start the day ( at whatever time they get to school) with ChILL in the morning. This is a self-regulated, inquiry learning based discovery time. Children make choices, justify these choices, engage in activity supported by teachers, parents or peers and then reflect on what is new or refreshed for them today. They don’t wait for learning to happen! There is no bell, no gathering of groups for explanation and instruction, no waiting for all learners to be present or organised, learning is just happening.
The Tour would then proceed through our other three learning teams where you would see groups
of 40-60 students with 2-4 staff co-teaching across traditional single cell learning spaces. The learning that is happening is deeply embedded in the key competencies, strongly self-regulated and personalised according to individual needs.
Teaching comprises running workshops, which children choose to participate in – if that sounds a bit free range what needs to be understood is the depth of expectation on the learner to be accountable for their progress and achievement.
You will see children managing their learning virtually and in real time. You will see learners moving, collaborating, and choosing a space that best suits their learning needs.
At times you will see vertical groupings, teachers teaching all learners across the school, whole school inquiry contexts and shared rich language learning experiences within and beyond the confines of the school.
You will not see Modern Learning Environments- although two team spaces have now been renovated to allow flexibility and collaboration. But you will see contemporary teaching and learning practice.
But  most importantly is what you will hear – particularly from our learners. The following quotes have been taken from feedback and reflections given by visitors at our place in the last 12 months.
“Student voice is powerful at Clarkville. Students are involved in the planning process, as part of a team made up of students from years 4-8. They will even attend BOT meetings as necessary. Younger students often get to contribute their ideas as well”
“Students are very aware of their achievement. They have learning pathway folders that contain their goal sheets and reflections, peer feedback, learning maps and learning stories. A Year 8 student explained to me that he knew how to read his Asttle data in order to know his next learning steps in Maths. Students opt into workshop style learning as necessary. Teachers are not necessarily teaching groups of students, they are teaching based on the student's next learning steps” ( MLE PLG Blog post)
The children were our tour guides as we moved through the “Discover”, “Explore” and “Aspire” groupings, where the involvement and ownership of the self-directed, guided inquiry program was truly stunning. Without exception the children I spoke with clearly expressed what they were doing and learning, and where it connected with the whole plan for the day, week or even the year.  How the children could readily talk about their learning with enthusiasm, wonder and a strong sense of purpose was the most impressive aspect of the whole experience. They loved talking about what they were learning! It was more than just the normal question answer thing, it was an interesting conversation.” ( Masters students – Transforming Education in Christchurch Masters paper University of Canterbury)
“These articulate confident, patient students answer our questions, show us their work, discuss their learning goals and keep us to time. Impressive young leaders! We glean information about their current Inquiry, the positives of modern learning for them and their views on book storage, BYOD and beanbags!” ( Hereora Cluster Newsletter)
We are passionate about how we work at Clarkville, we love the engagement and motivation the learning experiences engender in our young people. We are aspirational and focused on “CHOOSING TO BE MORE” BUT we are not “the way”; we are “our way” and although we are described as an MLE using MLP there are two things that are very apparent.
-        This has been a six year cultural transformation not an overnight airplane flight to a new destination or new building.

-        and the more I hear about MLE and MLP the more I think this is really about great teaching, great learning experiences , strong learning based relationships and recognising and valuing the influences our learners have beyond the world of school. We have a responsibility to be engaging, authentic, connected and inspiring and that is a much more complex job than it was last century. If you make the investment – its worth it.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Pene. I love that the learner really is at the centre of what is happening at your school. Visiting your school was very inspiring. Thanks again for your contribution.


  2. Well done Pene! An inspiring learning journey with outstanding results! A true personalised learning environment underpinned with the constructivist practice we were all trained to emulate. I admire your perseverance in focusing on how learners learn best rather than the MLE, technology or the inquiry process. Well done Clarkville School!
    Lyn Bird

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