Saturday, September 14, 2013

A tale of two (#MLEPLG) cities

It's been a bit of a week in the history of the learning spaces Professional Learning Group with 150 people attending the event at Hobsonville Point School and 80 at the inaugural Canterbury event held at Clearview Primary. The fact that there were so many there, I believe, shows that there is a desire to talk about learning environments, to engage in positive conversations and dialogue, and to realise opportunities that will help us all on the journey forward. Exiting times!

This group originally emerged out of a perceived need for us as teachers to talk to each other about learning and teaching in Modern Learning Environments - and in particular MLEs where collaborative approaches to teaching were being adopted. It was a chance to talk about emerging pedagogies, how more flexible environments might lend themselves to more personalised approaches to learning and teaching and to consider ‘what learning looks like here’. 

The group provides a forum to explore opportunities and issues, to consider how elements of design impact on the way we use environments; and a valuable opportunity for teachers to share their MLE journey, their stories and their wonderings. We’ve met once a term since early 2011. Over time the group has enlarged - each time visiting a different place, having a chance to look around and time for dialogue, discussion, world cafe etc.

The buildings themselves provide some of the focus of discussion - seeing how schools have built, renovated, 're-innovated' or rethought use of their spaces is really valuable learning. Visiting other schools has given us an opportunity to consider what might be possible - so too has visiting other environments. 

There are so many connections to be made between contemporary workplaces and modern learning environments. The PLG's now visited a bank and an architects practice as well as the National Library. It’s great to make connections in places like this to thinking about cave spaces, watering holes and camp fire spaces in our schools. Kirsty Groves talks about great businesses having examples of spaces to innovate, to play, to collaborate and to reflect. I think schools need to share this thinking too. Getting to visit schools who are thinking differently about learning environments helps us to respond to the ‘how do we know what we don’t know’ question. 

And as well as understanding how the built environment contributes to successful learning and teaching, frequently the focus of meetings is on the nature of teaching and learning. That was certainly really evident at both of this week's events. How a school's vision plays out pedagogically and in terms of its environment is really useful learning. Feedback from people attending has suggested that what is valuable is not just about the buildings but about understanding what happens within them - the pedagogical practices, the systems and structures teachers employ, the nature of collaborative teaching, and what it all looks like at 9 O'Clock on a Monday morning. Ultimately we know it’s the teachers that make the biggest difference. As John Hattie would say, it’s about what teachers do, or some teachers do that has the greatest impact. So understanding 'what learning looks like here' in terms of vision & belief is critical. 

The argument though is that we should now also be looking at opportunities engendered by the provision of new spaces, to look at how MLEs can help realise potential learning opportunities, and how as teachers we can use these spaces pedagogically in ways we’ve never been able to do before in more traditional classroom environments. These are the conversations that I believe we should be having.

Hopefully the PLG can go some way to helping these conversations along, to help with the ‘how do we know what we don’t know’ question, to connect teachers and schools in similar circumstances, at similar points on the MLE journey, and to begin to imagine possibilities.

Next term the Auckland meeting is going to be held at Ormiston High School. Details will be available on the website soon.

Further details of the next Christchurch event will be found on the Canterbury PLG website. A big thank you to Ngaire, Angela, James and the team at Clearview Primary for taking the lead and getting the Canterbury event off to such a great start. Especially since they had to cope with the power being off the day before!