The first version of the new classroom plan by the architect of the Ministry of Education (MoE) was a bit extreme, says John Laurenson, director of the Shirley Boys High of Christchurch.
Laurenson denies a marker and sketches a single large rectangle on his office whiteboard. "What he had proposed was a large barn with 225 children and nine staff members."
His eyebrows are shooting upwards. So when the ministry spoke of an open-plan revolution for the reconstruction of the post-earthquake of the school, it was not a joke.
The architect seemed to think of the teachers who roamed the room as an educational tag team, not even teaching the same subjects.
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Gone were the small "single cell" classrooms with a teacher and a quarter of boys. In it would be new from 21st Century Learning or innovative learning environments (ILE & # 39; s).
An entire floor would be opened to create an adventurous free range. Traditional subject lines would fade if students learned on self-discovery, with emphasis on themes & # 39; s moving between teamwork, breakouts and individual projects.
Technology would be a liberator. With & # 39; reversed learning & # 39; For example, teachers could provide their basic instruction as an online video that students studied as homework. The next day in class would be devoted to actively exploring the ideas, where the teacher acts as a guide.
Laurenson shakes his head. You can imagine that a few hundred teenage boys flutter around in a noisy enclosure with a wandering team of teachers trying to keep them all on track.
It is not for nothing that the school's motto "Interest omnium recte facere & # 39 ;," he says. Loosely translated, from the order comes freedom and passion.
Like any larger city, Christchurch has its complex ecosystem of secondary schools, each trying to establish their identity.
Under Laurenson, mid-decile Shirley Boys has made a name for his mid-winter swimming, getting out and kicking a ball over a field, his belief in character formation and male discipline.
The ministry said it would pay for a rebuilt school – a $ 80 million campus in New Brighton that would unite Shirley with an equally earthquake-damaged Avonside Girls' High. But the catch was that it should join the ILE revolution.
Everyone would eventually do it, the MoE said. In 2011, the ministry rewrote the strategy for school real estate, and promised every school – primary and secondary – to refurbish a new ILE standard by 2021.
It says that 70 percent of the 38,000 classrooms in New Zealand were at least 30 years old. About 5,500 prefabs full of school playgrounds and parking garages.
And all these spaces have been designed with a view to the education of the last century. Children growing up today need schools that reflect a modern flexible, collaborative and self-managed approach to learning.
So building schools with the right kind of architecture and the right way of teaching would flourish in them.
A few brave pioneers in Auckland were already funded – new secondaries for new suburbs, such as Hobsonville Point and Albany.
Now the earthquakes in Canterbury were a chance to overtake most of an entire city.
So -13 primaries and secondaries in Greater Christchurch are being completely rebuilt. Many more receive replacement blocks in the classroom. Shirley Boys & # 39; could be one of the flagships.
Laurenson growls. To make a long story short, the school tested the learning style of ILE, he says.
Because Shirley is destined for demolition, they can cut away a few walls and pairs of teachers who together manage a larger room. They could experiment with mixing subjects, such as combining English with social studies.
The best Laurenson can say that any pedagogical theory can be made if the teachers make extra efforts. And it did not ultimately lead to the active damage to the results of the Commission.
But no. Retaking the marker, the school changed the plan of the architect. That gigantic barn room was first cut into three separate rooms of 75 boys with three teachers.
Then they go into the corner of a glass wall to close a 25-class classroom. The L-shaped space on the left is filled up by two more class groups in their own smaller spaces.
So some of the ILE specifications of the ministry were met. The inner walls are not load-bearing. The building could be converted into an open plan at a later date.
And there will be more interaction between groups of classes. Teachers can work on the L-shaped wings. But in general, Shirley Boys holds on to a structured environment with fixed subjects and traditional relationships between teacher and student.
Laurenson says there were enough visits to other schools, such as the Albany Senior College in Auckland, who left the entire pig. They have learned their theme and "project day Wednesday". However, it was not for his school community.
"The ones I saw do not go outside at all, they do not kick with balls, they're in the cafeteria, it's like a glorified polytech, I'm not interested in that," Laurenson resolutely says.
FIRST IN THE FEET
In the end there was no big drama. The MoE insisted on revolution and nevertheless gave – probably more easily than expected – a compromise.
A strong point of the education system in New Zealand – which enjoys a good international reputation – is that it is still largely governed by the state with a standardized national curriculum.
But every school is governed by a board of community trustees who have considerable control over the character of a school.
So politics is that the ministry can propose, head masters and their boards can resist.
Yet there is a pressure for drastic changes. In a classic way, New Zealand has taken up a courageous new social theory and implemented it in the wholesale trade. It all feels a bit with wide open eyes and naive.
"We tend to take things from abroad, jump into the feet first and then wonder when things do not go according to plan," Laurenson agrees.
Chief Inspector Mark Wilson of the Cashmere School, who has a 10-week sabbatical to dig into innovative learning environments before deciding on the reconstruction plans of his own school, says it is reminiscent of Rogernomics and other sagas.
"We are the small island at the foot of the South Pacific that is desperately on the edge of the cut."
And although quite a few schools – particularly established secondaries – retreat against the ministry's urge, many others, including most primaries, are carried along in the current.
Melanie Webber, vice president of the Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA), says that a building program is being used to promote a radical change in educational philosophy. And nobody really knows that it will work.
Webber is an English teacher at Western Springs College in Auckland. She says that when her own school came up for renewal of the ministry, it felt like there was much less choice.
The tired old sixties Nelson blocks and cracking prefab prefabs are going. The whole school is absorbed in a building with three floors of ILE design.
"But we were up early and we fought so hard for a new building that we were just grateful when they said we would give it to you."
Webber says the Western Springs employees will switch to shared, open classrooms next year and start looking for a new way of teaching. There seems to be no way back.
It's one thing for an Albany, or other brand new secondaries like Selwyn's Rolleston College, where from the start a school is founded on ILE principles, she says.
Rolleston started in 2017 with only one opening year 9 intake. The school will be completely built up to 1800 in a few years.
But now many other schools are expected to turn into big bang style and return to completely new environments after a vacation.
Webber says that teaching is already a stressed profession. This is shown by a drop of 35 percent in applications.
She says that the ILE push is problematic because the required level of reinvention is insufficiently taken into account. "This is another big change for teachers."
Where is the proof for the benefits? She says that her own research commissioned by the MoE – a four-year research by Melbourne University that yielded the results of the first round last November – could not yield a significant return on the efforts so far.
Maybe New Zealand is doing the right thing, in the right direction, Webber says. But the changes in learning feel hurried and underused because of the way in which they have to be timed to match the pace of a ministry building program.
THE REFUND OF A POLICY
We have been here before. In the 1970s there was a similar push for open classrooms and discovering learning, an uprising against a regime based on regurgitation of facts.
Walls were overthrown. An artistic teacher can be accompanied by a more formal teacher to use their complementary powers.
And New Zealand is modernizing its teaching practices even in traditional classrooms.
The new national curriculum that was introduced in 2009 was about a shift to research learning.
Technology changed the nature of the work. What schools had to produce were young people with good critical thinking skills, self-awareness and social involvement.
Webber says it is not like children are still sitting in rows of desks that copy lessons from a blackboard. Even in single-cell classes there is group work, online research, an effort to deeply learn & # 39; to improve.
"I'm in my early 40s, so I'm not that old, but I do not teach as I was taught, it's inconceivable that I would still teach as I was taught."
The problem, however, is the distance that the pendulum seems to swing with the approval of a new standard for school buildings.
One of the puzzles is that ILE & # 39; s are a policy issued under the last national government. This has led some to consider it as a straightforward cost-saving move.
Open floor plans, glass walls and three-storey buildings, except walls and corridors, reduce the footprint of a school.
But the ILE guidelines place great emphasis on natural light, good ventilation and temperature control. The intention seems to be to provide a 21st century comfort level, like nothing else.
Others, such as Kevin Knight of Christchurch's New Zealand Graduate School of Education, have noted that Hekia Parata was at that time Minister of Education and said that shared learning spaces were a better fit for Māori students because of their joint emphasis.
"Minister Parata created a policy by participating in a money-saving strategy with an educational philosophy and then linking it to a cultural twist," says Knight.
Then the finger is pointed out to the influence of architects and educational advisors.
Overseas, the American school architect Prakesh Nair has become known as a crusader for open education, winning converts in Canada and Australia.
One of the first ILE projects of the MoE was the reconstruction of Porirua College in 2010 as four whanau-like & # 39; leather hubs.
Nair was engaged to give seminars prior to the contract. Local architects such as Opus and ASC have become enthusiastic advocates of the ideas.
Cashmere Highhead Mark Wilson says in a small country, a refrain for change is developing rapidly. Other consultants, such as Christchurch's core education, a specialist in online learning and digital teaching, also became important promoters.
That is why Wilson undertook his own sabbatical research trip in 2015 and stated that he found more questions than answers.
He attended seven secondary schools in Auckland, five in Australia and three in Christchurch.
Wilson writes that he thought the ILE designs looked "North American" – institutional and built with cheap industrial minimalism that would wear out quickly.
With a whole school in one glass block, the buildings felt strangely closed compared to the usual walking Kiwi sprawl – "ideal for any lock-down situation," he notes.
Wilson says that research shows that modern buildings can be important for the success of students. A British study of primary schools said that 16 percent of the improvements could be justified by being in classrooms with good natural lighting and air, an interesting and varied design.
But he feels that he is striving for shared classrooms and teaching in tag teams, the ILE model went too far.
Wilson was convinced by New Zealand professor John Hattie, now director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, who says that open-plan learning makes little or no difference to student results. The biggest predictor remains the ability of individual teachers to participate and inspire.
That is why Cashmere has become another not to join the ILE bandwagon when settling with its own master plan for post-processing reconstruction.
MORE FAVORABLE IMPRESSIONS
Some say no, but others say yes. With neat symmetry, Avonside Girls & High School appears to have been much more receptive to the ILE desires of the ministry.
Avonside Girls & # 39; and Shirley Boys & # 39 ;, each with approximately 1,000 students, form two wings of a campus with a common entrance – a spacious foyer with the shared school library, cafeteria and auditorium.
The MoE has already ticked some of its goals in that appointment. Laurenson says that single-sex schools & # 39; anathema & # 39; are for Wellington & # 39; s bureaucrats and the original intention after the earthquakes was just to close the schools altogether.
A new secondary was also needed to maintain that side of Christchurch. There had been a hole. So the move to New Brighton was another victory.
Avonside Girls & # 39; then went through the same discussion process and ended up in a different place with regard to open classrooms and team learning.
Deputy Director Tanya Phillips reaches the blueprints of the Avonside half of the campus project.
She says that Avonside does not make any change. It will also stick to the traditional subdivisions of the subject. English departments will be separated from wards.
However, each department will act as a learning center. The English room will therefore be a general floor with five classes of 25 girls, followed by a section with frosted glass for more private work.
"There is a large open space in the middle, but then we also have brainstorm rooms that occupy a whole class, and breakout rooms that require small groups."
Phillips says that Avonside visited other ILE schools, such as the recently opened Wakatipu High School in Queenstown, and found what he saw. A well-designed shared space offers the flexibility and variety that fits a modern learning style.
"Maybe someone wants to sit on the stairs to write creatively, probably, probably not, health and safety, but they can come together or spread, and it is completely dependent on what the class needs at that moment."
Phillips says that the girls will still have a class teacher. "If I followed a class of year 9, they would know that they always came to me to start."
But architecture must make more shared teaching possible. One teacher can drop a group of 40 for a general exercise, while another teacher works with the remaining 10.
Phillips says that noise is often seen as a major concern. However, the sound insulation proved to be effective in the schools it visited. And there are the private spaces.
"If you think about it, in a traditional classroom, you can not walk anywhere else than people and find a quiet corner."
So Avonside was sold on the concept. And Phillips says that quite a few other Greater Christchurch schools – such as Lincoln, Hornby, Rangiora and Kaiapoi, all of which need substitute learning blocks – go the same way.
The big question is whether it works, she agrees. Is the change beneficial for the children?
Phillips says she is convinced of the change she sees in the children from the primaries and intermediates who have been using the ILE model for a number of years.
"These children are accustomed to being the owners of their learning, used to making decisions about where they will work and being self-regulating.
"They are more open, more willing to learn, because they can follow things they love more, ask their own questions and not only receive answers."
So an optimistic reading of the situation is that a new generation of school architecture will pave the way for the continuing evolution of education in New Zealand. A small country will again play a pioneering role in a pedagogical change.
But also – with a drop in the more traditionally oriented schools – a considerable amount of variety of school types will remain, at least in the larger cities. Parents will have choices. And as usual, can vote with their feet.
It is the way the new ILE classrooms suddenly appear, which is a problem. Schools are asked to make a jump in one go.
And many echoes from the PPTA's Webber about tutoring-resourcing. Expenses on flexible buildings can be good. But it must be accompanied by an investment in flexible teachers.
It is like decisions that education becomes organically free instead of farming. The upgrade of social expectations comes with its extra costs.
So the transformation that is being asked is perhaps the right one. But to get there is a story that goes much further than agreeing a floor plan when it's time to spend the money from the ministry to a new school.