Monday, November 26, 2012

Towards the Second Build: An overview of the Consultation Process

 As a school we were very keen to engage in a consultation process, taking into consideration the various stakeholders, prior to moving into the concept design phase. One of our organisational norms is ‘Valuing the Voices’ so it was only natural that we elicit the thinking of students, parents and staff prior to putting together a brief. We have also had the advantage of occupying the current buildings for the last two years and have gained a good idea of what aspects work well and where improvements could be made.

The benefits of a consultative, inclusive process leading towards the design are wide ranging. They include increased ownership by the community, increased ability for teachers to make best use of the spaces according to pedagogical intentions (Woolner, 2010). Research also highlights the benefits of engaging with student voice in terms of the conditions that they are learning in (Flutter, 2006).

It is important however that we don’t limit our thinking to what we already know. In terms of learning environments we don't know what we don’t know and the need for architects to expose us to new thinking and ideas is critical. This has to be matched with acknowledging the short time frame available to us to develop concept drawings. Ultimately therefore the consultation process needs to ensure that we present architects with desired qualities of learning environments rather than set plans.

Whilst acknowledging the work that the school's Establishment Board did in terms of the design, we see this as an opportunity to reflect not only what we have learned over the last two years but also the National and Global developments in thinking about Modern Learning Environments.

With that in mind we designed a consultation process to elicit reflections and ideas from all stakeholders. This comprised working with each of the Learning Hubs in turn, followed by interviews with a smaller group of students, a number of sessions with the whole staff together with a self-selected teacher focus group, and a group of interested parents. Parents who were unable to attend the session were invited to email responses in. A variety of methods of eliciting thinking and ideas were used, depending on the group. 

Over the next few posts I'll outline the process of working with each of the groups and share some of the emerging themes.


Flutter, J. (2006). ‘This place could help you learn’: student participation in creating better school environments. Educational Review, 58(2), 183-193.
Woolner, P. (2010). The design of learning spaces. London: Continuum.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Collaborative Teaching: What are the qualities that a teacher needs?

Over the last couple of days I've been fortunate to be able to attend the Making it Mobile workshop in Auckland with Stephen Harris and the team from Northern Beaches Christian School.

One of the discussions centred around the collaborative nature of teaching in open, shared spaces, and the qualities that teachers need in order to thrive in them. So what are those qualities? This is the list that we came up with but feel free to add more thought/ references and ideas.


York-Barr, J., Ghere, G., & Sommerness, J. (2007). Collaborative teaching to increase ELL student learning: A three-Year urban elementary case study. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 12(3), 301-335.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

CEFPI Auckland Conference coming up next May

It will be well worth being in Auckland at the end of next May, for the CEFPI Auckland Conference. It promises to be an engaging mix of workshops, site visits, keynotes and networking- connecting architects, principals, teachers, facility managers, Ministry and suppliers. 

The focus is on 'Disruption' so expect a great mix of inspiring learning spaces, innovative pedagogy, features on the educational outline for Christchurch, as well as lots of opportunities to engage with students and teachers teaching and learning in some of Aucklands newest school.

Online registration will be available very shortly. In the meantime please email to be kept up to date.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Playground Consultation: “Wow, we thought of that!”

It was a pretty special moment last week when Shyrel from Auckland Council came into school to elicit some feedback from a group of students about a proposed local playground. When the plans and images were shown up on the screen there was a moment of stunned silence followed by exclamations of ‘Wow, we thought of that!’

And in fact they had. A few months earlier Shyrel had come into school armed with marker pens, large sheets of paper and lots of plasticine. The students, year 5-8, were given a blank canvas and an opportunity to share their thinking. What would they like to see in a local playground, to be built a couple of blocks away from school?

Over the next hour or so, strips of plasticine were transformed into towers, slides, scooter tracks, swings, flying foxes, trees and all manner of weird and wonderful playground possibilities. For the students, they were sharing their thinking, being creative and having a great time. But for me, I was learning something about the consultative process, because it was the conversation and dialogue that was the rich element in an afternoon of model making. And this is where the true student voice comes out. What struck me most was the language of possibilities, the “I wonder…’, ‘What about…’, ‘What might…’, ‘What if…’, that was most prevalent in the room.

Interestingly though while there was still a strong emphasis on equipment, the students also considered more environmental play- the stepping stones across the planted areas, trees to provide shade, the need for a ‘kick around’ space on the grass, seating for adults to talk and watch, the desire to have a water channel of some kind. I hadn’t expected this. I thought talk would focus more around the gross motor skills type of equipment.

The Third Teacher (2010) echoes this notion. The fact that when adults design playgrounds they tend to be most informed by their own play experiences and that of the playgrounds they used to play on, rather than the desire of children to hide under bushes, dam streams and to engage with nature; “This is why outdoor areas designed by adults often fail to delight their intended audience. Children want areas filled with nature, from plants, trees, flowers and water, to animals and insects” (p. 96).

Shyrel has done a great job of taking students' ideas and working with planners to interpret and build on them. Seeing the faces on this group of students as they looked at the projected plans for the new playground, and them understanding that not only had they been sincerely listened to but that they had truly been part of a bigger design process was an important learning. How great to get students to look at some plans and say, ‘Wow, we thought of that!’


OWS/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The Third Teacher. New York: Abrams.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The PLG gets down to business!

Something a bit different for the last PLG session of the year: This time we’re heading out of the education environment and into business! We’ve talked about how technology, collaboration and the need for different types of learning settings are transforming school spaces, but what does this look like in the workplace?

So this term we’ll be meeting in the new Westpac building in Britomart, downtown Auckland on Thursday 6th December. It will be a great opportunity to look around a new workplace, complete with breakout rooms, collaborative meeting areas, watering holes and cave spaces. And it’s also going to be a great chance to network and celebrate how far we’ve come.

It was Term 2 last year that the group got going. Since then there have been a whole host of schools developing Modern Learning Environments, refurbishing and opening up existing classrooms, planning new learning spaces, and making some great discoveries about the power of collaboration. So let’s celebrate and share some of what we’ve learnt. Come along with something to share- maybe some plans, a success (or heroic failure!), some new learning, or something you’ve tried.

We'll kick of the meeting at 4.30pm with a tour around the building followed by a workshop session. Given that we’re downtown too, there’s a great opportunity for a Christmas beverage afterwards!

What's it all about?
The PLG started last year as a place for teachers to talk to teachers about learning, teaching and collaboration in modern learning environments. With many schools investigating open learning spaces, what are the opportunities and challenges that they present? What can we learn from each other about as we seek to maximise the benefits of these new spaces? The PLG provides a great opportunity to talk with other teachers and leaders who are either already in open learning spaces, are about to embark on new buildings or conversions, or simply those who share an interest. The group has grown from 10 to 50 over the year with teachers from about 30 different schools participating. 

What can you expect?
The meetings are a combination of short presentations, workshops and dialogue. There's always afternoon tea and a good opportunity to network with other teachers. They usually last about 90 minutes.

How do I get involved?
The website is now up and running with details of registration and previous meetings. It's free to come along and if you register it helps with the catering.

If you know anyone who may also be interested in getting involved in the group, please pass the details on. All are welcome.
If you have any questions. feedback or suggestions for the PLG, these are welcomed too - just email

Look forward to seeing you there.

Images from:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Breakthrough time (and space)

Ask the students- “What’s the best thing about Stonefields School?” and nine times out of ten the answer will be “Breakthrough”. It’s the day that children run that little bit faster to the front door.

The premise is simple. While we have a strong focus on developing areas of core literacy, of inquiry and of learner dispositions, how much time do children actually spend time doing what they are passionate about? All children have innate strengths and talents. As Ken Robinson puts it, it’s not about recognising if children are intelligent, it’s how they are intelligent, that matters. It’s about children finding fulfillment in learning and achieving mastery in something that they are good at - rather than hitting them over the head constantly with things they cannot do. Breakthrough is valued so highly that it forms one of the core vision principles.

“For me it was a dream come true - I could never have dreamt of doing what I love doing during school time”, explains Jackson, a year 6 student. For Jackson his Breakthrough project time is spent 3D modeling using Blender. He’s one of a group of students collaborating on a science fiction movie. It’s a passion that he has brought to school, enthusing others in the process. And it’s extraordinary to watch him learning; a YouTube tutorial open in one window, Blender in another, as he develops the latest element to the fantastical creature that he’s animating. No teacher has shown him how to do this; in fact the best way to cause learning here is for the teacher to stand back!

Some innovative businesses have had this approach for years; Google perhaps the best known, where employees are given 20% of their time - a day a week - to work on special projects. Companies like 3M have been doing it for decades too with huge success, and both consider that many of their innovations have flowed out of this time (Lehrer, 2012).

As a school our core purpose is quite different. It’s not about making money, about innovative product lines and engineering initiatives. But it is about student engagement; it is about developing a love of learning, about providing authentic context, about developing students who are intrinsically motivated, about utilising problem solving skills and the application of an inquiry process, about building collaborative skills, and about valuing a broader notion of what constitutes success. Breakthrough does all this, and additionally provides invaluable leverage into other learning areas.

Take a walk around school this term and you’ll see a whole school approach to Breakthrough, with Year 1 students right through to Year 8s learning together in areas of interest. So you’ll see a group working on designing a senior playground, a group learning to build a table with a parent (Breakthrough time attracts lots of parent and community support), another preparing a dance item for the end of year assembly, students painting a mural inspired by the local environment, a year 8 putting the finishing touches to his novel, and of course a group working on Blender.

So how does this relate to space? I think it’s in how children use it when they have a real sense of autonomy and purposefulness. The hubs, and in fact whole school, doe look somewhat different during Breakthrough time. There’s a naturalness in terms of how groups of students set themselves up for their learning; a deep level of engagement and ownership that reflects in how they reorganize the space and furniture to suit their needs. So you can see groups of children establishing the learning settings that are most appropriate to their requirements, finding the technology and resources they need, both indoors and outside.

Take this as an example; A teacher came in yesterday and told us this lovely story; she was in the hub just before eight in the morning, and noticed a couple of boys walk into the hub and starting to set a room up. Shortly afterwards another couple arrived, laptops in hand. Not long after four more turned, up one after another, and made a beeline for the same part of the room. The boys had set the space up, organized the technology and computers they needed, had a video camera at the ready and were absorbed in a task. At this stage the teacher decided to check out what was going on. ‘Oh’, they answered, ‘We organized a meeting for 8. We’ve got a project we’re working on and thought we’d get an hour in before the day got going.’

As Jackson so eloquently puts it: “Breakthrough is great time for me to work on my self responsibility and self awareness. It’s a time I can really pursue something that I’m good at.” Undoubtedly it is a time of the week at school that children eagerly look forward to. Just walk around school during Breakthrough time to observe the deep level of engagement, or stand by the front door first thing in the morning!


Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine: How creativity works. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.