Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Learning Spaces PLG Term 4

The next meeting of the Open Learning Spaces professional learning group will be on Thursday 28th November, 5pm at Ormiston Senior College.

This will take the form of a mini unconference with lots of different things to talk about. It should be a great opportunity to connect with other teachers teaching in MLE as well as schools exploring new innovative building options.

Sausage sizzle provided!

Details and free registration can be found here

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!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Canterbury Professional Learning Group for MLE

Interested in Modern Learning Environments and live in the Christchurch area? The PLG is heading your way!

Details of the new teachers' professional learning group being set up in Christchurch can be found here. This will be a great opportunity for teachers to talk to teachers about teaching and learning in MLE.

The inaugural South island event will be at Clearview School in Rolleston at 4.30pm on the 12th September. Registration details can be found on the website too. There is already lots of interest so hope to see you there. Thanks to Ngaire and Angela for getting the group set up.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Open Learning Spaces PLG coming to Christchurch

The Open Learning Spaces is soon to begin a Christchurch branch. Details will be available very soon including how to register and get involved. Keep after school on Thursday September 12th free!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Open Learning Spaces PLG - September 5th

Following the huge success of the last PLG at the National Library, the next meeting will be on Thursday September 5th, 4.30pm at Hobsonville Point Primary.

They'll be an opportunity to have a tour of the school, talk about the vision and design thinking behind the new space, as well as to learn how teachers are working collaboratively to teach in their innovative learning environments. There will also be an opportunity to get an update on the forthcoming high school and find out about spatial and pedagogical plans for the new environment.  It promises to be a fascinating session.

Registration is free, and can be found along with further information about the PLG on the site.

More meetings are planned for later on in the year. Term 4 is looking like having a high school focus. 

If you have any questions, feedback or ideas for the PLG, these are very welcome - just email.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

PLG, CEFPI conference and MLE Expo Christchurch - It's all happening!

Following a huge turn out to the last PLG at Jasmax, Registrations (free) are now open for this term's meeting - Thursday 6th June at The National Library, Parnell at 4.30pm. It's a very timely session. The topic of the role of libraries in the context of 21st Century learning environments is always a fascinating one, so it's great to be able to hear from the real experts!

The session is going to be run by Peter Murgatroyd and members of the National Library team. - a tour and talk about the design thinking behind the National Library space- a brief presentation on 21st century libraries - an interactive workshopping of new visions for library as space and place in a 21st century learning environment.
It promises to be a great programme.

If you've enjoyed the PLG you might also be interested in the CEFPI conference too, coming up on 29th-31st May at Sky City- an opportunity to visit some Auckland schools and to engage with many leading national and international experts on pedagogy and space.

And if you are in Christchurch on June 8th, CORE is running a Modern Learning Environment EXPO showcasing, "the architecture, pedagogy, information, ideas and environment to inspire school communities" It's a free event, running from 10-4 at the Airforce Museum in Wigram. There's no registration necessary. Further details can be found here

So it's all happening on the MLE front over the next few weeks. Lots of opportunities to be inspired, join the dialogue and to make some more connections between pedagogy and space.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


We talk a lot about collaboration when it comes to teaching in modern learning environments. It’s used in terms of the way teachers work with each other, the way teachers work with students, and students work with students. But are we talking about the same thing?

Collaboration, when it comes down to it is one of those words that has perhaps become slightly difficult to define. Dillenbourg as far back as 1999 suggested that the term had become fashionable and had resulted in overuse and overgeneralization; something that he suspected made it difficult to articulate the various contributions that authors were making on the subject.

So when a group of teachers we spoke with recently talked about their team situation, a number of scenarios arose. For example at times the group talked about working alongside each other on a particular task, or to solve a particular problem. They’d work together, all contributing to the discussion, until a decision had been reached, or the task completed. Picture it in Lego, it’s everyone, hands on, building the same model. Is this collaboration?

Or how about the example of the same group of teachers taking a task, breaking it up into parts, and then, individually, going off to complete the different sections of it. Later they return, between them putting the pieces together, and using this approach, complete the task. Is this collaboration?

Thirdly, the example of something needing doing, an event needing organising, and one person taking it on, coming back to explain to the group what is going to happen. Would this be collaboration?

Arguably, and coming back to Dillenbourg (1999) in a collaborative approach work is done together whereas in a more cooperative approach a task is split and then ‘reassembled’. He refers to this as the ‘division of labour’ and adds that many consider collaboration to be synonymous with collaboration. The third example above might better be considered as ‘coordination’ with one party taking the lead role, and simply reporting back.

A number of authors have written on the different stages of collaboration as it shifts from coordination, to cooperation, to collaboration (Peterson, 1991). Possibly though in a teaching team sense, there’s not such a neat and tidy movement through the stages. Instead depending on the task, the purpose, and the level of input required from everyone, maybe teams shift between collaboration, cooperation and coordination.

Perhaps therefore, when approaching a particular task, teaching teams need to be mindful of the approach that is most appropriate, at that particular time, for that particular job, before deciding if they will collaborate, cooperate, or coordinate.

Or maybe, just maybe, this just a case of semantics, and to what extent does it matter how we define ‘collaboration’ anyway? Perhaps, we just need to get on with it!


Dillenbourg, P. (1999). What do you mean by collaborative learning? In P. Dillenbourg (Ed.), Collaborative-learning: Cognitive and computational approaches. (pp. 1-19). Oxford: Elsevier.

Peterson, N. L. (1991). Interagency Collaboration Under Part H The Key to Comprehensive, Multidisciplinary, Coordinated Infant/Toddler Intervention Services. Journal of Early Intervention, 15(1), 89.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

CEFPI Australasia conference only two months away

Early bird registrations for this year's CEFPI conference in Auckland are open for another couple of week's. It promises to be a great conference with some stunning speakers, great site visits and lots of social and networking opportunities. Registrations are available on the CEFPI website.

Here's just a taste of some of the learning environments that you can visit during the conference:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Open learning spaces…and the smaller spaces within

As we get close to finalising the design for our school’s second stage build much of the attention is on the nature of the smaller spaces within. We know that our new hubs will accommodate three teachers and up to 90 learners but exactly what is the nature of the smaller spaces within? What size should they be? And should they have doors?

Currently within each learning hub we have one larger space that can be closed down - it’s equivalent in size to a traditional classroom (about 64 square metres) – as well a couple of smaller (11 sq m) breakout spaces. They both have glass sliding doors and good acoustic separation.

The ability to close the doors for a while is important for some children. One of our youngest students, referring to a small glazed breakout space, reported that “I like to go to the small room because it is quiet. Another suggested that, I like this space because it can shut its doors and it will be quiet”.

However a couple of our older students made an interesting observation:
Student 1 - I like the quiet room because it’s easier to work in there because there’s no noise
CB – Which one’s the quiet room for you?
Student 1 - The one with the books in it - the library. The Google room’s cool too because it’s a big area and you can close it off.
Student 2 – But it’s annoying when there are millions of people in there
CB – Do you think it’s important that you have spaces that you can close off?
Student 1 – Yes because if you’re going to be noisy, if you were doing a film or something, you can close it off so that people don’t get distracted by our learning. And it’s also good if you want to have quiet and so you can block off all the noise.

So these two students considered a space that they referred to as a quiet room to hold dual purposes. Firstly that it was a place to find quiet, and secondly a place that you could close down in order that it was quiet for everyone else.

The Professional Learning Group has recently toured a couple of business environments in order to draw some comparisons with the types of spaces we are designing for schools. Both the bank and the architects that we’ve visited have an emphasis on open, collaborative and highly interactive spaces. There are hot desk stations, settings for teams, presentation spaces as well as food based spaces; the coffee bar, the shared kitchen, and outdoor seating.

These are the sort of spaces that Jonah Lehrer refers to in Imagine: How creativity works, when he talks about the Pixar Animation Studios. They are the places of the incidental encounters, casual conversations, the places for connections to be made, networks to be broadened. They are Ray Oldenburg’s ‘third places’ - spaces that bring together diverse talents and view points. Not that all the conversations that are going to go on there will be of high significance, just that some of the are. What characterises these spaces is the openness, accessibility and proximity for all.

But although there was an emphasis on collaboration and openness in the places we visited, both environments still had a need for closing down spaces at times – to hold client meetings, for team meetings, presentations, phone calls, interviews and confidential conversations - and so had rooms set aside for just that purpose.

It’s a point that Fayard and Weeks (2011) make in discussing the transition from private office work environments to open, shared spaces. They discuss that even though there are positive behavioural effects of the redesigns there is also counter evidence to suggest that opening up the space may actually inhibit casual conversations and encounters. “Though it may seem counterintuitive, research shows that informal interactions won’t flourish if people can’t avoid interacting when they wish to” (p. 105). Herman Miller Inc’s recent paper on collaboration makes a similar point. “Smaller rooms and alcoves a little off the beaten path can provide a person with the peace and quiet needed to synthesise a large amount of information and write a report” (p. 5)

Shift that thinking into a school context and what does it suggest? Well it’s about students having access to some spaces that can be closed down, while at the same time having the affordance of visibility. I like the notion of having a ‘room within a room’ that Stephen Heppell refers to - and I like the way he frames it - “agile little spaces-within-spaces that have proved so popular with children and teachers alike - they offer a space for mutuality, for an intimacy of collaboration, for serious study and focused conversations, for peace & quiet sometimes, for focus and of course, with always one side open and an eye line in, for safety too.”

And I think that our children have discovered this for themselves. When you walk into a learning hub and observe they have rearranged furniture, or sit behind a teaching station, or a couch, or nestle into a corner or up against a window, or on a stage block, more often than not they have created their own spaces that purpose their own learning. When asked to design potential new environments, the idea of creating nooks and crannies was a common theme among children. Take this model for example.

When asked about the zig-zag wall, the two children who’d built it talked about the little spaces that it created – small environments our architect might describe as ‘worlds’. Corners it seems to our children are important places for learning.

Another couple designed this sunken amphitheatre with group dialogue and discussion in mind:

On a recent trip to Melbourne University I came across this ‘room within a room’. It’s open, visible and whilst not acoustically separated from the larger environment it is part of, there was a sense of purposeful separation. The lines delineated by the carpet too added to the concept.

This couch area too, at the architect office, despite being right in the middle of the practice, forms it’s own little world for people to meet and discuss, and learn. Strangely enough and despite its centrality it affords  a surprising amount of noise insulation from the general murmur of work and keyboards around it.

As we move into finalising our hub designs, when we think about the spaces within, it’s about exploring a balance between open spaces where shared teaching, collaboration and group work can go on, and at the same time providing a couple of smaller breakout spaces which can be acoustically separated. Teachers have commented that we probably need two closeable spaces; one for a larger group of students (although not as large as a classroom), and another one for small groups. The visible nature of spaces with large glass doors is seen as a real positive too.

Also though its important to look at creating other spaces, alcoves and worlds within the larger one; perhaps through the use of the corners, nooks and crannies, hinging screens and staircases that are so popular with our learners. Over the next few weeks the designs will continue to evolve and we'll be going to our teachers and students for some all to critical feedback.


Fayard, A.-L., & Weeks, J. (2011). Who Moved My Cube? Harvard Business Review(July-August 2011).

Heppell, S. (2012). Rooms within rooms, from http://rubble.heppell.net/rooms_in_rooms/

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

Oldenburg, R. (1989). The great good place : caf├ęs, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day. New York : Paragon House, 1989.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Collaborative teaching - The emergence of Collaborative Teacher Efficacy


Listening to teachers talk about teaching in a collaborative learning space – three teachers and up to 90 students as opposed to one teacher and 30 students - and one is struck by how much ‘we’ there is in the teacher voice. There is a firm belief that as a team, they are able to shift student outcomes, raise achievement, and meet the needs of a diverse range of learners. Teachers often cite examples of the advantage of working and teaching together: 
  • “You are not alone” is one phrase that has been used throughout the year - incidental successes and challenges can be shared and attended to in the moment.
  • Daily professional learning opportunities - you observe your peers teaching because of the visible nature of the spaces.  You pick up lots of ideas and different ways of approaching.
  • Planning sessions where student achievement is discussed and groupings flexibly organised to best meet needs.
  • More space and furniture possibilities to facilitate different learning
  • A Healthy sense of accountability when your practice is so visible in front of your colleagues.
  • The children benefit from the skill each of the teachers.  They can approach the teacher that is fit for purpose.
  • Shared planning as an opportunity for critiquing and talking about ‘how do we know these children need this learning at this time?’ 

This deep belief that as a small team a group of teachers are able to have an impact, to make a difference, to be more than the sum of its parts, leads me to wondering if there is a level of collective agency that is emerging. And there’s a relationship I believe to be formed with the construct of collective teacher efficacy which stems from social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1997) – the level to which people believe the exert control over their lives.

Collective teacher efficacy relates to the level of confidence that group members have in their collective ability to be successful – and often at the school level this is measured in terms of student achievement. It is a level of belief and of conviction. As Goddard, Hoy and Hoy put it, collective teacher efficacy is ‘‘the perceptions of teachers in a school that the efforts of the faculty as a whole will have a positive effect on students’’ (2000, p. 480)

How does this differ from an individual’s own teacher efficacy? Well if teacher efficacy is seen as an individual teachers perception of classroom performance – the level to which they can stretch student’s ability, to raise achievement levels, to work with those students who need extra support, and to set challenging goals - collective teacher efficacy judges how teachers see the whole school. Instead of being an aggregate of individuals’ efficacy, it is a group attribute (Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004), “the product of the interactive dynamics of the group members” (Goddard et al, 2000, p. 482).

So what are the characteristics of a school with a high level of collective teacher efficacy? Essentially it’s about shared responsibility, about setting challenging benchmarks for students, belief that students can achieve high academic goals, deliver mastery instruction and that do not accept that low levels of achievement are a byproduct of low socio economic status (Bandura, 1997). There is also a willingness to own not only the successes of students but also the failures and setbacks. Schools with high levels of efficacy are open to new ideas and to change, they test new strategies to meet the needs of the students, they are environments of high trust and openness, where teachers have a high level of commitment to the profession (Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004).

So does it make a difference? Well in a nutshell, yes. Research points towards a correlation between collective efficacy and student outcomes. Tschannen-Moran and Barr (2004), for example, found that collective teacher efficacy accounted for 18% variance in maths, 28% in writing and 14% in English. Goddard, Hoy and Hoy (2000) also found positive relationships between collective teacher efficacy and student achievement in reading and maths. Collective teacher efficacy, it seems, is a strong predictor of levels of student achievement.

So what connections can be made between the construct of collective teacher efficacy and teachers working together in a collaborative learning space? My wondering is if collective teacher efficacy can be found to make a difference at a school level, then whether the same concept can be applied on a more localised teaching team scale. Does the fact that a team of three teachers working together - in a sense a micro organisation - impact on student outcomes as a direct function of their collective belief in what they are doing? Perhaps the construct of Collective teacher efficacy gives us a tool with which to measure it.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy : the exercise of control: New York : W.H. Freeman, c1997.

Goddard, R. D., Hoy, W. K., & Hoy, A. W. (2000). Collective Teacher Efficacy: Its Meaning, Measure, and Impact on Student Achievement. American Educational Research Journal(2), 479.

Tschannen-Moran, M., & Barr, M. (2004). Fostering Student Learning: The Relationship of Collective Teacher Efficacy and Student Achievement. Leadership & Policy in Schools, 3(3), 189-209.