A team of teachers from Tauranga and Hamilton were in Victoria recently to look at teaching practice in primary schools there. The 16 teachers visited four Melbourne schools each with different characteristics.
Barb Whyte, a senior lecturer at the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Education in Tauranga was invited along as the “theoretical lens”. She is co-author of a book on curriculum and learning and was interested to see how the schools in Melbourne were using teaching spaces, integrating different curricula, working with ethnic groups, and supporting team teaching.
Open-plan learning spaces
“There was a lot to see and take in, but we were interested in the differences, if any, that were made to student learning achievement and engagement by the change to team teaching and flexible learning spaces - what we used to call open-plan,” says Mrs Whyte.
“Coupled with that we wanted to see how professional learning communities functioned within a school-wide language and philosophy of learning, how schools used data for assessment and analysis, and how they worked with their communities.”
The schools they visited ranged from inner-city to rapidly-growing semi-rural; some were less than five years old, others were over 20.
Mrs Whyte says New Zealand schools have invested in flexible teaching spaces and team teaching over the years with mixed results, but she’s an advocate if it’s planned and implemented properly.
Children’s motivation to learn
“We teach a paper at Waikato on curriculum integration and that emphasises the importance of putting children’s motivation to learn at the heart of classroom teaching and curriculum learning.”
She says the Melbourne schools were well-resourced with an emphasis on the foundation learning areas of English and Maths and national assessments. “That tends to narrow the learning programmes in schools, and we found a lot of focus is put into compliance and systems, which can be constraining. But in saying that, the schools we visited also had some impressive purpose-built modern learning environments, user-friendly staff spaces, generous teacher-release time for planning, as well as on-site learning coaches and well-being teams.”
Improving learning programmes
Barb Whyte says she came away encouraged by what was happening in New Zealand schools. “The most important learning environment is inside the head of the learner. No matter how fantastic the buildings and resourcing, it’s the quality of the learning programme that has greatest impact.”
She says flexible teaching spaces and team teaching offer schools one way to improve learning programmes, “but they need to be utilised in conjunction with an underpinning learner-centred philosophy of learning and teaching to be effective”.
“We’re privileged at the university to have ongoing working partnerships with schools in Tauranga and the Waikato making an authentic effort to develop both aspects.”