Architecture of ownership: Students and teachers forgoing agentic identities in an innovative learning environment

WMIER, University of Waikato Research Team: Dr Noeline Wright & Associate Professor Rachel McNae
Research Assistant TBA

Project Dates: November 2016 - March 2019

Figure 1. Student initiated and led group, demonstrating agency in belonging

This project examines how students and teachers in a new school find spaces for themselves  within new physical, curriculum and relational teaching and learning spaces. Fletcher's (2008) The Architecture of Ownership concept operated as the unifying framework to understand how teachers and students at Rototuna High School make sense of, and develop agency in, their new school. We were interested in the ways in which teachers and students develop cultural and learning practices. Along with this focus, we wanted to know how teachers and students form and sustain relationships within and beyond the school. Participants were asked to create digital artefacts that reflected how they cultivated their sense of ownership across the various architectures of the school (for example (physical, relational, learning, curriculum, assessment).

Findings contributed to new understandings about students and teachers forging agentic identities of ownership within and across various architectures of the innovative learning environment (ILE) at Rototuna Junior High School.

The Architecture of Ownership is founded on notions of meaningful engagement (Fletcher, 2005),
and the research process itself reflects this in its innovative design, methods and actions. Involving
students and teachers as co-researchers is a deliberate action to strengthen the research partnership
and reflect how an Architecture of Ownership can be enacted, even in small ways.

Why is this research important?

There is little research evidence about the perspectives of those inside new schools and how they negotiate what it means to belong to a school that has no established rituals, practices or habitus to call on. The research site school, like all new school builds in NZ, is designed according to Ministry of Education regulations about what modern learning environment (MLE) should be like.

The research explored implications and/or effects of an Innovative Learning Space as teachers and students find their way to teach and learn in it. The project resulted in new information about how students found their niches and could express their identities
individually and with others. Students appreciated simple things like the ability to mix and match various uniform items, to express aspects of individuality as they wished. They liked being appreciated for what they could do and who they were. Being on a first name basis with staff was also appreciated, for students felt that this was more inclusive and relational. At the same time, students were quite realistic about the relational boundaries between staff and themselves.

Staff gained considerable professional pleasure from the Advisory role and looked forward to this pastoral care part of their professional duties. As one teacher said, it made him feel like a whole teacher, not just a teacher of a subject. It appears that the relational connections between students and staff were mutually satisfying.

Who could this research help inform?


This research might help other schools better understand what working within MLEs means for those inside them, especially when a school is brand new. Understanding the perspectives of those teaching and learning within them is a gap in current research knowledge.  By examining how participant learners forge their identities in these new learning spaces, this project will contribute new knowledge about the potential of Innovative Learning Environments and Spaces that can be used to inform the future planning and design of Innovative Learning Environments and Spaces in New Zealand schools, and internationally.


Rototuna Junior High School may be inspired by the evidence to develop a whole school Architecture of Ownership vision. This may support both staff and students to foster and sustain healthy agentic identities within a strong school community.


Findings may influence educational policy and teacher education – both pre-service and in-service, perhaps in ways teachers and students across schools might forge partnerships in documenting aspects of school life. This might include student achievement, school/ERO reviews, teacher appraisal, school-wide planning and Board of Trustee governance.


Further information about the findings from this project are available here:

Wright, N., & McNae, R. (2019). An architecture of ownership. Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER. Retrieved from