Page 1

12th August, 2009

The Third Teacher An Investigation of the Impact of a Changing Teaching/Learning Environment for MLC Junior School Teaching in a New Space – More than the architecture Introduction: While a notable amount of preparation was undertaken during 2008 (see Portfolio) the actuality of moving into a new space not only entailed physically changing buildings, it also involved a significant re-thinking of practice. Feedback from staff during 2008 indicated that there were concerns regarding the development and maintenance of wellbeing for both students and their teachers. Might some students feel ‘lost’ in the new studio spaces where they were in the care of more than one teacher? Might it be that those who were experiencing learning difficulties could go unnoticed? How would teachers, accustomed to relating to a single class of students in the confines of their own rooms manage in a team situation where not only would they be teaching in the company of others, but also planning and designing learning experiences together?1 This study has been prepared as the second Portfolio item for 2009. Its timing is critical; it was important that sufficient time had elapsed for some of the ‘settling in’ difficulties to be resolved and that emergent concerns would be uncovered and were being addressed. Methodology: Two processes were adopted as a means of facilitating staff reflection regarding their insights and understandings with respect to changes in spaces for learning and pedagogical practices. The first of these focused upon wellbeing – the wellbeing and welfare of students and staff. A small number of open ended questions were put and responded to in writing at the staff meeting of May 13th. As noted above, this date was chosen to allow the first settling-in to take place; necessarily it was seen that for the first few months there would be disruptions and unforeseen delays and these needed to be overcome before the full impact of the new setting could be felt. The second process was to elicit from staff their “Most Significant Change Stories”; this is a well established narrative process that asks participants to focus on just one thing that they have observed or experienced (Dart & Davies 20032). They were asked to consider:

1

Although it is recognised that much stage level planning was already occurring. Dart, J. & Davies, R. (2003) A dialogical story-based evaluation tool: the most significant change technique. American Journal of Education 24 pp. 137 - 155 2

Susan Groundwater-Smith

1


12th August, 2009 Looking back over the past months, what do you think has been the most significant change for you as a result of moving to the new MLC Junior School? Originally it was intended for the teachers to write during the assigned session. However, it was seen that this would not allow sufficient time for reflection. Thus teachers had an opportunity to compose their stories in their own time and email these to the research team leader. Thirteen stories were obtained. Results: Wellbeing Questionnaire How do you see that students’ wellbeing needs are met in the new environment? A number of staff reflected upon the pleasant surroundings and the ways in which these contributed to a sense of wellbeing. The availability and access to resources, storage spaces and entrances and exits to studios contributed to the smooth running of the learning. As well the secure nature of the premises was seen as positive. It was seen that pre-kindy students could see the ‘school world’ in operation and so incidentally were learning how to ‘do school’. It was suggested that the spaciousness of the new Junior school reduced the kinds of conflicts that arose when young people are in overcrowded classrooms. Having several teachers present in any one studio allowed for closer, but unobtrusive supervision. Most attention was given in the responses to the nature of the interaction between teachers and between teachers and students in relation to wellbeing needs. It was noted that cooperation between teachers resulted in them coming to ‘know more about’ their students through the sharing of information. Greater support for students with learning needs and students requiring extension could be provided. My grade partner and I can closely share wellbeing/pastoral care issues and we do and need to as we are both teaching all students. ‘Two heads are better than one’ (or as another observed, ‘more eyes to notice, more hands to help’). Girls get two teachers to talk to.

It was argued that the school has a well established history of being “highly aware of student needs, the fundamental caring nature of the staff has not changed with the location”. It was also seen that students could observe the ways in which adults encounter and solve problems. In some cases specific time is set aside for interaction with smaller groups of students (pastoral care groups) and this provides a sense of security. Nonetheless several teachers were cautious about the possible loss of intimacy in relationships when students were seen as members of a larger group and that some students could ‘fall through the gaps’. As well, it was expressed that currently there was a cohesiveness among the students and should this change to one of greater conflict it was hard to see how this might be best managed in such an open space.3 3

One respondent did point out that there was an expressed concern on the part of a parent that without assigned seating where students could choose with whom to sit that there was a potential for distraction and disruption. Another suggested that parents may be uncertain about the extent to which

Susan Groundwater-Smith

2


12th August, 2009

Needs are also being met by normal school policies and procedures such as counselling and referrals. The school leadership team is alerted to particular problems. New students are inducted into the new environment and the expectations that the school has of them in terms of their behaviour. Perhaps some teachers were still struggling with knowing all of the students’ names in the larger studios, but this view was only expressed in one case. Finally it was seen that students could identify with more than one teacher to whom they could take their concerns and queries and they had opportunities to select spaces appropriate to their learning needs and take greater responsibility for learning. Feedback from parents and from the students generally indicated that the girls “love their new spaces and feel happy and comfortable learning in them”. In sum, it was seen that the openness of the space encourages openness in relationships. Do you see a need to change any of MLC Junior School’s pastoral care policies? What needs to be done by whom? Eight respondents either left this item blank or noted no changes were needed. I feel the school’s pastoral care policies are working well. The girls are settled and appear happy in the new environment. The pastoral care policy seems to be working well. I have seen teachers enact the policy well, fairly and with an emphasis on empathy and understanding.

The loss of the pastoral care coordinator’s position was noted and it was thought that stage leaders and curriculum coordinators should be alerted to their responsibility in this area and that more attention could be given to making contact with specialist teachers. The question arose, ‘How can teams be best alerted to undertaking support and repair?’ Several are uncertain about the function of Apollo. It was thought that should an issue be critical it needs to be addressed every week. Two respondents drew attention to the school’s human skills program and the need to revitalise this through revisiting the scope and sequence and relevance to the new learning environment. Similarly another wondered whether some equivalent to ‘house time’ could be revived as a social interaction time. A concern was expressed about the lack of ‘private spaces’ where a student might be counselled about a particular event or issue. How do you see staff wellbeing needs are met in the new environment? There was a strong affirmation regarding the new environment and the sense of wellbeing that it invoked. There appears to be an openness, not only in the space but in relation to management that is conducted in a transparent fashion. In the main, teaming arrangements also contributed to a sense of wellbeing as have the provisions being made for staff professional learning and the supply of staff studies for preparation and the like.

the teachers know the students in large groups. These comments has been footnoted as they were single mentions.

Susan Groundwater-Smith

3


12th August, 2009 However, some concern was expressed regarding pressures on staff, being ‘on show’ and the calls on their time to attend various meetings – streamlining and efficiency, while still maintaining flexibility, were seen to be the key. Also a suggestion was made that the conduct of meetings requires skills regarding time management and procedural matters and that these skills could be developed more formally. These views were counteracted by a notion that the meetings were inclusive and therefore important: Staff are included in meetings where matters are discussed. If any one has a problem they have a strong leadership team to approach. The openness of the building seems to bring more open talking (we often used to have huddles of gossip in rooms and corners!

A suggestion was made that more social occasions would assist in alleviating some of the stress that can be ‘overwhelming at times’. It was perceived that just as we can expect to find individual differences among students so too different staff members have different orientations and needs: While I find our new environment very supportive it may be that some staff might find open-plan teaching stressful as the shift to a different style of collaborative teaching is too much for them – noise, people walking past, instrumental music in withdrawal rooms.

New staff members found themselves well accepted and their needs met – attention was drawn to the ways in which technology has been employed to assist in communication. Several teachers (not necessarily new to the school) indicated how critical the supportiveness of the Head of School had been to their sense of adjustment and wellbeing. Can you suggest any strategies for further enhancing staff wellbeing? Strategies tended to reflect what had already been previously outlined, that is fewer and more focused meetings, individual time as well as time to function in teams (particularly with respect to preparation) and more social events such as a monthly morning tea that is a little longer than usual. One respondent thought that a weekend spent together would be a powerful bonding experience, but was unlikely to happen. It was thought that following such an intense period of innovation and change time was needed for consolidation. Attention was brought to other aspects of technology in the face of overall sound provision; in particular “a proper printer would be lovely”. As well, the overload of emails and how to handle this aspect of intensification needs to be addressed. Finally, for some, although well disposed to the ways in which the school functions, there were the minor annoyances associated with shortage of supplies that sometimes produced unnecessary irritation. Most Significant Change Stories (Stories have been included in full in Appendix A): Each story can be construed as a personal narrative, a personal journey. Diana’s opening thoughts serve well as an introduction:

Susan Groundwater-Smith

4


12th August, 2009 The opening of MLCs new Junior School was always more than simply moving a school from one location to another. For the community of MLC it was a change in learning environment that required a paradigm shift in our thinking and in our way of doing things – from the teaching pedagogies used to the simplest of school tasks. Everything was laid on the table for review and reinvention. Not because we thought everything needed changing, but rather, our new environment, built to serve the st needs of 21 century learners, demanded that we operate in different ways. Preparing our community for a transformation of this magnitude required careful planning. Students, staff and parents were taken through a series of information sessions in the first instance, with students and staff then being involved more deeply as the time drew closer. In short, the look and feel of our new environment was no surprise to any of these key players.

As Ingrid, someone new to the school put it: I was humming with the subtle yet ever-present awareness that I would be starting out as a new teacher in a new school in an ever-decreasing amount of weeks... day... and then - before I knew it - hours. Not to mention, this initiation was to occur in a brand new Junior School building that was only just opening and as part of one of the most progressive schools in Sydney of which I had been previously nearly unaware. Though familiarity may breed contempt, unfamiliarity is indeed a daunting prospect, particularly for one embarking on their journey without the reassurance of prior experience.

Linda, too was new to the school and found the move exhilarating: After spending a week at Kent House the word was spread, we were on the move! We repacked our goods and chattels for the final move! Monday morning of week 2 2009 we began our first week in the magnificent new Junior School. The girls took to it like ducks to water, unfazed but obviously excited. The comparisons were incredible, so many contrasts. The spaciousness, the abundance of light, the bright colours resulting in an exciting, inspiring, creative atmosphere. I felt so excited to be a part of this very special and memorable time for MLC School.

As an early career teacher Monica saw that what was significant was being able to fit successfully into the new environment. She perceived that, in some ways, being less experienced than her colleagues might be an advantage in that she did not have preconceived ideas about how teaching and learning was best managed: As a new teacher, I wondered what it would be like when we moved into the new Junior School. Unlike many of my colleagues, I lacked the range of experience in my young teaching repertoire. I wondered briefly if this would be a benefit or a hindrance, and finally decided that it would be an advantage as a new teacher to confront a new environment, so unlike a “regular” school. I was keen to try new things, be innovative, creative and look at different ways to approach teaching and learning; I was eager to experience something “else”. The new building presented an opportunity for all of these things. The glass inspired innovation in the way it drew the outside environment into the learning space. The open spaces allowed for creativity of movement and independence of thought. The bright colours inspired change and the ability to see change happening. I was energetic to have this overflow of difference, modernity, challenge and change.

Jaquline, as Teacher Director of Pre-Kindy, was also undertaking a new enterprise: I had a vision and this was my chance to make it a reality. So I was driven to start this journey with much enthusiasm and I looked forward to the professional challenge.

Susan Groundwater-Smith

5


12th August, 2009

Pauline had been with the school for some time. She saw the journey as something that was shared; it was one that had allowed for consultation and engagement. Moving to the new MLC Junior School has been a journey that we have shared as a staff together, from the initial planning including looking at architectural designs and floor plans, colour schemes, furniture and the series of site inspections during construction.

Later in her narrative, Pauline pointed out some of the vicissitudes of learning to live in a shared space with others – she likened it to moving into a shared house. Being a member of a team required new thinking. Keira Re My initial worries have definitely subsided and now team teaching and open plan feel like the norm. While I am enjoying the space, the girls and my team, the need for more meetings in order to plan, which was otherwise done in my own time can be quite draining. However, the ‘team’ part is what has become most enjoyable as we now really are a part of grade and stage teams rather than independent teachers.

Doug, as a long standing member of the MLC Junior School staff, found his concerns dissipating as the ‘reality’ of teaching in the new school became manifest. Last year I was very unsure of the viability of the 'studio' approach. I had never taught with other teachers in the room, never team taught. Although I was excited by the building and the benefits of teaching in a modern purpose built environment, there were several aspects of working in a team teaching model that were a worry. This year the reality has been much better than the anticipation. The team teaching model works well in the Year 5 studios. Although it is noisy at times there are some benefits that can be gained by coping with the challenges. The fears I had of teaching in this mode have very largely, (but not entirely) disappeared.

Jan had also been in the school for some time and wondered whether there would be a loss of ‘intimacy’, however, she now finds herself more relaxed and positively inclined in relation to working in a team. As I reflect on how my teaching style has been affected by the new environment, I note that I am more relaxed as time goes by. I am also more aware of the opportunities available for peer teaching and collaborative work. There is space and places for girls to work in small groups or pairs and noise is the norm. Girls are able to switch off to things that happening and focus on their own activity. I’ve found myself absorbed in small groups or “just my own space”. I rarely know what is happening in the Art studio or Hub as my eyes and ears settle solely on my own studio.

Teams were seen to provide many opportunities for collaboration and moderation. Jenny cited an example of looking together at student work and concluded: This story is significant to me because when I look back to life at Kent House, I thought we collaborated, and we did, just on a completely different level to what we do now. These days we do the majority of our programming together, we have weekly team meetings, informal meetings and discussions on a daily basis. We share our ideas more and we work together more closely.

For Rachelle, her previous experience of working in a team had been a difficult one: Then I also heard the plans to do with team teaching and it made me nervous. I have

Susan Groundwater-Smith

6


12th August, 2009 taught in a team situation before, and although I got along well with the other teacher, the process of team teaching wasn't well implemented - it was decided on a Friday afternoon and we were a team the following Monday, the parents didn't understand why it had happened in the middle of a school year, the students weren't prepared and it's fair to say - neither were we. The barrage of questions from parents every afternoon about how things worked was full on and we didn't really have the answers ourselves. There were some benefits - sharing resources, a shared collegiality and in particular, shared responsibility for students who were more demanding of our time. But overall, it was a poorly executed and highly stressful teaching experience.

Now she sees things somewhat differently in a context where the change had been carefully planned and well executed: So, reflecting back on my attitude to team teaching this time last year compared to now, I can see a significant shift in my attitude that has coincided with the cultural and philosophical changes taking place and evolving in our new learning space.

As a member of the executive Sean drew attention to the breadth of teams that went beyond Stage teams: Teams at our new MLC Junior School go beyond the core classroom teachers. Teams include Health Education/Physical Education teachers, Music teachers, Drama teachers, Community Languages teachers, Classroom Assistants, Parent groups, Counsellors, our Reverends etc.

He argued that: Teams are also committed to planning regularly, sharing responsibility and having shared approaches to implementation. We are continuing to explore how to make pastoral care of students better. Learning is being designed to create an active curriculum, which encourages the development of individuals who can collaborate, communicate, use technology, think critically and creatively and a great deal more.

For one who has spent many years in the school Fiona encapsulated the excitement of the developments that have occurred over many years in MLC’s Junior School where she has been engaged in leading change, especially in relation to the introduction of the philosophy of Reggio Emilia, she concluded: It has been a very long time but I have seen significant changes in teaching philosophies, leadership, direction of programs and to be honest, every period becomes more exciting and promising of change!

Similarly Hilary, who has worked alongside Fiona for some time also resonated to the benefits of change, particularly the opportunities to engage in organizational restructuring with a new and innovative timetable: Firstly the changes in timetabling have been a factor. We are now able to teach guided reading, shared reading, all writing, Maths and CLP across the grade whereas before only Maths, CLP and some writing was possible last year. We also have more big blocks of time to spend on KLAs rather than having lots of little time slots which made teaching very disjointed and ‘chopped about’ at Kent House. The timetable is by no means ideal ( lots of our blocks are on Monday and Tuesday) but is definitely a step in the right direction. The timetable also allows for blocks of time for Fiona and I to plan together rather than having to do all planning before and after school. This still happens of course but is not always necessary

Susan Groundwater-Smith

7


12th August, 2009 It had been anticipated that a particular impact might be felt with respect to the library, now seen as the hub of the new school. Carolyn reflected on the ways in which her earlier concerns proved to be unfounded and the vision for the new space realised: The vision – a library of the future, situated in the very centre of the new Junior School, with totally open access to both books and the latest technologies. Its purpose, to provide immediately accessible information. Its central location and its pivotal role in the learning within the school led to its name - the Hub. My initial reactions – what? a library with no walls? no door? no security scanner? Perhaps this might work. But, no, how will we keep the books from disappearing all over the school? What about the noise? An open area may prove to be very inviting. But no, where will we sit to quietly read a story? Where will we put all our resources? Months passed. Building plans were tweaked. Building started and progressed. The Hub began to emerge. My excitement grew. The reality - a wonderful, central, accessible collection. Beautifully presented with lots of light, fresh colours, comfortable seating and a magic carpet to sit or lie on and read. A constant flow of people – both staff and students – using technology and books for information and for pleasure. And yes, the open area has proved to be very inviting. And yes, it definitely does work.

In her reflections Diana chose to express her observations in relation to key stakeholders: Students, Staff, Parents and finally, herself. •

Students: Being witness to the girls’ exploration of their new learning environment has been wonderful. The girls took to their new spaces very quickly, enjoying the larger work areas and the open spaces. They were however, timid in their use of the spaces to begin with. New rules and ‘boundaries’ helped them explore the possibilities with greater confidence and Term Two saw them really beginning to spread their wings. I expect that this will continue for several terms yet and that in time, we will begin to see a very different type of MLC Junior School student emerge.

Junior School Parents: Last year, as the building took shape and we communicated the plans for a different kind of learning environment, several parents expressed their concerns to me about the change. Although parents desperately wanted a new building, they were genuinely and predictably nervous about the open learning environment concept. Concerns ranged from the impact such a building would have on students’ ability to concentrate, to the way in which teachers would work in these spaces. After moving in, I was amazed at how quickly the parents adjusted. There has been not one (!) parent come to see me with concerns about the building and the way in which it works, although I am sure it has been the subject of much talk around the coffee shops and dinner tables of the Inner West! There are probably many reasons for this, but predominantly, I think it’s because parents see that their daughter’s are happy, engaged learners who love coming to learn and play in their new school.

Teaching Staff: Since February, the teachers have shown increasing comfort in the use of the building and high degrees of reflective practice in working through teething problems. It has been both fascinating and inspiring to work alongside the staff as we settle in to new ways of doing things: I have learnt much about the different ways in which people react to change. I have been humbled by the teachers’ goodwill and their ability to simply get on with the job at hand – to teach their students in the very best ways they know and explore new ways too. As we work through a predictable ‘implementation dip’ in this major change initiative, I expect the shifts we have made in teaching practice will force some to question whether MLC is the workplace that best suits their teaching style or matches their philosophy of education. The new

Susan Groundwater-Smith

8


12th August, 2009 building insists that teachers ‘walk the talk’ in implementing a curriculum designed to st meet the needs of 21 century learners. To work with a sense of achievement and satisfaction within this new learning environment, I believe that teachers must really believe in what we are trying to achieve. Furthermore, they have to be prepared to work through each difficulty with the future in mind; to know and understand that it will take time to reach the vision we have and the goals we have set. •

Myself: I have discovered much about myself. I thrive on change. For three years I have come to know it well, dealing with the complexities and the difficult days filled with anxiety and the big, nagging question – will all that we are planning really work in practice? It’s been a time of great challenge, uncertainty and risk. In the last few months however, I find myself actually relaxing into the change – I am excited by the possibilities and can feel the difference it is making for the students and for us as a staff.

These brief excerpts from the Most Signicant Change narratives give a flavour of the various ways in which the experience of moving from Kent House to the new MLC Junior School were perceived. The richness of the stories is such that they deserve to be read in full. Discussion: Following a meeting with the research team a number of issues arising from the study were discussed. In terms of general wellbeing matters it was seen that children now encounter several teachers with whom they can interact and that there is a blurring of the lines as to which teacher is the child’s teacher. From the school point of view it may be one of a number, but this may not be clear to parents and it might be advisable to prepare a newsletter for the beginning of the new term that reminds parents of the ways in which the stage groups are organised. Of course, there are two sides to this coin; parents, when consulting teachers may wish to consult the team rather than the individual and this may add to the occasions when teachers are taken to one side to have such meetings – in the past with a smaller number of students to care for, meetings with parents could be quite short and succinct. Another matter arising from teachers working as a team, or in close proximity to each other, is to observe protocols that make clear who is taking responsibility for what. An instance was narrated of a child, seeking assistance from a teacher who was not from her studio while her own teacher was looking for her. Normally, the question would be asked “do your teachers know where you are?” It was not a matter of not helping the child, but rather alleviating any anxiety about the child’s whereabouts. Another instance was of a child approaching a teacher, perhaps on the grounds that the selected teacher might be more lenient, or amenable than another. On the one hand what is important is that there is consistency in procedures and ensuring that one adult is not “played off” against another; on the other hand staff do not want to discourage girls from approaching a teacher who may be particularly sensitive to the needs of a given child. What is important is that careful and sound professional judgement is brought into play. The loss of the pastoral care coordinator’s position was seen as a matter that was being addressed. Similarly some clearer orientation to the function of Apollo and its purpose was under consideration. Some thought was given to the induction of teachers and teacher aides new to the school. It might be helpful for the former to be involved in re-designing induction procedures as they are the ones who are alert to the initial uncertainty that coming to such a new environment might engender.

Susan Groundwater-Smith

9


12th August, 2009

Generally, teachers welcomed the multiple roles that they were now expected to play; but were cautious about further intensifying their work in a very challenging, if exciting, environment. The matter of meetings, their frequency and conduct were discussed as were matters in relation to which medium should be used for communication. It was felt that meetings should be purposeful, well conducted (in terms of time management) and follow an established agenda that prioritises the most important items. Emails could be rationalised by collecting them in a bulletin that is sent out twice weekly. Emails addressed to ‘all staff’ across MLC school should be minimised. Having a central calendar was also seen as helpful, the Head of School’s ‘reminder’ calendar was seen as particularly useful. In sum the research team welcomed the Most Significant Change Stories and believed that they had contributed to the development of the MLC Junior School as an authentic community of practice in which open communication was encouraged and professional differences respected. It was felt that people “knew each other just a little better” as a result of reading each others’ accounts. Appendix A Most Significant Change Stories4 Hilary’s story: As I had already worked in the Kindergarten cottage which was a semi open learning space that had opportunities for team teaching I thought I would adapt very quickly to working in the new Junior school. This has proved to be the case. However I have been surprised at how much more satisfying I have found working in the new Kindergarten space. Reflecting on why this is so I think there are two main reasons for this feeling, Firstly the changes in timetabling have been a factor. We are now able to teach guided reading, shared reading, all writing, Maths and CLP across the grade whereas before only Maths, CLP and some writing was possible last year. We also have more big blocks of time to spend on KLAs rather than having lots of little time slots which made teaching very disjointed and ‘chopped about’ at Kent House. The timetable is by no means ideal ( lots of our blocks are on Monday and Tuesday) but is definitely a step in the right direction. The timetable also allows for blocks of time for Fiona and I to plan together rather than having to do all planning before and after school. This still happens of course but is not always necessary Secondly I now feel that I know all the girls well. Perhaps because we could not teach across the grade all the time in previous years I still felt I knew my ‘class’ better than the other girls. This year I feel I know all the girls equally. Fiona’s Story: The end of 2008 marked the end of 20 years teaching in Kent House! It has been a very long time but I have seen significant changes in teaching philosophies, leadership, direction of programs and to be honest, every period becomes more exciting and promising of change! We have moved from a very traditional beginning in 1989 to a very inspiring, creative school which looks forward to the future. We are involved in action research projects to continually upgrade our ways of teaching and our understandings of just what best practice means in the 21st Century. 4

Authors of stories have been named. All staff were advised that this was not an anonymous exercise.

Susan Groundwater-Smith

10


12th August, 2009 I have stayed at MLC this long because it has been like 5 different schools – covering all the eras and change that has occurred. I have been waiting for this new school for all these years!! Every year I have tried new ways of making my learning space exciting, different - …… When I was introduced to the Reggio experience in (About) 2001 I was VERY excited and joined those staff who wanted to learn more and apply the understandings of Reggio to our community. I was even more excited when I went to Reggio in 2003 on a study tour. At that time we used the Kindergarten Cottage and set it up as a model of an integrated year group in an open space learning area. For the last 7-8 years I have been working in a supervisory role with the staff in there. Finally it’s my turn – I have now got the opportunity to work in our new open space studios. The biggest change is to have the beautiful space, the light, the chances to team teach and create groups according to learning needs of students. Girls are not just in “classes”, but in different groups for different learning experiences. I am finally able to be a leader of change in education and showcase our ways of teaching to others, working with students and other staff in a way that is outside the traditional role of “a class with a teacher in charge”. I am also working with a compatible teaching buddy in the studio and we “bounce off” each other constantly so things seem to flow effortlessly. This gives me the confidence to go further and explore what else we can do to make learning meaningful, exciting and fun. What other “languages” (as Malaguzzi would say) can we teach the girls in our efforts to provoke their thinking? What can we do DIFFERENTLY!? My other significant change is to take on the role as documenter of student learning in 2009. My K-2 Coordinator’s role has been allocated to another staff member and I have the time to work with other classes or small groups to listen to learning conversations. I can observe and record what students’ say and document what it teaches us about their levels of understanding and application of skills and knowledge. It is wonderful to witness their passion to discuss and explain their thoughts and opinions, to encourage them to be a “voice” in discussion and to do it confidently. Somehow, our open studio set up seems to “tell” the students to BE open and honest in what they say and do Doug’s Story: Last year I was very unsure of the viability of the 'studio' approach. I had never taught with other teachers in the room, never team taught. Although I was excited by the building and the benefits of teaching in a modern purpose built environment, there were several aspects of working in a team teaching model that were a worry. This year the reality has been much better than the anticipation. The team teaching model works well in the Year 5 studios. Although it is noisy at times there are some benefits that can be gained by coping with the challenges. The fears I had of teaching in this mode have very largely, (but not entirely) disappeared. On reflection I wonder if the difficulties I was anticipating last year were the result of a particular set of circumstances. Last year, most of the girls in my Year 5 class had also been in my Year 4 class in a traditional classroom where we only regrouped for mathematics. This situation meant that the change was being enhanced by a multiplier effect. I have found it much easier in inheriting a class at the beginning of the year none of whom I knew or had taught before.

Susan Groundwater-Smith

11


12th August, 2009 The building, for its idiosyncrasies, lends itself to a learning environment where there is significant grouping and moving between groups. Ingrid’s Story: Throughout the Christmas holiday period leading up to the 2009 school year, I was humming with the subtle yet ever-present awareness that I would be starting out as a new teacher in a new school in an ever-decreasing amount of weeks... day... and then - before I knew it - hours. Not to mention, this initiation was to occur in a brand new Junior School building that was only just opening and as part of one of the most progressive schools in Sydney of which I had been previously nearly unaware. Though familiarity may breed contempt, unfamiliarity is indeed a daunting prospect, particularly for one embarking on their journey without the reassurance of prior experience. Being a public school girl myself, I had never set foot in an independent school in my life and felt a mixture of guilt at abandoning my humble state-school beginnings and pride at securing a job in such a well-respected institution. This was indeed to be a learning journey of my own in which my beliefs about education were to be secured, challenged and inspired. Despite the initial nerves, on the first day I was excited more so than fearful, having been greeted warmly by all the staff and my future coworkers and reassured by the realization that I was not alone in my trepidation. Everyone shared my sense of simultaneous anxiety and wonder at the opening of the new Junior School and I was quickly taken under the wing of the most incredible people, already beginning friendships that were to blossom throughout the coming weeks. Most overwhelmingly was my sense of humility and gratitude at having the opportunity to begin my teaching journey in such a progressive and inspirational environment. Whilst I harboured some small sense of guilt at leaving state schools behind, my opinions of the existing school systems were to be challenged and my understanding of approaches to teaching and learning broadened immensely in ways I had not expected. MLC was a place truly driven toward new heights in education unafraid of risks and unchartered territory as so many educational institutions are, unafraid of treating staff and students as individuals and as active participants in decision making processes, unafraid of the unknown and willing to rise to any challenge. The physical embodiment of this - this new open learning environment has literally torn down the walls between us, leaving us vulnerable to each other - yet it is through vulnerability that we truly begin to understand and respect one another for who we truly are, it is through a sense of belonging and oneness that we create a community. It was a risk - a big one - and there were and are ups and downs associated with it, but none more important than the fact that we are learning to work together as a community in respect and appreciation for one another - and what a practical, meaningful way to model this for the children. To take risks, to seek truth and be fearless of discovering our world and ourselves is how humans achieve great things - and that is a wonderful message to pass on to the girls and the staff who will walk the hallways of MLC from now and for years to come. What has truly touched me most is how at home I have been made to feel at MLC and how everyone here believes in what we are doing for the children. It is an inspiring thing to see such passionate educators working together to build a better future. I am thankful and happy to be here and I hope that is a feeling shared by all - even in those unavoidable moments of doubt, frustration and concern - for I truly believe that we are blessed. Jan’s story:

Susan Groundwater-Smith

12


12th August, 2009

Background: I came late to full time teaching. After training and working for about four years I retired to become my children’s first teacher and then went on to help my husband with his business. As time went by I was drawn back to university to do more study. I focused on early childhood and after attaining by MECH returned to part time teaching. Still, this was not satisfying enough so I returned to do a thesis degree focusing on young gifted and talented children. The research was so interesting and while I slowing wrote the thesis I worked part time at the Uni teaching/ tutoring/ lecturing and supervising. Once the degree was completed, I felt my expertise was not being used so I sought employment back in the classroom. And so...... I landed my first full time job in 26 years! Reflection I arrived in MLC and began teaching in the typical old fashioned teaching environment. But while the classroom was predictable the philosophy of the school was dynamic and progressive. For me, the vision of the new school was exciting, the potential and possibilities unlimited. My experience as an advisor of students has meant that I have visited many classroom environments. What I have learnt is that nothing is more important in the education of students than keen, well prepared and enthusiastic teachers. For me the environment would simply be another tool to excite, engage and inspire the students. Moving to the new Junior School, was exciting but still very much an unknown. I had never seen anything like it and the openness of it all was quite daunting. I was looking forward to the team teaching aspect of it all but the lack of intimacy was always a concern. As I reflect on how my teaching style has been affected by the new environment, I note that I am more relaxed as time goes by. I am also more aware of the opportunities available for peer teaching and collaborative work. There is space and places for girls to work in small groups or pairs and noise is the norm. Girls are able to switch off to things that happening and focus on their own activity. I’ve found myself absorbed in small groups or “just my own space”. I rarely know what is happening in the Art studio or Hub as my eyes and ears settle solely on my own studio. What I miss the most is quiet, reflective intimacy. When silence is sought the business of the environment encroaches. Of course the noise is always there – mostly I contribute to this but it would be lovely to escape, just occasionally, to solitude. It’s interesting. The space does not really change - we must change and adapt to fit in. How do you change to suit a space? Jaquline’s Story: It was a professional dream come true for me: becoming TeacherDirector of the brand new Pre-K, in a brand new school….with brand new staff………..brand new equipment…………………..new, new, new…………..n……e………w……This word, ‘new’, took on several different connotations for me. I perceived it and reacted to it in many different ways throughout the process of moving into this ‘new world’. At first, ‘new’ meant a wonderful challenge for me. I saw this new position of

Susan Groundwater-Smith

13


12th August, 2009 Teacher-Director as an amazing career opportunity for me. It was my chance to show myself (and also the people who appointed me, and saw my potential) what I was made of. This is what I had ultimately wanted and I was determined to rise to the occasion with all my heart and soul. I had a vision and this was my chance to make it a reality. So I was driven to start this journey with much enthusiasm and I looked forward to the professional challenge. In Term 4, 2008, ‘new’ began to take on a whole new meaning when I actually started my role as Teacher-Director. The niggling feelings of doubt at my lack of experience as a director began to surface. I hesitate, feeling unsure of myself and worried that I would not be able to rise to my own standards and expectations. In turn this would let so many other people down who were counting on me. So, ‘new’ now meant I was ‘out of my depth’. The future was unpredictable, since MLC had never been at this point (opening a Pre-Kinder) before. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I knew that doing this alone would be the most foolish thing to do. I had to utilise my support structures in the most efficient ways. So now, ‘new’ began to look a lot like researching, exploring, experimenting and taking risks. I began to really ‘network’. I made sure I had professional and personal mentors to provide the support I needed in order to keep my confidence and ‘sanity’ in tact. Now this whole ‘newness’ takes on two connotations for me. One is the feeling of being proud of our achievements (as a new Pre-K team). Making sure we acknowledge our efforts and accomplishments. (So now I have a ‘we’ mentality, rather than the initial ‘me’ feelings of isolation.) The other is seeing ‘new’ as a word that makes us always aware that while we have achieved some goals, there are new goals to set and new outcomes to achieve. We are constantly improving, while making the vision for this Pre-K environment, culture, place and space a reality. So, a couple of questions I am left with now are: “How will I perceive ‘newness’ in the near future?” And “When will ‘new’ not be ‘new’ anymore…..?” Jenny’s Story: My significant change story is one of team teaching, collaboration and interaction. It began well over a year ago now, with the staff of Kent House gaining a shared understanding of what team teaching is and could be. It is only now that I realise I am only just beginning to understand all that this could be. The following story is a snapshot of team teaching – just one example of what it can be. It was a busy Thursday in the Junior School as we sat down for our weekly grade meeting. We had decided a couple of weeks previously that it would be good to

Susan Groundwater-Smith

14


12th August, 2009 moderate some examples of the explanations our girls had written during the Electricity Unit in term 1. We decided that it would be a good idea to begin with the top samples, we discussed each one and realised that we were pretty much on the same page. We worked through each grade, reading each other’s examples and agreed on the gradings for most. It was clear from the atmosphere in the meeting that we all enjoyed this time of sharing our professional opinions. This was a wonderful opportunity to share our ideas and expertise with one another and just one example of the team work taking place in Year 5. This story is significant to me because when I look back to life at Kent House, I thought we collaborated, and we did, just on a completely different level to what we do now. These days we do the majority of our programming together, we have weekly team meetings, informal meetings and discussions on a daily basis. We share our ideas more and we work together more closely. We are a team. Linda’s Story: My very first day as a teacher at MLC School was a time of much excitement and anticipation not only for me being ‘a new kid on the block’ but for all of the Junior School teachers. It was touch and go right up to the last minute – would we or wouldn’t we begin the 2009 school year in the brand new building? Unfortunately it was a time to quickly box up a few essentials to see us through the first week in Kent House. What vastly different and contrasting environments! After spending a week at Kent House the word was spread, we were on the move! We repacked our goods and chattels for the final move! Monday morning of week 2 2009 we began our first week in the magnificent new Junior School. The girls took to it like ducks to water, unfazed but obviously excited. The comparisons were incredible, so many contrasts. The spaciousness, the abundance of light, the bright colours resulting in an exciting, inspiring, creative atmosphere. I felt so excited to be a part of this very special and memorable time for MLC School. Personally it was a great time to start at a new school, being part of the excitement, exploring and familiarizing ourselves with the building, working through routines and procedures, being a part of the team! Monica’s Story: As a new teacher, I wondered what it would be like when we moved into the new Junior School. Unlike many of my colleagues, I lacked the range of experience in my young teaching repertoire. I wondered briefly if this would be a benefit or a hindrance, and finally decided that it would be an advantage as a new teacher to confront a new environment, so unlike a “regular” school. I was keen to try new things, be innovative, creative and look at different ways to approach teaching and learning; I was eager to experience something “else”. The new building presented an opportunity for all of these things. The glass inspired innovation in the way it drew the outside environment into the learning space. The open spaces allowed for creativity of movement and independence of thought. The bright colours inspired change and the ability to see change happening. I was energetic to have this overflow of difference, modernity, challenge and change. A few weeks later, when I arrived at the new building, I just wanted to unpack

Susan Groundwater-Smith

15


12th August, 2009 and get started. There was so much to do and so many things to try, test, create, experiment with, unravel, discover, learn and build upon. I had a year of experience with the programming at MLC behind me and felt confident and renewed. I had a couple of years of teaching under my belt and no longer felt that “new teacher” syndrome of uncertainty, naivety and lack of confidence. The first term presented many challenges and changes. There was unpacking and the girls needed to find their feet in the new environment. We had to get used to the space and learning environment that required more consideration for others. And of course, there was also the moving, decorating, fixing, finding, searching, cataloguing, taking stock, frustration and stress associated with any move involving boxes! Nevertheless, we persevered and eventually the school looked “lived in”. It began to display colour and signs of being used, such as broken toilets and leaks during rainstorms! The red carpet inherited a few stains and the undercroft its usual spilt soup or plate of nachos. Although the seagulls managed to stay away, there was one thing that did find its way to the new Junior School: that feeling of being a novice. Although I packed it in my “take home and never open again” box, somehow the movers managed to dump it into the Year 4 studio. Right there, in the middle of the school, next to the largest studio, across from the busy art studio, near a hub of information always abuzz, and in full view of parents, peers, colleagues, principals, international guests, governor generals and any old citizen, that dreaded old box found its way into my teaching and learning space! How dare those movers mess this up for me, I thought! Can’t they read the labels!!! Suddenly, for whatever reason, things I normally might do had to be put on hold, because I had to do things differently. The fairly quiet classroom with pleasant discussion and collaboration became a buzz of noise and excitement and groups moving in all directions. Suddenly, all the things I thought I learned about the MLC program had changed; I wanted to try everything, give 100% to using the space, but some things had to go! The silence left, the attention to detail when there are 43 in the studio to be responsible for, was lost. The communication with peers became more difficult and that constant feeling of being on display began to hang its weight on my shoulders. I couldn’t understand the change! I felt like it was my first year of teaching all over again, but this time it wasn’t the students I had to control, it was my environment. It was my need for creativity, change and for trying new things. The students were the same, the program the same and the colleagues the same, and yet everything was different! I had to figure it out, and fast. I had to make this work. After endless hours of collaboration with my teaching partner and a term and a half of moving and changing and fixing and learning, I finally realized that the biggest change was not the environment, but my need to fit into that environment. I began to understand that it would take longer than a term to learn how to use the space effectively, just like it takes longer than a term for students to understand how to use a comma effectively! I came to the conclusion that it was indeed my first year again; it was my first year faced with innovation, glass walls, bright colours, quiet corridors and open spaces. It was my first year documenting, welcoming visitors, without walls, working with a partner, taking chances and making changes. It was my first year of teaching in the future: the future of learning, collaboration and 21st century education. And what I finally realized, as I sat down to write this narrative, is that my most significant change, has been realizing that there are so many changes. We are working in a new space that is changing us; it is changing how we teach, the things we strive to create, test and try out. It is changing the way we feel about our own teaching, feeling on display, feeling more responsible, more challenged by how we impact one another, more vulnerable and insecure. The most significant change, for

Susan Groundwater-Smith

16


12th August, 2009 me, is allowing change to occur. Change happens over time and everyone changes in different ways and at varied speeds. Some things have to give way and others will come to the forefront. The students are more engaged, but I have no time to talk to them about underlining their titles and dates. They brainstorm but we run out of time to share, we’re moving so fast. In our 21st century world, change happens before your eyes can adjust to the moving pictures on the screen. That is what change feels like in the new Junior School. We are trying to move as fast as we can, but we don’t have time to enjoy the first stage of just being in the new space. As a new teacher, the change I’ve noticed the most is in my own personal need to change with the school. To change with the building, with the glass, with all of the “new” and “innovative”. To be just as new, just as different, just as innovative, creative and brilliant. Those changes will come eventually, but until then, I have to try to forget about that box in the middle of our studio, that feeling of being on display, and that uncertainty that I’m making enough “changes”. Because, after all, progress is slow, and should be enjoyed, not forced. Ah change, don’t you love it?! Carolyn’s Story: The Hub The vision – a library of the future, situated in the very centre of the new Junior School, with totally open access to both books and the latest technologies. Its purpose, to provide immediately accessible information. Its central location and its pivotal role in the learning within the school led to its name - the Hub. My initial reactions – what? a library with no walls? no door? no security scanner? Perhaps this might work. But, no, how will we keep the books from disappearing all over the school? What about the noise? An open area may prove to be very inviting. But no, where will we sit to quietly read a story? Where will we put all our resources? Months passed. Building plans were tweaked. Building started and progressed. The Hub began to emerge. My excitement grew. The reality - a wonderful, central, accessible collection. Beautifully presented with lots of light, fresh colours, comfortable seating and a magic carpet to sit or lie on and read. A constant flow of people – both staff and students – using technology and books for information and for pleasure. And yes, the open area has proved to be very inviting. And yes, it definitely does work.

Keira Re’s Story: When I first heard that a new Junior School was being built I was quite nervous. Having left a school where I was comfortable, familiar with the content I was teaching and surrounded by close friends, the change of moving to a new school already put me out of my comfort zone. I was now unfamiliar with my surroundings, teaching a new grade and forming new relationships with my colleagues. Although I had been told the new school was being built, I didn’t really stop to consider what that meant for me. When the phrase ‘team teaching’ was mentioned, I was once again quite anxious. When in a staff meeting where the new space was being discussed and the enormity of this change actually hit me, a colleague approached me and said “You didn’t realize it was going to be like that, did you?” My expression obviously showed my

Susan Groundwater-Smith

17


12th August, 2009 apprehension. I did not know who my grade partner would be, how it would work and how to plan for the upcoming year. Being a beginning teacher and on a new grade the thought of being in an open plan space and on public display was quite confronting. I had always enjoyed shutting the door of my classroom and teaching my own class in my own way and I was concerned that this would change. Of course, it did. Looking back on the past term, I think much of my teaching style has changed. Not for better or worse, but merely to adapt to the new surroundings and considering what is best for the girls and other staff. While I was previously quite a loud teacher, I find I am now quieter as a result of the open plan space. While I previously enjoyed teaching on my own, I am thoroughly enjoying planning and teaching with my grade partner and learning from her ideas and experiences. Although I feel extremely exhausted, I feel being on public display has improved by teaching as every lesson feels as if it should be impressive . My initial worries have definitely subsided and now team teaching and open plan feel like the norm. While I am enjoying the space, the girls and my team, the need for more meetings in order to plan, which was otherwise done in my own time can be quite draining. However, the ‘team’ part is what has become most enjoyable as we now really are a part of grade and stage teams rather than independent teachers. Rachelle’s Story: I arrived at MLC in July last year and quickly found out about the big plans for the new school. At first it sounded exciting to be in a beautiful brand new school - my previous class room was a demountable in which my class had to all move their desks every time it rained because of the leaky roof. Then I also heard the plans to do with team teaching and it made me nervous. I have taught in a team situation before, and although I got along well with the other teacher, the process of team teaching wasn't well implemented - it was decided on a Friday afternoon and we were a team the following Monday, the parents didn't understand why it had happened in the middle of a school year, the students weren't prepared and it's fair to say - neither were we. The barrage of questions from parents every afternoon about how things worked was full on and we didn't really have the answers ourselves. There were some benefits - sharing resources, a shared collegiality and in particular, shared responsibility for students who were more demanding of our time. But overall, it was a poorly executed and highly stressful teaching experience. So, that was what I brought with me into this new environment. The contrast has been quite drastic. There has been a long process of education of parents and staff about the benefits of team teaching, the personality test to find an ideal co-teacher was very interesting and there has been a lot of discussion along the way about what could work and what wouldn't. During this process of staff meetings, I was quietly sceptical but didn't want to be negative or influence other peoples opinions in a negative way. We all had concerns about noise and small daily routine things, like, what if the other teacher was messy and you like things kept clean or would the kids know which teacher to go to at different times? So, we moved into our new studios and started to navigate our way around what our learning space would look like - our routine, how we do things, how will we teach in different situations, how to communicate with the team teacher if you didn't like the way something was set up. Actually, a lot of the things I was worried about didn't eventuate - noise is sometimes an issue but generally is not a problem. The parents and students LOVE the new school and how things operate and are constantly telling us that they're really happy

Susan Groundwater-Smith

18


12th August, 2009 with the team teaching situation and what's happening at the school. Once again I am enjoying the shared collegiality and shared approach towards students who need more attention. It's also more social, in your own classroom, you can feel quite alone and left to deal with your own class by yourself. My grade partner and I are constantly making observations about students to one another and sharing teaching ideas. We make better use of our time in this environment - it makes more sense to share teaching resources rather than in single teacher classes where you may have two classes of the same grade next door to one another, teaching the same lesson at the same time that two teachers have spent twice the energy preparing and organising. So, reflecting back on my attitude to team teaching this time last year compared to now, I can see a significant shift in my attitude that has coincided with the cultural and philosophical changes taking place and evolving in our new learning space. Pauline’s Story: The most significant change over the past few months has for me been sharing of space. Moving to the new MLC Junior School has been a journey that we have shared as a staff together, from the initial planning including looking at architectural designs and floor plans, colour schemes, furniture and the series of site inspections during construction. Students were also involved and included in the build up for the move. Participation in the ‘Ready, set move day’ was one example. Focus questions of what they liked in Kent House, what they would miss and what they wouldn’t miss were all answered using a variety of media, including art, photographs, video, taped verbal responses and writing. As the move became closer the packing boxes arrived, I realized this was going to be a special and memorable moment in my career. Not only does one not move into a new school building frequently, but for a school steeped with such history and tradition this was a first. Setting up of our studio was interesting. It was similar to moving into a house share situation with people that you would not ordinarily consider living with! First, we had the task of deciding which part of the space we would occupy (similar to who was having which bedroom!). Having three share equally two studios, where do we begin? Negotiation and consideration of each other when positioning the ‘common’ furniture was important (eg. the lockers) in order for the space to appear balanced and even. I found it challenging as I was the third one who had to share both rooms. Positioning of the furniture followed. As there was no ‘front of the room’, (as one would easily find in a normal classroom), I had to decide which way to face. The position of the sun, the glare from the windows, and access in and out were all considered. Furniture was moved and moved again as the studio did not have acomfortable “feel”. Instead I saw it as a sterile environment to which Iwas becoming increasingly frustrated and despondent with. Eventually it all fitted into place, the Feng Shiu had happened. I evenhave a view of the Harbour Bridge from my desk in the studio. Student desks were set into place, the magic carpet, stools and cushions make it feel like home. The three housemates can escape to their own corner when in need of quiet time and time out, meet in the middle for meetings and visit each other in their corner for quiet chats and sharing of

Susan Groundwater-Smith

19


12th August, 2009 jokes. It’s become a comfortable and welcoming space that we are most happy to share. Sean’s Story: From ‘Four walls’ to ‘Connected Spaces.’ Before we arrived into our new learning space I wondered how individual teachers would adjust to the change of an open plan team teaching setting and the implementation of a 21st Century Curriculum in our brand new 21st Century Junior School. This change is significant to me because a major part of my role is supposed to be working alongside teachers to ensure this happens. In terms of context all teachers are expected to work in their new learning settings in open plan collaborative capacities. Teachers’ team teach a grade in a common learning space and at the same time are expected to embrace the philosophies and practices of a ‘Futures Focused School’, which entails designing curriculum to prepare our students for the 21st Century. Most teachers from Kent House were used to the ‘Four Walls’ traditional classroom setting so they prepared over the past two years to get ready for their new learning environment. This preparation has already been well documented. Teachers were implementing many 21st Century learning practices at Kent House. Then the big moment arrived early in Term 1 2009. Ready Set Move was a reality for students, parents and teachers. Teams at our new MLC Junior School go beyond the core classroom teachers. Teams include Health Education/Physical Education teachers, Music teachers, Drama teachers, Community Languages teachers, Classroom Assistants, Parent groups, Counsellors, our Reverends etc. We have much to celebrate in adjusting to our change. Teaching teams are using various team teaching models. Various forms of documentation are being used. We are being open with each other in an effort to deal with differences as they arise and to celebrate all the things that are really positive. Teams are also committed to planning regularly, sharing responsibility and having shared approaches to implementation. We are continuing to explore how to make pastoral care of students better. Learning is being designed to create an active curriculum, which encourages the development of individuals who can collaborate, communicate, use technology, think critically and creatively and a great deal more. All ingredients for an outstanding learning environment. It will be important to continue to review how we are going with our changed learning environment. I think in the enthusiasm of the last two terms we have all wanted to do an outstanding job and make it work effectively. From conversation with some teachers they are feeling exhausted. It will be good to continue to explore reasons for this. All in all a wonderful change with many, many more possibilities for team teaching and the design of a 21st Century curriculum. Diana’s story: The opening of MLCs new Junior School was always more than simply moving a school from one location to another. For the community of MLC it was a

Susan Groundwater-Smith

20


12th August, 2009 change in learning environment that required a paradigm shift in our thinking and in our way of doing things – from the teaching pedagogies used to the simplest of school tasks. Everything was laid on the table for review and reinvention. Not because we thought everything needed changing, but rather, our new environment, built to serve the needs of 21st century learners, demanded that we operate in different ways. Preparing our community for a transformation of this magnitude required careful planning. Students, staff and parents were taken through a series of information sessions in the first instance, with students and staff then being involved more deeply as the time drew closer. In short, the look and feel of our new environment was no surprise to any of these key players. We have been the proud occupants of MLCs new Junior School for two terms now and, after eighteen months spent preparing for a very different learning environment, the concept of ‘change’ is as familiar to me as the sound of the students playing in the playground. Determining the most significant change for me over these past months is almost impossible: I see the school through so many different lenses it’s difficult to determine THE most significant change and so I have chosen to express my observations in relation to key stakeholders: Students, Staff, Parents and finally, myself. •

Students: Being witness to the girls’ exploration of their new learning environment has been wonderful. The girls took to their new spaces very quickly, enjoying the larger work areas and the open spaces. They were however, timid in their use of the spaces to begin with. New rules and ‘boundaries’ helped them explore the possibilities with greater confidence and Term Two saw them really beginning to spread their wings. I expect that this will continue for several terms yet and that in time, we will begin to see a very different type of MLC Junior School student emerge.

Junior School Parents: Last year, as the building took shape and we communicated the plans for a different kind of learning environment, several parents expressed their concerns to me about the change. Although parents desperately wanted a new building, they were genuinely and predictably nervous about the open learning environment concept. Concerns ranged from the impact such a building would have on students’ ability to concentrate, to the way in which teachers would work in these spaces. After moving in, I was amazed at how quickly the parents adjusted. There has been not one (!) parent come to see me with concerns about the building and the way in which it works, although I am sure it has been the subject of much talk around the coffee shops and dinner tables of the Inner West! There are probably many reasons for this, but predominantly, I think it’s because parents see that their daughter’s are happy, engaged learners who love coming to learn and play in their new school.

Teaching Staff: Since February, the teachers have shown increasing comfort in the use of the building and high degrees of reflective practice in working through teething problems. It has been both fascinating and inspiring to work alongside the staff as we settle in to new ways of doing things: I have learnt much about the different ways in which people react to change. I have been humbled by the teachers’ goodwill and their ability to simply get on with the job at hand – to teach their students in the very best ways they know and explore new ways too. As we work through a predictable ‘implementation dip’ in this major change initiative, I

Susan Groundwater-Smith

21


12th August, 2009 expect the shifts we have made in teaching practice will force some to question whether MLC is the workplace that best suits their teaching style or matches their philosophy of education. The new building insists that teachers ‘walk the talk’ in implementing a curriculum designed to meet the needs of 21st century learners. To work with a sense of achievement and satisfaction within this new learning environment, I believe that teachers must really believe in what we are trying to achieve. Furthermore, they have to be prepared to work through each difficulty with the future in mind; to know and understand that it will take time to reach the vision we have and the goals we have set. •

Myself: I have discovered much about myself. I thrive on change. For three years I have come to know it well, dealing with the complexities and the difficult days filled with anxiety and the big, nagging question – will all that we are planning really work in practice? It’s been a time of great challenge, uncertainty and risk. In the last few months however, I find myself actually relaxing into the change – I am excited by the possibilities and can feel the difference it is making for the students and for us as a staff.

Susan Groundwater-Smith

22

The Third Teacher  

"An investigation into the impact of a changing teaching/learning environment for MLC Junior School" - by Susan Groundwater-Smith - 12 Augus...