Saturday, 4 August 2018

"We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us"

At the beginning of Term 3 I gave the following address (in a slightly modified form) to all students and staff of Te kura Te Huruhuru Ao o Horomaka Hornby High School at our student assemblies.

Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu
Adorn the bird with feathers so it can fly

Some wit once said “There are only two constants in life: death and taxes”. Another wit subsequently modified it to say that the three constants in life are “Death, taxes, and change”. The speed of change is certainly getting faster and faster. At Hornby High School we are in the middle of a period of change like no other in the 43 year life of our kura so far. Our new buildings give us the physical facilities you always deserved, and they have been designed to present opportunities for learning that may better equip you for the life ahead of you rather than the life behind us all, and it might start to look like this.

What do I mean by ‘this’?

Let me tell you some stories. Some years ago I had the privilege of attending a conference at which one of the keynote speakers was Professor Eric Mazur. Mazur is a professor of Physics at Harvard University, possibly one of the top three universities in the world. Now they don’t give Physics PhDs away in the breakfast cereal packets, and you don’t get to be a professor of anything at Harvard without good cause.

Mazur was talking about the changes that he felt needed to happen in education, changes that he has promoted in his own undergraduate course teaching at Harvard. He pushed two things (amongst many).

The first is what we call ‘flipped learning. At the risk of over-simplifying, this is where students learn the content in their own time (using resources provided by the teacher, of course), and do the practice exercises in class with the teacher, not a huge leap from our use of Google sites to flipped learning. So classwork becomes 'homework', and 'homework' becomes classwork. In our Manaiakalani pedagogy we add the phrase ‘rewindable learning’ where you can go back over things in your own time to improve your learning.

The second is the need for collaboration, working together with others. He believes that this is a skill that every student needs to develop. He gave this example. He said that at that time, as a researcher, he had been involved in writing more than 80 academic papers, and not a single one had he written alone. EVERY single one of them, he said, had been a collaboration with others. That is, he and others had combined their knowledge, skills, and thinking, to create and develop the ideas and write the academic papers.

In a non academic context, think about this. No one single person builds a house, or designs a car, sells a washing machine or runs a bus service. In every case there is some sort of collaboration involved. You have to work with others.

Here’s another part of the puzzle. This comes from an Education Review Office paper "What drives learning in the senior secondary school" which was published in 2015. In case you don't know, the Education Review Office inspects all schools in NZ and determines whether or not they are doing a good job. At its last inspection in 2015 Hornby High School was given a 5 year review. That is the BEST any school can get. It means that they are so confident in what is going on in our kura that they didn’t feel they needed to come back and inspect again until 2020.

In this research paper published in 2015, they were looking at what tends to happen in good schools. Put another way, what do they think good education can look like? This is worth quoting in full:

“What this study shows is that NZC and schools approaches to teaching and learning in secondary schools is often overshadowed by the requirements of NCEA and our current unit standards approach to assessment. This approach works against students adopting project based or collaborative styles of learning and minimises the emphasis on the NZC’s key competencies or values. Equally, the senior school generally limited opportunities for student directed learning. Yet these are the skills and strategies that will be required of most once they enter the workforce. What was of most concern was the way teaching in the senior schools tended to hold students back from pursuing their passions.” (my emphasis).

And what’s more they also said this:

“In several of the schools that ERO looked into, the key challenge was how to continue approaches that were working successfully in the first two years of secondary school into the senior school years.”

That is, the approaches that we are using more often in our junior college, such as the Business and Enterprise kete, or Project Based Learning, need to be pushed more into the senior school too. Why? Because they better represent the world of work that many of you will live in during your working lives.

WHY are we doing this? Why change?

Here is the third piece of our puzzle. This is the Employability Skills matrix, developed by the New Zealand Employers Association and others. This is what they want you to be like when you have finished school.

1. Positive attitude
a)    Is positive and has a “can do” attitude.
b)    Is optimistic, honest and shows respect.
c)    Is happy, friendly and enthusiastic.
d)    Is motivated to work hard towards goals.

2. Communication
a)    Understands, and reflects on, the way they communicate and how it affects others.
b)    Asks questions when unsure or unclear.
c)    Understands how employees, employers and customers communicate.
d)    Speaks, listens and shares ideas appropriately.

3. Team work
a)    Works well with others to complete tasks and meet goals.
b)    Contributes to developing new ideas or approaches.
c)    Works well with others of different genders, cultures or beliefs.
d)    Recognises the authority of supervisors and managers, and follows directions.

4. Self-management
a)    Arrives at work on time, with appropriate clothing and equipment to complete a work day.
b)    Understands, and reflects on, their own words, actions and behaviour, and how these affect others.
c)    Shows commitment and responsibility.
d)    Is dependable, follows instructions and completes assigned tasks.
e)    Is responsible for their own health and wellbeing, and follows health and safety guidelines in the workplace.

5. Willingness to learn
a)    Willing to learn new tasks, skills and information.
b)    Curious and enthusiastic about the job, organisation and industry.
c)    Looks for opportunities to work more effectively to make the business better.
d)    Accepts advice and learns from feedback.

6. Thinking skills (problem solving and decision making)
a)    Identifies and assesses options before making a decision.
b)    Recognises problems and uses initiative to find solutions.
c)    Thinks about consequences before they act.
d)    Recognises when they need to seek advice.

7. Resilience
a)    Adaptable and flexible in new and changing situations.
b)    Handles challenges and setbacks and does not give up.
c)    Able to seek support and help when needed.
d)    Recognises and accepts mistakes made and learns from them.

And finally the world of work and commerce is changing. Here is a headline from January this year:

A piece of NZ Institute of Economic Research published in 2015 suggested that 46% of jobs as we know them today might have disappeared by 2030. So doing what we have always done is no longer an option. If technology is replacing traditional jobs, what have we got to fall back on?

I’ll tell you what we have: our humanity. We need to develop and strengthen those things that make us human - our ability to collaborate, to work with others, our ability to empathise with our fellow human beings, to think critically and creatively, and our ability to communicate.

This is why our vision as a school is to be ‘A centre of creative excellence’ ‘He puna auaha’. In our new building we want no-one to be in any doubt that this is the main game we are playing.

That is why the learning of the future is more likely to look like this ...


.... than this ....


This is also why the pedagogy 'Learn Create Share' will continue to be central to everything we do at Hornby High School. And so similarly we also want no-one coming into our new building to be in any doubt about the importance of 'Learn Create Share' to our kura and the learning of our rangatahi.

We are creating new learning  .. our students too are creating new learning. Learning not only about content, and about more traditional academic, cultural and sporting skills, but now just as importantly about collaboration and connection, about creativity, about our humanity, about our cultural identity. Our individual and collective success is dependent upon the ability of each and every one of us to place ourselves in our own cultural worlds. We must value our own identities, we must value diversity. Our differences are our greatest strength.

Our new spaces have been designed with these ends in mind. It is Sir Winston Churchill who said "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us". We have shaped our built environment to provide flexibility. It allows traditional direct instruction from the front, and it allows collaboration, it allows students to direct their own learning (we call this student agency, while also offering plenty of opportunities for support. It is designed to allow cross curriculum connections to be made between staff, and between learners. Now we need to allow time for these things to evolve.

Every student of Hornby High School is a part of this journey. I have challenged every student to be more than just a passenger in this journey. I have challenged every student to be an architect of this journey too. I challenge every student, and every whānau, to work with us to create this new future.

Hornby High School is one of a number of schools that are breaking new ground in New Zealand, and across the world. We are at the forefront of change and improvement in education, education for the brave new world. If you have never read Aldous Huxley’s 1930s Novel ‘Brave New World’, I challenge you to read it. It predicts a world that is increasingly looking to be frighteningly like the world you are inheriting. Be prepared to take control. Be prepared to challenge what you see, to think critically and creatively. Be prepared to live our aspiration, our hope, to be “a centre of creative excellence He puna auaha.” Help us to create this future.

YOU can do this. WE can do this.

Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu
Adorn the bird with feathers so it can fly

Robin Sutton


  1. Thanks for sharing your vision and I am positive that the changes will be beneficial to all. Your challenge is to keep the paddlers of the waka going in the direction you envisage.May the force be with you. Kia kaha.

  2. Robin, thank you once again for another insightful and thoughftful post. I was excited to see the Employability Skills matrix and even more so when I realised the matrix aligns directly with the Key Competencies in the NZC. You are spot on with your thinking; Learn Create Share, the future of work and creative excellence will ensure HHS is equipping its students with the necessary skills, knowledge and dispositions to be productive successful members of society!

  3. Thanks Robin. Great to have you share the Employment Skills Matrix. will use this as it relates to the New Zealand Curriculum.