Thursday, 15 November 2018

"We shape our buildings ... "

It's my favourite Churchill quote again: "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."

Image result for churchill creative commons

We began our Year 7 to 10 passion projects this past week. The passion projects are our third iteration of what began in 2016 as project based learning with Year 10 students. This evolved in 2017 to include Year 9s and 10s. This year we have attempted a new iteration that embodies what we have learned from the previous two years, but we have also incorporated what we learned from an inspirational visit to Campion College in Gisborne.

Students identified things they are passionate about. Staff did likewise. We then put these two lists together and produced a list that offered students many of their choices, run by staff who shared similar passions. All of that in itself is pretty amazing, and reflects fantastic creative thinking and commitment from staff.

What is also really gratifying are the comments from one colleague who observed the following. Students in our new building were 'working the building'. So, they might sit in a collaborative area researching aspects of their proposal. Already they have been seen to transition to science labs, creative arts spaces, and technology spaces, as they investigate and work on different aspects of their projects, perhaps seeing the different spaces that enable them to complete different aspects of their projects.

Now to me that looks very much like the real world, and it also looks very much like what we describe as the 'connected curriculum', where subject silos have been subsumed by the project. That is, it's not about the science, or the technology, or any other individual subject, but about how these 'subjects' merely reflect the skills and tools that they are in the world of work.  We all learn things when we see the need to do so. The projects are creating the 'desire to learn' as they reflect the need to learn specific skills and knowledge.

The building spaces we designed are enablers. Single cell rooms would act as limiting factors in allowing these connections to occur, but the adjoining spaces we now live and work in allow knowledge and skills to be seen, and learned, in context rather than isolation, and for a 'flow' to easily develop between these areas.

And perhaps most powerfully of all, we are seeing our 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy fully enabled by the spaces. In many cases, I think students begin with the act of creation. They are then finding that there are skills and knowledge that they need to learn. On a daily basis students are sharing their thinking and their progress on their blogs. And their ultimate act of sharing will take place on our 'Exhibition Day' on Thursday 6th December.

Even after the first week the levels of student engagement are clear and visible to anyone who cares to look. In term 4, when life for Year 9 and 10 students can become wearisome, when students are beginning to enter 'holiday mode', we are seeing students actively engaged in their own learning.

Manaiakalani (as I understand it) translates as 'Hook from Heaven'. Perhaps it might also be taken to mean 'Gift from Heaven', because it certainly is, and our buildings are enabling the pedagogy that IS Manaiakalani.

Big open spaces don't enhance or improve learning if we continue to do things as we have for the past 150 years. They do however enhance or improve learning when we, as educators, change our own paradigm, when we change our pedagogy, when we change the way we do things.

Our strategic plan for our kura has set our vision to be 'a centre of creative excellence'. That vision is an aspiration, it is our 'pole star' by which we navigate, in much the same way that our original Polynesian navigators shaped their journeys. And like them we know that we are taking risks. One of our strategic goals is to develop innovative risk taking leadership, because we know that the best in creativity requires us to take risks. Our staff team is proving to be magnificent in taking those risks, and I suggest that they are inspiring our rangatahi to do the same. Another staff member observed that several rangatahi commented that they saw staff as learners too.

We also seek to develop individualised pathways for our learners. When you are following your passion, that is exactly what you are doing. And we believe that that is enabled by Manaiakalani and our 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy. This is.

I could not be more excited. I could not be more inspired, as I watch our staff team, and our amazing rangatahi, develop their own risk taking, as they pursue their own passions, as they venture forth yet again on our quest for creative excellence.

Strong pedagogy. Amazing spaces. Risk taking staff and students. All combining to propel us towards that vision: 'a centre of creative excellence'.

Ka mau te wehi!!!


  1. I hope that the Passion Projects, and the collaboration between staff, sparks more ideas of how we can work together across the curriculum. We are in exciting times!

  2. Kia ora Robin, Fabulous to hear your enthusiasm for your staff and students - the learners in your kura - as you continue on this journey to creative excellence. Are any of your middle leaders blogging about their journey?

    1. Maria
      The real answer is: one or two. One is using some of this as one piece of his work towards a Masters research project and dissertation.