Three years in. At the end of last year we just finished three years with our students. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it.
There’s been laughter. There’s been tears. There’s been joy. There’s been sorrow. And there’s been learning. So much learning. Sometimes unrecognised learning because it doesn’t fit the ‘picture’ of school learning, but learning there has been.
What’s made that learning happen?
The people definitely. We’ve said hello to some and farewell to others. Some have left, knowing a piece of their heart will always stay with us despite the challenges, tribulations and joy of being involved in something that will be truly ground breaking for our learners. Others have left maybe relieved, as they struggled to align our practices with what they think schooling should be about. But all have contributed to the growth of our little corner of the schooling system.
The relationships. All schools say they are about relationships, and all are in their own ways. But over the last three years I’ve watched our teachers and learners develop a true sense of Ako. They learn from each other, with each other and for each other. Our teachers have let go of their teacher egos. It’s not about them, on the whole part, ever. To truly commit to Haeata has meant that our teachers, despite at times great personal sacrifice and detrimental publicity have risen above time and time again. How many times I have heard the refrain or similar in either words o'r actions- it’s not about me, it’s about them. Each individual learner. And that’s impossible without truly personal relationships- the relationships that are formed through 1-1 interactions and conversations.
The commitment to doing school differently. To not tweaking but to significant change.
Grant Lichtman in Thrive outlines the following about change:
Making significant change is difficult, if not impossible, without the willingness to take a risk . In school terms, what do we mean by significant change ? Change is relative for each school; I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all recipes. But changing a textbook or a curriculum package is not significant. I would argue that a change is significant if it allows or requires the school to change one of the five basic parameters of what I have called the school “operating system.”
- Changing how time is organised (day, week, month, year)
- Changing how physical space is used: breaking the boundaries of traditional classrooms and/or static organization of learning space within those rooms
- Changing how learners are organized (grouping by biological age, subject)
- Changing the student-to-teacher ratio and relationship; changing the static “one teacher per X number of students” for every class period
- Changing the ownership of learning, from teacher owned to co-owned and student
At Haeata we’ve challenged traditional age grouping of students in schools. And along with that we’ve challenged traditional leadership roles in both students and adults. No one is more important or deserves special treatment or roles just because of their age. People of all ages learn together. I’ve learnt a lot in my life from people 20 years and more my junior in age. People don’t deserve promotions just because they’ve been in the job the longest. People who hold certain positions don’t have an automatic right to sit in a better chair, or park in a better spot, or occupy a certain space.
At Haeata we commit to a collective responsibility for success.Collective responsibility of many teachers for many students is a challenge. It requires new systems and intense communication- communication that is way different than traditional school communication lines. But it can also be ever so powerful. When a young person knows there are multiple adults investing in their success it means something to them.
We are working hard to be giving students of all ages, not just those who have “earned” the right on some adult set of criteria, a real voice in their learning. Our teachers are collaborating together to design timetables that are responsive to learners needs and that challenge the traditional uses of times in schools. Gone is the power one timetabler wields over learning and learners.
At Haeata we give control of space to learners. Many teachers have a need to keep strong order in how they do things. My first memory as a beginning teacher is being required to take down a wall display because it wasn’t backed and was slightly crooked and being stood over while I backed it and measured the wall to ensure the reinstallation was perfect and didn’t offend my tutor teachers sense of order. Creating purposeful uses of space, where students are not afraid to get involved In the “messy” of learning, where they don’t feel everything has to look perfect and satisfy someone else’s sense of order as a priority is important. Understanding, allowing and expecting that students will move things around within pre set spaces is part of our practice.
We've had a vision for learning and schooling and the courage to interrogate many of the more conventional practices that occur in most schools, for the potential value or otherwise they make to each individual student. A preparedness to interrogate the purpose of every practice before continuing it, or adding it into how we do things.
We enjoy the resilience and positivity of so many. We have amazing young people to work with, some of whom have their own challenges to overcome but many of whom are starting to show every sign of thriving. Not just surviving by gaining a qualification, but thriving in their own personalised way with confidence and a development of their own voice.
But mostly this post is to celebrate the staff who have stuck with us, or who have joined us along the way. The staff who show amazing resilience, sometimes at great personal sacrifice amidst attempts at public shaming of something others are yet to understand.
You provide amazing opportunities for young people. You continue to ask why of the things we’ve accepted “just the way it is” in times gone past. You support each other, and even more importantly you challenge each other. You are passionate about what you do. You couldn’t keep doing it if you weren’t because it’s just too hard. It’s certainly not the easy way out. But it has been worth it.
As we head into a our fourth year I sincerely hope you've all taken time to relax and refresh. Thank you for all you have done, and will continue to do.