We've just returned home from four days at a school camp.
We took our entire Middle Years learning Community away. There were 45+ kids ranging from Years 6-10, two teachers and three teacher aides, and a couple of parents.
Our youngest Year 6 is still 9 years old. Our oldest Year 10 has already turned 15. These learners learn together in a home room in a shared learning hub all day every week Monday through Thursday. (On Fridays they combine with the Year 11-13 students and our full immersion students for whole day option classes called Inspire.)
We have come back to school as a true community, a whānau, a family.
We have watched 15 year olds interacting positively with 10 year olds and accepting help from them. We have watched 12 years olds interact with 10 year olds and 15 year olds at the same time.
Sure there were disagreements and fall outs at times. Isn't there in any family?
And that's what we are. Our own family of sorts. We are a learning community. We don't use the word class or classroom. We are a community together. We will support each other and help each other. Care for each other and provoke each other. And most importantly for a school learning community we will learn with and from each other, recognising the value every learner brings for us all- be they 9 or 15. Our learners experiences and lives will be richer because of the range of ages and experiences we have in our community. Being in a learning community is mirroring real life, in a way only having 15 year olds or only having 9 year olds in a classroom just cannot do.
When we were setting TKAS up as an area school to cater for Year 1-13 back in 2010 one of the biggest concerns was having young students interacting with older students. Our biggest response was why? Why would we set up zones where younger or older students couldn't go, or separate playground areas? Why would we try and emulate a secondary system that we did not have the numbers to do, and actually didn't believe served our specific learners, of perhaps many learners at all, in the way we believed schooling should be serving them? Our learners interact with a range of different ages in their whānau, and on marae. Why should schooling be different?
Schooling is the only time where we segregate students into narrow groups based on when they were born. Why do we do this? It is not preparing them for real life. In my real life some of my closest friends and colleagues are of a completely different generation to me, not by 1 or 2 years but some of them by decades- both younger and older. Why then, do we insist on what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as the "conveyor belt of education," where learners are put with students who have similar birth dates and restricted to learning with those people.
"We still educate children by batches: we put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are. It's like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture. Well I know kids that are much better than other kids at different disciplines; or at different times of the day; or better in smaller groups than in large groups; or sometimes they want to be on their own. If you are interested in the model of learning, you don’t start from this production line mentality.” Sir Ken Robinson
I'm so fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach and lead in a school that is both an area school and a new school. We were not bound by historic and traditional systems but were able to set the school up taking into account thinking of people like Sir Ken Robinson.
Area schools have an opportunity, and perhaps a moral obligation, to reduce this dependence and reliance on a system that is outdated and one that has out-used it's usefulness.
Kids learn naturally together in all ages outside of school. When we restrict this inside school we cut them off from so many learning opportunities.
Area schools have the advantage of being able to group years of students together. But in reality so does any school. It takes courage and it takes daring to buck a s system! And it takes time to prove it's working to all those doubters who rely on what has been the way its done for so long.
Do you have the courage to support this in your educational setting?
This year at Te Karaka Area school we have four learning communities.
Year 1-5 of 60 students with 3- 4 teachers in the pod at any time.
Year 6-10 of 50 students with 2 teachers in the pod at any time.
Year 11-13 of 50 students with 3 teachers in the pod at any time
Full immersion of 25 Year 1-10 with 2 teachers in the pod at any time.
If you are interested in how we are making this work get in touch with us at any time.
“Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, you can achieve.” Mary Kay Ash