Last week I,along with the rest of the Haeata team, had the privilege of visiting Breens Intermediate for a morning. I’d read things about Breens Intermediate previously- MOE case studies, and blogs from other visitors, so I was really looking forward to the visit. My expectations were well and truly met.
Breens Intermediate is a school that has clearly reflected on what will make learning engaging for their learners, and then put in place programmes to meet these. In doing so they have transformed the practice from that traditionally often seen in Intermediates to practice that anyone wanting to operate any form of Innovative learning practice could learn things from.
Collaborative practice was strong with a group of three teachers and two teacher aides working together with the equivalent of three classes. They worked with them in various ways. One classroom block we went into had three adults in one space working mainly with individuals while another was in another space taking a group workshop. The final adult was a support adult- roaming around all five spaces that students were working in. While the students had an attachment to one whānau teacher, there was an absolute sense of the collective. Those adults were responsible for all those students. The students as a whole all belonged together, were accountable to each other and supported each other.
Students knew what they were doing and showed some amazing independence and self direction for this time of the year. Students that needed more support were more restricted in some of their choices but this was being done in a positive way instead of the negative and restrictive way Ive seen it in some schools. There was a very strong strengths-based approach being taken to both learning and people management.
Technology learning (not just digital, but all technology) was integrated back into team learning each week, both before and after technology times. Technology wasn’t just something kids went off to that was totally disconnected from the rest of their learning programmes.
Programmes were responsive with most being centred around the theme for the term, but also some stand alone curriculum learning options and an independent booklet around the school’s dispositional curriculum that students could work on at any time it fitted into their personalised weekly schedule.
While they were operating as three “small schools” within the wider school, they were also aware of the need to keep things unified as a whole school and not be three completely separate units within the bigger picture. There was a very strong dealing of whānau, and of pastoral support tied right into learning programmes. These adults know their young people really well.
We spent most of the morning with Nikki and Nathan. They talked a lot about “re-setting.” About taking that step sideways or back when things seemed a bit wobbly and figuring what was needed to steady things and doing it. It was refreshing to hear school leaders so honest about their successes, but also about how they handle things when they go wrong as well. I loved this part of our conversations. I find sometimes, that people in ILE type learning situations schedule so much, once they are working collaboratively that they find it hard to ‘find the space” to react accordingly and be flexible with their programme when the need arises.
Student voice was clear and evident and not restricted to the traditional “student council project” that doesn’t have any significant place in the learning programme, seen so often when schools think they are doing great things with student voice. Often student voice seems to be restricted to something extra curricula rather than feeding right into learning programmes. At Breens it was all about the learning.
The learners had real input into the ‘overriding school theme for the next term, before teachers sat down to plan it as a whole school team.
I overheard a student in one room be asked by another student what to do about something. There was a very firm discussion about what needed to have been done first, and she was sent off with the message “you need to do …first. Go and find a computer and get that done and then come back to me and I will help you…”
Breens is an example of so much I believe about Innovative learning practice:
- strengths based
- collaborative practice
- self direction of learners
- strong student voice into learning programmes
- technologies integrated across all learning
- conceptual theme based learning over extended periods of time
Breens is a great example that Innovative Learning Practice does not need an Innovative Learning environment built before you start it. It’s a great example that the practice is so much more important than the environment is. It’s a great example that this stuff is possible in lower decile schools, just as much as it is in higher decide schools. It’s a great example of the power and importance of reflective practice. It’s a great example of the power of collaborative practice. It’s a great example of the flexibility needed to make learning the best it possibly can be for the learners you have in front of you. In short, it’s a great example.
Definitely a place to visit should you ever get the opportunity.
A privilege I’m pleased I got.
Thanks Nikki, Nathan and the whole Breens team.