Welcome to my Professional Learning blog.
My name is Matt Nicoll and I am a high school teacher in New Zealand, interested in improving the classroom experience for my students. I am open to trialing new approaches and hope to use this blog to reflect on my ideas and practices.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A School with No Students...Yet

Two weeks have passed at Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. Two weeks working at a school with no students and hosted by another school (West Rolleston Primary School/Te Kura o Te Uru Kōwhai). It sounds a bit like a dream, doesn't it? All this time and space to...well, to do what?

I am relieved for the long weekend, because a lack of students has definitely not meant a lack of tasks to achieve or an "easy ride". It is just a different kind of busy. I have always fed off the energy and enthusiasm of students, so that driving force is actually missing. However, it has been replaced by highly enthused colleagues, and lots and lots of coffee!

The way our first two weeks have been structured has actually made me reflect a lot on what it must be like for students/ākonga. We had the excitement of the first few days, and getting to know each other and our place (including elements of the community). Friendships and working relationships have started to form. The expectations of those leading the learning have started to become more transparent. The learning tasks have been rich and every one of us has put in a genuine effort to complete each task to a high level.

The richness and relevance of the tasks (as well as the realistic time frames) have ensured high levels of engagement and that we actually want to work on them outside the allocated time allowed each day. We are not being made to do "homework", but we are choosing to do it anyway. Add into that the fact that most tasks are collaborative and each individual is striving not to let the rest of the group down. It is a great learning environment. It is fun, rewarding and a bit tiring being ākonga!!

As a teacher/kaiako, non-contact time is often used to mark student work, plan future lessons/tasks/units or maybe organise some extra-/co-curricular activity. It definitely isn't downtime. At Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata, we are given some individual learning time. Some of us collaborate on the tasks we have due this week. Some of us retreat into a corner to read, reflect or work on our own. Some of us need the time out and throw a rugby ball around, talk over coffee or kick a shuttlecock around.

The busy schedule of the last couple of days of last week meant this individual time was not available, and it was missed. Some of us did early starts to collaborate on our big learning task. Others did late finishes for the same reason. What I have learned from this is the value of "downtime", both for kaiako and for ākonga. Our students need time to reflect or even get active in the day. As teachers, we also need that time to do what is best for us.

The other standout from the past two weeks has been how flexible the daily programme has been. The leadership team must have a timeline and agenda, and it feels like we are making good progress. However, tasks and schedules have been adjusted in response to our needs as learners on a day-by-day basis. This makes me feel as though my needs and well-being/hauora are valued. This makes it very easy to get up in the morning and be excited about going to work. I hope ākonga will feel the same when we start working with them.

While we have not been treated like students in the first two weeks, I feel that we have learned a more immediate empathy and understanding for what it is like to be one. For a group of motivated ākonga/kaiako, engagement and quality of work are maintained at a high level through:

  • authentic tasks
  • tasks that are meaningful to the individual
  • collaborative tasks
  • realistic time frames
Additionally, the hauora of ākonga/kaiako has been accounted for in the structure of the day and the flexibility of the programme in response to us as learners. As well as managing our workload, it keeps us in a frame of mind to do our best work, and to be good collaborators. So, it is a new school with no students, but the teachers are the learners at the moment. That can only be a good thing for the students!

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