Bruce Topham, principal Halswell School, explains some of the key steps in planning, building, and creating an innovative learning environment that is part of the community. They began with a strong leadership team researching ILEs, worked with a good architect, and invested lots of time engaging with and consulting the community. Bruce explains, "The pedagogy was always at the forefront of what we were trying to do and when we did the brief for the architect, it was around delivering the ACTIVE curriculum."
The vision on which we’ve based this particular build has come from a very strong curriculum, which we had prior to the development starting, based on the acronym ACTIVE. That led us into trying to create an environment that was flexible and able to be used creatively in a variety of ways so the underpinning was our original curriculum.
We’ve almost been through a metamorphosis in terms of the change process in taking a traditional school that was broken and rebuilt into a modern learning environment and now an innovative environment. We were fairly pragmatic about it, insisting that we got an opportunity to explore what was already out there and spending time in both New Zealand and in Australia having a look at what had already been built. The teachers did a lot of travelling and looked at lots of schools so we got a lot of feedback from them.
They had lots of open evenings in and around the school which were great. Or day times, just so you could wander through and have a look and see what they were planning. Building a really strong team from the outset has been very powerful.
As a part of that process, we were able to identify an architect that sat very squarely with us philosophically. The initial phases that we went through was actually developing a brief for the architect and we based that around our findings when we were developing our curriculum in terms of what the community valued most. And one of the key things was the fact that they wanted to see this as a village school, and the design that we’ve actually got is the buildings round the outside of a central courtyard. So all of those things played their part. It was really important that we made sure that we took the whole community with us.
As the school was developing and the new school was being built, there were opportunities to come along to information evenings so that you could be familiarised with what was happening and the plan, and also to have your input into what you wanted, as well as information sent home in newsletters, so that you were always kept up to date with changes that were going on. There were lots of opportunity to share your advice and ideas and ask questions to clarify what you weren’t too sure about. We made sure that the children had voice and had influence over what we were doing. In fact they had a major input into the colour schemes and into some of the layout features that we’ve actually got, and obviously also the staff. I think if you asked around people would feel as if they’d all been consulted. So there’s that collaborative ownership across the school.
The pedagogy was always at the forefront of what we were trying to do and when we did the brief for the architect, it was around delivering the ACTIVE curriculum, so we needed to make sure that the facilities that we created could be used in a variety of different ways and in ways that we probably haven’t even thought of. So that in fifteen or twenty years time they are still current. One of the things that we’ve tried to do is to create opportunities for children to work in different places at different times and have a huge degree of choice and control. So that had an influence in what we were trying to create.
In terms of resourcing for the project, the vast majority of the money has come directly from new schools, the Ministry. But a lot of the other flexible features like the sound system that goes right through the school, that has been wholly funded by the Board. In the stadium, the projectors and the acoustic wall that goes between the stadium and the performance area, that’s also board funded and we also got given $200,000 from the City Council to add some space to that building. So we’ve worked really hard to make sure that we’ve used the opportunity to create something that is going to be of value to the community for a number of years.
Within the classroom environments, the older children do have access to bringing their own devices. The thinking behind that was that if they had their own device then they were more likely to continue their work when they went home. If they were working on a device at school, when they went home it’s seamless. Some of the keys to being successful in transitioning from a traditional school is being very open and having lots of dialogue with your staff.
The architect actually spent time with the teachers and with the support staff involving them and explaining what the limitations were and what we needed to try and achieve. So they were well informed. We have not lost a staff member through this process and we haven’t lost a school family either and I think majorly for the same reason that we kept them informed and we made them feel as if they were a part of it, and they were, and that we valued their input. So that would be my biggest lesson, is that collaborativeness with the other stakeholders including the children has been immense.