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How Spotswood College built a school programme to challenge the system

2019 is the year that principal Nicola Ngarewa will revolutionise the high school timetable.  

School News spoke to Spotswood’s innovative leader about the pedagogical shift she has invited, and how her 800 Year 9 to 13 students have adapted to the future-focused new programme.

Image courtesy of Spotswood College

A significant amount of research has taken place to make sure we are coming from a pedagogical baseline of  future focussed, 21st century learning curriculum and delivery. As well as overhauling our curriculum, which included some staff speed dating to develop the STEAM integrated subjects, we have also overhauled assessment and reporting, guided by student blogs. As staff, we have collaborated on our core competencies, learning how to learn rather than what to learn, and used the tools of digital fluency to support this.  So, systemic and structural changes have been made parallel to philosophical shifts.

Read the Term 2 issue of School News here. 

Image courtesy of Spotswood College

What provoked the decision to change our programme? The fundamental belief that education can do better. We had to question how well we prepare our young people for the rapidly changing world that they are going into. While we were a highly performing school for the here and now, we had to make  bold shifts to make sure that we would be future focused. Now, our school is truly student centred with community at the heart.

Learning is intended to be deep, visible and inclusive; connected, authentic learning is challenging but there must be room for fun as well. No-one wants to go to work every day without some fun and laughter!

Image courtesy of Spotswood College

What does the new Year 9-13 programme look like? This programme takes a significant amount of planning but is designed to be agile and responsive to student needs. We have two semesters for students to complete, made up of eight-week rotations combining ‘pop ups’, ‘impact inquiry’, ‘sport active’, ‘culture is the widening of the mind’ and ‘community connect’.  

The first two sessions of the day are literacy and numeracy across the school in a range of contexts, from pure English and maths courses to contextualised learning like literacy through art or numeracy through PE or health. Our students then participate in up to three hours of integrated STEAM courses. Seniors also have up to three hours of  ‘impact inquiries’ or ‘pop ups’ that are responsive to student needs. So, they could include scholarship study, internal preparation or a specific project that the student is working on. All courses are supported by two hours of ‘Learning Advisory’, where students and staff conference, track and monitor progression and this is all visible on student blogs.

Real-world projects. Community and culture is critical, so juniors have a ‘community connect’ session which ranges from local charity, or active participation in organising and running fundraising activities for a local charity, to ‘passport to the world’, which explores the  ins and outs of travelling. This module looks at: budgeting for a trip, for passports, visas, travel cards, injections, insurances, building an itinerary at your destination, planning airport and transfers, local sim cards, how to travel on a cheap budget and use apps like TripAdvisor, Google maps, YouTube walkthroughs, Google Translate, Duolingo, AirNZ, XE Currency Convertor, Couch Surfing, Uber, Social

Image courtesy of Spotswood College

Media posting on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, WeChat; how to barter a bargain, as well as understand train and bus schedules, etc.

More cultural courses focus on how ‘culture is the widening of the mind’. One module is called ‘Be Thrifty’, where students have the opportunity to give back to our charitable trusts and help out at The Salvation Army Opportunity shop. Being exposed to the sheer volume of donated goods and clothing incites them to question our ‘throw away’ society and inspires them to find and seek things to repurpose and upcycle while doing a kind deed for their community. Another module is called ‘rest home entertainment’, where students can share their youthful energy and play some groovy tunes to the groovy residents at the local rest homes.

Image courtesy of Spotswood College

Years 11 to 13: exciting courses for older students. Some of the courses for Years 11 to 13 include ‘dystopian world’, where students write short stories with an English or media specialist and then work with an artist or graphic designer on the warcom computers to illustrate their work so it is ready for publishing. Another course is ‘Survival of the Fittest’, which combines outdoor education with horticultural knowledge.

Engaging students offline. We also are committed to integrating purposefully  designed offline time into the curriculum; for example, sport active allows students to participate in a wide variety of things from surfing to yoga. On the subject of health and wellness, we also have a wellbeing centre where students can practice mindfulness and meditation.

Image courtesy of Spotswood College

Challenging the status quo. We had  to be prepared to challenge the barriers that were limiting our potential, such as timetable constraints. Silo curricular approaches had to be reviewed and the bricks and mortar of our school is something we continue to challenge. For instance, could we be running  a business course in a business hub that better stimulates students? Could our space open up to more effective utilisation by our wider community?

Redefining ‘the classroom’. Classes are a combination of team teaching hubs and single cell classes. Some of our spaces have had to be repurposed to cater to this, so a staffroom that was largely not in use during class time has become a hub space that can be booked out to accommodate larger class sizes, team teaching and break out areas. Google classroom and teacher contact/conferencing are both equally utilised, and flipped classrooms are now a component of our teaching and learning.

Image courtesy of Spotswood College

What it all means for teaching staff… Staffing spaces have been repurposed for collaboration and ongoing PL has been built into the morning briefings, which are no longer about sharing notices but team-led PL. We made a commitment to end meetings after school so that staff are able to leave earlier and present in front of students the next day re-energised and positive.

I have huge respect and admiration for the staff. Shifts can be challenging, especially when we made a choice to do it across the school to ensure no year level was inadvertently disadvantaged. But I maintain it is not hard: not being able to feed your children is hard, this is uncomfortable at times but when you see our young people engaged, succeeding and feeling positive about who they are, it is the biggest motivation to keep pushing. Students have embraced our changes and are feeling empowered to negotiate their learning program.

We have shifted our school environment from a credit driven culture to a learning culture.

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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