Last week, my sister emailed me asking if I knew about a school in Christchurch, New Zealand (where we are from) that she was in the process of checking out for her son. She said that the school “sounded just like me” and my ‘dream school’ from Imagine a School.
Intrigued, I began to investigate and I think I have fallen in love! Talk about make school different!
The physical space that the school is located in has been badly damaged by the recent earthquakes so the school has relocated to a different part of the city for the time being. Prior to the relocation, the site was designed by Imagine – an architectural firm focusing on inspirational school design. From there, it just gets better!
The name of the school is Discovery 1. It is a state-funded , public school that operates under the auspices of having a ‘special character’ and as such, the way in which they approach learning (the what, how and why of what they do) looks different to more traditional schools. The ‘special character’ is defined by the following points:
that students direct and manage their own learning based on their passions, interests and needs
that we ask students first what they need in order to learn
that we create and uphold a community where families are an integral part of the learning process, sharing responsibility for learning with students and staff
that we are involved in learning wherever it naturally occurs in the community without the restrictions of curriculum, place, time, style or subject
that students come together in a learning community without barriers, learning at their own level
that we create and uphold a community where everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher
Discovery 1 goes on to define the role of the stakeholders:
Students are expected to:
….take advantage of the opportunities available to them and commit to the learning intentions they have co-created. Learners at Discovery will be successful if they strive to be self motivated, self directed and self managing.
Parents/Caregivers are expected to:
…commit to the special character of the school and work in partnership with staff and students to set appropriate learning intentions for their child and support them through the challenges of achieving these intentions. Work alongside staff and students both within school hours and outside hours.
Learning Advisors are committed to:
…make Discovery 1 a place of learning that students enjoy, where their learning and personal development will flourish, provide challenge and new and varied learning opportunities.
The core values of Discovery 1 are:
Amongst their documentation, is a ‘glossary of terms’ that explains some of the terminology you will hear being used at Discovery 1:
There is so much here that I just really connected with!
- students grouped across grade levels
- the use of the local community
- the role of the ‘teacher’ as learner and advisor
- the commitment required of the parents to particpate in the education of the child
- the inquiry based stance
- the idea that the learning does not have to occur in the classroom
- the option for students to learn from home
- the option for group or individual inquires
And this is free (a donation to the school of less than NZ$150 is asked for by the school as a school fee – a practice in place by most New Zealand public schools).
Ultimately, this begs the question “If this is my ‘dream school’, what can I do now, where I am at, to make school different?”
I think this goes a long way in answering that question:
A lot of this reminds me of how our class operated during our recent PYP Exhibition. You can read more about that here. We worked really hard on developing an environment based on passion and inquiry, incorporating collaborative and group work, requiring the showcasing of well-established skills and the development of new skills, interactions with the community, and the idea of connecting to the community and taking action.
At the end of the process, we surveyed our parents and then collated, reflected upon and shared their combined feedback, indicating how we would use their insights to shape the program next year. That document is available here: PYP Exhibition Feedback. When I look this over, with the Discovery1 lens permeating everything I see, I am both pleased with how we did and able to see loads of places for improvement. I am also pondering the question:
“Why only the last unit, the last 8 weeks of the year, in the last grade before Middle School?”.
As much as I love the graphic above and am so inspired by the work of its creator, I think I would tweak this poster to more accurately represent the ethos of my classroom next year, all year, as inspired by Discovery1: