21st Century, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

How One Teacher Is Making School Different

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Learning Advisor, Susie Greenslade.  Susie works at Discovery1 – a special character, state-funded public school in Christchurch, New Zealand.  I posted about Discovery1 a few weeks back.  Talking with Susie gave me a few more insights into her school, why it works and how she is making school different.

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Below is a summary of our conversation.  Susie has inspired me to continue to work away to make school different in my classroom.  We both agreed that valuing our parents and working in partnership with them was the way forward.  Susie is clearly a passionate educator who loves what she does. Her homebase kids and her school community are fortunate to have her.

Speaking with Susie…

Partnerships with parents and having children learn around their passions and interests were the two key factors cited by Susie when I asked what made Discovery1 successful.  This doesn’t happen by accident.  

Parents who wish to enroll their child at Discovery1 attend orientation meetings, take tours, visit two or three times and then sit down with their child’s learning advisor to decide if it is a good fit for the parents, the child, the family and the school. Once they are a part of the school community, Susie makes time to speak with them every day, supporting them in their journey.  It’s not just their child who has started school – they have too.  Parents are partners at Discovery1.  Susie helps her parents feel comfortable in the learning environment and looks for ways to help them utilize their passions in helping children learn.  This might mean leading a workshop in a skill they have expertise in, taking students on a field trip to their place of work or a place with whom they have a connection, providing transport to and from the homebase or something completely different! She does it all without overwhelming the parents and keeping them engaged in their learning. In her words, “It wouldn’t work without the parents!”

Susie meets with her homebase of 26 kids and together they discuss their ideas and passions.  This forms the basis for the learning that will occur.  Unlike most schools, planning at Discovery1 occurs after this discussion with the learners.  Susie hosts a homebase meeting a couple of times over a term (ten weeks) in which she shares the ideas of the children with the parents.  Together, they work on plans for how to best help their children explore these passions.  In addition, children can sign up to participate in or run workshops that happen twice a week on things that are of interest to the children (workshops based on a list of options curated by the children). When I asked Susie about her obligation to the New Zealand Curriculum, she said that it is still there, it just doesn’t drive the learning.  She and her colleagues regularly review the skills required by the curriculum and check off what has been achieved through student inquiry.  More often than not, they are amazed at how much more they achieved than they could ever have ‘planned’ to do! 

Assessment at Discovery1 comes in a number of forms.  There are documents that students use to analyze their own understandings (see below).  There are also Learning Stories.  Susie co-lead research into Learning Stories in 2007 and continues to use this method to record the understandings and learning at Discovery1.  Photos, narrative and analysis of learning through these stories, paints a full picture of child development through their time at school.  Kids, parents and teachers all write them. Sometimes a story will be written for the whole homebase, a small group, or for the individual.  

If Susie could add or subtract anything from Discovery1 to make it more successful, she immediately would suggest smaller homebases (groups of students under her primary care).  When the parents are on board and willing to contribute to the learning of the group, everything else falls into place.  The resources for students to inquire are all there.  Most people are willing to help a  child who has a passion for a particular topic or skill.

Susie is inspired as an educator by the children she works with and their families.  Her goal is to facilitate adventures for her kids. To extend their fervor.  She makes school different by being an advocate for her children and by making their voices heard.  She is a passionate advocate for the special character of the school – keeping true to that is what makes Discovery1 what it is. Her main goal is that she want kids to have a childhood – and a really good one at that! She works hard to build relationships and establish a sense of belonging.  And  PLAY! She loves to have fun!

Discovery1 Self Evaluation Documents (click image for link):