School Reborn 2020: Part 6 Timetables

So far we’ve had it all! Joy, pain, excitement, anger, research, counter-research, warnings and lots of encouragement. We have had feedback from all aspects of the community and the consensus is still predominantly positive towards significant change. Another aspect that is becoming common is teachers experiencing tangible examples of contemporary education and quickly turning from sceptical to enthusiastic.

“Now I’ve visited and seen it in action, I can’t get over how the senior students were so naturally working with and teaching juniors without a teacher nearby.” – Teacher A

“I was really worried about not knowing what this might look like. I went to a session last night and it suddenly clicked. I get what you’ve been getting at and we need to match school with what’s going on out there.” – Teacher B

As a species, teachers are generally adaptable when faced with classroom challenges but it’s also natural to be fearful of the unknown. This is why it’s important throughout a change process to be constantly dropping-in and allowing people to experience tangible examples and templates that they can fill with their own ideas and take a little ownership of. This way the process feels less like juggling with your eyes closed and confidence builds that “maybe we can do this … and we’ll enjoy it!”

A day in the life

Any major reform has a nagging issue where people just want to know “what will my day look and feel like?” This goes for all members of the school community but once you start to develop a consensus about what the philosophy is about, it is natural in schools to start the discussion of timetable. How will we divide the day / week / year and what are our new priorities? In our process we laid out that any new structure of learning would be targeting the following 8 ideals that our PD but not our structures supported:

  1. Deeper / Critical thinking (NZ Curriculum)
    Most students can’t speak off-the-cuff about local / global issues
  2. Development of self (NZC – Culturally responsive / Mentoring / Goal-setting) (Cultural PLG)
    Most students can’t speak in-depth about their talents / targets / pathways
  3. More personalised / flexible / Interest / Passion based (Ako PLG)
    Feedback showed learning felt institutionalised
  4. Managing Projects (NZC) (Design thinking PLG)
    Much proof that students lack experience in organising time and resources
  5. Making meaning (Integration of at least subject-pairs to add context)
    Students can’t generally discuss beyond the subject’s test
  6. Future / world ready (NZC – aware and connected to current issues)
    Studnets not aware enough of world developments
  7. All learning areas are equally important
    Dance is as important as Math but not just for dancing!
  8. Priority given to New curriculum about structural needs.
    There’s no point implementing changes unless they are given a fair go.
    (It’s easier for existing programme to make minor shifts e.g. 60 min to 100 min lessons)

Proposals submitted and reviewed.

Our most integrated option

After all our work researching, debating, community consultations, visiting, training, and sharing, we put forward a spectrum of ideas to all staff to discuss in relation to our 8 stated aims. All teachers in their departments looked at the pros and cons and reported their preferred 1st and 2nd options. Based on models in existence in NZ schools, we looked at:

  • 4 integrated units covering 8 to 12 current subject areas rotating by term or semester + Mentoring time + personal / passion project time
  • integration except numeracy and literacy
  • Existing timetable but for one full day of integrated project
  • An integrated subject line to apply what’s learnt in the existing subjects
  • An integrated stream that students opt into. Choose to learn “old-school or new-school”

To varying degrees, these models supported our stated aims and so some were thrown out quickly, the rest were debated and when votes came in, 2 became the final options for the exec team to choose from.

In my opinion …

We are now in the final stage of picking a structure of school day and year that will support our vision for learning in 2020 at Orewa College. Both final options point to fully integrated learning throughout the week with the difference being a choice between it being compulsory for all or an opt-in system leaving the rest to carry on with the existing 20th century model. So before we choose, here are my current thoughts (not the school’s) on the current 2 options.

  1. I’m glad there was agreement that to make integration work it had to involve all learning areas / specialisms even if one has an opt-out clause. All activity in society and nearly every job is a combination of things that schools traditionally seperate. The principle of integration also received an 80% positive response from our community too.
  2. Offering and opt-out clause and thus two approaches to managing the learning in one school is problematic on many levels. Logistically it’s more difficult to resource. Philosophically, it shows the school to be unsure about the flexibility of each learning programme. It is also contradictory with conventional thoughts about compulsory curriculum. Most schools work their existing programme with compulsory units and subjects on the grounds that children (and their parents) are not in an experienced position to start throwing-out subjects and skills that might later become needed or a passion for the student. In this sense, all schools have already agreed that children (and parents) are not the best to decide early-on that one pathway is better suited than another. To have parents and students suggesting that they know and should choose to keep topics completely separated or integrated contradicts all existing practice in schools.

Time to decide and getting ready for pilots

We are now at the stage of making a final decision on the structures that the new integrated approach will hang on.  Our planning for the 2019 Year 9 pilot is shaping up although it is having to take place within our existing structures. This will give a team of teachers the opportunity to see how integrated leanring feels like and operates in conventional classrooms. We will be aiming to use conventional spaces in new flexible ways and build new mindsets towards what best develops young people for 2020 and beyond.