Create or Replicate?

Yesterday, I participated in the Australian Institute of Teachers and School Leadership Professional Practice Symposium. It was humbling to be invited but also to have our school being presented to a room full of policy makers from across Australia. One of the key questions from the gathering that resonated through my mind is whether we create or replicate our pedagogies to cater for our students.

Over the past few years, I have noticed the proliferation of packaged literacy and numeracy courses being churned out as though they are the panacea for school improvement. Far too often, it is easy to pick up one or more of these courses and make the assumption that it will improve our school results without taking into account our environment, our teachers and our students. The end result is that we can treat professional learning as a tick a box only to wait for the next package to come along.

For Merrylands East Public School (MEPS), the issue of creating instead of replicating is about taking ownership and having an understanding of our local context, and what we need to do to improve our student outcomes in a sustainable manner. Instead of over relying on the professional learning packages, our staff have taken ownership for building up their research knowledge base by using professional readings to dialogue with each other, and to discover the possibilities that lies within their learning environment.

Today I visited Silverton Primary School and marvelled at their wonderful incorporation of technology as part of their learning program. Seeing student self-regulation in practice, open and integrated learning environments and the diversity of programs, one cannot be tempted but to replicate. After all, how extraordinary would it be to have playstation on the outside of toilet walls, a dedicated media centre room for chroma key video production and a  radio station. However, Silverton was created for their local community and takes into account the context of the school environment. The buildings and their layout at Silverton are different to Merrylands East, along with the available land space for learning.

So what was the purpose of my visit? First of all, I wanted to observe why Silverton was a worldwide Microsoft Partners in Learning Mentor School and glean some principles of curriculum design. Second, I wanted to observe how students used a diverse range of devices to assist them in learning without the need to be a one to one device school. Third, I wanted to observe how students engaged in a transformed sustainable environment and to discover how research and evidence based data was driving the teachers’ pedagogies.

My invaluable visit provided an opportunity to self-reflect on the transformation at MEPS via a rich discourse with visionary principal Tony Bryant. Along with discovering further learning potential for students in an open environment, the visit provided an exchange of school curriculum and organisational leadership strategies within the confounds that both our settings are different.

Instead of replicating Silverton, I rather take some underlying principles and continue the collaborative process of creating MEPS with our school community, and make the changes necessary in learning anywhere anytime, learning spaces, learning staff and most importantly, learning pedagogies that takes into account the learners in our school.

Returning back to the AITSL symposium, it was refreshing to hear the voice of Innovation Unit, Valarie Hannon and her provocative comments and questions that challenged the participants’ pedagogical values and beliefs. I was delighted to hear the challenge put to policy makers about the purpose and place of schools in a technologically interconnected world, and the need to innovate and discover new pedagogies due to the changing nature of information accessibility by contemporary students, rather than to replicate the vast number of frameworks that are already in circulation.

Finally, I was full of admiration for my twitter PLN co-presenters at the symposium Alice Leung and Bianca Hewes for their pedagogical creation.  They just don’t take project base learning and follow it as a check list but continue to evolve the process of learning to cater for their students and environment.  Likewise, my staff and I are learning to create rather than replicate.