The opening of the new Learning Centre at our Tasman Campus was a large celebration involving the community, staff from neighbouring schools, guests from our global affiliate schools, and both local MPs.
The interest in the centre is certainly justified. For the school community, it represents the realisation of a dream, and a lot of hard work in fundraising. Student leader Tina Lewis acknowledged this in a well-executed speech: “As students, we recognise the hard work, commitment and dedication that has gone into this. I would like to say a massive thank-you to the community for playing a large role in pulling this project together and providing a fantastic learning environment for us. We do appreciate it.”
John Hill, a representative on the Westmount School National Leadership Team, said Tasman’s was the fifth global standard Learning Centre to be completed in New Zealand. It was indicative of Westmount’s approach to integrating best practice in Teaching and Learning. “This often takes our staff overseas to learn from experts, or we bring the experts here. We have also learnt a lot through the implementation, and are very open to sharing what we know.”
Regional Principal Hugo Vaughan said one of the most impactful innovations was the development of Self-Direct Learning, in which students take full ownership of their learning. “No longer do we manage students or manage learning – staff are leaders of learning and have learning conversations with students, rather than content-driven discussions.”
Although Westmount had not yet arrived at its destination, Mr Vaughan said there was a lot of evidence it was on the right journey, including 2015 NCEA results.
“What we have endeavoured to do in recent years is to move around the furniture in our heads. The traditional thinking and stacking of chairs had to be undone through a considered process of change management. This process has been facilitated through our Teacher Academy and ongoing Professional Development.”
MP for Nelson, the Hon Dr Nick Smith, said Westmount had made an important investment for the region. “Education is the best investment we can make in the future of our country.”
He also noted that “you can have stunning buildings but they are not what makes great education. The strength depends on the quality of educationalists”.
While we pride ourselves on great teaching, we would politely add to Dr Smith’s summation that the strength of education also depends on a student’s motivation.
Our Learning Centre design has very smart thinking interwoven to strengthen learning engagement. For instance, it provides the flexibility for students to adapt learning resources to suit their own learning styles, which improves understanding and retention. In collaborative spaces, they also harness the power of peer learning.
Tina says for the students, the new Learning Centre makes it possible to truly live the school motto of Learning to Learn. “We had already moved on from the lecture-style classes, wooden tables, hard chairs, blackboards – ‘sit up straight and face the front’ approach to a more flexible style of learning. But in the traditional classroom space, there were often conflicts between ‘I am trying to concentrate’ versus ‘We are having a group discussion’.”
The Learning Centre provides the zones and amenities to enable different ways of learning – through collaborative, semi-collaborative and focused work. But it is much more than colours, acoustics and furniture, Tina says. “It is the inspiration, the motivation, the perspiration inside that thrives with having the responsibility of our own learning. It builds up the positive culture and stimulates productivity. It is an incredible space to work in.”
CORE Education consultant Mark Osborne, an expert in SDL and modern learning environments, provided some context for the Learning Centre design:
So our Learning Centres have spaces for large-group collaboration, and semi-collaborative work. There are also quiet zones where focused work can be accomplished. There is no space at the front of the class for a teacher. The design allows for the teacher to work alongside students, and for students to work without a teacher.
Mark provided research that shows substantial improvement in achievement in a well-designed Learning Centre, compared with a traditional classroom. (Churchey Grammar School, Brisbane)
“So its impact is big. It’s important, and it’s a wonderful opportunity.”