Education that works now, and into the future

APRIL 19, 2016 / Articles

By Phil Muir, Regional Principal

As well as having the right attitude, successful modern employers are looking for employees who can learn, adapt, apply and solve problems.  They need to be solution focused. 

The use of Self Directed Learning (SDL) creates young adults who are growing to be future-focused problemsolvers who manage time well to get results.  Students are developed to take responsibility for their learning and success – in a safe and highly supported, engaging learning ‘ecosystem’.

We all learn at different paces – this is the premise around which Sal Khan based his global online school, Khan Academy, after he discovered his nephew was struggling at school, in traditional classes.  SDL allows the student to learn at a pace that suits him or her. 

Developing self-directed learners sits alongside the learning frameworks we follow at school.  In the junior years we encourage learners to be asking ‘those big questions’.  In the middle school, we are fostering more collaborative, project-based thematic learning.  When students hit the 'serious’ end of school, Years 11 – 13 in New Zealand, the years when they are building a portfolio of evidence to ‘show their mettle’ for when they progress on from school to employment and citizenship, they need to be developing as self-directed learners.

The NZ Curriculum contains competencies which include ‘confident, connected, life-long’ learners, where using language symbol and text is part of their fabric. Our SDL framework helps make these competencies ‘living’.  Running alongside this are the Westmount Self-Directed-Learner qualities of Reflect, Innovate, Self-motivate, Persevere, Inquire, Collaborate and Celebrate.

These learner qualities also flow into the OneSchool Awards, which are very highly coveted by our students.  Criteria for OneSchool Awards include involvement in school activities, leadership, academic achievement, fulfilling potential (persistence, understanding, resilience, maturity) and managing skills.  What parent would not want their child to grow up with these concepts, and what employer would not want their employees entering their workplace with these attributes? 

Students are surrounded by learning opportunities, which include the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS’s) where students can collaborate, find resources, complete assignments, and communicate in a safe, managed educational online learning space. We need to be constantly reflecting and developing our learning systems.  We need to be mindful of creating learning systems that can meet the needs of students moving into a world that we can’t foresee – we need to futureproof them with thinking and learning skills which are transferrable and agile. 

What does teaching look like in our school?

It is a blend of a range of styles and methods delivered in a range of learning spaces.  In the junior and middle school, more learning centres being developed, which enables more team teaching.  This means students are experiencing more teachers who can offer a broader range of learning styles and attitudes. Students in the upper middle school will also be experiencing the senior learning centres and the different zones and spaces that come with these. Zones includecollaborative, semi-collaborative and independent.  These zones come with noise levels to match whatever learning students may be doing. 

The Westmount Teacher Academy (TA) in New Zealand, the world’s first, covers a range of topics including ‘The School’, ‘The Learner’ and 'the Language of Learning’.  In ‘The School’ module, there is strong emphasis on building all our staff’s knowledge around SDL. Our model is based on ‘The Dalton Plan’.  This sees a combination of the assignment, the lesson and study. 

  • The assignment - a unit of work, which sits very well with New Zealand's NCEA internal assessment programme. 
  • The lesson - made up of teacher-directed learning, which may be face-to-face or via video-conferencing.  This includes analysis, discussion, questioning, learning by doing, developing skills and differentiation. 
  • Study - this is the SDL element, which is where students: focus, write, research, read, and have VC tutorials.  This package should complement the lesson, model adult workplaces, develop student’s problem solving skills, allow access to assistance, use student on-line learning management systems/available learning and allow for group collaboration. 

In the TA, teachers have been learning in the same style as the students, so they are experiencing learning in an SDL methodology and have been thoroughly enjoying it, and changing their mindsets to how they can best deploy the SDL concepts to drive learning. 

Senior students also participate in the Career Advantage Programme (CAP), and enrichment opportunities. Here they will further enhance their work-readiness by choosing from a range of opportunities including tertiary courses, marketing, management, communication, enterprise and all manner of individual interest and development programmes.  These courses are tailored to meet the needs of the developing young adults – to allow them to hit the ground running when they transition from school.

There is a major project underway at the moment that is taking a stocktake of our ‘language or learning’ and our ‘learning toolkit’ – which are our thinking routines – how we get students to learn, think and be engaged. 

We are constantly refining, reshaping and crystallising the learning processes we use.  We need to be creating innovative, problem-solving thinkers who can make sense of the modern and future world.  At the heart of this is SDL. 

SDL is a forward-thinking, empowering learning ‘way’ that students, staff and parents become part of.  It is a ‘learning attitude and ecosystem’ which will give our students' skills that will hold them in great stead for the rest of their lives.