I was speaking with a researcher who came in to school today. She had been prompted by Ros MacEachern's blog about Critical Friendships to visit our school, and I was one of her interviewees.
Towards the end of the interview, she expressed the opinion that our school was an example in so many different ways, and then she asked a question that I have actually been considering myself: "Does the MLE make all the difference, or could you still do this in a traditionally set up school?"
This is the long version of my reply:
I think that what we do at Hobsonville Point Secondary School IS transferable, because our focus is our practice, and what we do to make learning outcomes better for our students; the environment is simply one of many tools that we have available to help us do this.
I believe that a school needs only two things to be able to change to the type of practice and ethos that we have: a willingness to change the timetable, and complete staff buy-in.
The way I see it, changing the timetable might actually simplify it. What I imagine is that you divide the school time into eight equal parts. Whether that is over a week or a fortnight or a certain number of days is irrelevant. Then you structure it so that for example, all the year 9 English teachers are in one option line, all the year 9 Maths teachers are in the next option line, and so on across all the curriculum learning areas. There are seven of these in the NZ Curriculum; the eighth option line is for the hub/tutor/form class time, and the dispositional curriculum. You do the same for year 10, year 11, etc, making sure that of course year 9 English is in a different line from year 10 English, so the teachers will teach across year levels. You might need to mix it up a little in the senior school as a wider variety of subjects comes in, so that students still have choice, as long as you keep any compulsory subjects in the same line.
Having set up your new timetable format, you then say to your English teachers, for example, as we have in our learning area - "In the course of this year you will need to cover the curriculum achievement objectives of purpose and audience, ideas, language features, and structure; and you need to include the processes and strategies for both making meaning (understanding texts) and creating meaning (creating texts)" - I'm using the actual objectives from the curriculum document here. Every learning area has different achievement objectives, and some are more prescriptive or content based than others, but in each, there are certain non-negotiables. What English doesn't say, is that you have to teach certain text types or specific parts of language.
So, having established what it is that the curriculum is actually telling your English teachers (or whichever learning area) to teach, you as leader can say, "Okay, set up a course that covers those things." Then your teachers, who are passionate about different things and actually do have a lot of skills, can imagine a course that they actually want to teach. And if they want to teach a course about coming-of-age drama in novel and film - to choose a random possible example -, they can. Or whatever. (I really want to tell you about my proto-feminist literature course from earlier in the year, but I won't ... yet. Maybe in another next post.)
And then, if one of your Arts teachers, for example, likes that idea, they could say, "I could co-teach that with you, o English teacher, because I would really love to look at the way coming-of-age is portrayed in various artistic media!" Or your Human Bio teacher might want to link that to a study of the havoc hormones wreak in teenagers as they are coming-of-age. And they both could set up a course that would be taught by each of them in the option line that they were teaching the level at - thus the separate option lines for learning areas...
This way, you have total curriculum coverage, choice for students and therefore more likely a higher level of engagement, and teachers teaching stuff they actually like with a higher level of engagement on their part too.
You would have to have a good timetabling program, because when students choose their courses, there might be a whole pile who want to do one course, and not so many who want to do another, but that is logistics and happens with senior subject choices anyway. And it's just software.
The hard part is the other aspect of the change - total staff buy-in. I suspect this is why schools are not even willing to look at MLP, because in every staff there are the people who 'have always done it this way', and unless you have some leaders who really want to drive the change forward, it is not going to take hold and be effective across the school organisation. HPSS is lucky in some ways; being a startup school, the teachers who are applying to work here have chosen to work with MLP and are open to the change in their own practice that will have to occur. Other schools don't have that luxury, and I know that in every school there will be some who are resistant, just to be resistant.
To introduce MLP in all schools nationwide, which I believe is the goal of the Ministry of Education, there must be something to show schools how it can be done, and maybe that it isn't such a hard thing. This could be along the lines of the Core Education course that I am getting so much out of, or professional learning days put on by the ministry such as when NCEA was introduced. Maybe we just need every school in the country to come and visit HPSS (as so many already do!) and look at how we do what we do, and not just at the flash new toys we have. I have to admit that that part is beyond the scope of what I have been thinking.
But I feel, that if I, who has taught all my career until this year in exceptionally traditional schools, can open my way of thinking and become so enamoured of doing it differently that I have become an advocate for MLP, it's something that the right amount of will can make happen.
All schools and all teachers in the end really only want one thing; to make learner outcomes the best they can be. If our school really is such an example, as the outside researcher believes, how do we encourage other schools to follow it? How do we make it easier for them to initiate change? Could it be as simple as showing them a two-step process?
Or showing them that the difference between the Modern Learning Environment and Modern Learning Practice is that the first is buildings, but the second is methods? Buildings are irrelevant - I could teach all of the courses that I am doing now in any building or room or environment. Methods are key. How I teach is what makes my educational world shine.