"Leading from behind" to empower learners
A day with Stephen Heppell in East Lothian
09h04 - Gullane Primary School
[view pictures from this visit]
We drew up to the school to immediately noticed the wind turbine. And while this school might be self-powered with solar and wind energy, meeting Head Teacher Maureen Tremmel again reminded me that there is some very human energy driving this school forward. The main theme in this school for us: leading from behind. Maureen gives her staff a lot of slack to try out 'new' ways of working which might go against the current grain and her staff are not possessive of 'their' ideas and techniques. There is constant sharing of strategies, constant 'stealing' and adaptation of good teaching and learning. Some of the highlights:
Perceptions of what is important: We were immediately impressed by the solar energy and wind turbine; the kids less so. When asked about the readings of the solar panels and wind turbine a kid said: "That? I don't look at that. But if you lie down under the turbine it looks like it's going to fall on top of you". What seems one objective for us is often quite another for our youngsters.
Gaming for learning: The
P7 P6 students have been using their own Nintendo DSes and Dr Kawashima Brain Training
games (about seven out of 23 kids) for over a year now in their Friday
morning 'Golden Time', to help improve their memory and their maths.
When I asked whether they would share them for some of that Friday
morning time every child immediately said 'yes'. Do we need to buy in
gaming consoles for schools? Maybe not so much if we can empower kids
just to do what feels natural.
Leading from behind leads to innovation: The school has several potential 'gurus' in digital media, active learning and critical skills work - but they have successfully resisted the temptation to keep their 'secrets' and that guru status. An impressive number of age groups, from first year elementary students through to those about to leave into High School, had created digital video and animation to illustrate their learning, even though this kind of work had perhaps sprung from one teacher's desire to innovate. We witnessed two classroom assistants working in the Infants Library with three primary six children filming three primary one children on their experiences of being the youngest ones in the school. The whole thing was organised by those very Primary Six students, too.
Critical skills and rich tasks: The P7 (11 year old) class we saw had an exceptional understanding of their own learning journey, where their skills and weaknesses lie and they showed an incredible confidence in planning tasks and allocating roles without the need for teacher intervention. Their classroom teacher, Kathy McGrane, has helped them train themselves up in the skillset that allows them to now do this while she simply facilitates learning with quite complex challenges and projects.
The current project, around creating an innovation business and product, involved business planning around a product of the students' own invention. Within the next few weeks we'll see a train window that can be changed to show the environment you wish to view, an organic water purification tool... A previous project had been on religion and there the kids had innovated in their homework by producing a Google Sketchup Mosque. That's a skill it would be good to see reappear on some of the current innovation project. I hope the young lad who made the mosque teaches his classmates how to use Sketchup to produce their prototypes.
Some über confident kids gave a presentation on the hoof about what critical skills has meant to them and, while clearly well-practised for the many visitors from other schools in the Authority, they had clearly learnt to present in an engaging and informative manner, self-organising and allocating their tasks.
What we were left wondering was how the kids and teachers might capture this so that the impact can be shared beyond those lucky enough to make the journey to their classroom physically. I'll be working with the school, thankfully, to capture some of this in our forthcoming new interactive service on Learning and Teaching Scotland's site. But, having seen how engaged the other classmates were by the video that the class had produced earlier in the year, I think that the answer lies in media production from the kids for their very own blog.
Gullane is an open source management, open plan school - even if the teachers do refer to "visitors at the 'door'" when there is clearly no door to be seen. In the same way as the teachers in the school have benefited from the open doors of their open plan school to share and learn from each other, it would be good to see some electronic open doors to share this amazing stuff even further. That said, it's not stopping an amazing number of people applying to work in this hive of creative activity.