Let's start at the beginning! Kelly Layton (teacher at Dyer Street School) and I (Clare Curry, teacher at Rata Street School) were chatting last year. We share a similar passion for trying new ideas to help those of our students who are not currently achieving as well as they could. The comment came up: "What if we made our own school?".
This got us really excited. We began to think about what we would do differently from conventional schools if we could. We thought about the space, the time frame, the content during different parts of the day, the help we would need, and so on. We wanted to focus on developing the students' understanding of and ability to be an active learner. We knew the key competencies were going to play a significant part.
As our idea began to take shape, Kelly and I mentioned it to our principals, who seemed keen on the idea. We decided to create a presentation to take to the cluster leaders' meeting. Using VideoScribe, we got the message across clearly, and the leaders gave us the go ahead to continue working on this, with their support.
We looked around for other places in New Zealand and overseas to find any applicable information/research about what works in situations such as we were proposing. We learnt about democratic schools, unschools, and future focused schools. We watched Ted talks, trawled the internet, and read published research.
Kelly and I continued to work on the details, such as what kind of teachers do we want? How much is this going to cost? What are our essential requirements in a venue?
At around this time, the Ministry of Education made public its Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF), which appeared to have the potential to support us financially (although not until mid 2015). We began working on the application for this. Our cluster leaders agreed to allow room in their budgets for Akoranga o Naenae to begin at the beginning of 2015.
Our schools have worked previously with Mary Wootton and Brian Annan at the University of Auckland, initially through Schooling Improvement and recently as a Learning and Change Network (LCN). We talked about the possibility of them supporting Akoranga o Naenae by researching our effectiveness. Not only is having researchers working alongside us one of the criteria for the TLIF, Kelly and I want to ensure that we are doing everything we can to make a difference to our kids.
The principals in our cluster (Naenae Primary, St Bernadette's, Epuni, Belmont, Dyer St, Rata St) shared the information about Akoranga o Naenae with their staff, to help us start looking for the ideal teachers to join us. Andrea Scanlan joined me and Kelly to write a job description It was during this meeting that our vision statement came about: a passionate learning team in an innovative learning environment.
Next we had a meeting with those interested to give them more information and answer any questions. Applications were to be sent to one of our principals for selection, and by the end of the year, Natasha Furness (teacher at Belmont School) had applied for the position, and we had asked her to join us.
Over the summer break, Kelly, Natasha, and I spent several days together. We talked through the nitty gritty, such as how we would work together effectively as a team, how the absences process will ensure student safety, what displays will be needed to build up a positive learning environment, etc. We planned out our first day with the kids in fine detail, and then realised we can't plan much more until we know what the kids want to learn because their learning will be based on what they're interested in.
We worked on a plan for introducing/reinforcing/
teaching/assessing ‘active learning’, established a Twitter account (@akoonaenae), and a gmail account (firstname.lastname@example.org), and created a nomination form for schools to use when selecting their students.
The school term has just begun, and it is only a few weeks until we intend the students to start. As yet, we don't have a venue! Our preferred choice lacks sufficient broadband to keep us all online as we require, so we are in talks with the Hutt City Council to see if they have any suggestions ... watch this space!
Our 'school' day is Fridays, with the kids starting in Week 5. Until then, the three of us will be busy getting the final preparations complete, including a whanau information meeting for families of nominated students, and a notice for parents of students in our 'home' school classes.
We have requested help from the cluster leaders on some things (such as budget, insurance, relievers, transport), and will be going to the next cluster meeting to discuss these.
Each of us, with our delegated tasks, is working hard to make this happen. Our dream of Akoranga o Naenae is nearly a reality!