Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Day 1 - Barker College, Hornsby

Barker College is a 45 min train ride north of Sydney. It is an independent school (Anglican) with a 125 year history. It is situated  on magnificent grounds with facilities 'to die for!' With a roll of 2000 students from new entrant to final year of secondary, it is a successful school in a very competitive, traditional, independent school market.  93% of the senior school students have 'personalised' programmes, or timetables. 

Barker College was recommended to me by Northern Beaches Christian School, as a school focussing on innovation, and I was impressed with the school's committment in particular to ongoing teaching, learning and research initiatives. The newly founded 'Barker Institute' aims  to 'contribute to 'education at a local, national and global level' through 'professional learning, research and innovation.' 

The school had a very clear strategic plan around learning, collaboration and innovation - and staff are encouraged to undertake research, not just as teacher inquiry, but as part of their work and 'mission.' 

Upskilling staff to be able to support learners with new technologies was a clear  strength of the school's professional learning model. Four full time teachers (not technicians) supported teachers in the classroom (especially around the 'iPad' classes - all Yr 7 and 10 students). These teachers regularly visited classes 'teaching key skills', manned help desks in the library and ran ongoing professional learning sessions.  None of the four taught any other classes. A science teacher was also part of the strategic team with a .2 loading. 

The school had a BYOD policy - but apart from the year levels that had compulsory devices, the IT team felt that few other students bought devices to school  for classroom use - mainly because the use of them was not integrated into the classroom programmes - this was an area they were working to improve.  The learning platform eBackpack, is hopefully going to address implementation of a more blended learning model.

The school has begun a process of refitting learning spaces - and the History Dept is the first area to take advantage of the possibilities created for a more collaborative team approach. The classes I saw working in this space were engaged and there was a definite energy in the room. While the photos look quite static, once the boys were in the space, they moved into collaborative pairings and made use of the soft furniture. The Head of History notes that  proper effective collaboration time for planning was 'difficult to find.' The student common rooms could also double as collaborative spaces in the future.

While the curriculum was still quite 'siloed', the absolute focus on teacher led research and professional learning was impressive. In particular the use of a team of IT staff  whose purpose was to continually upskill staff and to support staff to be confident in their use of tools to support learning, is essential if schools are going to create future minded learners  - the level of this committment could not be achieved in a State funded secondary school. The importance of 'Space and Speed' is one I think we would identify with at RHS - space to be able use technology and the speed of any use. 

A newly created position, 'Director of Academic Performance' had the portfolio of analysing student achievement and of lifting student performance in the state 'league tables'. An aspect of this are the fortnightly focus days - when teachers negotiate time out for field trips and the like! He equated it to a 'rigorous round of bidding' by Heads of Departments. Not sure how that would go down at Rangiora, but it was a great idea in my mind, as it clearly reduced the out of class time.

As I said earlier, the facilities were impressive - 

iCentral - information centre - included 3 levels of student workspaces 

English staff room - separate workroom included English administration person.

A number of key staff took time out to discuss their ideas and philosophies with me and I also sat in with the IT team as they planned the delivery of their next professional learning session around the integrated learning platform -  which was great. Head of Senior School, David Giltrap, organised a programme for me which included a fab lunch in the staff and boarders dining room - which I had not expected.

It was great to see a 'silver fern' in a prominent spot on campus and to talk with two staff who originated in Christchurch.

The school has a huge potential for creating an innovative, integrated curriculum, if it chooses to go down that path. The 'refitting' of traditional classroom spaces, as they have begun to, I'm sure will continue, as more of the staff see the possibilities being developed by the History Faculty. 

I will follow Dr Brad Merrick and the Barker Institute with interest @bradmerrick  @BarkerInstitute

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