Learning crew has eye on the future

Education Secretary Mark Scott spent time in a primary school in the Northern Rivers where he witnessed a quiet revolution in the classroom.

16 March 2020
Mark Scott sitting on the floor with students
Image: Mark Scott with some of the student 'crew' at Banora Point Public School.

At Banora Point Public School teachers and students talk about the value of "crew": working together, critiquing each other's work and welcoming feedback.

It's a teaching and learning philosophy that underpins much of the work that goes on at the school, from the detailed preparation and planning teachers undertake before assigning projects to students, and the redrafting students do of their work, to reflection at the end of each day about what has been achieved.

Collaboration, perseverance and being a good citizen are highly valued at Banora Point Public.

Principal Paul Taylor told Secretary Mark Scott on the Every Student Podcast he was "seeing 'crew' both at a classroom level and a whole school level".

"People working together, people trusting each other, people giving each other feedback and feeling safe that 'if I have a go at this I am going to be in good company'."

The school also wants its students to develop ownership of their learning and apply what they learn in purposeful way.

Mr Taylor, who has worked as a principal or deputy principal at a number of state schools over the past 15 years, is the founder of ionthefuture, which holds teacher education conferences that draw upon the latest educational advances around the world.

The work is influenced by US education specialist Ron Berger from New York-based EL Education. Mr Berger believes teachers get the best out of students who work in places where there is a culture of respect and belonging, and where their work is meaningful.

Much of the classroom work at Banora Point Public is project-based, and students often work on projects for weeks or even months.

The projects have "a really strong pedagogical base" for the teachers, said Assistant Principal Nicole Crawford, "of them understanding very well what is good teaching, what it is they need from their kids and what they see in the children".

"There is a strong component of process where the teacher is guiding through learning targets, and checking for understanding; children [are] using their own data of how they are going ... and the teacher is guiding that very carefully," she said.

For example, teacher Genevieve Esgate's class worked on a project based around the question "What does it mean to be of service?"

"We explored the notion of service, what the community would look like with or without service and the importance of service in our community," Ms Esgate said..

"Students had that opportunity to have their own choice and voice; they could look into a service that was of interest to them, so with that came engagement. Students straightaway had that desire to want to explore that because that particular service was something that meant something to them," she said.

How does the school convince parents that an entire term spent learning about whales or setting up gardens, or exploring service in the community is the best way to learn?

"We have a very engaged parent community who are very obviously interested in their children's progress," Ms Crawford said.

"To be quite honest, I think a lot of the sell of what we are doing and the power of what we do is when the kids go home every day talking about what they are learning."

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