At Garden International School (GIS), we have become increasingly interested in developing and embedding “a learning culture” in our school. This represented the key theme of our book “Enjoy the Journey – Creating a Learning Culture at GIS” that was published in the Apple iBooks store earlier this year.
Research literature on organisations regularly talks about climate and culture. Climate can and does change. Culture should not. It is often defined as “what we do around here”. An agreed set of norms and values that are followed by everyone in the organisation. Within a school, leaders may move on, the teachers may change over time, but if ideas, values and programs become “cultural” they will endure. We can define the learning culture we are building here as a “A shared belief that we are all learners who can develop and improve, both individually and institutionally through challenging ourselves and others to take risks, develop growth mindset tendencies and to value reflective practices”.
Over the past twelve months we have continued to focus on building our learning culture and have made great strides in doing so. The professional development program we have at GIS has moved from strength to strength and has focused all teachers on being critically reflective on the practise of themselves and others built around a set of individualised professional goals. These help teachers to view themselves as learners and to value reflection and feedback as a powerful driver of learning.
Parents make up a hugely important part of the GIS community and we continue to promote the idea that parents are learners too. The workshop program is now bigger than ever with 60 – 120 parents regularly attending Wednesday morning slots to learn about, and discuss educational issues. These cover a huge array of topics including (but not limited to): using technology in the classroom, student wellbeing, literacy across the curriculum, program design and parenting teenagers. One result of this program has been the creation of a Parent ICT coaching team who are trained by our Digital Learning coaches to support other parents in the use of technology for the learning of themselves and their children. In addition Student Led Parent Teacher Conferences are now being rolled out in the Secondary school so all of our parents can learn first hand what classroom experiences are like at GIS.
Student learning is at the very heart of what we do and it is this that drives all of the above programs and ideas. Once again it has been an intensely busy year at the school. Our drive towards embedding our learning culture is built around the three elements of our strategic plan: Planning for Learning, Conversations for Learning and Professional Learning. Planning for learning has driven us to further embed our GIS Learner Skills. All subjects across the school have been creating, delivering and reflecting upon “flagship” units that are allowing us to define and embed world leading skills based practices. This is being augmented by our unique Athena software that has been created by the school for students to evaluate their progress against the GIS Learner Skills through a system of cross curricular portfolios and peer review. The skills have also become much more visible around the school. On the walls, in planning and assessment as well in everyday conversations.
Planning for Learning has also allowed to explore, understand and start to embed a backward by Design planning model. This is an approach that will better allow us to plan backwards from our end of school “transfer goals” whilst mapping and tracking student learning from the beginning of school to the end. English and Maths will be the first subjects to be fully mapped across the whole school using this approach. This is exciting and will lead to an improved experience for all of our learners. In May 2017 Garden was named an “Apple Distinguished School” in recognition of learning, leadership and innovation. This builds on our status of having an “Apple Distinguished Program” which was awarded to the school in 2015 for our work on Large Scale Enquiry (LSE). The LSE program has continued to grow and remains a driver of professional development and innovation within the school but it is satisfying to be recognised for its growth and its effect on the Learning Culture at GIS.
Conversations for learning is also a key component of our Learning Culture. Creating and providing spaces for high quality, critically reflective conversations between learners (both adult and children) has been a focus in the last 12 months and will continue to be so moving forward. Coaching has also become something that we do “around here” and is something that we see as an important part of our future development.
The pursuit of creating a genuine learning culture is both worthwhile and important. We will continue to work on all of the above elements as we move into 2017/18 to ensure the culture we create at GIS offers the very best learning opportunities for our students.
This is GIS Learning Culture.
To download a copy of our iBook “Enjoy the Journey – Creating a Learning Culture at GIS” please click here. Kindly note that the link wil