This was a guided tour of the new campus at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, led by Maurie Abraham, the Principal and he was assisted by the Chairman of the Board, Alan Curis.
The campus is unlike any secondary campus I have ever visited. It is built to accommodate 1350 day students, but currently it has a roll of around 120 year 9s. The roll is expected to be added to year by year for the next five years. There is a wide central corridor, with large open areas branching off in either side. There are no classrooms as such, however, within each broad space, there are smaller room that can be closed off if necessary.
The feel of the building is much more in line with what a modern library, university campus or software development company office might feel like. It is physically set up to encourage openness and collaboration.
The hierarchical structure of the school is also very different. Although there are still traditional positions of responsibility like Principal and Deputy Principal, the boundaries between teacher/student are somewhat more blurred than in traditional schools. Students are on a first name basis with their teachers and freely roam all areas of the campus, including the staffroom.
There are no classrooms, form-groups, timetables, bells, periods or subjects. As a teacher from a ‘traditional’ school, the question begs, how on earth does anything get learnt?! (or taught)
Yet, despite the apparent lack of structure, the year 9s were busy doing all sorts of things. The walls were covered with examples of student work.
Whole term themes underpin the direction of the school. Teachers come together to discuss which achievement objectives from the curriculum are to be covered in that term and what will have to happen in order the learning to take place.
Students are also given scope to choose their own direction within the theme. Students are free to explore their own curiosity and pursue particular areas of interest, while linking it back to a particular theme.
What struck me a lot within the way students self-direct themselves was the way they are encouraged to be self-aware of their goals and what they will have to do along the way to achieve them. Maurie quoted an example where a student articulated that he needed to choose a maths option in an elective area to ensure he had prerequisite knowledge to do further maths that would lead to credits in NCEA in three or four years’ time, enabling him to get into the university course he needs.
Such a pedagogical structure places massive amount of responsibility on the individual student. This is not a fact lost on the staff at Hobsonville Point. They seek not to fill young minds full of facts, but develop a sustainable disposition of self-awareness so students are able to know their own strengths and weaknesses and develop them appropriately.
I was inspired, not so much by the building, but the philosophy of education at Hobsonville Point. It is about taking the onus of teaching content off the teacher, putting them in more of a position of ‘guide’ or ‘facilitator’. The onus is on the student to be responsible for their own learning, but in a very caring and supportive environment.
As I reflect on the big picture of society, and question what do I want to come out of process of education in New Zealand, for me the answer is not ‘people filled with knowledge’ but ‘community minded individuals, filled with drive, conviction, responsibility, collaboration, diligence and determination’. Can this happen only at a campus like Hobsonville Point Secondary School? No, I think it can happen anywhere. But it has more to do with the teachers and leaders within schools than the physical buildings they occupy.