Innovative Learning Environments Expo 1: Brentwood Secondary

Innovative Learning Environments Expo 1
Sandown Racecourse Springvale, Tuesday 20 July 2010
Presentation transcript
Modification of existing environments
Brentwood Secondary College
This podcast is brought to you by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development,
Welcome to Session 2 of the Innovative Learning Environments Expo. This presentation is from
Brentwood Secondary College and today Vicki Forbes, the principal of Brentwood, Secondary College
will be sharing with you how they have made modifications of their existing environment. I am sure
you will enjoy this session and if you have any questions just please keep them to the end and we
hope to get to them if we have time. So if you would like to join me in welcoming Vicki today.
Vicki Forbes:
Thank you, everyone. I didn’t want to use the, the lectern because it’s so far away and I want to be
able to move around a little bit. What I wanted to do was just, give you bit of an overview of what we
did at Brentwood Secondary College. I responded particularly to the...being one of those perfect
students, I responded to the questions that Lynn had given us in talking about coming along to this
present...and giving a presentation about what we’re doing at Brentwood. So I wanted to just go
through the origins of our project which we have called TLC, which refers to “Thinking, Learning and
Creativity.” And as I move through the presentation, I will give you a bit of background about how that
started. I am not going to read through all of the slides. What I really wanted to focus on was...I guess
what I’ve learned about change in this process and I think that’s perhaps been the most powerful thing
about, the process for me as a principal of the school and I think the...the learning for the teachers
and, in their development has been really important and of course all of that is wrapped around the
learning for the kids. So, the origins of our project. The project was called “Thinking, Learning and
Creativity” and it came about as a result of the Leading Schools Fund initiative of the first Blueprint.
And what that really did was put some pressure on in some really positive ways in terms of how we
moved to develop something quite new. So the origins of the TLC, we had this opportunity to apply for
some significant funding and the funding involved three extra teachers over and above our entitlement
which we could use to develop a new program. The funding also provided an opportunity for a new
building and as many of you will be aware who were around then that that was too good an opportunity
to pass up. So we had to work out what we wanted to do in terms of writing a proposal to have an
opportunity to be successful around the Leading Schools Fund strategy. So we looked at areas where
we thought there were some challenges and focused on Year 7 where we really believed that our
students were underachieving. Our attitudes to school survey results were fairly poor and really we
hadn’t had the impact that we thought we would have on integrating thinking skills, metacognition,
learning how to learn into our classrooms. The Leading Schools Fund resource, we were successful in
our proposal but writing the proposal was a really important part of developing a vision or an
educational rationale because it required someone to actually sit down and do the deep thinking that’s
required when you have to write in a very articulate and concise way. The resource as I said was
fantastic and it really gave us an opportunity to play and to experiment and the school also put a lot of
money into the project.
What research informed our design? I am a great lover of Julia Atkin’s work because so much of it for
me is linked to relationships and how you nurture learning. Julia introduced me to the Herrmann Brain
Dominance Instrument many years ago in the, in the 90s and I have been, particularly in love with that
model as a way of helping people to understand how they learn and have used it with staff and...and
with students. Some of the...the key quotes, I guess if you like our key statements that really framed
our thinking came from the work of Yoram Harpaz and his discussions about communities of thinking
and the notion of having a concluding performance or presentation was very much an influence in fact
during the design of our building and in our thinking as well. We wanted to create a space where ICT
was just like the lights. You just turn it on or you pick up a piece of electrical equipment when you
need it, when you want it. So the key thinking was around flexibility and we also wanted the
opportunity for students to develop those skills that relate to thinking, learning and creativity. So Art
Costa’s work was very influential in our thinking in the original design and I will just let you read that
statement because that really helped to gain to shape our thinking in terms of constructing the vision.
As I mentioned, the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument model helped to improve our
understanding about how we learnt as adults at Brentwood. I first used this model with the whole staff
some nine years ago, and there’s many different models around on the market, there’s the MyersBriggs model, there’s the DISC Profiles, there’s Belbin Teams, but what the Herrmann Brain
Dominance Instrument model does is that it gives you a language that focuses on colours when you
talk about strengths and weaknesses rather than particular traits. The HBDI has a game called the
diversity game, which is trademarked and we use that with...we adapted that and used it with the
students so that they began to develop an understanding of their thinking preferences. And when they
talked about their preferences they talked about colours, so their strength was, “Oh, you know, I’m
really a blue-green type of person, so it’d be good if I had someone who was red and yellow to work
with me.” And it’s a very non-judgemental way to talk about preferences when you use the word
The colours were also very influential in the fit-out and design of the building. This is what the physical
space looks like. It’s an extension of, just focus up here, there’s...these...these two doors here are
attached to the original school building and this section is new. This area was the performance space
which was very much influenced by, as I said, the communities of thinking model and the ideas of
performance. There’s a small stage across here, just a platform and there are double doors that open
here out into a large courtyard area and there’s a bit of a grassy knoll around here. These are offices,
store spaces and classroom areas. One of the great things about the design is the curved walls
because they really dissipate the noise and just you can...this is sort of standing at one edge and this
is the central performance area that’s known as TLC1, just around the back there is a small platform.
There’s a large screen. These are offices. These are sort of more traditional type classrooms. So
what in effect happens is that students can move in and out of the spaces. And think if I have to
describe one word for my view or the vision that we originally had around the design of the TLC space
and the curriculum, it would be flexibility. So that...there’s the opportunities for students to choose how
they learn, where they learn and what tools they use as they move through their learning. So what
does it look like on the timetable? TLC has become the name that’s use for the subject and the space.
So the kids talk about, “Oh, I’m doing TLC today” and then they’ll all be...also be suddenly saying,
“Well, I’m going to the TLC.” So it’s sort of, just got blurred in terms of outsiders understanding of the
two, uses. It’s an interdisciplinary subject combining History, Geography and English. ICT has been
integrated into the TLC curriculum and it focuses on the explicit teaching of thinking skills,
metacognition, learning how to learn and reflective practises.
What do teachers do differently? I think what the Leading Schools Fund allowed us to do was to put
extra teaching time into the development of a program and give teachers the opportunity to collaborate
and to really contest their ideas. And I think that I would probably underline the notion of contesting
because what teachers... what we as a profession don’t do particularly well, I don’t think, is we don’t
argue and really challenge each other’s thinking and push each other such that we come up with the
best ideas and the best way forward. And that was allowed to happen because in the first couple of
years, I was able to give the team of teachers who took over the program a lot of time to actually
develop and work on the curriculum design. They learn with the students. They engage in the explicit
teaching. They allow students to be involved in a lot of decision-making about their learning and they
also model the sorts of qualities that they want the students to develop.
Now, why is it different? You might say that this is what primary schools have been doing for a long
time or this is what great teachers have been doing for a long time, and in fact, it is what competent
teachers and great teachers have been doing for a long time. Why it’s different really, I think is
because we now have all 10 teachers who teach at Year 7 who teach TLC have reached agreement
about the best way to do things and that is different because it means that for every student that
comes into Year 7, it doesn’t depend on which teacher you get in determining what quality of education
you get in those subjects, and that is different certainly’s something that, as we all know that
often the quality, the education meant the...the teacher that you got and there were some teachers
who are better than other teachers and the way learning was delivered, even though the course
content was the same, it was often different in terms of what actually happened in classrooms. And I
think what I was saying before about this notion of actually teachers having the time to get together
and agree on “the what” and “the how” of the learning in the classroom and that opportunity to contest
each other’s ideas and reach agreement has been integral to the development of a common
curriculum delivered in a common way.
What do students do differently? I think probably the most powerful thing has been making decisions
about their learning, actually having the English phrase is “choice and voice” or “voice and choice” but
really it’s about having decisions and taking control, giving students choice, helps them to feel
empowered. They of course don’t have completely free choice. It’s negotiated with their teachers.
They are able to articulate the why and the how. I can go into the TLC centre and talk to kids and say
what are your learning and why and they are very articulate. ICT is just a matter of course. It’s there.
They use it as they need it. There are also books from the library that are there. They use those as
they need them. So it’s really helping them to be independent, self-directed learners. They are very
good at using reflective practises. They of course have digital portfolios but the culture is very...I can
walk into a classroom and hear students having conversations to each other about, “Well, what did you
learn when you were doing that? And what would you do differently next time?” I watched a group of
students giving a presentation the other day. They were responding to a fertile question and this was
just around the teaching of history and the fertile question was, “Was ancient Egypt an advanced
society?” And so each child had had to investigate that and then produce an item to be presented at
a, a sort of uh, an antiquities road show as what they call it, where they showed off their models and
designs but they actually had to stand up and talk about and respond to that question. And what
impressed me most was, at the end of each little presentation, they had obviously been trained to say,
“Well, what I learnt about this and what I would do differently” and then the interrogation from the rest
of the class was very much around that notion of, “How did you learn this or what would you do
differently or what was your thinking behind that?” So they’re far more articulate about that notion of
being learners. They’re also happy to teach others and teach the teachers. And the thing that I think
gives me the greatest joy when I go into the classes is that they’re very proud of their learning because
there’s that intrinsic connection often, because they have had the choice to make. They look and
sound happy and they say stuff like, “Well, I love TLC” which is fantastic to hear.
Individual learning needs are met through that notion of flexibility and choice and negotiated learning
tasks. The teachers structure the groups in a variety of ways and this is something that primary school
teachers have always done, and it’s really the notion of learning through growth using Vygotsky’s Zone
rather than learning to achieve a standard, although, we are still tested on standards. But what I think I
learnt most was around the notion of change and at this...this time, I must have got hold of John
Kotter’s book on managing change and he talks about an Eight-Stage Process. And what I’ve tried to
do in this table is on the left I have listed the stages that he identifies and then I’ve tried to link that to
our process in terms of the TLC. So establishing that sense of urgency really came out of the Leading
Schools Fund proposal. There was a deadline. There were guidelines and the pressure was on to
meet that deadline. And the motivation was very high because it was a lot of money, it was a building
and it was three extra teachers. Creating the guiding coalition; the single most important thing I did
was appoint the right person as leader and give them the time to really get their head into that space.
And every time I think that we have looked at change in schools, we have taken a change initiative and
we’ve overlayed it onto someone else’s already busy role. So they haven’t’s not just the
physical time, it’s having the head space to really think about, investigate, research, design and
develop a program.
The TLC team of teachers worked as a professional learning team. They were...they self-nominated
but were selected as well. So they could self...they could nominate but they had to be selected and
they had to be able to fit that into their curriculum in terms of their timetable. So we had a team of
teachers in the beginning who were doing nothing else but working in TLC. So they had a lot of time to
really think about, collaborate and contest each other’s views. One of the most surprising things for
the team leader who actually had a History background...remember this is a new subject that’s
integrating English, History and Geography, her background was History. There were 10 teachers in
the group. She was blown away with how long it took the English teachers to come to an agreement
about what they thought was the best way to introduce the teaching of essay writing in Year 7. If I had
have asked the head of English 12 months before this, “Does everybody do the same thing across the
10 Year 7 classes in English?” She should...would’ve said, “Yes, we have an agreed model.” But
when it actually got down to sitting around the table and trying to explain what that agreed model
would look like to non-English teachers, it was very clear that there was different mental models in
everybody’s head about how best to teach the writing of an essay at Year 7. And this is where the
contesting of ideas came in. It wasn’t just about collaboration. It was actually arguing about the best
way to move forward and building a shared understanding, but then reaching a shared agreement
about, “Well, this is the way we are going to introduce essay writing at Year 7 at Brentwood” and it took
a lot of discussion. The vision and the strategies; the vision really came out of the proposal that we
had to write but what the team of teachers, the TLC team then did is their very first step, was that they
constructed a Y chart and they wanted to collect together an understanding of what it will look like,
what it will sound like and what it will feel like for the students in the TLC program. We had the VELS
documents that were just being introduced. So it really meant that they had to start at the very
beginning with a clean slate and this is another element of change that I think we often do in schools.
We try to overlay stuff on top of practises that are already established rather than starting from the
beginning. So the fact that they had to start from the beginning, they had to really contest their
thinking around what’s essential to learn in the traditional discipline of history. What’s essential to
learn in the traditional discipline of geography and what literacy skills do we want to transfer across the
entire curriculum in this subject? Communicating the change vision; this was really much...very much
again that notion of giving the group time and the physical time as well as the head space time
because the original team only worked in TLC, they had a lot of time to really do the thinking and they
had a lot of time to communicate. John Kotter talks about the major reasons why change initiative’s
fail and he identifies communication as perhaps being one of the single most important things. In fact,
in his book, he writes “Reasons Why Change Fails” = lack of communication x 10 x 100 x 1,000. And
the only way that communication can happen such that you can ensure a shared understanding is the
people actually have to sit down and talk and talk and talk. I was able to quarantine the time again
because of that funding. Broad-based action, and these again the 5, 6, 7, 8 are directly from Kotter’s
Eight Stage Change model. We were able to encourage a culture of risk taking and I used the
language of trialling and risk taking as did the leader of the program.
So people knew that this was a trial. They had each other for support and the support was there from
the way the curriculum was structured in terms of the total school curriculum and also in terms of the
priority around staffing. Generating short term wins was really visibly recognising and the innovation
branch have done that a lot in a way they have been able to promote what’s happened in schools that
were involved in Leading Schools Fund. Consolidating the change and generating more change;
staying the course. This has been the really challenging part because every area of the curriculum in
a secondary school wants priority and there is always a push to change the way the TLC is structured.
We have two lots of three periods then one four-period block, that puts enormous pressure on
everything else on the curriculum. So there was always pressure to change that because of the
implications further up the timetable. There’s always pressure on the staffing. People want to move
out of the program and that’s...that’s great because the whole concept was that we had a team that
could be the innovators and that could...teaching in TLC could be like a, an innovation bubble where
people could try things and then move out into other classes across the curriculum and spread their
learning. Reinvigorating the process; we are now four years down the track and it’s very, it will be very
easy for the whole position to sort of just, to come into play and people have to be continually I guess
working on revisiting their vision, revisiting the values that underpin that vision and going back the Y
chart about what will...what would TLC look like, feel like and sound like has been really powerful for
the teachers who work in the program.
The other research around change that really helped me to understand the way we respond to change
was the work of William Bridges who talked about transitions. He talked about changes being the
physical building, the new curriculum the new design but it was the transition that really made or broke
a change process and this is the...the sort of the psychological part of the change. And in terms of
what we’re able to do with the Leading Schools Fund was to attend to the psychological process of
putting teachers into a new environment and asking them to change their practises. So what did we
learn? What I learnt was that often and probably the...the key role in a secondary school where we
demanded almost competing skill sets was the role of a curriculum coordinator and curriculum
coordinators are expected to be experts around teaching and learning and the content and often,
creative. But because they lead major change usually in schools, they’re also expected to have almost
an opposing set of skills which is the organisational strategy, implementation-type skills. And so I think
it’s, it’s been really important in terms of my learning around who I put in charge of a major change and
assessing the skill set that they have because often a person who has the...the uh, skill to develop and
implement strategy may not necessarily be an expert around what the change is where...and then
usually it’s to do with some area of teaching and learning. It takes time, time and more time. As I said
from the beginning, in the year 2000, we had a charter that had a focus on thinking skills, learning how
to learn, metacognition and embedding elearning into all of that and it was happening in gaps. You
know, there were...there were pockets of fantastic teaching across the school but it just takes a lot of
time to change the way people, traditionally think and traditionally practise their...their skill or their craft
in the classroom because even the younger teachers in our schools have come through a system
where what we call the old fashioned style of teaching was pretty much the default and that’s...that’s
where people moved to when, when they’re out of their comfort zone. So in terms of the change,
we’ve had to continually improve and continue to innovate, which means someone’s got to be doing
the pushing. The other thing that was a really big point of learning change for the teachers wasn’t
necessarily change for the students. So the students don’t know any different in terms of coming into
a secondary school, coming into Year 7. The teachers thought it was a really big deal what they were
doing in terms of innovative, and being creative but it was normal to the first group of Year 7s that just
came into the school and started the program, so that...that anxiety for the students was perhaps
And the same with technology, what we can often think is some creative or innovative, may well just be
par for the course, for the kids. So it’s a, it was a really important point to listen...learn and remember.
So what outcomes have been achieved out? Attitudes to school survey data has definitely improved.
The teachers believe that student learning has improved. The students in the way they direct their
learning and manage their learning, there’s a belief that that’s improved. It certainly looks like it’s
improved. In terms of academic gains, we don’t have a benchmark because we couldn’t have a
placebo group to compare and in the time that the program happened, we moved from CSF to VELS
and then from AIM to NAPLAN. What the teachers definitely believe and what I believe in observing
the teachers is that they have developed their skills considerably, and that learning has been
transferred across the school. There has been a core group who have stayed in the program and
teachers cycle in and out. So, they might spend two years teaching at Year 7 and then move back into
the rest of the curriculum. And teachers definitely have higher expectations of student learning and the
products that students can...students can produce. And there’s the list of references for you. But I
think the...the message for me is that it just takes time and more time and more time and you can’t
relax and to embed a completely new way of working across the whole school, remember this is just a
Year 7 program, I envisage will continue to take more time. So thank you.
Thanks Vicki. I think we’ve seen here today, it’s not just about the building, the most integral part
about the education revolution. I suppose it’s about what’s happening inside the buildings and the
support that, leadership give the, teachers as well. There’s a really good quote inside the E5 black
album just in front in one of the, the doors that they have on the front and it talks about the experience
of disorientation and alienation is profound. And unless teachers are given considerable psychological
and practical support over a longer period of time, which is what you were saying, they will revert back
to their old familiar practises. So I’d like you today, to please join me in thanking Vicki for her
presentation and her time and her, and sharing her expertise. Thank you. We will be commencing
lunch now if you’d like to make your way down to the multi-purpose room and session three will begin
at 20 past 1.00. Thank you.
Close: For more information about the topics discussed in this podcast, please visit the Department for Education in
Early Childhood Development’s website: