Holy Cross College is a pre-kindergarten-to-Year 12 Catholic school situated in the metropolitan area of Perth, Western Australia. As an Apple Distinguished School, the College is a global leader in contemporary, 21st century pedagogies that are Christ-centred and student-focused. The College’s Vision for Learning allows for all students to be engaged, challenged and progressing.
1. Innovative Rigour
At the end of 2018 as a part of the launch of our new Strategic Direction of the College, we invented the term ‘innovative rigour’. One of the arguments that people from traditional pedagogical backgrounds have against innovative pedagogies is that there is too much emphasis on engaging and interesting activities, and no rigour. This is not correct. Our use of the phrase innovative rigour captures the notion that 21st century pedagogies require teachers to make students sweat!
I like to use the idea of strength training as an analogy: When a person wants to build their muscles, they lift heavier weights then they have previously lifted, often with a person to spot them. This causes their muscles to slightly tear, repair and grow!
We need to be doing the same thing with our learning. If we remain comfortable and do not challenge students to go beyond what they have previously achieved, then we are not growing them. This is where the innovation comes in. If you are pushing a student beyond what they can already do, then you need to rethink how you progress them.
We can all think of the time you have explained something to a student and they have given you that blank look. You then rack your brain to think of a different way to explain it – that’s innovation. Therefore, welcome to innovative rigour – push the students beyond what they can already do, and then rethink how you get them there!
Teaching in the 21st century is hard! The demands on teachers are ever-increasing but the industrial model hasn’t evolved to these demands. We differentiate learning, we personalise learning, and we grow students who are at significantly different levels of understanding and skill sets. To work in a silo doesn’t work. It takes a team to progress students!
We do that through a number of ways at Holy Cross. Firstly, we are at a slight advantage, because all of our learning spaces are created to allow for team teaching. Our K-6 classes are built without dividing walls, one space for two classes. Our Middle School and Senior School learning spaces all have large sliding doors to connect rooms. We timetable our core learning areas together so that team teaching can be leveraged.
Two teachers to 60 students is far more powerful than 1 teacher to 30 students. And, don’t forget what COVID-19 has taught us. Imagine having 1 teacher working with 20 select students, another teacher working with 20 other students, and then the final 20 students completing a lesson online. Then you can add an education assistant who could be leveraged, and even a parent helper. Suddenly, the realm of differentiation has changed dramatically!
3. Teacher As Activator
We have all heard the phrase ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’. We must step away from teachers viewing themselves as the bearers of knowledge. Just because you stood at the front and talked to the students for 45 minutes, or you got them to open their textbooks and read content – doesn’t mean that your students are learning: It just means you had your time in the spotlight.
Our job as teachers is to activate the skills within students to become better learners. There aren’t many bosses in the real world that turn to their employees, talk at them for an hour and then sit them down for a test. What does a boss do in the real world? They come up to their employee and say “I have a problem, I need you to fix it”. If our students aren’t provided with the skills to ‘fix it’, then we aren’t preparing them to become global citizens. We need to teach students how to find information, how to interpret, how to present learning, how to think critically, how to think creatively. Essentially, we should spend more time exploring Michael Fullan’s 6Cs than teaching content.
4. Intentional Use Of Space
Hand-in-hand with contemporary pedagogies is contemporary learning spaces. At Holy Cross we have great learning spaces. Contemporary learning spaces from K-12 setup to facilitate cooperative learning. There are no desks in rows. We have breakout spaces in every building to be leveraged by the students.
However, with these spaces, if a teacher just throws the students into contemporary spaces with couches, high chairs, low chairs, round tables, individual desks and breakout spaces, then it will just cause chaos, and will have no positive impact on learning.
However, intentionally training students with these spaces will unleash the magic. “If you are looking to work individually, sit here. If you are looking to collaborate, this zone would be appropriate. If you would like some more support with X, come over to this space with me”. Conversations like this increase student agency, accountability on learning, and provide purpose to learning.
5. Student Agency
There is a lot of confusion in contemporary understandings of student agency and student voice. At Holy Cross we believe it is critical for these two ideas to go together. We define agency as setting up a learning environment where students feel a sense of empowerment and ownership.
Voice is that students are provided with the opportunity to choose and to control elements of their learning process (a strategy to enable agency). In order to empower students with a student-centred pedagogical approach, we need to unlock their capacity to choose. This is agency – once again, it’s all about explicitly focusing on the skills of learning. When students are given increased agency, we can also provide increasing amounts of voice and choice, which also builds agency!
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