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A New Voice

The design vision was and continues to be the creation of learning environments that maximise learning opportunities...


Rosemary DeBono

Principal St Mary’s Primary School, North Sydney


1. You recently converted grade 5 and 6 into a flexible learning space. What was the reason?

The impetus for the change was the development of our school-wide pedagogy-‘Our Voice Learning Principles’. To enable effective implementation of the pedagogy it was essential we reconceptualise how, when, where and why ‘best’ learning occurs. This involved moving away from classrooms based on an industrial model of education to the creation of flexible learning environments that foster learner and teacher engagement and ownership, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, interconnectedness, informed risk taking, accountability, shared decision making and reflective practice and learning.

2. How is this delivery of teaching different from the traditional?

The role of the teacher expands from what Jay McTighe1 terms ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘facilitator of meaning making’ and coach. It challenges and changes the perception that learning can only occur in a particular way or space. I like to describe it as ‘borderless learning’, rather than the traditional borders of ‘my desk and seat’ model. It involves the learner having a voice in and control of their learning and learning spaces reflecting and supporting effective pedagogy.

3. Did you have a vision in mind?

The vision came from our school vision, mission and learning beliefs. The design vision was and continues to be the creation of learning environments that maximise learning opportunities, outcomes and achievements for all students by supporting the effective implementation of pedagogy, diversity, differentiated learning, student voice and creative, critical, engaged learners

4. What were the key areas of importance in the design of this learning space?

We wanted learning spaces that enabled students and teachers to take ownership of their learning and develop an understanding of where and how they learn best. We also needed to free teachers to take risks, work collaboratively and change practice. Essential in the designs were learning spaces that allowed for movement, problem solving, working in groups and individually, reflection, collaboration and explicit teaching. The melding of outdoor and indoor learning spaces and technology were also important design elements.

5. What are the outcomes you are expecting?

Ongoing improvement of all student’s intellectual and social-emotional learning outcomes is a given. This we believe will result from improved learner engagement; choices in learning; differentiated, personalised learning; and active reflection and evaluation.

6. Why do you think you will do better as opposed to traditional learning?

Rather than ‘do better’ I prefer to see this as a continual improvement approach to student achievement and teacher craft. This approach involves being very clear on purpose, with ongoing assessment and evaluation of the effectiveness of pedagogical and learning space design and having the flexibility and responsibility to redesign these in response to the changing needs of the learners.

7. Did your teachers require re-training?

The development of our school-wide pedagogy formed the essential basis for the creation of our new learning environments. One of the major impediments to effective pedagogy, as identified by the teachers, was the lack of flexibility, space and connectedness in our traditional classrooms, the heavy furniture particularly was an inhibitor to change. Therefore it was not so much retraining, but creating a culture of interconnection and ‘the extraordinary’ where teachers and students feel comfortable at taking risks, thinking ‘outside the box’, working collaboratively, engaging in dialogue, questioning and researching as a professional learning community.

8. Is this delivery of teaching/ learning something you will carry out throughout the rest of the school?

Yes. The positive impact of the new learning spaces on stage three students’ learning and teacher practice has provided the change impetus for the rest of the school. After a great deal of research, planning, experimenting and reflection by teachers and students, kindergarten has now been refurnished to create a learning environment more conducive to early learning principles and stage one (years one and two) are looking forward to their new furniture arriving in the next few weeks. Stage two (years three and four) are currently in the planning stage. It is a big investment, but I think it is one that is definitely indicating improved outcomes in terms of engagement, learning and a whole refreshment of our teaching and learning.

Interview with Rosemary DeBono (Principal, St Mary’s Primary School, North Sydney and Connie Glover (BFX Director of Education).

1.Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins ‘Understanding By Design Framework’ ASCD, WWW.ASCD.ORG

Introductory workshop paper presented by Jay McTighe to CEO schools, Archdiocese of Sydney, 30 April 2012 p. 6

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