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Getting started, planning for success in a MLE or for collaborative practice

Started by Neill O'Reilly 22 Aug 2014 7:48am () Replies (15)

Wow are we on a ride!

Some context: Waitakiri is a merger school in Christchurch of 800 children. We are currently on dual sites and have retro fitted most of our classes and have many of our classrooms ' opened up' on one campus. We are building a new school starting in 2015 , it will be a MLE with learning studios for approx 100 - 110 children.

This year we have been preparing staff for a new paradigm.

some pre requisites:

1. Regardless of the setting ( traditional classroom/ MLE) our expectation and goal is quality teaching and learning  in a learning focussed environment

2. Our teachers need to ( and are ) prototyping involving hard and soft systems ( physical spaces and human interactions and systems)

3. The job of the teacher is to activate learning or to cause learning to occur, our spaces and practice need to enable this

What have we done?

We have looked at our moral imperative for change; we are building a new school in 2015 to serve the needs of children for the next 20-40 years this involves a reconseptualizing T&L and space 

We have a timeline for change

we have and are consulting with staff, children and community

I have researched far and wide to gain an understanding of what we are planning of collaborative practice ( and yes there is ample evidence that collaboration works) and why

We have a PL plan in place to support the change

Professional Learning plan: To just cut holes in walls and drop teachers and children in a collaborative space without planning, consultation, PL and systems is an unacceptable approach, so...

1. Staff have been involved in determining what types of learning occur in a quality learning environment

2. They have explored their own strengths and weaknesses as a team member ( Belbin teamwork profile)

3. they have visited schools in NZ and Melbourne

4. They have had PL in difficult conversations, and building an effective adult culture

5. They have been explicitly encouraged to be risk takers in a mistake enabled environment ( how else can they learn?) 

6. They have explored the 6 forms of co- teaching and have tried the various approaches reflecting on impact on self , others and children, planning next steps

7. They have explored values and beliefs as well as understanding the impact personality and work style have on collaboration

8. They are involved in a reflective process to track progress and impact of collaboration

9. They have readings and have been guided through some of the Why, How, When, What, Where of co- teaching 

10. They have been encouraged to take bite size chunks at collaboration

11. They have met weekly for two terms to plan, debate and discuss, reflect and learn

12. We worked with experts like , Mark Osborne, Cheryl Doig, Nathan Makiere Wallis, Belbin Team, to name a few to assist us along the way

I have taken the lead and am passionate about the benefits, possibilities, opportunities and potential of collaborative practice and co- teaching

...and we have much more to do, by no means do I think we have the 'only or best way', but we do have a way.


Moving to quality co- teaching and collaboration from traditional practice is not about putting a hole in a wall. There is to much at stake. The well being of staff, the learning and well being of children and the support and enagagement of and from our communities. I am concerned when I hear about the rush to jump into this new paradigm without planning and processes

Some of the really concerning things I am hearing about:

1. Teachers teaching less because they are ' roaming' while their partner does the teaching. ( less reading, maths and writing groups seen each day)

2. Worksheet and busy activities rather than quality learning

3. A move to team or co teaching with little or no understanding of the beliefs and values, and principles that underpin the change in practice

4. A lack of systems, support, PL and consultation

5. A lack of understanding about the underlying principles of a quality learning environment

This is one of the most exciting times in Educational history. we have an opportunity like never before, let's do it well!



  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 22 Aug 2014 9:37am ()

    Hi Neill

    Thank you for sharing the beginning stages of your journey! I look forward to hearing more as you and your school progress.

    Seeing how many different things need to be considered by a school that wants to move into collaborative teaching/MLEs is really very useful, and even knowing that there is still more to consider shows that it isn't just a "knock a hole in the wall" idea.

    I'm off now to go and find out about the "6 forms of co-teaching" you mention. If you could enlighten me a little or help send me in the right direction I would be grateful Smile. I haven't heard about them before.

    All of your concerns are really valid. With your third point of ensuring an understanding of beliefs, values and principles that underpin the change in practice—it is so important to have a shared vision and understanding of why we're making this change. This is important with any change.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    - Nathaniel

  • Neill O'Reilly (View all users posts) 23 Aug 2014 6:35am ()

    Hi Nathaniel

    Thanks! Exciting times,

    Go to:



  • Mandi (View all users posts) 23 Aug 2014 7:23pm ()

    Hi Neill, 

    Thanks so much for posting your journey to date!

    We are on a similar journey at Te Kowhai School just west of Hamilton.  Our school is nealry 125 years old and most rooms are traditional single cell teaching spaces.  However, we have embarked on developing the MLE concept and collaborative teaching and learning throughout the school.  Our senior synidcate (Year 7 and 8) works in an open hub with 2 teachers and has done for the last 2 1/2 years.  Our Year 0-1 teachers are awaiting the completion of the building of a 3 teacher/ 3 class hub.  This project was somewhat delayed due to funding etc so we decided to 'take the bull by the horns' and run with the MLE concept in 2 single cell classes which are next door to each other and connected by a corridor at the back.  Our journey has certainly had many highlights and some awkward moments, too.  We would totally agree that the development of a strong vision is the first step to creating an sustainable MLE programme.  We have developed our school vision, values, learner qualities and principles and this provides us all with a strong scaffold from which to build our programmes.  This applies to all classes, not just those that are built in a more open manner.  Our journey will continue for many months/ years to come and I would love to continue to hear of your progress and also of any worthwhile research and readings that you may come across.  It is an exciting time for us all but we are all very realistic about the way in which things need to be done to provide the learning benefits for our kids...after all, that's what it is all about!

    Good luck!

  • Mairi Heather (View all users posts) 23 Aug 2014 10:56pm ()

    Kia orana Neil,

    Thank you for sharing your journey.  Like Mandi, we are planning in Rarotonga with our MOE to build and embark on the MLE concept after part of our Avatea Primary School was burnt down.  10 single cell rooms which included our Literacy resource room, library, ICT & staff rooms were all gutted. Although this project is currently on hold due to delay in fundings, we have received the first lots of classroom equipments like student desks, chairs, bean bags, storage shelves on wheels with white board on top, etc.  We have just started to apply the MLE concept in our Year 6-8 single cell classrooms and like you said, "exciting times" :) we are loving this part already.  The next challenging part are the ones you have just outlined above. Whew!  Keep me informed please of the outcome of your concerns because we share the same or similar concerns.  

  • Lisa Allcott (View all users posts) 26 Aug 2014 2:10pm ()

    Kia orana Mairi,
    Back in 2008/09 a couple of my National Library colleagues (Diane and Alice) worked with a group of teachers from the Cook Islands (including Avatea School) on developing their school libraries through the PRIDE project.
    So we were really sorry to hear about the fire and your classrooms and library all being destroyed. But it's also great to hear that it's become an opportunity to work on creating modern learning environments in your school. If you are thinking about how to redevelop your library as an MLE as well, you might like to check out the information on our website - it will support your thinking on this challenging but very satisfying shift from traditional library provision to a service that directly supports student literacy and learning.

    Lisa Allcott

  • Neil Fraser (View all users posts) 25 Aug 2014 9:08am ()

    Morning Neill

    Thank for the entry and sharing your story. You have raised some interesting points in your journey towards 2015. It's certainly exciting times for you and I hope it goes well.

    We have been on this journey for over 3 years now. As you have outlined, such changes need to be planned and one has to ensure that all staff are on board. And what I have found, although one can do the theory very well, it has to be sustained when reality hits. Teachers quickly realize that what works in one school or even learning area within a school may not work in theirs. It may simply depend on the personnel in the space as well as how the environment has been set up (physical building layout).

    Your mentioning of "risk taking" resonates with me. Risk taking is a vital component in a school's culture when taking on board a new vision. Teachers must feel supported and encouraged to take the risks otherwise they will keep doing what they have always done and it’s something that all leaders need to embrace in their schools and teams/syndicates.

    This year we have changed from single cells to open, collaborative classrooms in a school built in the 1960s. They are definitely not "modern" as we have been bumping our heads against the MOE regulations and restrictions. Although well intended, it surprises me every day when dealing with the MOE how their blanket treatment of all schools makes the hill so much more steeper to climb.

    One such example, which the MOE has insisted on, is the acoustics of the learning environments. Single cell classrooms are not made for approx 70 students in 3 of these spaces when opened up. However, with the excellent work done by our teachers from the very start, I can honestly say that this is a lesser of an issue than made out to be. In all 4 of our areas, the students' noise levels have dropped due (1) to higher engagement across the whole school, and (2) students have become more aware of the impact they have on the learning of others. We have found there to be a far greater "learning buzz" in the collaborative spaces than single cell classrooms - and at lower noise levels. Where students often talked across the classroom in single cell rooms, it no longer happens in the larger environments. And ironically enough – one way the MOE suggest to improve acoustics in a 1960s school is to put vertiface on the walls to absorb the sound. Yet classrooms are environments where students’ work are displayed – therefore we put posters/work up on the walls, which again add to the acoustics problems. (I can also imagine what ERO will be writing in their report if we had to keep our walls clear of students’ work).

    Our revised 10YPP is now nearly 18 months overdue as we are at loggerheads with the MOE. The MOE insists that we spend all our money (approx $650k) to develop one area and not across the various learning areas. While I can see their point to one extend as they wish to see one area developed into a MLE to meet all their guidelines, it is also very impractical. If that is the case, it will take our schools four 5YPA cycles (ie 20 years) to develop the MLE throughout the school. So somewhere, the reality has to be balanced with the ideal.

    Neil - Ngatea Primary School


  • Mairi Heather (View all users posts) 26 Aug 2014 9:18pm ()

    Kia orana Lisa,

    Thank you for responding and Yes the PRIDE project did serve us well, however it has been ceased and we no longer have that wonderful support.  Sad to say though, our MOE secretary does not support the idea of another library which we still strongly feel that we need one as we only have only one internet provider which at most times slows down or shuts down on us.  I will check out the library information website and will definitely pass it onto our staff at the right time. My concern including our staff is.... How do we convince our Secretary that a library is necessary for us?

    I do agree the unsolved arson did provide us with an opportunity.  Not only did it allow us to create MLE in our school, it was also decided by the cabinet that a merge with our neighbouring school Nikao was necessary. The new school will be called Apii Nikao because of its location.  Despite that, we are still anticipating 'exciting times' in the near future.  Cant wait!!


  • Mike Malcolm (View all users posts) 03 Oct 2014 10:41am ()

    BYOD seems to be something that many schools are pursuing.  In an effort to help schools form connections and find others to share practise with / visit etc we have created a google doc for schools to add their name to so that others may reach out to for help.


  • Lisa (View all users posts) 03 Oct 2014 11:44am ()

    Thanks Mike - a great idea. I've added in our school!! It would be great for people to actually use it and contribute to it. We have been on the journey for over 3 years and at the beginning it was a very lonely journey but it is so exciting to see and hear what is happening out there. I look forward to more posts

  • PatriciaW (View all users posts) 03 Oct 2014 12:05pm ()

    Hi Neill,

    I am a newy to VLN and to MLE. A couple of teacher + myself are planning to start a 'pilot' in term 4 in our school with year 2 children. Thank you very much for sharing your journey, I will be following you closely to take a as many pointers as possible!


    : D

  • PatriciaW (View all users posts) 03 Oct 2014 12:10pm ()

    Hi Mandi and Mairi,

    Looking forward to reading more abour your experiences as well.

    It seems you all are one step ahead shedding some light on some of us who are just starting.

    All the best!


  • Helen H (View all users posts) 03 Oct 2014 1:28pm ()

    Hi everyone

    For those who are just about to start on this incredible journey, I would be very interested in how you have involved your communities and any reactions you have had or are people just trialing first then going to the communities afterwards for feedback/forward as I am doing some research in this area and hearing from you would be very helpful.

    Thanks in anticipation.


  • Tracey Janes (View all users posts) 03 Oct 2014 1:37pm ()

    Hi Helen,

    We (I) actually started to use MLP and self directed learning before we moved to the new MLE space, which helped to 'acclimatise' the students and their work habits before unleshing them in this big new room! This went well I think as there wasn't such a 'culture shock' for them when we did transition.

    We also held a community open evening where we invited a speaker (Greg Carrol) to come and talk a little nbit about MLE /MLP to our mostly receptive, but a number of very sceptical parents. Again, I think this helped to give people some time and a chance to consider the arrangement.

    The only feedback so far has been good - which may be a little unrealistic as we are almost certainly not getting it right all of the time, but we have kept the lines of communication with parents open, and they know they can come in at anytime to have a peek (some have, most haven't) and most importantly, the kids have been happy so this has helped convince the community that MLEs can work.

    Hope this helps. Do get in touch if I can help further.

  • Tamara Bell  (View all users posts) 03 Oct 2014 1:53pm ()

    Kia ora Helen,


    We are having an online discussion about just that in another space on the VLN, you are welcome to join us there too as it might be of help. 





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