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Children give us wings

by Rebecca Thomas

'Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back, and reasons to stay.'

- Dalai Lama

As Term 4 approaches, leaders begin to review their strategic plans and goals and start considering their direction in preparation for 2023 - maybe this story will light your way.

Listening to inspirational narratives creeping through the cracks of media hype and disillusionment the educational ecosystem is building a voice of reason. The voices are coming from the ground up. The students are speaking out.

Power sharing and student agency are the ultimate buzz for any teacher. Watching your class weave their own pathway for learning and being passionate about their destiny through rich, authentic, relevant, learning happens when it is planned for. Learning like this is messy. but not accidental. It takes brave teachers in highly trusted environments to get the results that shine.

This week a gorgeous story in particular caught my attention, and is the reflection of just that.

At the beginning of the STEAM PLD teachers planned an ambitious ‘big build’ project to support their upcoming 150 year celebration in 2023. Their strategic plan was to ‘beautify’ the school ready for the event, however, instead of getting builders and contractors in to take care of business they trusted the kids to design and make projects, everyone was involved from NE to Y8, from whānau to teacher aids.

At first, the teachers provoked the students to empathise with their existing thriving and non thriving spaces. Mapping skills, scale models, insect observations, digital film festivals, letter writing, reports, camouflage art (disguising childrens’ hands as ladybugs by painting them), terrariums, worm experiments, cabbage leaf experiments, caterpillar nurseries, budgeting, project planning, group work, song and dance, measuring…the whole curriculum was interconnected. One class even had the agency to add a letter to STEAM, calling it STREAM in favour of adding ‘reo’ to this cross curricular melting pot.

Tasked with collecting student voices from the initiative at Kawakawa Primary School, I set off with my clipboard and questions that had been co-constructed with the kaiako. What a treat!

Across the school students were eager to talk quite animatedly at me, from the young to the old, explaining how: scissors go ‘snip, snip when you use them for cutting cardboard and paper’; ‘worms don’t like eating spicy things’; ‘exoskeletons are the back part of insects which provide protection because the bugs have no backbone’; ‘transpiration is a way a plant moves things up their stems’; ‘group work was challenging because everyone had too many ideas’, each voice made me smile.

With ownership and trust and bravely listening to the students ideas to improve the school grounds each class planned the construction of: Rongoā gardens, seating around the Ki O Rahi pitches, plaques, bug houses, sign posts, worm farms, rock gardens, sculpture gardens, vegetable gardens labelled in te reo Māori and many more thoughtful ideas. The older students have plans on completion to be in charge of conducting the opening and the blessing of the new additions to their kura.

Some projects have already been constructed and the students are now in observation mode to see who moves into the bug house, ‘I hope the bugs bring a suitcase!’ a year 3 student exclaimed to me. Other projects are underway, sharing out their budgets to make sure their dreams are realised. The excitement and engagement is clear.

(The Year 3 bughouses look like they could have come out of a gardening magazine)

Imagine if teachers and communities were this excited and engaged with all strategic plans and PLD in 2023. It would certainly be a contrast to how the start of 2021 and 2022 unfolded for us all. It’s amazing to see how far we have come from being stranded in homes worrying about the experiences of our students and planning for online learning, to strengthening community bonds and undertaking authentic rich learning,

I think the lessons we can learn from this story, the lessons our kids and their teachers can help us unpack is one of true agency. Let’s extend this agency now to more strategic ideas, how we operate our professional learning of our teachers, the way we run our school systems and routines, the organising of the coming 2023 school calendar. If carefully planned for and carried out authentically then this level of engagement and excitement can be echoed in all of our schools' walls.

As Steve and I stated at the start of our own journey in February ‘Empowerment Over Fear’ is key to our happiness and wellbeing, just be brave and come close to the edge.

Close To the Edge, by Christopher Logue

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