It’s usually down to teaching staff to organise school events but at the recent Student Maker’s Conference in Melbourne, Australia, it was pupils from Dallas Brooks Community Primary School that took the lead. Hosting over 100 students from eight schools, they developed the programme for the conference, contacted sponsors, created marketing materials and ran a series of workshops on digital technologies and the learning resources they offer.
“The students became the teachers and, in their teaching, they found a great depth of knowledge and understanding,” explains Assistant Principal Anne-Maree Grozdanoski. Part of the school’s learning philosophy is based on giving students agency in steering their education, catering to individual learning needs with tasks that relate to real-world challenges and the development of life-long skills.
Students set their own learning goals and co-construct the curriculum. “Deep learning happens when students exercise autonomy over their own learning,” says Grozdanoski. Teachers are on hand to guide student inquiries, from the initial “tuning-in” phase through to “taking action”, in which students must apply their learning by creating tangible outcomes to different scenarios.
A similar approach is adopted towards personal growth with students encouraged to be self-regulated in their development by a Wellbeing Team, which includes a social worker, play therapist, speech therapist and psychologist. “We’re in one the most disadvantaged areas of Melbourne,” says Grozdanoski, “and many students here have experienced some form of trauma in their life.”
Right down to the architecture of the building, which features a circular layout, the school is designed to create a safe environment for its students and staff. This includes engaging parents in their child’s education, both inside and outside the classroom. “We believe in the principle that it takes a village to raise a child,” says Grozdanoski, “and we work together to make sure this happens.”
There are 450 primary school students at Dallas Brooks, and 150 children enrolled in its pre-school programmes. The student body spans 25 ethnic groups, with the majority from non-English backgrounds, so language and religion classes are woven into the curriculum to create a culturally diverse and inclusive environment. Sport, music, art and other pursuits are also encouraged to nurture the whole child.
Pillars of wisdom
The ideas of Michael Fullan and Joanne Quin about the six Deep Learning Competencies – character, creativity, citizenship, critical thinking, communication and collaboration – inform the school’s approach towards student development. “These are the skill sets that every young person needs to excel in to flourish in today’s complex world,” says Grozdanoski, “equipping them to tackle challenges and seize the opportunities ahead.”
With digital literacy important from a young age, the school has taken steps to establish a technology-rich environment, supported by a partnership with Microsoft. At the Student Makers Conference, participants’ groups explored and investigated a wide range of digital tools, including invention kits, robot building and programming, games systems and drones.
“The teacher-centred, traditional ‘chalk and talk’ pedagogical approach was leaving our students without a voice,” says Grozdanoski. “There was a collective understanding of the need to capture student curiosity and to reprogramme and rethink teaching across the school in order to reignite a passion for learning.”