Monday, 22 October 2018

Going Places

The Power of Future Focussed Holistic Education

It is now several weeks since Waterloo School’s production, ‘Going Places’ played to our school community. As a staff we all hesitated at taking on this whole school production in our modest school hall. With a roll of 555 students it seemed a daunting task to be able to give all the children a meaningful experience on stage. Initially the logistics of doing this just seemed too hard but it had been a few years since the last whole school production and we sensed the time was right to ‘give it a whirl’. We collectively decided we didn’t want to just buy in a scripted show as we felt it would not engage much thinking or ownership and only a few ‘stars’ would benefit from the experience.

The term proved to be tough with record breaking sickness amongst the children and the staff. The winter grey tones greeted most days making us wonder if the rain and cold would ever retreat.

As a staff we had settled on an inquiry theme of ‘Migration’ to delve into with the children. With 23 ethnicities in the school we felt it to be a potentially powerful topic being so relevant to our families and the children’s lives. It coincided with our country deciding to up the number of refugees we would allow into New Zealand, supporting the importance of embracing diversity.

As it turned out these decisions, firstly an end of term production and then to study ‘Migration’, proved to be a mighty combination.

With an initial whole staff planning brainstorm on the large whiteboard in the staff room, the individual teachers set off with a great deal of autonomy to ‘frame out’ with their teams how the inquiry concept could unfold. There were so many sub factors within the theme such as human migration, animal migration, the ‘push and pull’ factors of migration and so much more.

Everyone got into it and before we knew it, mid-term arrived allowing us just 5 weeks to start planning for our production. It made so much sense to use our migration theme as the focus and quickly the production title of ‘Going Places’ was settled on. A small group of production enthusiasts led the way empowering the classes to use their creativity to come up with their focus item(s) representing their learning. A child was selected from each year group to form a group that ended up being called the ‘bus stop kids’. The idea was for these 6 children to ‘bump into’ each other at the bus stop a little confused to where they were going and where they had come from. Their intermittent brief conversations were the links that merged the various items to make the production merge into a meaningful whole with the final message from Year 6 boy Archit:

Migration has brought us all together. To come half way around the world has taken courage and resilience. We all have the opportunity, but more so, the responsibility to embrace and learn from each other’s cultures. That would bring respect, peace and aroha to the world. Imagine that! Thanks for coming tonight.

It was powerful and authentic stuff, whether it was thinking deeply about the theme of migration and its many sub questions (e.g. aren’t we all migrants?) to the team work required to present the items. We all worked hard trying to do our best get all our students on stage in the old school hall—beauty came with this simplicity. What will be remembered is the creativity of the items, the expressive dance, the individual family stories of migration, the stirring singing and the musical items.

The whole process was remarkably seamless and harmonious. The community absolutely loved it and we received many lovely emails and posts on social media which of course was very nice to hear.  This is quote from an email from a parent represents the type of feedback we received.

"I expected that I would enjoy the parts that had my kids in it, but to otherwise not be as completely entertained and diverted and at times quite emotionally affected by all of the performances as I was. I laughed. I at times almost cried. It was just so incredibly good that I still can’t quite believe it. Absolute credit to all of the staff, parents and students."

But the point of this article is not to ‘promote’ our school production but to focus on a few things that can get lost in the plethora of demands placed on schools.
Firstly, the whole experience was uplifting with the children loving it. They were able to ‘live out’ what they had been engrossed in with their inquiry studies. It was such powerful and authentic learning.

Accidentally we had created something that you can’t buy in from any professional learning course or from any consultant.

All educators know that once you connect children with an authentic and/or meaningful context they are intrinsically motivated. They are self-driven to inquiry (agency) and the ‘heart’ of this motivation (the theme Migration) floated on a sea of dispositions or competencies. Collaboration, risk taking, resilience, creativity, problem solving, meta-cognition, flexibility and self-management were just some of these which came into ‘active’ play during this rich learning experience.
This was ‘home grown’ from the ground up with all involved. The staff’s good will from reception through to the caretaker was exceptional and the whole experience turned out to be a very effective unplanned team building experience.

Lastly and as an aside, this experience once again proved that the arts are a conduit to the academics and are a good test of the pulse of any school.