Kaikoura experience one of educational change
One of Michelle Spencer’s last projects as principal of Kaikoura Suburban School will be an outsized chess board for the playground and an accompanying water feature.
‘‘The tiles for the squares will include birds, names of our five classrooms, and the water feature will go next to it. And . . . we have two weeks to finish it,’’ she says with a laugh.
After nine years at the school, eight of those as principal, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that she has overseen the transformation of the school on the Kaikoura dairy flats.
The school had 27 pupils and two classrooms in 2007, and now has five classrooms and a roll of 102. The teaching staff has grown to six, with a total of 10 including support staff.
After training at Christchurch Teacher’s College she went straight into the classroom in Christchurch, before coming to Kaikoura and running the Why Not cafe´ with her husband Andrew for 10 years.
‘‘When I came back to the school scene in 2006, there was one significant change in education – the introduction of the newly created New Zealand Curriculum,’’ she says.
She feels it was the best start she could imagine, as it allowed teachers to create a community- based curriculum with unique values that best aligned with the school and its culture.
‘‘This was when the Fyffe Force learner was born.
‘‘Eight years later the curriculum and values are still strong,’’ she says.
She says another dramatic and major shift of recent times is simply the role of the teacher.
‘‘Teachers are now seen as learners alongside the students, to ignite and provide cutting edge experiences. This is where we are spoilt with the rich environment and community we live in. Kaikoura has many experts we include in many facets of our learning. We, the learners [teachers and students], are not expected to know everything anymore. But we need to provide opportunities and skills so that the students leaving our school gates can find the knowledge required for careers perhaps even we aren’t even aware of.’’
‘‘In past times there was a lot of money spent on training the individual teacher. Now our focus is up-skilling staff and supporting them to work collaboratively together, enhancing and strengthening the skills learnt. We can’t afford anymore to put this knowledge into a corner of our single- celled classroom and leave it there.’’
‘‘Our teachers enjoy and work well collaboratively, and this has seen a shift of the staff’s knowledge and skills,’’ Michelle says.
For the traditionalist, this means rather than one teacher in front of one group, it could mean up to three teachers in one area mentoring a group of 60 or 70 pupils.
She believes the school and community are proud of the high expectations teachers have of all learners, and the effective staff who love learning, as well as teaching.
Another successful facet of the school is the inquiry learning. ‘‘We investigate a whole area, for example ‘Enterprise’, and then pursue that theme for a 10-week block.’’
She mentions a recent example where the school visited Kaikoura businesses: the Kaikoura Joinery, Dunlea Products, Surge Surfboards and Ben Foster. ‘‘From this we unpacked the different businesses using the Technology Design. The children then had the opportunity to voice what they wanted to do next.
‘‘We’re indeed fortunate in this community as we have many specialist who are always very accommodating to support our learning journey. We wouldn’t be able to carry out this learning without them.’’
Some recent projects included bird feeders to enhance the school grounds, new gardens, creating ‘‘healthy lunch boxes’’ where the class visited Kaikoura High School food technology suite to name a few.
At the end of our learning we come together to celebrate the difference we have made at a night’s celebration.’’
Michelle will take a new role next year at Rapaura School, near Blenheim, and is relishing the new challenge.
‘‘It’s another significant time in education, for example the new initiative IES [Investing in Educational Success - which includes funds provided for communities of schools to work collaboratively to create 21st century learning].
‘‘Rapaura is a slightly bigger school, with a roll of 160. To have more nearby schools and experts to work with will be great, too,’’ she says.
She believes Kaikoura should be looking towards the future too.
‘‘For the future of Kaikoura, we need to look outside the square.
‘‘ We have the ICT [internet] cable running through town and a dynamic and extreme environment, which could well transfer into specialist learning opportunities.’’
Changes announced just last week to the school’s decile rating – dropping from seven to five – will mean increased funding for the school next year.
‘‘It shows how the school has changed. It will allow for the school to continue to include multitudes of learning opportunities,’’ she says.
‘‘I don’t want to specifically speak for what will happen next year, but the extra funds will be welcome.’’
Michelle wants to pass on her personal thanks to the staff, the students and the community for supporting the journey and the learning opportunities.
‘‘ Kaikoura Suburban School will always hold a special place in my life,’’ she says.
Departure time: Principal Michelle Spencer, top right, with some of her young charges at Suburban School as they prepare to leave for the weekend.