Christchurch Girls’ High School – Tomorrow’s inspired leaders today
Christchurch Girls’ High School (CGHS) has a 143-year history of educating young women. Its current site on the banks of the Ōtākaro Avon River is significant to both Ngāi Tahu and early European settlers, and this is reflected in the Māori name gifted to the school by Ngāi Tahu – Te Kura o Hine Waiora, meaning ‘the place where the waters nurture our girls in their education’.
Two or more generations of many families have attended the school, with daughters following in the footsteps of their sisters, mothers, aunts, or grandmothers. Despite its longevity, the school deems that part of its tradition is being untraditional – female principals had been educating young women at CGHS for over twenty years before New Zealand granted women the right to vote.
The school’s current challenge is to ensure that it honours its traditions and legacy, while building on its history of innovation to empower and inspire the development of 21st century lifelong learners.
“We acknowledge the school is at a crossroads in terms of using our past to launch us into a 21st century future rather than an anchor to hold us back in a different time with different needs.” – Christchurch Girls’ High School Education Brief
The school undertook an extensive revisioning process in 2019, which included staff, student, and community feedback.
The resulting vision covers five key areas. These areas have been developed into strategic goals:
- Transformational leadership culture - at all levels, including students.
- Engagement - a passionate learning environment.
- Innovation - diverse learning opportunities and experiences.
- Wellbeing and belonging - authentic relationships through connection, understanding, and trust.
- Critical reflection - organisational renewal and transformation.
Prior to this process, there had been a growing sense that the school vision was becoming fragmented by different teachers or learning areas participating in different initiatives or having different areas of focus.
One of the purposes of the revisioning process was to create a single cohesive vision throughout the school that united both staff and students.
The vision is used as a lens for decisions around the operation of the school – in curriculum planning, in recruitment, and in professional learning and development, for example.
“Everyone has the same journey or destination. We do not know what the end looks like but at least we can go on the same journey together rather than just a small number going on the journey. You have to walk the talk and keep going back to it and ask how it aligns, for all of us.”
Sonja Bailey, Assistant Principal
The staff are exploring more opportunities for collaboration across the learning areas. In some cases, this may be the integration of learning across different learning areas, and in other cases it involves teachers from different learning areas working together on their teacher inquiry.
The school has found that collaborative inquiry has helped teachers to unpack and embed aspects of the new strategic vision. The different viewpoints across learning areas has enriched thinking and critical reflection.
The school’s focus on innovation is being supported by an internal innovation fund. The fund is available for teachers from different learning areas to design a project, and to apply for funding to support that project. The fund encourages teachers to be innovative and to trial new approaches. This has been another valuable initiative for encouraging teachers to look beyond their own learning area and their current teaching and learning practices.
“We aspire to create collaborative opportunities for staff and students that are researched, resourced, and innovative. We are open to the possibility of full integration of curriculum areas and de-construction of silos. Initially, our investigative processes will allow scope for innovation in the junior curriculum.”
Christchurch Girls’ High School Education Brief
One of the first goals to come out of the vision is a review of the junior curriculum, with a particular emphasis on engagement and innovation.
This process has started through working with current Year 9s to find out what is going well for them in their learning. This is part of the school’s ongoing focus on increasing the inclusion of student voice.
“A big thing for me, starting now, is around capturing the student voice. I want to know what things they think are the best about the school. To really consolidate what they really love about it and what they love about learning and then integrate that into best practice and help shape the learning.”
Sonja Bailey, Assistant Principal
While student voice is being used as part of investigation and review, the school is also working towards greater student agency in teaching and learning.
It is expected that student voice will become an essential part of developing a shared ownership over the learning that occurs within the classroom.
Online teaching and learning
The unexpected shift to online teaching and learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a valuable opportunity for extending student agency in a new learning environment.
In addition to supporting their teachers to adapt to new platforms and ways of teaching, the school recognised that students were also being asked to make significant adaptations to their ways of learning.
Some of the early feedback CGHS gathered was that students wanted the school to provide structure in their online learning. This was so they could organise their time easily, and to provide external motivation.
The school chose to pursue a balanced approach, with some synchronous and some asynchronous learning taking place. This has helped students to have sufficient structure to organise their learning, while still giving the opportunity for critical thinking and student agency.
An example of this is a teacher creating short video clips that explain concepts and tasks, freeing up ‘class’ time online for deeper discussion.
Feedback from teachers so far has been positive, and the school is looking forward to exploring how it can embed and grow more of a flipped approach with the return to face-to-face teaching and learning.
“I have students showing self-direction, requesting meetings to go over particular aspects of the work. The written work is being completed at a high standard and, when it is not, I can communicate easily with the particular student and suggest improvements. Using a constructive approach rather than a transmission approach is easy, no notetaking. Students building up their own knowledge and understanding and I am loving it.”
Andrea James, teacher in charge of accounting and business studies
With the revisioning and strategic planning process still relatively recent, the school doesn’t yet know what a successful end point would look like.
The school believes it is important to allow flexibility to alter course on the journey in order to continue towards their end vision.
“You can’t have a set point because you have to take the chance to say this is the direction we want to go on now, and ask can we change this at different times, how do we pivot at critical points in time, to actually get there?”
Sonja Bailey, Assistant Principal
Take everyone with you
Make sure you take everyone with you. A strength of CGHS’s revisioning process was that it involved collecting and responding to student voice. Likewise, there were a number of opportunities for staff to discuss and debate concepts during the process. These small group and whole staff conversations were a great opportunity to understand and explore the differing viewpoints.
Set up voluntary systems
Any type of change involving people has a range of preferences for adoption and speed of change. CGHS deliberately allowed staff who felt passionate and confident to ‘run with it’, while giving other staff time to be supported through a more gradual change.
Provide opportunities to observe
Provide teachers with opportunity to observe those who are trialling new or innovative approaches, and to be exposed to other teaching and learning practices.
Control the controllable
“You can only control the controllable, that seems to be a big thing that keeps coming up. There are a whole lot of unknowns out there and you get asked questions that you can’t answer. We try and do our best and keep saying you can only control what is in front of you. Don’t worry about the other stuff.”
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