Rolleston College – Living the vision of self, community and future
In 2017, Rolleston College | Horoeka Haemata became the first new secondary school to open in the South Island for more than 50 years. Four years after welcoming its first cohort of year 9 students, it now has a roll of over 950 students across years 9 – 12. The campus also includes Waitaha School satellite provision.
Through this period of rapid growth and change, the school’s initial vision and values remain the same: Developing Self, Building Communities and Transforming Futures.
Living the vision
The staff and Establishment Board of Trustees participated in a number of workshops to develop the school’s vision and values, including undertaking professional development at Te Pā o Moki, the marae of Te Taumutu Rūnanga.
Te Taumutu values are based on te ao Māori concepts. The breadth and depth of the values’ meaning does not translate into te reo Pākehā and for this reason, the school developed values that sit alongside Taumutu values.
During their workshops at Te Pā o Moki, staff explored how the values would look and feel, and how they could be given life within the school’s operation and culture.
The school was gifted a frieze that depicts the Taumutu values, and this frieze appears on the walls of the school buildings and in its window frostings.
“The Taumutu values were part of the vision and valuing workshops however we created some te reo Pākehā values. We don’t translate values across, we have already defined what our values are and they sit alongside the te reo Pākehā values, and you find the synergy between them. English concepts don’t fit neatly with Te Ao Māori concepts, so they sit alongside, it is not a direct translation i.e. there are no individual words that capture the meaning of mana or manaaki. That is why they sit alongside in conjunction not a transliteration of Pākehā values that we had designed.”
Liz Brown, Rolleston College Establishment Board of Trustees member for Te Taumutu Rūnanga
The school’s Māori name Horoeka Haemata (the flourishing lancewood) was also gifted to the school by Te Taumutu Rūnanga, and the purple of the Horoeka fruit is reflected in the school colours and its uniform. While the lancewood tree can eventually grow up to 15 metres, its juvenile form is so different from that of its adult form that botanists once believed them to be two different species.
In addition to its proliferation in the local area, this aspect of the Horoeka tree is an important component of the school’s vision for its students. Just as the Horoeka undergoes a significant transformation, so too do Rolleston College students as they transition through adolescence and develop into adulthood during their time at the school.
Rolleston College has always focused on how their vision can be developed and realised. Key principles of this process is that:
- the learning and the learner remain at the centre
- learning is informed by gathering and listening to ideas from the community.
The school has used these principles each year to develop and plan how learning will look for the following year’s incoming cohort.
“The three cornerstones remain the same. We still, in everything that we do, look at the principles of develop self, build communities and transform futures. You could look at our planning documents and, even lesson-by-lesson, you will see those woven through. I get a sense that we got those things right because they still feel right now.”
Rachel Skelton, Principal, Rolleston College
While there is an existing vision and set of values, and a clear sense of what learning looks like at each existing year level, the school deliberately starts afresh with each subsequent year. This allows them to shape the learning structure and content for the newest cohort in relation to the needs of that year group, rather than the structure of the prior cohorts.
This was particularly apparent when the school made the transition to having its first year 11 NCEA students in 2019. The final cohort of year 13 students commences in 2021.
“We talk about it as every year opening a new school, which I suppose we will do until the end of next year,” says Rachel.
Building design and physical features
While the infrastructure is already in place to support a roll of 1800 students, a second stage of building is currently underway to provide additional general and specialist learning spaces.
Teaching and learning within the current spaces has given the school a clear idea of what works well and what they’d like to change in the second stage of the school’s build.
The school has been designed to be modern and future-focused. The physical design reflects the school's vision for student-centred, personalised teaching and learning. The facilities currently combine specialist spaces on the ground floor with general learning spaces on the first floor. Spaces are open in design, with a number of different classes generally working within a space at a given time.
The general learning spaces on the first floor are able to be connected and changed through the use of several moving glass panels and breakout spaces. Social common areas are located between the learning spaces.
General learning spaces contain different functional areas including breakout spaces of a range of sizes. These breakout spaces can be used by students for quiet work, or by groups of students for direct instruction, meetings, and group work.
The main collaborative learning spaces are surrounded by meeting, display, and quiet areas to facilitate different activities. Teachers also have a workstation within these general learning spaces.
All learning spaces are designed to be flexible with adaptable furniture which accommodates a range of activities and styles of learning. This means that learning spaces are able to host both small and large group learning as well as quiet, focused individual learning.
Spaces are equipped with multiple access points to ensure that technology is available across the site for appropriate activities. In a survey of staff, teachers rated the flexibility of spaces as important for catering for a range of purposes and needs.
“The main spaces are great, nice and big and easy to use. The split off spaces with the glass walls and doors are also great for isolating classes/learners that may need it.”
Social sciences teacher
A major learning within the larger open spaces is that staff need to be vigilant about the visibility of students. This includes both staff being able to see students throughout lessons, and students being able to see the teacher at all times for direction.
In a technologically driven educational scape, it has also proven important that teachers are able to monitor what students are using their computers to do and check that they are still focused on the tasks at hand. Visibility is particularly important in science labs and workshops as teachers need to identify when a student is engaging in a behaviour that could be dangerous or risky in the presence of tools or substances that could cause harm.
The school has received numerous visits from other educators to see how the spaces at Rolleston College support teaching and learning and how spaces could function better. Tours of the school often result in valuable discussion between educators about how and why spaces are used, and how aspects of design support or enable different pedagogies.
Student preferences for specialist subjects, in particular hospitality and food technology related courses, has meant that the school is now converting some spaces into additional kitchen spaces to meet student demand.
During 2016, the staff worked together to develop a personalised curriculum that aligned with the school’s vision and values as well as integrating student and whānau voice.
Out of this work, the staff created three vehicles for learning, which were designed to provide a wide range of personalised and engaging learning experiences.
The school retains the same three learning vehicles five years on: Ako, Connected and Selected, and will continue to do so with the advent of its year 13 cohort in 2021.
The school has four whānau groupings, which were gifted with the names of the four seasons by Te Taumutu Rūnanga. These whānau groups are divided into smaller vertical Ako groups of up to 23 students, which are usually taught by the same teacher as they move through their years at the school. Ako contains a range of aspects, which are:
- literacy and numeracy skills
- quest or passion projects
- navigating and learning advisory.
“For a teacher in a more traditional secondary school, you’d probably talk about Ako as being ‘form time on steroids’, but it’s a teaching area as well as being a pastoral and communications area,” says Rachel.
As the cohorts have progressed, the learning vehicles have varied based on the needs of that year level. In years 9 – 11, students complete five blocks of Ako in each school week and gain a solid basis of core skills and an understanding of their own wellbeing. This culminates with students completing an achievement standard relating to hauora in year 11. The way the skills and knowledge build across the three years is made explicit for students.
In year 12, students complete only two timetabled blocks of Ako in a school week, and this takes more of an advisory function. This has been supported by the appointment of a Pathways Advisor who works with students to plan their pathways through their final years of school and beyond. A focus on independent pathways and wellbeing will continue for the year 13 cohort.
Connected learning at years 9 and 10 commonly connects four learning areas – maths, English, science and social science. The teachers work together to plan collaboratively and design and teach topics that can naturally connect across the learning areas.
In year 9, the first unit that the students complete is focussed on identity. In addition to exploring who they are and where they come from as individuals, students also explore the identity and origin of the school using the school’s cultural narrative. The cultural narrative outlines information relating to previous usage of the site, the significance and usage of the local area, and indigenous flora and fauna. The rich history of the school site and surrounding area enables a sense of identity for students, despite the school itself being new.
By year 11, it is more common for connected learning to connect two learning areas, while some areas focus specifically on skills within a single learning area. Connected learning is planned and co-taught between teachers from the different learning areas.
Selected learning is the closest the school comes to traditional single-learning area classes, although generally with a unique spin on the topics being offered. For example, the descriptor of a year 9 selected arts option reads:
“Producing a hit: Want to be the next Pharrell Williams? In this course learners will get the chance to produce and master music with digital audio workstations such as GarageBand, Pro Tools and Mixcraft.”
The school has been surprised about the popularity of what may be considered relatively traditional learning areas, including food and fabric-related courses and automotive.
“The blocks have remained the same, the biggest change was Ako with the seniors. It has changed based on learner need. There have been some downsides with staff saying I haven’t got my year 12’s in Ako to provide that leadership but we can still look at systems around that. What is more important for the learner at that time is looking at personal study, what am I doing beyond school. It has been a change in response to learner need.”
Communication and collaboration
As well as working collaboratively with their community, teachers also plan and work collaboratively with one another.
The school has deliberately invested heavily in staff wellbeing and any programmes or approaches relating to student wellbeing are first used with staff. This has included working with staff on approaches such as the learning pit, Check and Connect, and peak and pit.
These approaches have deepened relationships between staff members, and their openness with one another.
The staffroom wall displays the six virtues and the character strengths within each of those virtues. In the past, staff members have openly discussed which character strengths they and their colleagues possess.
Staff wellbeing and resilience is key to the school’s vision of staff collaborating meaningfully rather than just cooperating.
For collaborative teaching and learning to deliver on its potential, staff need to be comfortable having challenging conversations around next steps in learning, and how programmes can be strengthened.
Staff members have found the opportunities afforded by having flexible learning spaces to be a positive experience, and an important part of their teaching and learning. It is important to remember that the physical teaching and learning environment is even more of a key consideration when teaching collaboratively.
In addition to face-to-face collaboration, the school has always had an emphasis on digital teaching and learning, and digital collaboration between teachers.
Students are explicitly taught digital tikanga across the three learning vehicles. This includes aspects of hauora such as how students (and staff) ensure they’re representing themselves well and considering the implications of their actions.
This emphasis meant the school felt well-prepared for the transition to online teaching and learning during Level 4 of the COVID-19 response.
Staff continued their own journey as learners also, with a Google classroom where teachers shared ideas and encouragement with their colleagues. Social relationships also continued, with some staff members meeting virtually for shared curry lunches on a Friday, a carryover from a face-to-face staffroom tradition.
Enabling and valuing risk-taking
Part of building staff and student wellbeing and resilience is that the school enables and encourages risk-taking, and actively attempts to de-stigmatise failure.
The school is clear that they have high expectations of students and staff, but that failure can be a legitimate part of a learning journey.
The school’s use of the SOLO taxonomy helps to identify what can be learned from failure. As well as concepts such as the learning pit, the school uses tools such as ‘fail walls’ that support staff and students to identify and reflect on failures.
A fail wall is where students and staff visually depict what hasn’t gone well or might be done differently next time using a Post-It note or similar. This helps normalise failure, and allows students and staff to learn from their peers and colleagues.
Staff, in particular, have been open to acknowledging where things have not gone as well as they would have liked, and working with their colleagues to learn from the experience. The school sees this as a key component of being a genuinely collaborative practitioner – being able to share the good alongside the bad.
- Don’t underestimate the power of resilience – Young people are resilient and make their way through things. Give consideration to the support and tools you can supply to enable them to do this.
- Activate students’ deeper understanding of their own learning – Students at Rolleston are commonly tasked with using their e-Portfolio to explain their learning and their next steps to their parents and peers.
- Allow time for explicit teaching of aspects relating to wellbeing – The school’s Ako time provides an opportunity for students to learn about hauora, and to explore and understand their own wellbeing.
- Consider the flexibility of space – Recognise the importance of quiet learning areas which are sufficient in size and allow students to see and hear demonstrations. Within flexible spaces, ensure there is adequate visibility for students to be able to see their teachers, and teachers to easily monitor student behaviour. Inter-connected spaces may require some sort of demarcation to show the boundaries of spaces, such as where a learning space ends and a social space begins. Depending on usage, this may be signalled solely by design (e.g. a change of floor covering or wall colouring) or may require physical separation in the form of doors or walls.
- Have purposeful ways of curating resources – The school has a website that was developed by one of its kaiako, and gathers the school’s resources for te reo Māori and tikanga Māori into a single place. In addition to general content relating to pepeha, karakia, etc, the website also explains the school’s naming, whakataukī and waiata. This website is intended to empower teachers and support the sharing of resources.
- Work on relationships – Ensure that staff have opportunities to strengthen their relationships with each other so they are able to give critical feedback and have challenging conversations in order to deepen the benefits of collaboration.
- Destigmatise the F-word – Be clear about having high expectations, but equally clear that failure can be a valuable step along a learning journey. Ensure that staff are given opportunities to model the ability to learn and grow from things not going to plan.