Gardens by their very nature are messy. They are complex at a micro level and can seem orderly at a macro level, because of the work that goes into the garden at the micro level. Our school (Heath, in Delta BC Canada) is a little like that.
We are a school community (enrolling kindergarten to grade 7 students) that practices as a living systems learning community (for more information on what this means please see here, here and here). This means we continually pay attention to what is working well in terms of student learning (and also adult learning-as this is what supports student learning). We also try to involve all in helping to make our school community better….staff, parents and more importantly, students. We continually seek and question in order to find evidence that helps us to grow. We are not particularly concerned with being right the first time. We embrace the messiness that is essential to harnessing the thoughts, ideas and forward thinking of all within the community (using our school and district visions as our foundation). We are a traditional school in terms of dress and deportment, but our teaching and learning is very forward thinking, based on current research and innovative practice.
Many schools have adults working on initiatives to help move their schools forward, and this is a great first step. Involving students in those initiatives however, is far more powerful, and this has been our focus this year. There are examples of involving students in meaningful ways elsewhere in the province as well. For example, we have some school districts who involve students at the school board level by having student trustees (i.e. Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast).
Last year we had our students present our School’s collaborative work at our District celebration. We were the only school to have students present (see here to listen to our students from last year). This year our students became even more involved in helping with our school’s growth work (related to: SRL, SEL, AfL, Academics, Inquiry, LiD, Genius hour, Reggio… over the past four years). We had a grade 7 focus group that worked regularly throughout the year with our adult leaders. These students presented lessons to their peers, co-taught with teachers and worked alongside our staff in regard to the direction we took this year.
We were thrilled to be asked to present at the provincial Network of Inquiry and Innovation (great province-wide work being facilitated by BCs Judy Halbert and Linda Kaiser) symposium, in order to share with others, what can happen when students are directly involved in shaping the direction that the school takes. The adults in the audience were blown away with how articulate our students were and by the personal stories they shared.
So why “Secret”? – because we are always adding new things to our garden, some we keep year after year, others we discard and some we adjust-just like finding a better location for a plant. Visitors to Heath tell us that what we are doing is not happening anywhere else that they have seen. (Our most recent visitors – from a secondary school in Surrey – are pictured below)
So Why Garden? – because our central statement is that “We are a flourishing Learning Community”…..in part because we are a living systems community where everyone – staff, students and parents play a part in ensuring the growth of all within the community. This has been enabled by both collaborative patterns and structures put in place over the past four years.
We’d be interested to know if there are any others out there working in a similar fashion to us, or if there are others out there who might have questions for us, as questions help us to refine and grow our thinking.