Thoughtful consideration of the organisation of time in schooling can improve schooling. Traditionally, we consider time as a lesson unit – and how best to resource lessons with teachers. However, time is space and if considered carefully, we can improve the learning and teaching practices as a result. So often, we just accept the standard without intentionally reviewing what we take as normal practice to refine and improve pedagogy.
Living School is based around two semesters of six terms. The first week of every semester is an orientation. The last week of every semester is a revision week. The orientation and review weeks emphasise assessment but have a much broader scope. These weeks are called The Challenge. Challenge-based learning plays a major role in Living School as we grow to understand our boundaries by stretching beyond walls, and striving to push beyond our comfort zone.
The Challenge emphasises growth through activities planned to build capacity in Emotional, Intellectual, Physical and Expressive learning domains (EQ, IQ, PQ and XQ). These domains are explicitly recognised in our Holo lens model. The Holo lens allows us to plan purposefully to engage our internal/intrinsic self (referenced to our spirituality) and our external/extrinsic needs (referenced as our social self). For instance, EQ and IQ are how we internalise our thinking and our feelings; PQ and XQ are how we choose to display or interact/express ourselves in our external environment. Good teaching incorporates all four of these learning domains and builds on each learner’s and teacher’s, interests, beliefs and skills.
Living School promotes learning as life-long and much more than testable recall. The Challenge engages and stretches comfort zones individually and in team-based activities to build capacity – with reference to the VAST learning framework to explicitly develop the 21stCentury skill sets.
Each term consists of six-week blocks of learning.
There is a week break planned between each term. Key professional development days engage and support teachers for one day each of the one-week holiday breaks, addressing strategic intentions by reflecting on the term’s practice. Having designated professional development days during the term break develops the collective efficacy of all our teachers free from disruption. Such a focus on developing the teacher’s craft raises the expectation and celebration of the art of teaching. During these professional development days, teachers come together to review, to evaluate and to plan for the following term’s learning experiences. This is a professional expectation and models life-long learning with our teachers developing alongside the Living School programs.
Living School adopts rituals and ceremonies based on international and national days of observance. These days are placed within the yearly calendar, and form a basis for celebration in keeping with the Living School vision and draw attention to a global outlook.
Living School supports the community by offering a before-school, after-school programs. During the holiday periods, Living School runs courses and adventures for anyone in the community to attend. These are part of our vacation care program. The six-week block over the December/January period is open to international visitors – students and teachers – to explore and experience the Living School philosophy and a snapshot of the program.
A key consideration is start times for the learning day. We know middle school students have a different circadian rhythm. We also know that there are shorter days in winter months – and it is lighter later in the morning. Living School manipulates the timetable to suit these variations. In the winter months (in Australia this is June to September) we can have school start later, giving students and families more time in the morning. In summer months, school days start earlier and can finish later as there is the opportunity for more daylight hours. Therefore, the Living School calendar is flexible and agile to meet the learning needs of students, as well as the teaching needs of teachers.
Another key focus is on providing time for unstructured play. Each day has time set aside for breaks whereby students socialise and interact physically and expressively.
Living School defines ‘teacher’ beyond the limitation of professional accreditation: in Australia, jurisdiction is State based. In NSW, as of January 2018, all teachers employed must be accredited with the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) in order to teach in any school. To maintain accreditation, all teachers must complete a minimum of 100 hours of professional learning. The impact of this legislation means there are amazing ‘teachers’ without the accredited professional certification – and so learners miss out on specialised knowledge. For instance, a community has artisans – people with unique expertise and interests. If we believe school should be preparing our students to join these people in our community as responsible, respectful contributors, our students must gain access to these incredible tutors. For middle school students, Living School resolves this issue by setting back the school’s starting times to 10:00 o’clock. However, there is a ‘before school’ program, called Artisan, which means local creative specialists can run courses with our students, and in so doing, provide valuable teacher collaboration time.
During two six-week blocks in the winter season, artisans are able to deliver broad eclectic courses based on their expertise (e.g. apiary, botany, ceramics, permaculture, financial planning, welding, bird spotting, yoga, etc.) that sit within the KeyStone themes. These courses are offered to students and parents as electives. Some courses may have small costs associated with them, so the artisan is able to charge students. Students have the choice to enrol in a course of interest. Interest-based learning leads to passions.