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Ilam School/Alexandra Primary School – Leading change

Principal Lyn Bird has led school change and introduced the key competencies at two different schools. In this interview, she shares what she has learnt.

Introducing key competencies at Alexandra Primary School

The journey started with my interest in self-regulated learning, which was the focus of my PhD thesis. It also coincided with the release of the draft curriculum in 2006.

Self-regulated learning encompasses many aspects of managing self. We began by asking the community and staff what a year 6 student would look like by the time they left Alexandra Primary. From this we redeveloped the vision statement and charter.

Kids' curriculum group

Alexandra Primary set up a kids' curriculum group. This group surveyed students to see what skills, knowledge, and values a year 6 student should develop/display. Then they decided to survey parents as well. The parents had already responded to a school survey, but the students wrote their own questions and protocols, then rang parents in the school. The response was outstanding. The students gathered more data than the original survey, and it was more specific.

UNESCO four pillars of learning

We developed a framework during staff meetings. It included our beliefs, our vision, and teaching approaches. Once we were clear about what we and the community wanted, we looked at the draft curriculum document.

We aligned our teaching approaches (the values, and habits of mind we deemed our children needed to work on) with the UNESCO four pillars of learning. We connected these with the key competencies to find the interrelations. In the end, we found that each pillar of learning suited a key competency group.

We unpacked the key competencies to see what they meant and might look like at our school. We explored inquiry learning, as Rosemary Hipkins had written that inquiry learning supported the development of all key competency groups.

We drew on papers by Margaret Carr (2006) and Rosemary Hipkins (2006, 2007) highlighting aspects of their work that suited the development of key competencies at Alexandra Primary School. We viewed the key competencies as something to aspire to, more complex than essential skills, and that they were to be seen as whole, not a sum of their parts. We examined Carr’s Dimensions of strength, and what each dimension meant to us.

Looking for assessment ideas

We developed an Alexandra Primary key competencies descriptor continuum. We did not want a tick box matrix, but rather something to inform our planning and help with peer and self assessment.

We also looked at ways of unpacking the key competencies with students, and practical applications for the classroom. We developed a 'key competencies kid', looked for famous people who displayed key competencies, developed Y charts, homework tasks, and short descriptions of what people might say and do in certain situations using the key competencies.

We used ICTs (including slide shows, videos, and student voice) to gather evidence of student development in the key competencies during inquiry learning. The idea was to gather evidence from day one of the inquiry. The data was used throughout to inform teachers’ reflection and planning as the inquiry took shape. At the end of the inquiry we held a "WOW night" to present these learning portfolios to parents.

At first,these portfolios were an inquiry learning journal, but the aim was to shift the focus to see the children developing key competencies in context. When the focus was on the key competencies, the knowledge, skills, and attitudes all displayed together.

The older students began to take ownership of their learning portfolios, and were asked to gather evidence themselves. They took this very seriously, making an effort to show they were developing the key competencies not only at school but at home and in the community as well. One student asked her boss to identify the key competencies she was using at work, as well as those she was developing on the school council, and in her riding club.

Ilam School Christchurch

On becoming principal at Ilam School, I found the school had already developed a toolkit that included key competencies activities and thinking skills.

Our next step was to agree on what the key competencies meant for Ilam School, enabling us to develop a common articulation of the key competencies throughout the school.

I have a firm belief key competencies are the foundation of a curriculum framework - encompassing knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

We discussed the attributes of the 21st century learner. The staff wrote shared statements and we devised a continuum of specific key competencies to work on for 2009. We developed a curriculum framework for one year called "2009 - Building the future".

As a staff we brainstormed teaching approaches:

  • The key competencies group ‘thinking’ was incorporated into inquiry learning and multiple intelligences
  • Sharing learning intentions and co-creating success criteria
  • Scaffolding, which tied in with quality questioning – find out what the zone of proximal development was and how to move children on
  • Modeling and doing this in multiple modes – teacher modeling, exemplars etc
  • Making sure, as far as possible, we had a differentiated learning environment

We focused on two key competencies - managing self and participating and contributing. The other key competencies groups were included in context – for example, relating to others fits with the school values of excellence and integrity.

Engaging with the community

We explained the key competencies in school newsletters in a section called "A taste of the revised New Zealand Curriculum". Each week we focused on a key competency, providing a synopsis, what it meant in our school, and a family activity which included visiting key web sites.

Thinking about assessment

This year we are concentrating on two key competencies. We have created a rubric to be used for planning and self and peer assessment only. We are also looking at digital learning journeys/stories and e-reflection portfolios based on the key competencies and inquiry learning.

Updated on: 23 Jun 2009