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Papanui High School – Our school improvement initiatives

You can’t wait for someone else to tell you what to do

Papanui High School is a decile 6, co-educational secondary school with a roll in excess of 1500 students. We are a diverse community with approximately 40 ethnic groups represented.

School improvement programme with a literacy initiative

Papanui High School is a very different school from what it was 10 years ago. Back then, many students were underachieving. This was evident from our Yellis, end of year exam and NCEA results. We had what was described as a ‘soggy middle’ of achievers. These students were underperforming or doing OK in their learning, without really extending themselves.

It was a worrying time and there was cause for concern. These factors provided the impetus to introduce three ‘school improvement’ initiatives - Literacy, dedicated Professional Development (PD) time and Raising Achievement For All (RAFA).

Dedicated time for PD

We scheduled time every Thursday morning to give professional development status and make it a priority for staff. PD is planned and valued, enabling staff to work in a range of settings, both within departments and in cross-curricula situations.

From very early on our focus was on increasing the engagement of students by improving the WAY we teach.

RAFA has been a key vehicle for our school improvement. It has involved working with a cluster of schools on PD, focusing on improving teaching and learning - which lies at the heart of the revised New Zealand Curriculum.

In 2008 we visited our contributing schools. We observed classes, spoke to teachers and children and gathered data over a two week period. We saw what was taught and how it was taught, giving us a better understanding of where our students come from and what happens in primary and intermediate schools.

Our boldest initiative yet – Connect ’08

Connect ’08 was based on an initiative undertaken at Alfriston College. We contacted them and modified the idea to suit our own situation. We wanted to provide Year 9 and 10 students with authentic, cross-curricula learning opportunities to explore the revised curriculum. It was also an opportunity for staff to familiarise themselves with the New Zealand Curriculum, especially the key competencies.

NZC p 38 states… “Wherever possible, schools should aim to design their curriculum so that learning crosses apparent boundaries.”

We decided to run Connect '08 once the seniors left for exam leave in November, so we could temporarily stop the timetable. We also wanted to mix up staff and students and provide the opportunity for students and staff to build new relationships.

Students and staff chose the themes, including:

  • Amazing Race
  • Jamie’s Kitchen
  • Catwalk Arts
  • Hunting and Gathering
  • Serving our Community
  • Film Festival
  • Papanui Press

Challenges of Connect '08

We organised 15 groups, although initially we had had hoped for about 20. This meant the groups were slightly larger than expected. Originally we planned for a five day Connect programme, but this was reduced to three days because of workload issues.

There were some Issues with Connect ’08, including:

  • the need for a larger planning committee - we didn’t realise work involved
  • more planning time for staff
  • students groups too big. This was challenging with 650 students
  • a mini staff revolt. An impromptu poll surveyed staff to find out if they wanted to continue. We revised the prgramme after that - to three days, more planning time, etc
  • staff losing valuable non-contacts and planning time at end of year
  • demanding on staff's workload and time, BUT students generally loved it!
  • focus on activities, as opposed to curriculum content
  • EOTC issues

During the past two years we have spent time unpacking the front half of the revised curriculum. We have looked at what we do well already, and where we need to change with regards to vision, values, principles and key competencies. Most of this has been done as a whole staff, but some work has occurred at a cluster level with our RAFA schools.

This year we have taken some Year 10 classes to Koukourarata Marae at Port Levy.

The goals were to:

  • study ecology and sustainability
  • build relationships among students and staff
  • learn about marae protocol

Again, providing authentic learning contexts requires a great deal of work, but it is really worthwhile for the students.

Taking the feedback on board

This year, instead of running another Connect programme we have decided to offer theme-based, cross-curricula authentic learning experiences to Year 9 students. The teachers for each Year 9 class will plan the programme together. Themes may range from robots, kite flying, reducing waste or worm farming to the new Graham Condon Leisure Centre in Papanui.

We hope that the changes will benefit students as the teachers already know the students through teaching them, the learning can occur over an extended period of time, it can include double periods and EOTC, and the learning can be linked with all learning areas

Well, where to now?

The key shifts at Papanui High School have involved the dedicated PD time on Thursdays as well as the focus on Pedagogy (via RAFA).

Pedagogy was our lead into the revised New Zealand Curriculum. We did this through our RAFA groups focusing on higher order thinking skills, co-operative learning, formative assessment and action research.

One of our key goals has been to increase the engagement of students. We’ve done this by not only looking at what we teach, but by reviewing and changing our pedagogy (the art of teaching or HOW we teach).

We still have a lot of work to do with the curriculum in general.

  • We need to explore the key competencies further and make them central to our teaching and learning
  • We want to continue with our focus on authentic cross-curricula learning
  • We want to design more appropriate courses for students – courses that meet their needs both in content and assessment.

So, as you can see, the work is never finished, just continually refined!

effective pedagogy
leading change
professional development

Updated on: 12 Apr 2009