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Wellington High School - Tukutahi


Digital story: Wellington High School


Wellington High School has a proud tradition dating back to 1886 of seeking meaningful ways to meet students’ learning needs. Learning is about building students’ capacity to learn and building their dispositions and competencies to keep on learning beyond these walls. It is about building on their interests and providing opportunities that will enable them to succeed in whatever system is used to assess their abilities.

Prue Kelly, Principal

For years Wellington High School has had a philosophy that aims towards inclusive classrooms. In examining the question of what makes an inclusive classroom today the school is attempting to move to a more collaborative, connected model of teaching and learning. The new curriculum gives schools the flexibility to actively involve students in what they learn, how it is taught and how the learning is assessed. Taking guidance from people such as Jane Gilbert, Guy Claxton and David Hargreaves and using the new curriculum, the school has encouraged questioning about current models of schooling and education and developed a culture where it is possible for staff to collaborate and design relevant and meaningful learning programmes that motivate and engage all students.

"Tukutahi has developed from reflection and investigation into what works best for our students as we seek to personalise student learning and ensure that we build on the skills and knowledge they bring to school. To do this effectively we believe we have to change our approach so that students can work collaboratively with the teachers, sharing planning and interests, so that both the teachers and students are actively engaged in their learning." Prue Kelly, Principal

The programme aims to strengthen the vision of inclusive classrooms by actively involving the students in programmes that connect ideas, practice and knowledge across the various subject areas, with four teachers working closely together, alongside the students.

Tukutahi - Connected to learn

The programme integrates subjects from four areas, English, science, social studies and maths and began in 2008 with 50 students. There is one large space available to the four teachers that is occasionally used for the whole group. The ratio for most lessons however is usually the same as the traditional classroom.

Features of the programme


The key differences are the way the teachers collaborate on all planning, student progress and assessment, and the way the lessons are constructed to open pathways across the subjects. The four teachers work closely together at all stages of the programme, meaning that the relationships they form with the students are informed across the range of subject areas. Because there is a discourse common to all the learning areas, informed by the discussions between all the participants in the programme there is a real sense of connection between teachers, students and the learning.

"We may not be integrating our four subjects all the time, but we’re integrating our knowledge of the students." Michael Harcourt - social studies teacher, Tukutahi.

Connected to learning

“Above all, working with other teachers will model connections. Through our own collaboration we will work as a team, respecting each other’s specialised knowledge and making connections with it. We will work with students to develop units of work, thinking about what we will learn; how we will learn; how we will know we have learned it and can do it well.” Dr Catherine Hill - English teacher, Tukutahi.

“I think the metaphor for what teaching is has been "telling" and it should become "conversing". This has massive implications for the dominant theories of learning that currently exist, my classroom no exception. A conversation is non-linear, which means it is ecological and open ended but still has purpose and direction, it is intrinsically valuable, draws on the experiences and knowledge of all participants, and is about cooperation not competition. To use some jargon, it is a "living system" not a mechanical one. I think some of the practicalities of Tukutahi offer increased opportunity for this metaphor to become more visible. The two key ideas that really stand out for me are ecological sustainability and participating and contributing. This is because they fit most easily with two ideas I am especially interested in; place based education and ecoliteracy. When I hear connecting I understand connecting to place, family, community, each other, environment, etc. I am very interested in how traditional academic senior subjects such as history fit into this and engaging with Tukutahi is helping me to work that out.” Michael Harcourt - social studies teacher, Tukutahi.

Record of learning

The academic mentoring programme is another feature of Tukutahi. The 50 students have been divided into four groups. Each teacher is responsible for the academic coaching of 12 students. The groups meet once a week and discuss how the week has gone. Students have a record of learning book where records of the discussions are kept. Students take the books home and share them with their parents who can comment in writing. The record of learning book has encouraged discussion between home and school and feedback suggests people at home enjoy the weekly contact with the teacher through the student and the opportunity to share their thoughts. These sessions are not only a way of keeping track of each student’s progress but are a valuable way of building an ongoing relationship between the teacher and the group of students. There is an opportunity to problem solve areas of difficulty, to talk through the questions students might have. Students report feeling more confident about taking on difficult and challenging tasks as they know they can always rely on support and know that all the teachers in the programme will be familiar with the work.

Transition from primary school

The transition to secondary school can often be difficult for students. Students in Tukutahi report feeling supported and that there is a sense of community in the group. They enjoy working closely with four teachers and the collaboration between the teachers transfers to their sense of wellbeing; they now see the teachers working together, and that each of the four teachers has an understanding about the whole Tukutahi programme. The students also report feeling more in charge of their learning; they have a genuine sense of being connected to their learning.

The future

The Board has watched Tukutahi quite closely, during our planning period in 2007 and implementation in 2008. Recently they have decided that they want the Tukutahi philosophy to be part of the whole Year 9 in 2009 and there are now enough staff members willing to work using this approach to make this reality.

Our challenge is to modernise our pedagogy – our teaching techniques and philosophy - and mesh that with the NCEA assessment regime, which adopts a fairly traditional interpretation of what knowledge is. We have made a start with a more student-centred approach this year in Tukutahi with the staff involved beginning to adopt an inquiry approach to student learning. They are using the ecology of a stream near the school as the basis of their studies. We are looking at spreading this model through Year 9 next year as we further develop personalised learning. Personalising learning is about students understanding what they know, how they know it and what they need to learn next. We have a great group of teachers who have been working on this method of personalising learning through shared expectations and learning outcomes. They are enabling students to understand what they have to do to reach expectations and the next level. These are interesting times of change.”

Review questions image.

Have you considered making, and planning for, connections across learning areas, values, and key competencies?

One of the features of the Wellington High School programme is the way there is the strong emphasis on collaboration. There is a developing and ongoing relationship between staff involved in the programme as well between these staff and their students.

These relationships are critical to the success of the project and have been written in to the design of the programme. Conversations are an integral part of constructing the programme forming the backbone of the collaborative nature of this programme.

  • Identify the ways this programme exemplifies collaboration both between staff and between staff and students.
  • Discuss ways staff collaborate at your school and how this impacts on teaching and learning programmes.
  • How could collaboration work in the classroom; in planning, practice and in assessment?

Published on: 22 Jul 2008