An authentic, evolving, #oresome local curriculum at Ormiston Primary

By Diana Wilkes

Ormiston Primary School opened with 101 learners in 2015 as part of the Ormiston Community Campus. Faced with extremely rapid growth and now in their 8th year, Heath McNeil, foundation ‘Leader of Learning’ and Lisa Pearson, Associate Leader of Learning, shared some insights on developing an authentic curriculum in an evolving space during a recent interview.

Can you tell us a little about the community and environment where the school is being established?

Ormiston is on Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki land, and even though the suburb is new, this land has been significant for a long time to mana whenua. So it was always important for us to understand that even though we are new, we are old.

The growth that we’ve seen over the last eight years has been a decade ahead of any Ministry of Education projections which has been challenging but also exciting. It has given momentum to the building of the community. Since day one, it has always been a community and there is a real sense of reciprocity. Our community has ubiquitous access to our facilities which contributes to the authenticity of us as a community campus with Ormiston Junior College and Ormiston Senior College. The uniqueness of our three schools as a community campus has always enabled us to be seen as a collective learning pathway so we haven’t had to sell or brand this.

We are very multicultural, in fact we have almost every language and culture represented here and this makes us unique and special. Having the largest ESOL enrollment and with over 500 learners funded for English Language Learning support really speaks to the nature of the school. Our primary demographic consists of Chinese, Indian and Cambodian families with a plethora of other cultures represented. It has been a wonderful gift for us as when you have lots of new people migrating to New Zealand they are keen to learn about Aotearoa, and our history, and they really embrace this learning which has enabled our local curriculum to flourish. Lots of our learners speak a variety of languages and some learners speak their home language in the playground, which is encouraged. Almost all of our learners are indigienous speakers of their own language and so our families ‘get’ why te reo Maori is so important and they understand the concept of turangawaewae. Our community wants to be a part of growing something that is both localised and future focused.

Our school has also had a partnership with Ko Taku Reo (deaf education) since we opened, and more recently, with the proposed addition of Mount Richmond Specialist School coming in 2023 – with each school having learning provisions on our community campus. The learners enrolled in these schools are Ormiston learners; they wear the uniform, our vision is their vision, and in line with our vision ‘To guarantee every learner engages in innovative, personalised, world class learning’ their learning is truly personalised to their needs. These learners are part of Ko Taku Reo and Ormiston so they sort of have a dual sense of belonging. What does this look like you might wonder? On the ground, all learners are learning NZSL, there is trilingual signage across the school, they play together and are ‘exclusively included’. Our learners were involved in the design process of our signage and this confirmed for us that symbolism is so important. We were intentional in designing signs that would be really inclusive and when we canvassed our learners asking ‘can you see yourself in one of these?’ they could!

Image by: Diana Wilkes

To what extent does, or might, your school ensure that teaching and learning is authentic and meaningful for your ākonga?

There are two ways that we do this deliberately: through our curriculum model and through our relentless focus on building relationships.

1 – Curriculum model:

Ormiston Primary School learning is rooted in the vision, principles, values, key competencies & learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum and our learners engage with this our day is designed with unique identities for each learning block:

  • iExplore – It is time for learners to be curious. In order to develop independence and curiosity we envision that our Learning Coaches will provide provocations which will be available for the learners to engage with each morning. We see iExplore as ‘our reason to get out of bed in the morning’. Takes place in the first learning block.
  • iDevelop – This learning block will involve targeted, personalised sessions with a Learning Coach to develop specific capabilities. iDevelop is when we focus on the Achievement Objectives of the New Zealand Curriculum in both Mathematics and Literacy. Takes place in the second learning block.
  • iExperience – This learning block provides time for learners to collaborate and connect. There will be both compulsory and optional immersion sessions for the learners to gain knowledge and expertise in certain areas so they are better able to embark on their self directed inquiries/problem based learning. iExperience is about providing and participating in new experiences. Takes place in the afternoons.

Ormiston Primary School learning model based on 4C vision principles — Image by: OrmPS

2 – Relationships:

Because we know where our learners are coming from and because we take the time to really know them, we are able to guide them in both academic and dispositional learning. We really value relationships. We spend the time to get to know each other (both ākonga and kaiako) and these relationships allow for authenticity, because we know where their variations in knowledge or understanding and interests are. How do we know we are authentic? Because we know what our learners are interested in. The authenticity isn’t something that the educator makes up, it has to come from the learner. One of the things that helps us is the way we are organised in our collaborative habitat (learning space) teams, where there are multiple adults responsible for supporting the learning of each child. This allows our learners to share different things with different people who they have a connection with. They choose. This hasn’t always been the case for learners (or for us when we went to school). 

So, there are multiple opportunities for these relationships to flourish because there are a multitude of adults for them to connect with, including our Inclusive Learning Team. Part of their job is making deep, learning focused relationships with their learners every minute of every day. They need to be responsive to the learners they are supporting to move them forward and are in touch with the ZPD for those learners. So, at OrmPS we make time in the day, and in the year, to prioritise this relationship building. For example, the kids love to come into the habitats in the morning to connect with their ‘adults’ and the other kids (they are open early), and this amplifies our ability to be responsive. It is our everyday conversations that lead to many of the iExplore provocations. Whereas, in the iExpreience block, we use these relationships and tap into prior knowledge so we can be confident that we are pitching the learning at the right level for them. We recognise that it is not always about what we think they want to know, rather it is about what they need to know, but we approach this from where they are at. The nature of our curriculum model also enables our learning coaches and learners to make curriculum and learning connections across the learning blocks.

In addition, our emphasis on oral language is critical. The everyday morning iExplore conversations can serve as a daily diagnostic – and can get learners ‘warmed up’ for the hard task of learning English. Using literacy as an example: if we don’t do a great job at this, our learners can’t access learning, so we must ensure this. The multilingual aspect of the school means that many of our learners are holding their indigenous language while they are learning English, with English potentially being their 3rd or 4th language. So, ultimately for us authentic = learning that is relevant to their needs. If we consider learning during the iExplore block, ākonga may not know their literacy needs and how important literacy skills are, but they will know what they are curious about and that becomes the catalyst for their need to communicate. If we designed learning from a mindset of ‘we know best’ then iExplore just couldn’t work.

In what ways do, or might, you offer multiple pathways for all ākonga to experience success?

  • Our structure of multiple educators – learners have access to different adults who can support them in their learning.

  • Cooperative learning opportunities with multiple year levels and multiple people (tuakana-teina) enable learners to learn with and from others.
  • The ability for learners to tap into their curiosity daily, whether diversive and epistemic. We are also currently developing a continuum of curiosity so educators know what to look for, building on our shared language of learning.
  • Learners have choice in what they learn, e.g. learners have the opportunity to choose what content they might explore in their iExperience sessions (Science, Social Science, Technology Contexts etc.). So, while the capability might be determined by professional judgements, the content can be chosen by ākonga; who they learn with; where they learn within our flexible learning spaces; and how they learn e.g independently, digitally, collaboratively in groups, supported by another learner or 1:1 with a learning coach, etc.
  • A relentless focus on our 4C vision principles ensures skills, dispositions and concepts are continually nurtured. The 4Cs are right at the forefront of everything: hui, documentation, job descriptions, strategic planning, our learning model, leadership opportunities such as year level advisors and pedagogical impact partners and the 4Cs are visible around the school making our shared language of learning highly visible.
  • The flexibility in iExplore time means that ākonga don’t ever have to ‘finish’ learning. iExplore time isn’t a unit of work so it never has to finish and learners can utilise the iExplore time to dive deeper into something they touched on in a iDevelop or iExperience session. There is always time to learn more if they want to, whether it is for a day or a week.
  • HERO Learning Pathways – the learning coaches are able to capture where the learners are at in their journey as evidenced in the learning stories (real time reporting) that they write. A learning story can actually go an entire term, and includes the conferencing, checking in and sharing of progress made. These extended learning stories allow educators to pick up and connect with their other noticings, and demonstrates that they are on this learning journey with the learner. We hear people say “What you value you assess – what you assess you value” so we need to have ways in which we capture this and show that our 4Cs are worth ‘assessing’.
  • Alignment with the community campus – we ask ourselves ‘What are we not prepared to leave to chance? What are our non-neogtiables? What is ‘us’? Since we can’t do everything we have to be specific about what we are looking for and be deliberate in planning for school transitions. We also can’t ignore this given our campus context – they have seven more years after us and we need alignment across those years so we are readying our learners for the types of learning that will occur at OJC and OSC.

Ormiston Primary School learning habitat design — Image by: OrmPS

How do, or might, you ensure that all ākonga see themselves represented in the curriculum?

Again choice, and choice that stems from the conversations and relationships. We hear the learners saying ‘You always listen to me’, so they have a strong belief that they are being heard. At our school, they are used to sharing. Since the early days, we have tried to think about the things that traditionally in schools have put barriers between us and them (e.g what is habit versus what is requirement), and consequently, we have designed and operate in an invitational style. Our literal and proverbial gate is always open. Ultimately, without a sense of belonging you won’t be able to see yourself in the curriculum. Our learners feel they belong. Yes, our learners are 100% OrmPS learners, but we also see them as contributing, participating members of our wider community.

Our curriculum is personalised: it isn’t scripted or time-bound, for example, provocations can be quick or enduring. That is why it is important to have a good system to document learning in learning stories. Nobody says ‘That’s not a good idea, what are you doing that for?’ Rather, we teach our educators and provide some question prompts to scaffold the learning conversations. We want them to feel like the world is their oyster!

One of the other underlying principles of the school with whānau is that ‘we’re not going to talk to you about anything else other than your child and their learning’ because we want to have a pure, learning focused, relationship that is not muddied with fundraising, etc. HERO, our Learning Management System, supports this learning focused relationship and both the parents and the learners can see the progress being made in a mana enhancing way. So, HERO enables us to bring parents and caregivers on the learning journey with their children in a ‘real-time’, visual, and reciprocal way. Their HERO journey also follows them to the junior college, and is added to for the next four years of their learning.

How do, or might, you explore whether you have the appropriate mix of teacher guided, co-created, and self-regulated authentic learning opportunities?

It is the structure – the structure of our curriculum model hasn’t changed and it is working after eight years. We all value the model. This is our non-negotiable. We want ākonga to be engaged – we want our learners to be walking out of Senior College as curious as they were when they walked into OrmPS. The structure of iExplore – often self-regulated learning, iDevelop – often teacher guided, and iExperience – often co-created which creates this mix, but there is no one way of doing things. Through collaborative habitat team planning, and also through across habitat and across year group design opportunities, our educators are able to access different voices, ideas and ways of doing things. We also endeavour to take the cognitive load out of things. For example, with learning design the planning docs are the same across the school, so it is about the ideas rather than the formatting of the doc. We have a culture of having permission to try new things using a safe to fail approach, and asking ‘What can be amplified?’ This has always been in the fabric of the OrmPS culture. We use collaborative inquiry and open to learning conversations as mechanisms to share what is going well, and to learn from each other. And, not just what learners are taught, but how they are being taught. When we deliberately strengthen the connections between the educators across the school, you strengthen the pathways for learning. Also, our staffing choices align with the community, so we maintain a high level of cultural awareness and linguistic abilities. While we don’t translate every document in every language, our parents know there are pathways for communicating with us, and when something is sent home translated, they know it is important!

In developing an authentic, localised curriculum, schools are looking to understand their local history, connect with mana whenua (local iwi) and community groups. What are your initial thoughts regarding how you might (or are) localise your vision for learning with curriculum, pedagogy and design?

We have always wanted to foster a strong relationship with mana whenua, it is what every school wants, but we know our iwi are a finite resource, so we need a structure that empowers the relationship. What is most important for us to capture is what is most important to mana whenua. Then we can hone in on key aspects, and we can choose some things we can do really well and go deep with them. At a higher level, the Flatbush Seven (our community network of schools) are working together in smart ways. There are groups across the seven schools; one for Pacific Peoples and one for Māori, so that they can formulate connections and pathways and work with those sectors of the wider community. We are all talking about the same learners, so we are all collectively part of the same community. When our iwi rangatira speak and share, they often do it with us as a collective, so we have been able to learn more about the area, history and priorities as a network. When it comes to the design of our local curriculum we lean into this knowledge as kaitiaki and also capitalise on the ANZH resources, our own educators and learner voice, so that we can focus on what is most important. We believe that you have to go slow to go fast. This term we are exploring turangawaewae – looking at this concept at both a local and national level, and making cross curricular connections by exploring the people, the flora and fauna, and the events that are relevant to our place.

Final thoughts

Starting a new school is in some ways like having a blank piece of paper! We didn’t really know the community initially, but we knew that they would come rapidly, and we were confident that many would be first or second generation New Zealanders. People come here for their kids and the cornerstone of this decision-making is often related to education/schooling. Many in our new community wanted to come to New Zealand for a different sort of education than they might have received, and they have trusted us implicitly to make those decisions in the best interests of their children. Obviously with that trust comes significant amounts of responsibility and accountability. But, by continually striving for our vision, leading with our learning values and designing an incredible team, we are able to iterate an inclusive, responsive, authentic curriculum that works in our context, for our tamariki.  

Check out Ormiston Primary School here:

Heath is the foundation Leader of Learning at Ormiston Primary School (contributing primary) which opened to the Flat Bush community in 2015. During this time the school roll has increased from 101 to currently over 1100 learners. Previously he was the principal of Ramarama School. He has been the Secretary of the Auckland Primary Principals Association since 2015 and a member of the executive. He was also President of APPA in 2019. Heath is involved in a number of reference groups with the Ministry of Education and involved in community leadership in the Flat Bush area.  

Lisa joined the OrmPS team in 2016. She is an experienced Associate Leader of Learning. She is excited about having the opportunity to support learning coaches to build their capability in best practice while encouraging innovation to cater to the diverse needs of their learners. Lisa’s portfolios of responsibility include School-wide Curriculum and Assessment. She has led the Social Sciences refresh over the last year and helped shape the OrmPS local curriculum in this area. In addition, Lisa is implementing the Better Start Literacy Approach across the New Entrant and Year 1 team.