Engaging the community through the design process

By Judy Bruce

Sandra Jenkins (Consultant) and Lynda Stuart (May Road School Tumuaki) share their journey of engaging the community through workshops and design input, and through engaging mana whenua in shaping the cultural narrative and design elements.

We asked Sandra to first share a little about herself and her interest in planning learning spaces. 

Sandra Jenkins — Image by: Diana Wilkes

Across the globe there is a movement to reimagine education to provide settings that are learner led and relevant to the future lives of learners. I have always been passionate about contemporary education and continue to explore ways of “joining the dots between pedagogy and space” to make learning happen!

I resigned as Principal of Freemans Bay School in 2020 after 12 years in the role. During this time I was recipient of the ASB and APPA travel fellowship, and in 2014 spent a term traveling in Asia, UK, and Europe exploring and reporting on contemporary school design processes. I subsequently led the Freemans Bay School’s $19 million redevelopment, incorporating ILEs and contemporary education.

My current work includes:

Since the launch of Autens Pasifika NZ, I have been supporting schools to utilise the Autens Learning Space Design Lab ™ as a hands on tool for stakeholder workshops. These workshops can be held with all stakeholders, Boards of Trustees, whānau, ākonga, mana whenua, staff and the wider community. The tool provides a way to explore and synthesise stakeholder voices at the concept design stage of a build project, by incorporating the links between the school vision, values, and practice.

School design is much more than a building project. The Learning Space Design Lab ™ tool and process provides ways that architects, communities and educators can imagine and co-create future learning environments and ways of organising teaching and learning within the new spaces.

The May Road School journey

It is a real privilege to journey alongside May Road School Principal, Lynda Stuart and her team who have an outstanding and authentic commitment to community participation and the design process.

Lynda asked me to join the May Road School property project team as Principal Advisor to support the design process of May Road School redevelopment and to help prepare staff for a shift in teaching and learning practices when their new build is completed in 2024.

May Road School is located in Mount Roskill, Auckland, New Zealand. The school sits in the shadow of the extinct volcano Puketāpapa, also known as Pukewīwī and by its English name, Mount Roskill. It has a current roll of 200 comprising of Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern and African. There is currently major property and housing development in the surrounding area due to large numbers of “in-fill” housing being built adjacent the school to meet the housing needs in Auckland. New houses to be built will have a dramatic impact on the school roll. The first stage of the new build of this project, has a three story facility with 5 teachers teaming on each floor, and a total of 15 new teaching spaces in an ILE environment.

Lynda has a strong desire to weave local history and stories into design elements in the new building, landscaping and local curriculum. Lynda negotiated with MOE to ensure authentic engagement with Te Ākitai Waiohua was resourced, including resourcing for landscape design. The school is working closely with Te Ākitai Waiohua to bring design elements into the landscaping and playground areas that relate to the historical use of the land. This design focus is a priority for Lynda and the school community as the area where the school is sited once housed a hapū with whare, urupā and marae. The surrounding land was used for agriculture and as a pathway linking the iwi network.

As part of the design process, the school engaged me to run seven Autens Pasifika Learning Space Design Lab ™ community engagement workshops. The purpose of these was to give feedback to the architects (Jasmax) at the concept design stage. Workshop participants included ākonga, teachers and support staff, Board, and whānau.


May Road School – community engagement — Image by: Diana Wilkes

We prototyped scaled models of the frame of the building with the brief that the space would be very agile. While there was likely to be a team of two and a team of three teachers on each floor, at times all five teachers could work together.

From these workshops we synthesised key principles to drive the design. The environment itself will be like a third teacher, and will be very motivating for the school’s curriculum aspiration and values.

Lynda commented that she was “blown away” by the engagement of the stakeholder workshops. She thought the process was very powerful for drawing out key principles to drive the design—ensuring the spaces will become an active tool for learning and teaching.

Learning Space Design Lab (TM) — Image by: Autens

The May Road School leadership team and Board have determined that each floor of the new building will represent elements of the Māori creation story. Papatūānuku, Tāne and Ranginui will be represented on each floor through design elements. This will create a learner-inspired environment that all ākonga can relate to and align with their own cultural narrative.

Such design elements can support ākonga and school community knowledge and understanding of the significant history of the school site. Design elements will weave te reo me ōna tikanga and local narratives into the school’s local curriculum and Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories curriculum.

If you would like to learn more about the May Road journey, here is a link to the video from the Leadership Lab where Lynda shares her outstanding commitment to community engagement and how this has supported the process of designing the first stage of May Road School redevelopment. 

Advice for school leaders 

If you are embarking on a build project, I encourage you to access a range of tools that focus on translating the school’s vision and values around learning into how teaching and learning will be organised in terms of space, making learning happen, system support, review and evaluation.

I encourage school leaders to have the courage to stand up for what you want and believe in and relentlessly advocate and find ways to make it work. Specifically, I recommend that school leaders find ways to fund the following:

  • The process of community engagement within the project budget with all stakeholder groups.

  • Mana whenua partnership in the project

  • Tools and PLD to support and evaluate shifts in teaching and learning

Challenges for schools

MOE direction of supporting the development of ILEs has the intent of enabling educational practices to evolve and change, leading to better learning outcomes for ākonga. However new design solutions will not, on their own, change the way that teaching and learning happens. To change accompanying learning culture and practices, collaboration with all stakeholders is needed from design phase to evaluation of new practices.

Additionally, understanding new ways of thinking about teaching and learning are needed. I have found that visits to schools are a helpful part of this learning process as they provide school leaders with fresh ideas about pedagogy and more personalised, collaborative and flexible learning.

I believe there is a greater need for MOE funding to support schools to work collaboratively with school communities—to develop shared beliefs, break down barriers to new ways of thinking, and achieve new solutions.

Mana whenua partnership is also an area of resource requirement for many communities. I have noticed that at times, it is difficult to unbundle an architect’s contract and advocate that mana whenua be a valued partner in the design process. I believe this is a huge missed opportunity to have a mutually beneficial partnership with local iwi in the true spirit of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Typically design teams are led by a MOE Delivery Manager and include the architect, a quantity surveyor, school principal, leadership team members and Board members. The external design review team generally has no educational consultant involved in the design review process. The teams are made up mainly of technical professionals. I have found that when teams also work with an educational consultant this helps to create a shared language and concepts between design and educational vision.

The processes outlined in Planning Learning Spaces and the Autens Learning Space Design Lab ™ provide examples of tools for these processes. Schools in these settings have funding in the project to invest the time and expertise needed to collaboratively engage with school communities to develop the briefing that the architect will translate into design spaces. Parallel to this process the school leadership team and staff continue to have time and opportunities to consider ways to develop practice in the new spaces. Once the remodeling is complete, the educational consultant continues to work with the school community to develop and evaluate how new ways of teaching and learning are developing.