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Hadlow’s foresight yields eye-catching results

The new-style learning environment at Hadlow has attracted interest from teachers around the lower North Island.
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A new style of teaching rolled out by Hadlow Preparatory School in the Wairarapa has caught the eyes of many lower North Island schools.

The Hadlow practice puts children in control of their learning and provides incentives for them to work harder and spend less time on homework. It improves a child’s self discipline and bad behaviour has vanished from the classroom.

Headmaster, Michael Mercer, says the school regularly hosts visits by teachers from the Manawatu, Hawke’s Bay, Kapiti Coast, Horowhenua and Wellington.

There is “very strong interest” and visitors spend a day observing classrooms and talking to teachers and children.

The visits follow several Masterton and Wairarapa primary schools also adopting Hadlow’s methods.

They sense change coming in education and knowing this is what the future is, they want to have a go,” Michael says.

The Masterton Principals’ Cluster has, as part of its vision, that all schools will be future-focused.

Children at Hadlow are now working at their potential and also collaboratively, which helps better relationships overall.

Michael has also spoken at educational conferences in Wellington and Auckland.

“There is certainly interest out there.”

Hadlow is an integrated Anglican co-ed primary school for Years 1-8.

Improved self-discipline

The transition to collaborative teaching and the new way children work has taken place over several years and resulted in children with improved self-discipline working at their potential and being better prepared for their futures.

Until the changes began in around 2009, the school used the traditional classroom layout with one teacher per class, teaching from the front.

Hadlow’s teaching spaces are a far cry from the past.

The journey to change began with the recognition that not all children were totally engaged in the classroom.

“They were compliant but sometimes there was not a lot of learning taking place,” Michael says.

At the same time the school became aware of changes overseas, including Australia, which used a different environment and approach to teaching.

There, children were given responsibility to make decisions about their learning.

The learning environment at Hadlow is now very different from the traditional kiwi practice.

Visiting other schools

“We started visiting other schools, including Australia, and looked at what was happening elsewhere in the world and started changes.”

One group of children stayed with the teacher while the others were given choices about what they could do.

The focus then moved to how self-managing, self-motivation and confidence could be developed.

Given that a child learning at home by correspondence could choose to work hard in the morning to get their work done and have the afternoon free, the children at Hadlow were given the opportunity to decide the order they could complete the day’s activities.

In 2008, the Olympic Games were on so the children’s work was rewarded with gold, silver and bronze medals. However, teachers soon found out the children who received bronze medals weren’t happy with their efforts.

Changes were introduced one class at a time, starting with Years 1 and 8. The logic was that children coming from early childhood centres were used to having a say in what they wanted to learn.

As the changes progressed, teachers began to work collaboratively in pairs in the same space.

Changing the design arrangements

Changing the classroom design – and removing a few walls – then followed, starting in 2014. Professional development was provided to teachers to help them adapt to the new classroom designs. which aimed to create learning environments that were stimulating, challenging and dynamic.

The outcome was dividing the school (which has a maximum roll of 200) into four linked hubs. Each hub has 2.6 teachers. Children stay in the same hub for two years to avoid the disruption of changing classrooms annually under the traditional approach.

The new-style learning environment at Hadlow has attracted interest from teachers around the lower North Island.

Michael says he was lucky as the project was driven by staff who could see the benefits.

These days there are more demands on staff who receive children’s homework digitally up to 9 pm but that is offset by times in the day when teachers are with their learners but not actually teaching the children who have learned to be independent and self-managing.

Children are often getting started on their work earlier in the day now, before the official start of school.

Michael attributes the few issues with bad behaviour under the old system to children becoming bored or having to wait for their teacher.

Bad behaviour ‘vanished’

Michael says that under the new style the bad behaviour has vanished.

Self-discipline in the classroom also permeates the playground.

He says past styles of teaching provided children with knowledge, today’s style teaches them where to find it.

We are preparing children for their future, not our future.”

Michael says children like to be in control of their learning and like the choice of where, how and in what order.

From Sunday afternoon children can go online and view the tasksheet for the week ahead.

They know that if they get enough work done during the day, there will be less homework.

He says that children are now working at their potential and also collaboratively. which helps better relationships overall.

Parents, however, as the products of traditional classrooms and teaching methods were “incredibly apprehensive” at first.

Changes explained

Meetings were held to explain the changes to them.

“Parents are very happy with the new way of teaching. Demand for places exceeds the spaces we have,” Michael says.

Retiring Hadlow headmaster, Michael Mercer, who has shared the Hadlow story at conferences in Auckland and Wellington.

Michael, who has just turned 65, is retiring at the end of Term 2, in July.

He joined the staff at Hadlow 31 years ago and became headmaster 22 years ago.

He’s lived on the Hadlow grounds all of that time and has just finished building his own home in Masterton.

He is looking forward to having a social life again and hopes to travel and revisit some of the schools where he taught in Invercargill and Canterbury.

The new headmaster is Andrew Osmond, currently headmaster at St George’s School in Whanganui.

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