USA Tour – Day 2 – Northern Beaches Christian School

Northern Beaches Christian School (NBSC)

I give this school 5 Stars!!! it is worth a visit by all serious teams!

Today I had the opportunity to visit Northern Beaches Christian School, a leader in Innovation in sydney NSW. It was a extremely inspiring day and not something that I say lightly. NBSC is a school that has taken the ideas of so called ’21st century learning’ and packaged it up into a innovative online practical and physically creative program called Sydney Centre for Innovation and Learning (SCIL). SCIL leverages technology to provide learning that is not suited to teaching but promotes learning through non-conventional means and creative thinking. The following are some of the key points of the day.

A Culture of Innovation – how…

One of the critical questions asked during the day was the way to create a Culture of Innovation in our teachers. NBCS has managed to do this by first having a vision and a plan to do it. In 2011 the still current principal arrived with a vision of changing the school and how it operated. Starting with 300 students in a highly competitive area the importance of innovating and developing key learning programs was critical. The process began with using a ‘stick’ to push and prod people into thinking different. Simple things, but big challenges, were done. For Example,  Year 12 students mixing into the staff room as a common room, the removal of room numbers and the naming of rooms and areas instead, the removal of bells (as we all know that teachers were late to class just as much as the students). These changes were made with a top down approach but setup a scaffold for thinking different and started to develop a school ‘narrative’

A school narrative was given voice in the SCIL program in 2005 and the establishment of branding, a website and the development of recognition of ICT innovators with a title ‘SCIL Associate’. This group became core to the notion of a ‘coalition of the willing’ (passionate ammeters) which symbolised and represented those of the staff that were ready to start developing and mentoring other staff in ICT innovation. With this in place the ‘narrative’ became the story and the story became real life with the development of teaching programs that moved into Heppells ideas of large group areas where students self pace.

Learning Spaces

Learning Spaces are a big part of NBCS and its success. The idea of creating spaces that are multidimensional and allow for all forms of learning is not new but to see it in action is rare. Students were working in ‘Cave areas’ (a single space where students can sit in a corner by themselves) Tiered learning (learning sitting on steps and structures) and moving between several areas. The example was used that in some cases boys cannot sit still and want to stand so desks are created so that boys could stand and work comfortably for those times when staying still was difficult.

One of the striking things about all the spaces I was shown was the fact that no teachers desks were in the traditional form and rooms has a mix of desks, couches and creative furniture. No desks were in rows….

The teaching that happens in these spaces is completely different to the traditional approach. In the three hours I was shown around at no point did I see a chalk and talk lesson.

Open Teaching

The teaching was very much about facilitation… but that is not to say teaching wasn’t happening. The teachers all use an online content platform called moodle (a Western Australian Product). The use of this platform for uploading course documents and teaching programs was a key factor in the success of an open and shared teaching model where a group of 8 teachers put 120 students in one space where they move between various activities directed by the students. It is hard to understand without seeing it in action but students were engaged 110%, they were moving between various activities and at various levels and teachers moved to tutors and helped students where needed.

During the day specialist teachers would take various classes (in the area). It was noted that behaviour issues had dropped by 75% and student achievements had increased across the board.

Key Takaway messages in point form

  • Mandate and implement professional development on a range of topics on a consistent basis – Each term a printed certificate and record is given to you and your line manager for review. Of the 8 areas of the vision (not just IT) you will have a meeting about the professional development and what is missing and find that new balance. Each term it should be expected 7 hours of PD per term and a single 3 hour evening session.
  • Meetings are centred on the vision of the school and not the specifics, specifics are to be discusses in smaller meetings
  • People are responsible for their own area, department and decisions – Try by planning and developing
  • Have lots of prac teachers as they see the school and want to come back to it
  • Have idea paint on the walls and glass writing pens (the more glass the better)
  • Implementation of ‘Help Places’ a table where if students are seen at this desk it means they need help and other students can help other students as well. This was as a result of students needing help but not asking for it.
  • Students can book in ‘expert sessions’ with teachers during large breakout sessions.
  • Students have a deep learning session in senior school where they drive their own learning but to do so they need to have a plan for the time and also they have complete discretion on the time. As a result students wanted to start the day at 8 and they had the ability to have recess when they want
  • ‘School Transformation Team‘ goal is culture change and consists of Professional Development, Data and Performance and Mentoring

The Controversy Section 

It would be easy to be nice about everything but often it is the conversation behind the conversation that matters. As I finished up my tour at NBCS I was hit by the reality that what had been created is not hard to invasion… but… finding administrators and staff to join the cause… thats the real challenge. The worry I have going back into schools is that the leadership teams in school have no real drive to change the education system they are delivering. NBCS is a great example of thinking different and having LEADERSHIP thinking different. Put away the reviews, the system pressures and have a go. As was said to me today the mantra seems to be Ready… Fire… Aim…

So in this section… I hope I have the privilege myself over the next 20 years to work with administrators to create great schools… not schools that are great because of results or money..  but great in progressive thinking… most good leaders realise that people work for people not for organisations and when you find a leader that inspires you and mentors you that is when you feel that you can contribute.

Administrators… stop making excuses and be different


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  1. USA Tour – Day 2 – Northern Beaches Christian School | Brad Tyrrell | Learning With ICT @ CBC | - 13 June 2012

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