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  • Gina McCabe

Reflections on designing a free school #1

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

When we began our journey to design our first school the world was, on the surface, a much more settled place. Today we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Like so many we have watched, listened, read, and experienced first hand the transformational effect corona virus has had on the education landscape, and on our individual lives.

As the ground under our feet has shifted, so we have had to respond in our school design.

Teaching, learning and infrastructure in our schools is designed to be intrinsically linked to the communities and world around with the freedom to respond to real world events an inherent feature. What we hadn't anticipated when we embarked on this project was just how applicable that principle would be to the design process itself. The pandemic has forced us to revisit our understanding and assumption of what education looks like. Operationally this has thrown up some relatively solvable questions. For example, does the design of our school allow a seamless and rapid switch to online learning if needed? What would a home based school scenario mean for our community connections and real world learning? It has also thrown us into some deeper reflections about whether our design is as equitable, inclusive and fair as we set out for it to be. What more can we do to challenge the social injustice that has been so acutely magnified by the pandemic? While we do not have the final answers to some of these questions, what we are constantly reminded of is that our schools will never be finished. They will never reach a stage where we can say we are done. We must remain as agile, responsive, and reflective as we know our children will need to be to thrive in their own futures. That is why we are establishing a research hub and supporting reflection, enquiry and research as part of our staff professional development plans.

There are some parts of our school design that remain unshaken by the pandemic.

Our purpose is to enable children to learn the skills they need to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Fundamental to achieving this purpose is our approach to wellbeing. We believe that wellbeing, resilience, and the ability to think with clarity in any circumstance are vital to a successful learning environment, and to happy, caring and fulfilling lives for our students, staff and communities. Our approach is rooted in a strength based philosophy and we start with the premise that everyone has good wellbeing and resilience within them that can be enhanced and developed through learning and exploration. This premise feeds our culture, guides a whole-school language, and, as an important part of our innovation, it will be a major focus of practice based research.

We all need to learn to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

We are excited and inspired by our school purpose and approach. Eager to reach a point where we can share it with students. And as the world appears to be changing more rapidly than ever before it is not just our future students who need to learn to thrive - we are reminded by this design process, and by global events, that we do too.

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