Tiny Clues

One inspirational aspect of our work with Pasi Sahlberg is hearing his provocation to educators reminding us that we are all action researchers who have marvellous insights into learning from the data we collect every day. He calls this “small data”. He urges us to use this data for the common good and to complement the “big data” which is collected by others.

Small Data: Tiny clues found in schools that can uncover important relationships between teaching and learning” Pasi Sahlberg

We are in search of these clues about the factors which are influential on pedagogy and in turn on the learning of staff and students in our schools.

Tiny Clue#1: Nobody works alone at Holy Family

Small Data: Tiny clues found in schools that can uncover important relationships between teaching and learning” Pasi Sahlberg

It is an established practice at Holy Family that teachers and classes are grouped together in double learning spaces. This practice has led to some amazing insights into the teaching/learning interaction. This also applies to the NIT program in which teachers of Music, Spanish and P.E. are encouraged to work together. The School Librarian and library staff work hand in hand with teachers. Exciting new examples of co-creation with teachers and students emerging in the school include The Fish Farm, The Multi-Disciplinary Learning Area (MUDLA) and the Exploration Centre (Multi-Sensory Space).

The genesis of this way of working emanated from a period of rapid increase in enrolment which necessitated acquisition of additional learning spaces in transportable forms. We took the opportunity to design the new classrooms as double learning spaces providing maximum flexibility. One aspect of this flexibility was an awareness regarding the use of learning technologies. We came to learn how spaces needed to change to enable effective use of technology. Moreover, this awareness led to realizations about the role of technology in facilitating pedagogical change. These outcomes seem to flow more quickly in groups than with individuals. These spaces and the working relationships which evolved from them prompted a re-think and re-design of existing learning spaces in the school.

An example of a “double” learning space at Holy Family

This experience gave us some insights into the nature of the change process in education: educators notice what their peers are doing and this “noticing” is a significant force. The other component of change is that the educators need to have “agency” to respond to their observations by making changes. Within a short space of time the school was transformed by a joint process of refurbishment and new construction. A major “kick-on” in the building program was the Rudd Building Revolution. As the school had already built a beautiful hall with a stage area, we decided to use the $3million to construct 14 new learning areas. These learning areas were based on the learning experiences we had in the temporary learning areas we had constructed to meet short-term needs for students. The new learning areas are grouped in “doubles” and in some cases in “fours” to enable a “Village” approach to learning.

Some spectacular outcomes of this practice of team-teaching as a policy initiative include:

  • Teachers working in teams of two or three led to openness to working in other more radical grouping such as three vertically grouped R-7 houses of learning across the school
  • Teachers working together to “action research” aspects of their teaching. e.g., “can you watch how I do this and give me feedback?
  • Teachers re-imagining childhood and how children learn most effectively and specifically notions such as the learning space as the third teacher and radically changing the way they set up their learning areas. Grouping teachers and students together in larger cohorts caused people to see learning differently
  • These changes dismantled “the privacy of the classroom” mindset and discouraged teachers from “putting down their roots” and getting too fixed in

I’m sure that staff and Finland Tour participants have additional insights…


We are on a learning journey to Finland in April 2019



Pasi Salberg has been influential on our thinking at Holy Family for a number of years. It’s hard to know which came first. Is it that his thoughts were new? Or is that we liked what he was saying and that it correlated with our major influences and resonated with our experience? It’s probably a bit of both as Pasi provided new insights which were congruent with our major themes.

We have always been high on trust. It’s almost strategic in that we believe that children are intelligent, capable citizens from birth and that they each possess “100 Languages”. Hence, we want our teachers to trust in the children and give them agency. Accordingly, we must do the same for teachers. As we deal with increasingly complex issues we loosen the grip because we know that under pressure people panic and don’t give of their best. We know that everything begins and continues with relationship so we reserve judgement and do not burn bridges with anyone. There is a pervading sense of fun and delight in learning which people find palpable. However, the search for new ideas goes on. We are relentless in our quest for new understandings and new relationships.

Last year Adam and I re-connected with Pasi in Sydney at the ACEL Conference. Subsequently, a large group of our staff worked with Pasi in Adelaide for the day. Consequently, we are curious to learn more about Finland’s social support of families and their education system. We expressed an interest in visiting to see first-hand how things are done in Finland. Pasi introduced us to his colleague  Mikko Salonen and now we are on the road to Helsinki.