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…


7 thoughts on “Tiny Clues

  1. Additionally, through the practice of team teaching a greater sense of equity exists within the classroom. Higher levels of student wellbeing, student needs being met and promotion of student agency are all improved when teachers working in a double classroom use a collaborative approach with their practices.

  2. Reminds me of a phrase I once saw about the “Power of Two…or more”. Because not only do we have 2 teachers leading learning in our classrooms we are lucky to often have two or more with our inclusive approach to supporting students. With this 2 or more model we open up endless opportunities for flexibility of instruction and learning. Teach together, one teach/ one support, multiple teachers leading differentiation for individuals and groups, teaching in different locations based on student curiosity and interest (one in class one in outdoor classroom/fish farm/Mudla/gardens etc etc).

    The opportunities to learn from our peers when working in team teaching, villages, house group and buddy classes is the way we embrace our school values of sharing, trust and support. We share for the benefit of everyone, we learn as a community, from our community, the invitation to learning extends to not just our children. We trust each other in the collaborative process and we support each other through those shared teaching relationships.

  3. Team teaching allows us to regularly engage in reflective dialogue – we are constantly observing, discussing and ensuring the role of play is meeting the needs of the children we teach. It also reflects our values of sharing and trust- team teaching encompasses the element of trust. We trust each other and collaborate to make decisions that will set our children up for success. Reminds me of the following quote:
    “Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by: instead they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning how to learn”- Loris Malaguzzi

    I am so proud of our whole staff team for their amazing passion and work ethic in relation collaborative team teaching. Pasi even comments in his blog post “teaching is team sport, not an individual race”. We always end a school year taking away strategies, and different ways of thinking and working. Similarly, we begin each year in anticipation to learn from our new teaching partners. Working the past two years in The Village has been incredible! I love being a part of combined four classrooms- the children move around the spaces seamlessly and confidently. Having the four spaces always accessible creates endless learning opportunities where students are agents in their own learning.

    Team teaching opens endless opportunities for us to apply our practice from Positive Education, Berry Street, and Cognitive Coaching. It creates an environment where we as staff are able to foster positive relationships with our children.

  4. Our classrooms are much more than their name suggests. When thinking of a ‘classroom’ I assume many of us are reminded of our own school days where they were quite rigid and conformist spaces in both their physical set up and the role of teacher and student. I am very proud to say that classrooms at Holy Family are anything but this traditional notion of ‘classroom’. They are a place of research, a pedagogical laboratory of sorts where teaching and learning practices are experimented with, refined, documented and improved all for the purpose of ensuring our children receive the very best in education – socially, emotionally and academically. Our classroom learning spaces are set up in ways that our pedagogical influences including Reggio Emilia, Positive Education and Play-Based Learning have the best opportunity to thrive. The values of our school are positive relationships, sharing and support. Working in partnership with another teacher in our ‘doubles’ are these values in action and model to our children ways of working effectively, successfully and positively with others. Last week I worked with a new relief teacher to our school. She said our school felt very different to other she had worked in. She said that it felt like a family and that the way teachers interacted with children was different; children were able to be themselves. She also said our classrooms felt ‘more like a home’. I saw this conversation as another ‘tiny clue’. That is, the feeling that our classrooms are homely and places of welcoming and belonging. I am sure that our supportive and collaborative approach of ‘Tiny Clue #1 Nobody Works Alone at Holy Family’ is very much a part of that.

  5. As Pasi (2018) states,
    ” When teachers collaborate everybody benefits. ”
    A collaborative teaching partnership enables greater flexibility for differentiation and increases opportunities for evolving pedagogies to flourish. The paired teaching approach at Holy Family has paved the way for increased autonomy and trust within teachers. At Holy Family we have learning walks for our staff to share their best learning pedagogies. Theses walks are run by the teaching partners to immerse other teaching staff in their best practice.

  6. I was reading this great article which made me think of teaching and learning at Holy Family, where the students are empowered to lead within a multidimensional approach. The evolving pedagogy for education for the 21st century within our learning spaces has been made possible through trust, collaboration, reflection, flexibility, support and time to wonder and take risks.


  7. Coming from a sporting background, the term ‘team’ has shaped me to being the person I am today, and continue to grow to be.

    We are blessed in the approaches we take from our influences at Holy Family Catholic School, and the ability to team teach is a great example of our continued pedagogical growth as a schooling community. The flexibility, trust and support team teaching offers, allows us as educators to tend to students growing needs, well being and fostering strong positive relationships.

    In my short time at the school, from the moment I walked through those doors, I felt at home. I look to the staff at Holy Family not only as my colleagues and close friends, but more importantly, my family. A family working together to support, trust, share and grow together as we continue our learning journey through faith.

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