Walker Learning

Chris Ivey / Insights, Academic

12 May 2023

As a secondary educator, I have always known that the key to the success of any student is the foundation they receive in those first formative years of education. It’s where so many habits, skills and building blocks are formed. With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to share with our community an update on our journey with Walker Learning.

‘Childhood is filled with natural wonder and curiosity. The learning environment must reflect a classroom and outdoor space that inspired a sense of wanting to investigate, to find out and to explore.’ Kathy Walker

About eight years ago, the leadership team at St Andrew’s began exploring changes we could make to our pedagogy. Pedagogy is a word that is most commonly understood as the approach to teaching. While all Australian schools follow the Australian Curriculum, they don’t all approach the teaching of it in the same way, and we wanted to put a strong and consistent framework around our teaching. We were fortunate to be recipients of a project partnering with Independent Schools Queensland which enabled us to track our progress and provided us with a framework to assist with our planning and direction. When undertaking change, it is easy to visit other places and come back with a smorgasbord of ideas in which to experiment. We decided that if we were going to make changes that we needed to do so strategically and in a way in which our staff were able to learn and to be supported.

After senior staff visited a number of schools across Australia, we had the chance to observe firsthand different approaches or pedagogies. This also followed a number of staff completing some professional development at Central Queensland University (CQU). This professional development provided us with the confidence to know that we had been thorough in researching an approach that suited our Australian context, we could maintain our literacy and numeracy blocks of intentional and direct teaching, but also offer opportunities for our children to engage in personalised learning, solve problems and develop their thinking skills. We made the decision to commence our Walker Learning journey. As part of our desire to implement this pedagogical approach, we pursued changes which would assist our students to be more creative, taking full advantage of and nurturing a child’s sense of wanting to ‘find out’ and their natural curiosity.

From the eyes of a child, having an opportunity to investigate, problem solve, make and create is something special to look forward to as part of the school day. Many children greet staff each morning quite excited to share that they will be a Focus Child or to talk about their current Work in Progress. In speaking with some Year 1 boys last week, they were creating buildings to reflect their understanding of day and night which was part of their Science unit. The teacher had provided some provocations in the construction area, which led to the creation of some large box based constructions following initial design and planning. One child gave particular consideration to environmental aspects and energy saving but the focus was that it let light in, the other creation was darkened and there were no opportunities for light or to see when inside. These children were engrossed in their process and highly skilled at explaining and writing about the Science concepts of day and night.

In Prep to Year 2 the day begins in every classroom with Tuning In , followed by Investigations and then concluding with Reflection Time . The children love to be the Focus Child, Reporter or Photographer and these roles also allow the teacher the time to get to better know each child individually. This personalisation of learning and emphasis on relationships tied in very well with our values and culture as a school, which was another reason why Walker Learning was such a great fit for our College.

At a first glance, if one visits one of our classrooms during Investigation time it is easy to be mistaken and think that the children are having a lovely time doing whatever they want. Once the pedagogy is known and understood, it is very easy to see the clear links to the learning intentions, the opportunities for spring boarding to specific subjects of direct instruction for the remainder of the day and the high level of planning and preparation which goes into devising each learning space to cater for the needs of individual children. It is amazing to see Walker Learning in action, when children are making the most of provocations in certain areas.  For example, they may love construction, and this may often mean great links to measurement as well as design and planning. The teachers make the most of the teachable moment and take the learning to the child.

To ensure that our teachers remain current in their understanding, we are working with Early Life Foundations, (the ongoing professional development of Walker Learning) to provide new mentoring, school visits and some professional learning with a university in New South Wales. Many of our teachers have taken the additional step of becoming accredited as teachers of the Walker Learning approach and they now willingly support the learning of others who visit for study tours. This journey is something where we are continually learning and implementing new initiatives. Walker Learning is an evidenced based pedagogy that draws from the fields of developmental psychology and neuroscience whilst acknowledging that culture, community and family have a significant impact on a child’s life and learning. It is child focused and allows each child the opportunity to thrive and flourish. Walker Learning also links well with other initiatives across the College, including our Personal Capacity work and Cultures of Thinking.

In essence Walker Learning is summed up by the old Chinese proverb: ‘ Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.'

Author Profile

Chris Ivey

In his own words, Chris “enables things to happen” at St Andrew’s. As Principal of the College, he leads the development and progression of St Andrew’s by enabling staff and students to achieve their personal best. Chris is a Reverend and has been the Principal of St Andrew’s for more that 15 years. He also represents and advocates for Independent schools across Australia as the National Chair of AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia).

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