Becoming an Innovative Learning Environment – The Making of a New Zealand Secondary School

Review by Dr. Daithí Ó Murchú, 18th Sept. 2018


Becoming an Innovative Learning Environment – The Making of a New Zealand Secondary School
by Noeline Wright. University of Waikato. Hamilton, New Zealand.
Pub: Springer
Reviewed: 18th Sept 2018


‘Becoming an Innovative Learning Environment -The Making of a New Zealand Secondary School’, is a wonderful story, written and told to challenge, inspire and encourage other schools to focus on the true etymological and holistic meaning of ‘education’ and ‘leadership’. It firmly places the ‘whole-school’ community, front-and-centre, in nurturing the unique genius of every student in an envisioned way.

From the outset, Noeline Wright clearly states that the intention of this book is to be highly readable by ‘knowledge workers’ interested in the journey undertaken by Hobsonville Point Secondary School (HPSS), New Zealand. Its focus is a very ‘personal’ voyage, surrounding the school’s transformation in becoming an innovative, 21 Century learning environment inside New Zealand’s education curriculum and regulatory system. Designed around a longitudinal, ‘snapshot’ ethnographic study, the book offers research findings emanating from this ‘journey’. It tracks some aspects of the inception and development of HPSS, particularly leadership decisions linking vision to classroom practices across a range of areas that comprise the complex nature of schools.

As I read this most captivating story, I recall the writings of Joel A. Barker (Independent Scholar and Futurist) who was the first person in the mid-1970s, to popularize the concept of paradigm shifts for the corporate world. In 1980, in addition to his work on paradigms, Barker began to focus on a second crucial component for organizations and individuals: the importance of vision. One of my favourite quotes of all time from Barker, encapsulates, I believe, the essence of HPSS’s journey;

“Vision without action is merely a dream.
Action without vision just passes the time.
Vision with action can change the world.”

This is a book about vision with action. It portrays a school ‘making itself’, changing its ‘whole-school’ world in an envisioned manner, centring on significant aspects of the school’s nascent development. It is about democratic citizenship, leadership, ownership and mutual respect where everyone in HPSS is seen as a ‘vital, inclusive and proactive partner’ in the ‘becoming’ of the school community, in a modern learning environment (MLE).

Chapters 1 to 3 introduce the landscape of the book, a historical framing for modern learning environments and the influence of digital technologies and key competencies for learners and the characteristics specific to HPSS.

Chapter 4 centres on developing the ‘paradigm of one’ metaphor and its purpose to describe the traditional structure of learning, which the school is disrupting. It explains the basis of the school’s curriculum structure and the influence of timetables as structures in schools.

Chapter 5 addresses the pastoral care and the whole brain development aspects of the school’s structure, acknowledging the central role of parents, through the metaphor of the ‘paradigm for one’. It explores the shape and structure of HPSS’s Learning Hub and the role Learning Coaches play in ‘nurturing’ students’ academic and dispositional lives.

Chapter 6 is concerned with framing the ‘paradigm of the many’, a phrase which represents ‘belonging’ and seeing the students as a whole and as part of the wider community and as future thinkers.

Chapter 7 draws together the findings, highlighting what have been identified as key ideas and outlining limitations of the study. It also refers to literature that connects with what the leaders in the school have been aiming to create.

This book is not written for the theorists, it is a truly personal story of one school’s honesty, bravery, resilience and envisioned action. It concerns itself with the manner in which a whole-school community nurtures excellence in an inspiring and ever evolving fashion, preparing its students for the society which does not yet exist! As Plato wrote, in the purest sense, it is about true democratic citizenship and leadership. As Noelene Wright states, “This book is a moment in time…”, which encapsulates the process of a school ‘Being and Becoming Itself’.

“When you drop any new idea in the pond of the world, you get a ripple effect. You have to be aware that you will be creating a cascade of change”. Joel A. Barker