Traditional schooling models, characterised by cellular classrooms and ‘chalk and talk’, have been prominent since the Industrial era. Although there’s been much discussion around the need to evolve this model to one which is more engaging and relevant for today’s students, from the limited number of schools that have successfully shifted from conventional structures, it is evident how difficult this is to do. Fiona Young and Meredith Ash share the unique story of the Lindfield Learning Village.
Lindfield Learning Village (LLV) in Sydney, Australia, is an innovative K-12 public school which challenges traditional educational approaches whilst demonstrating excellence in practice and outcomes. Located 20 minutes from the CBD, in an iconic neo brutalist building fringed by the Ku-ring-gai national park , the school opened in 2019. Its unique educational model, based on stage-not-age, student-centred and real world interdisciplinary learning, has attracted widespread interest with wait-lists of up to 2500 students.
The schools success can be attributed to the strength of its bold vision – for new ways of innovative teaching and learning to create independent critical and creative thinkers who understand how to make a difference in the world. This has attracted and engendered a strong and committed school community with aligned educational values. Critical to its success was the process of creating and enabling LLV’s educational model over several years.
Collaboration has been central to the development of LLV from the outset. The process of developing the educational model was led by a Steering Committee comprising the Director of the local network of schools, local principals and experts in learning and education architecture. Although there was an aspiration for an innovative school, the type of school it could be was unknown and it was necessary to explore the educational model that would fit the existing building and the community who it would serve.
Two key elements led to the success of this project. Firstly, the development of a clear, transparent and inclusive campaign developed around a three tier consultation model. This comprised immediate neighbouring households, local schools and council, and educators and the broader metropolitan Sydney community.
A series of forums and events were organised ranging from a weekend morning tea on site with locals, to a public lecture and series of workshops with students, local principals and community led by global education expert Professor Stephen Heppell (who was part of the LLV core project team). Through these events, the latest research in education and global exemplars were shared, discussed and debated.
Critical to this process was the use of a virtual community consultation platform to seek opinions from the wider community on their aspirations for the school and to gauge responses to the educational model development at key stages of the project. Over a 5-week period, there were 4206 unique visitors to the site with over 550 people signed up to the platform to contribute their thoughts. Facebook and Twitter pages were also set up to support the communications and messaging. Although the project team felt the propositions put forward were progressive, they were pleased to find that the community were keen to push the thinking even further.
Secondly, although it took several years to navigate the fruition of this new school, there was continuity in personnel from initial development to the enabling of the vision. Despite the retirement of the Director of the school district during the project, two members of the Steering Committee respectively took on the roles of incoming Director and LLV Principal. This enabled the deep thinking and decisions made early on to be carried through into the design of the organisational and physical structure of the school.
Learning has been central at LLV, not just for the students, but also for the teachers who have needed to adapt to new pedagogical practices for more active and collaborative teaching and learning scenarios and spaces. In addition to supporting new ways of learning, new assessment processes have had to be developed, trialled and implemented. In her blog entry, Mika Kirk gives a sense of the energy and purpose of life as a student at LLV. This unique learning experience is the result of ongoing reflection, adaptation and improvement by LLV staff, founded on the strength of the school’s visionary educational model developed with and by the community.
Meredith Ash is former Director of Public Schools NSW Ku-ring-gai Network who originally led the Lindfield Learning Village redevelopment project.
Fiona Young worked as part of the Lindfield Learning Village project team to develop the school’s educational model. She is currently Studio Director of Hayball Architects and a Co-Author of Integrative Briefing for Better Design.