This post was originally written for The Network – a newsletter for the New Zealand Board of Geography Teachers:
Modern Learning Environments (MLE) seem to be springing up all over the country and all new builds or developments in schools now are supposed to be under this model. I have been teaching in a brand new MLE this year at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. So what is it actually like to work in an MLE?
The first thing you notice when walking into an MLE is the big open spaces. No more corridors with closed doors and classrooms hidden away behind the doors. This is the first clue as to what changes in an MLE. Everything you do is in the open. Initially I thought this would be the difficult part, managing extra distractions. Now, it just feels natural. Other teachers will regularly interact with students in your class – whether they are also working in the same open space or just passing by the area.
This requires you to lose a bit of ownership of “your” class. The way we operate at Hobsonville Point is definitely on a shared ownership basis – with other teachers and with the students. This even extends to co-teaching. Our modules are a mix of co-teaching and single classes. This year as a Social Sciences teacher I have taught with PE, Food Technology, Science, English, Workshop and other Social Sciences teachers as well as teaching my own single teacher classes. To do this, we had to spend a lot of time getting to know the New Zealand Curriculum even better so we could see where the authentic links between the Learning Areas were.
I really feel this is the biggest learning from a first year teaching in an MLE. Modern Learning Environments are not about the Environment at all, they are about the Modern Learning Practices. Working in an MLE enables a more open mindset and approach. Being open to sharing your practice and also being open to both the celebration and critique that comes with this.
To finish, if your school is moving to an MLE then you need to visit some to get a proper image of what they are like. When you visit, do not get distracted by the different environment but look at what possibilities it opens up and especially how the space is being used. The best preparation after that is to really get to know the other staff better. You will be working far closer together than in old style classrooms so you need to build up trust with each other. Get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how you might be able to work together to benefit your students. There will be uncomfortable times as you learn to operate within an MLE but this is part of working out how the MLE will operate best for your school context.
Yes, MLE are different environments to teach and learn in. But they open up possibilities and always remember it is not the environment that helps the students, it is the practices within. Think MLP rather than MLE.