NZPETeachercast Episode 2 – Modern learning environments at Tarawera High School

In episode 2 of NZPETeachercast, we have our first guest with Kelly Ross from Tarawera High School. Kelly is the Curriculum Leader of Health and PE and is doing amazing work within a modern learning environment thanks to a $14 million rebuild.

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Episode 2- Modern Learning Environments at Tarawera High School
Duration: [00:15:55]
Carl Condliffe: Hi everyone and welcome back the NZ PE Teachercast for the second episode and our very first guest interview. Today we feature head of Department from Tarawera High School out of Kawerau and beautiful Bay of Plenty. Her name is Kelly Ross and her team are doing some very cool things with modern learning environments. The school has seen some considerable changes in the last few years with a 14 million dollar rebuild that really allowed them to completely change their approach to learning. Kelly discusses some of the school and department wide changes that have been implemented and how they've gone about insuring a successful transition into modern learning environments. I hope you enjoy it.
You're listening to the NZ PE Teachercast! A podcast sharing some of the inspirational stories from amazing health and physical education teachers.
Today's episode is sponsored by My Study Series, an online learning platform by New Zealand PE teachers for New Zealand PE teachers and their students. Check it out now at
Kia Ora everyone, I'd like to welcome Kelly Ross head of physical education and health at Tarawera High School. Tarawera have been in the media quite a lot over the last years recently on the Sunday TV show exploring the amazing new facilities they have there. Kelly, welcome to the podcast.
Kelly Ross: Kia Ora, thank you.
Carl Condliffe: So we're here at PENZ 2016. What's been your best takeaway so far from the conference.
Kelly Ross: I think with PENZ it's always really cool just to hear what other schools
and other people are doing. Even if, I think if you can just walk away from each workshop or each presentation with one little thing that you could take back to your school or your PE class that's awesome and there's been a lot of this year as last year as well. So yeah, it's great.
Carl Condliffe: I think it's really cool as a learning area we can come together and just network and talk and meet and see all these other fantastic practices that's happening in our learning area because we just don't do it enough, I was mentioning that to you before. So that's really good. Can you tell me a little bit about your teaching experience, a bit about the school and I guess a bit about the area that the school's located in?
Kelly Ross: Yup, so I started off my teaching at Newlands College in Wellington and then I headed overseas and did a bit of teaching in London. Then have come back and decided to base myself in the Bay of Plenty just to be closer to family. That's when I applied for the job out in Kawerau, so that's where Tarawera High School is located.
Had never been there before, so drove out for my interview and it's absolutely beautiful, it's such a beautiful place. The maunga Putauaki has been very creatively designed in the middle of our school. So the building's kind of set by the side of it and it's a massive feature when you walk into the school. Every day it just takes my breath away. So yeah, pretty cool place to be. So yeah, I've been at the school now for two and a bit years and watched it grow from, as a brand new school, officially opening at the start of this year.
Carl Condliffe: What differences between the U.K. and New Zealand curriculum. How do you find that?
Kelly Ross: Quite different. To be honest I didn't do heaps of teaching in the U.K. and I felt a little bit out of place at times. I think
it was kind of disconnected from the students, I think that's why it was nice coming home to feel like you can get on with the kids, you can relate to them a lot more than being over in the U.K. Like I said, I only kind of taught for five months and it was just supply teaching so I wasn't at any one place for any length of time.
Carl Condliffe: Was all the exposure that Tarawera High School's been having in the media, we've heard a lot about, or seen, I've seen and watched Helen Tuhoro, your principal, she seems like a really amazing principal to work for and I've had in my past, the first school I started at we had a very similar principal who was, who seemed very straight up and hard nose and really good for the students. How have you found working for Helen and having her as your principal? Has she been pretty cool?
Kelly Ross: Yeah. She has been. She's pretty inspirational, very dedicated to the school, it seems like she's always there and you kind of want to go into her office
and kick her out and send her off for an awesome weekend or something because she's just so dedicated to the place. But no, she's been great. From my experience I can walk in and have a chat with her or catch her on the way past and ask a question or I think that's what's great about Tarawera is the whole senior leadership there, they're just people, they're willing to, if you can go with them with an idea, a solution to a problem they're really willing for you to run with whatever it is.
Carl Condliffe: I imagine Helen's got a lot, excuse me, a lot of mana in the community, really pretty well, held up in high esteem I think.
Kelly Ross: Yes, absolutely. Yup.
Carl Condliffe: So what I'm really here to talk about with you is this concept of a modern learning environment. So in your own words for those of us who are really sure what a modern learning environment is, can you explain what that --
Kelly Ross: Yup, I would say that it's like a big fuddy [00:05:56] (?) with all its walls kicked out and knocked down.
And lots of, it's lots of different types of spaces and it's, yeah it's open. They use these doors that divide student spaces but they are always opening and closing and--
Carl Condliffe: What's an example of a space? What would a space look like?
Kelly Ross: Okay, so a space, our main commons for example, they're just completely open. So it'd be like the main space we'd call and then we'd have a cave which is kind of tucked away in the corner and the kids like going in there and being in the dark almost. It's just small and there's bench seats. We've got another couple of other spaces which are like, I kind of just naturally call them breakout spaces where you can go in with a small group and close of the door and do small activities and make a bit more noise than you would in the main area for example.
Carl Condliffe: If we're talking modern learning environments, it's not just limited to physical spaces right, it's also the time table and the roomings, the teaching approaches.
Does that all come into play as well?
Kelly Ross: Yes, it does absolutely all come into play and I think that's what has taken the longest to happen, there is modern learning practices and modern learning approach because it is quite easy to stick to your traditional based teaching just within this open space and there's just more noises and more distractions and things like that.
But as we've gone on we've got technology and brought that into, we're changing the way we teach, more student directed independent learning and less chalk and talk. We have run workshops for example which we can do in those closed off spaces while other kids are working in the open space and working independently and quietly.
Carl Condliffe: We heard from Sophie, was very keen outdoor ed teacher at your school and the amazing things that she's doing with almost flipping the classroom in a sense, using those Google sites for student's to access
information and content and then repurposing that classroom time better.
Kelly Ross: Yeah absolutely and that's one thing that all is been driven from our senior leadership team is for every teacher to set up a Google website for our courses.
Carl Condliffe: That's really cool.
Kelly Ross: Yeah, it has been really cool. Big challenge and it has harder for some staff but it's--
Carl Condliffe: Are the student's embracing it? The students actually access the sites and use them?
Kelly Ross: Yeah, they are. Yup. I know in PE and in outdoor ed every day they're on the website, they're using them and that's how we structure our lessons I guess, go to the website, use it.
Carl Condliffe: Are there any barriers to that in terms of being a small, is it quite rural there?
Kelly Ross: It is, yeah.
Carl Condliffe: Are there any barriers around internet access and access to devices?
Kelly Ross: Yes, there has been. We're really lucky, our school has invested quite heavily in the technology and this is because of the socio-economic background
of the area I guess and that reality our families can't afford to have a device in their house or Wi-Fi. So our school have just invested in the technology and invested in really good Wi-Fi which we've had this year and we've had any problems, which has been amazing.
I have a work collogue, Sam Gibson and he's managing a trust, Te Aka Toitū and they are looking at getting devices, affordable devices and free Wi-Fi in the community so kids can access their mahi at home. So yeah, that's the kind of next project to get up in the community.
Carl Condliffe: That's almost, internet access is almost a necessity now. I don't know how we can expect our kids to succeed if they can't access the internet.
Kelly Ross: No, absolutely.
Carl Condliffe: So you've been through this big redevelopment and it's not just a physical one either, the process that your school goes through to arrive at a point where
they've not thrown out but they've brought in almost a new completely new staff, new facilities. How do you make sure you get the most from those new facilities I guess, from a pedagogy standpoint? How do you insure success in that transition? Do you go out into the community and you get student voice? What's guided you to the point where the school is at now?
Kelly Ross: Yeah I think it's a lot of that. We do a lot of student voice, we've done quite a lot of work with the community. I guess it's, it's a little of, what's felt that for me I guess a bit of trial and error, we trail something, if it doesn't work we get back and try something else. We've had a few initiatives that we're working on within the school and we just keep at it and we just, yeah I guess we collaborate, we talk it and we have had some failures, things haven't worked so we try something and we really just work together as a staff and yeah, just
keep going. I guess that's, yeah that's what it's felt from my point of view.
Carl Condliffe: I think it's really cool when you can have a staff that can, that is cohesive and works together well. It says a lot about, well it say a lot about leadership and a willingness of staff to be able to reflect and use all the inquiry process and stuff like this to better themselves and with the end goal of delivering awesome lessons to our students.
Kelly Ross: Yeah, absolutely.
Carl Condliffe: How has this changed the way you deliver PE? Like what's the difference from say your experience at Newlands to have a modern learning environment Tarawera?
Kelly Ross: Yeah, it's completely changed the way I deliver PE. Especially this year. So we tackled our senior year levels with we've built this website, we're using way more technology. A lot of PD around that too, going to iPad workshop at the PE Geek and
purchasing equipment from iPad stands to Go Pros and investing in apps and all of those kinds of things. That's a lot different from how I used to teach PE.
We don't have pens and paper anymore, it's all on our digital devices, so that's different in itself and I'm really trying to teach it as practically as possible as so the kids can access that website, access that theory knowledge and apply it in their practical lessons but they can access all of that whenever, wherever and at their own pace.
Carl Condliffe: That' the thing with, that's what I like about that approach is in a traditional classroom you do all this work in the classroom teaching content and then we say to our kids look for homework and do all the higher level Bloom's taxonomy stuff without my support as a teacher, without the support of your peers. It's almost like we're setting them up to failure. But if we can say, take some of that content out of the classroom and repurpose that
classroom time when we're doing that abstraction, conceptualization, the creation, I think it's so much better for our students.
Kelly Ross: Yeah, absolutely, yes.
Carl Condliffe: I heard a lot of negative discussion around modern learning environments and people say that they're gimmicky and staff get stifled by policies and procedures or they don't have the support from senior management. What can you say to all the teachers or even principals reluctant to make the jump to modern learning environments?
Kelly Ross: Yeah, I'd just say just do it, get involved and don't be afraid, afraid to try and fail. Just got to keep trying. I've had worked closely with staff who have been reluctant and found it really, really difficult but they're still there, they're still trying. It does take time, there's a lot of time to change your practice into this modern learning. But once it's set up it's great and it works and it's awesome.
Carl Condliffe: Just flows?
Kelly Ross: Yeah, it flows. But
yeah, and it needs to come from the top. Like I said we're earlier we're so lucky to have great senior leadership who enable us to do what we're doing. But yeah, so that does help and yeah it's just trialing it, working with it.
Carl Condliffe: So being future focused, what role do you see modern learning environments playing in future education? Is this going to be something that gets bigger and better or do you think it's only going to adopted by forward thinking, innovative schools. Is it a gimmick or is it here to stay?
Kelly Ross: That's a good question. I don't know. I guess I've got that fear in the back of my head that it could be only certain schools that embrace it and go with it and do it really well. But I think if we all got on board it could be something awesome and we've got to keep up with the times, technology we don't know what the jobs that we're teaching our kids to do and it's
like, let's keep moving forward and I guess that's the way that we're doing now and we've just got to keep going.
Carl Condliffe: I've got one last question for you, just the wrap up. Who's your favorite musician and why?
Kelly Ross: That would most definitely be my girl Pink, she's amazing, love her and she'd be the, lookout on the dance floor if she ever comes on because I'll own it.
Carl Condliffe: Oh that's funny. Well done. Hey I really want to thank Kelly for stopping by and sharing some of her experiences with modern learning environments I think your story and the story of Tarawera High School is really inspiring and you're doing an amazing job engaging these students through your physical environment. So once again, thank you for having a chat and I look forward to hearing more about some of those cool things that you're doing and achieving at Tarawera.
Kelly Ross: Cool, thank you very much.



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Carl Condliffe is a Health and PE teacher passionate about using technology to create authentic and meaningful learning experiences for his students.

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