In early October, all of the VRG Djusholm teachers traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to think about and discuss how to create innovative learning environments (ILE). Through literature studies, school visits and disciplined dialogue in cross-curricular teacher teams, we were able to invest quality time into thinking about how can we develop ILE back at VRG.
To prepare, we reviewed the OECD 2010 report- The Nature of Learning where the seven principles of learning are defined. We also went on to read and discuss the definition of a learning environment. We define learning environment as flexible, informal and formal, bricks and mortar and online, individual or group. We agreed that learning can and often does extend far beyond the traditional classroom.
Then, we went on to study the OECD 2013 report- Innovative Learning Environments. In this report through a study of more than 40 case studies, specific characteristics of ILE were identified:
- Rethinking core elements of learning – who is the learner? who is the teacher? how does technology impact the content and resources we use? how do we use time efficiently/effectively?
- ILE are often found in formative organizations – organizations that are continually reviewing their processes and their results to inform further development.
- Utilize outside resources in higher education, community connections and the “real world” around them to enrich the student’s learning
- Maintain a focus on the 7 principles of learning, that all aspects should be present not just some.
Then, in groups of two or four teachers, we visited 10 different schools in the greater
Copenhagen area to look for these characteristics. Each with their own situation, their own organizational structure, their own facilities, their own teachers, their own philosophy … we saw a wide variety of different approaches. We observed many interesting examples of how to use instructional space, how to organize groups and how to motivate students. The students, teachers and school leaders we met were obviously proud of their school and eager to share their experiences.
Now, as we return back to VRG, we will sort through our observations, reflect together on what we have observed, write feedback to the schools we visited and then begin to debate what aspects should we begin to study further. During the second quarter of school, we will work in study circles to dig deeper and better understand ILE. Maintaining a focus on our yearlong goals, we will study how we can build ILE in blended learning lessons and as we develop our program teams. We bring our collective experiences from this professional development trip with us to better inform our work.
Of course, during this visit, we also had time for walking tours of the city, team building, and typical Danish dinners. As a part of our three-year professional development cycle, our staff travels as a group to learn together and to build community. Both of which are key in becoming an even better school here at home.