Rethinking Primary School Classrooms

I have worked in many primary schools throughout the course of my teaching career and I am often struck by the fact that nothing much has changed (in most classrooms) since I myself was a student in the 70’s. More to the point, not a lot has changed since the Industrial Age, when schools first came to be. Sure there are computers, interactive whiteboards and the like, but we still usually have one teacher sprouting knowledge to 28 or so same aged children for a period of one year.

Never in my teaching career has the curriculum been so scripted and regimented. Lessons are fairly much word for word throughout Australia and worksheet for worksheet. This is great for people who move around the country regularly, because pretty much every seven year old in Australia will be covering the same thing – even if said seven year old already knows everything there is to know about that concept or topic!

We know that this traditional system of schooling can work well for some and is okay for many but can seriously damage others. Over the past few years I have been on a mission to find the ultimate student centred schools with user friendly classroom design. It all began with a bit of research for a Master Plan for my own childrens’ school.  Through my quest I have visited many innovative schools, both independent and government run schools. When you have a principal who listens to the students, parents, teachers and school community; wonderful things can happen.

I recently visited a school with just such a principal. Wooranna Park Primary School lies within a low socio-economic area of Dandenong, Victoria. Principal Ray Trotter and his staff began their journey of systemic change back in 1997. Wooranna Park’s underlying philosophy was the catalyst for the remarkable changes in their classroom designs. Ray believes that children are born with a hunger to learn; that a child’s mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited. He also believes that, after parents and teachers, the classroom is the third teacher.

Ray says that… “the future will rely on the creativeness and character of our children to shape a better world. In order for this to happen, our schools MUST be a place of optimism, excitement and challenge, where students and teachers see each day as a journey full of purpose and where intellectual engagement and connectedness to the real world are priorities.” Ray believes that one of the most significant changes from the traditional classroom is… “a move away from a model in which the teachers directed activities to a model where a large group of children work with many teachers within a single environment, where many experiences occur simultaneously. Children continuously observe adults working collaboratively.”

The goal in the design of the learning spaces was to spark creativity as well as to invite social and intellectual experiences. Ray explained to me that the transformations were not expensive and utilised the creativity and expertise of the school community with the needs of the students ever at the centre of the design. The Prep room is designed around a giant bus, complete with a beautiful, quiet, sensory integration room. The Year One area has a beautiful dragon boat and Year Two has an awe inspiring space ship theme. Like a Montessori classroom, children work from their strengths, at their level, at their own pace.

Rather than being subject based, as most classroom learning is currently, deep learning takes place through real world, project based learning. Basically every child is on an IEP or Individual Learning Plan. These are called Negotiated Learning Goals, with one on one conferencing time to support and guide children with their learning. Target teaching in small groups cater to varying needs.

Education, like life, is a journey. What a great start in life to be able to take control of your learning with self direction and support from a passionate mentor. Imagine the possibility of a decline in mental health issues that are borne out of consistently comparing oneself to others and poor self worth. As parents and teachers we want our children to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We want them to have a healthy self esteem. We want them to discover and pursue their talents, gifts and passions.

If you’d like to see more check out

YouTube Wooranna Park Primary School Tomorrow’s School Today

If you’d like to chat about how your school can plan for and implement student centred changes please feel free to contact Janine Rees from Sparkt.


0416 096 756

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