Murray Bridge High School has 1050 students and is located about an hour east of Adelaide in the city of Murray Bridge, in the Murraylands region of South Australia. The school has an ICSEA value of 935 with a student population comprised of diverse cultural backgrounds. Murray Bridge has a very strong Aboriginal community and the local Indigenous language Ngarrindjeri is taught at the school. There is a high proportion of students with Chinese and Filipino backgrounds as a result of skilled migration to the area.
The Murraylands region is important for agriculture and farming and has a growing tourism industry. Demographic forecasting suggests the school population is likely to continue increasing, with the introduction of Year 7 in 2022 having a considerable impact on the size of the school.
Murray Bridge HS is committed to offering pathways to cater for all students. Alternative pathways to students gaining their senior certificate are offered through an off-site Independent Learning Centre. The Inclusive Learning Centre and two special classes cater for students with physical and intellectual disabilities. Students can take part in a range of bespoke programs that cater to interest areas through, for instance, the Roper Road Farm (site of working agricultural land), and the school’s status as an Entrepreneurial Specialist School and a Music Focus School. Murray Bridge HS also offers strong VET pathways for students in areas as diverse as construction, animal studies and aged and child care. It is the lead school of the Lower Murray Trade Training Centre and Trade School for the Future, sharing an alliance with other regional public secondary schools in the delivery of VET curriculum delivery, including flexible school-based apprenticeships.
At the beginning of Murray Bridge HS’s engagement with SVA, the leadership team recognised that their curriculum planning and classroom practices did not allow enough productive struggle for intellectual stretch in unfamiliar contexts. They expressed their overarching vision of students being positive and active learners and active local and global citizens and set about identifying priority areas that would help them achieve this goal.
What happened during the project?
School leaders at Murray Bridge HS outlined a series of focus areas that would help them to realise their vision of students being positive and active learners and active local and global citizens. The focus areas were:
- Challenge students to move from being passive learners to being able to tackle higher order questions with confidence;
- Find an authentic way for students to develop dispositions for learning and general capabilities, and for the growth to be recognised, celebrated and documented; and
- Support their Aboriginal students by building an understanding of Ngarrindjeri culture and traditions throughout the whole school.
School leadership decided that trialing new pedagogical practices that enabled students to work innovatively, collaboratively and take risks in their learning could be a way to achieve success in these areas.
A select group of staff were chosen to incubate a structured inquiry-based learning tool called Solution Fluency. The teachers found that Solution Fluency gave them an accessible and adaptable tool to clearly and consistently build multiple general capabilities (c￼ritical and creative thinking, and personal and social capabilities in particular), and to challenge learners to embrace higher order questions and think more deeply.
Given its success, Solution Fluency was then modelled and expanded to all teachers using the general capabilities continua as a framework for growth.
Throughout the process of embedding Solution Fluency, teachers recognised the value of connecting with the community to create authentic learning contexts and build relevance for students.
Connections were made with local businesses and community groups, including the Ngarrindjeri community, and they became more involved in designing and completing the learning with students.
To support more future-focused practice, the school also took steps to integrate new technologies in the classroom. For example, through SVA’s partnership with Samsung Electronics Australia, the school used Samsung phones and VR headsets to enrich learning in history, geography and outdoor education. Digital learning and IT classes utilised the technology in designing VR apps – one in particular, which allowed the designer to simulate gravity on different planets. The resources were particularly beneficial for special education classes where life experiences of students outside of the local area is limited.
To consolidate students’ ability to reflect on their learning, staff focused on developing and embedding clear feedback cycles in the learning process, and empowering students through student voice to share with teachers when and how they learn best. E-portfolios were created and owned by students as a way to record and showcase their work and reflect on their learning and achievements.
What changed for the students?
￼Supporting the trial of new, future-focused pedagogical approaches gave teachers “permission” to trial new things with support. As a result, teachers are taking more risks in learning design and are now collaborating to design interdisciplinary learning programs.
￼For students, the introduction of Solution Fluency has increased PBL and inquiry-based learning across the school, and 21st century learning skills are being demonstrated in the classrooms. Student engagement in learning has improved, as has their collaboration with peers, sometimes across year levels. Results in 2018 showed a marked improvement in Year 9 NAPLAN and PATM testing.
The ability for students to access authentic learning and contribute their unique strengths to collaborative processes has built the confidence and engagement of all learners, particularly those who were previously disengaged.
In particular, the deepening connections with Ngarrindjeri community and history has built pride across the Ngarrindjeri student body.
Where to next?
Murray Bridge HS will embed the new normal at the school by creating shared agreements that include authentic inquiry-based learning as standard practice in all classrooms and learning areas, including explicit links to elements within the general capabilities.
The school will also continue to develop and implement the e-portfolio system to demonstrate individual understanding and growth of capabilities.
Selected as an Entrepreneurial Specialist School for South Australia in 2019, Murray Bridge HS will further explore how the focus on general capabilities through Solution Fluency will prepare students for entrepreneurial pathways. Building community connections will also be a priority for creating authentic opportunities within the entrepreneurial stream.
The school will continue to foster student voice, leadership and engagement by supporting student-led initiatives that connect their learning to issues that are relevant to them. Examples include, developing a student-driven Reconciliation Action Plan containing designs and ideas developed using the Solution Fluency model; supporting the Ngarrindjeri student body to increase Ngarrindjeri language acquisition in the community through social media and the renaming of a school building; and developing curriculum with the support of community Elders that embeds Ngarrindjeri cultural history and thinking in all learning areas.
Murray Bridge HS learned the following were important for success:
- Linking learning – While learning area curriculum is distinct, it should not limit the ways in which schools structure learning experiences. All learning should make use of the natural connections that exist between learning areas (skill mapping) and that link learning areas to learning dispositions and general capabilities in the real world.
- Personalised learning – It’s important to recognise individualised student pathways and relationships for learning. Students will drive learning to a much deeper level if given the agency, skills and resources to do so.
- Sustainable relationships – Schools should build enduring, durable relationships to support their change journey, and remember it’s not a one-off exercise, it needs to be continually nurtured.
- Student-centered design – A key precondition for success is that authentic inquiry and robust learning design should occur, with learners always at the centre.
- Setting priorities – Barriers to innovation should be removed as soon as possible and it’s essential to create time for collaboration and reflection – ideally timetabled, regular sessions.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Ruth Mussger
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
As a leader, the provocations and workshops in Thought Leadership Gatherings are invaluable. The focus each term has been highly relevant and just at the right time. They make me question the way I do things and look for evidence to prove it’s making a difference in student outcomes, or the courage to change if it isn’t.
Sharing across sites during Hub Days has set up conditions for enduring relationships at a leadership and teacher level. It has also provided the impetus for discussion and the exchange of ideas based on the experiences of other schools in similar circumstances. Just as students sometimes “don’t know what they don’t know”, staff can get locked into doing things “because that’s what we’ve always done”, or because they’re just not seeing the options.
While I have deviated from the initial program logic, the process is robust and has influenced improvement planning across my school. The accountability cycle is reflective and empowering as I look back to year one and all we have achieved.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
The most productive and positive relationship we have developed is with the Ngarrindjeri community. Leaders from the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority are now in regular contact with us to build stronger links and offer opportunities and services to support Aboriginal students. This has enabled us to reach out to parents/caregivers who for a variety of reasons are disconnected from school and their child’s learning. Another group representing Ngarrindjeri Nation is Empowering Communities. We are working with their team to develop much stronger pathways for Aboriginal students in leadership, supporting them to be a part of localised decision making, empowering them to shape a preferred future for themselves, their families and the community.
Contribution of another school to your journey
Murray Bridge HS has continued a very positive partnership with Parafield Gardens High School and Craigmore High School in the development of capabilities work, as well as the exchange and “smart borrowing’ of ideas and programs. Additionally, the opportunity to be part of the New Zealand Connection International Exploration and experience different levels of transdisciplinary learning, narrative assessment and digital badging, has further inspired and informed their work. Ongoing communication with members of the leadership team at Ormiston Junior College has occurred, with Murray Bridge HS leadership working towards securing a teaching exchange soon.
The willingness of leadership at Rooty Hill High School to share their vast knowledge, experiences and resources has been inspirational, and has enabled the Murray Bridge HS team to collaborate and amplify change. Their clarity of purpose and shared belief in what is valued, resonated in everything they did and influenced how we built momentum. As Murray Bridge HS were in the early stages of their thinking about e-portfolios, for example, the opportunity to see a working model and talk through the different design elements reinforced and supported the work already being done. This enabled them to refine their process to include a much higher level of student agency in collection and validation of evidence. This working model has since been shared with other schools.