Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE)

A new approach to teaching and learning at New Zealand’s first state senior high school


By Bruce Sheerin, Ministry of Education, New Zealand

A stunning, new, open-area industrial design school for 16- to 18-year-olds in Auckland is pioneering new approaches to teaching and learning.


The vision for Albany Senior High School is to “nurture … inspire … empower” students through interdisciplinary teaching teams based in ten large (360m2) open learning community spaces. Teachers are seen as constant learners, encouraging adult relationships with learners and social connectedness. Teachers are always in and about the learning areas and readily available to students from shared teacher work areas.


The school’s facade and access point
© Ministry of Education, New Zealand

The learning environment provides a mix of learning modes and the spaces were designed for both independent and formal teaching.


Learning community: several groups working simultaneously in an open space
© Ministry of Education, New Zealand


The learning communities (shown above) include teams of English, mathematics and science teachers. The spaces are ICT-rich and have large and small break-out rooms, flexible furniture arrangements for students to work in small or large groups, plus a kitchen for students’ use.


“Inquiry learning is the cornerstone of tuition here”, says Principal Barbara Cavanagh, “supported by learning dialogues”. Spaces have been designed for independent inquiry learning, formal teaching, and self-managing project groups of students. There are also learning streets linking the learning communities, and a large cafeteria at the heart of the school for social interaction, as seen below:


Albany Senor High School, level 3
© Jasmax

Every Wednesday, students engage in community-based impact projects. This involves researching, planning and implementing an action for the community. Projects completed include setting up a business, building a video server and digital signage solution for the school, restoring local waterways, designing, building and programming a robot and creating original artworks for the school.


The other four days of the school week are made up of three 100 minute periods. “There is ample opportunity, and space, for students and teachers to delve deep, inquire, reflect and learn”, says Barbara Cavanagh.


The five-storey school is nestled in native bush alongside a busy highway. Existing historic buildings were preserved as part of the campus, as was the habitat of the rare copper skink. These creatures have their own predator-free enclosure within the school grounds and their distinctive back design has been replicated in the paving of the large outdoor piazza, as shown below.



Outdoor piazza 
© Ministry of Education, New Zealand

The 5-star Green Star rated building has carpet, acoustic lining and sound-suppressing glass throughout to keep the learning community spaces and central concourses quiet. All areas have comfort cooling and free cooling economy cycles. The underground car park is ventilated with CO monitoring, and a rain harvesting system complements the xeriphytic landscaping.


For more information, contact:
Bruce Sheerin
Senior Policy Analyst (Property)
Ministry of Education
45-47 Pipitea Street, Thorndon
Wellington 6140
New Zealand


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