Reflections from CEFPI Conference School Visit to Galilee School, by Bill Walsh
On Tuesday 27 May 2014 I was a member of a group of forty plus delegates who visited Galilee School as a selected site visit within the CEFPI Australasian Annual Conference being held in Adelaide (CEFPI – Council of Educational Facility Planners International).
On behalf of CEFPI and the site visit group, sincere thanks to the school principal Jodie Higgins and staff for the warm welcome to the school and the generous amount of time given by staff in preparing for and conducting the visit. The opportunity to view the student and teacher work on display to illustrate the school’s operation and educational philosophy was much appreciated; clearly a lot of time had gone into the display. All staff were fully open to questions from the visitors and conveying their understanding of the school’s operation. The school is commended for having a number of parents available to meet the visitors and to comment on the school’s operation from a parental perspective; it is a brave and confident school that would let parents speak freely to visitors.
I had a special interest in visiting the school as part of the CEFPI conference. This was my third visit to the school, having previously visited in 2007 just after the school opened and again in 2009. I was interested to see how the architecture had developed and if the school had been able to maintain its “inside-outside” eco-literacy educational philosophy based on Reggio Emilia principles as the school grew to house a full stream of P-7 students. Often it is easier to operate certain educational practices when a school has small enrolments and a few committed staff; commitment becomes tested as a school grows in enrolments and teacher numbers.
The overall impression from my recent visit is that the school has remained true to its original conception, maintaining its architecture and educational goals from what I originally saw and heard in 2007. It was particularly interesting to see the Reggio Emilia principles, originally developed for infant students, being successfully applied to students in older grades.
The architectural design, completed to an educational brief, presents a ‘homely’ or ‘naturalistic’ style of learning on something of a domestic scale. There is no sense of the school being a potentially inhibiting formal learning institution. The use of floor to ceiling glass in the learning pods, and the easy access to and visibility of the ‘outdoors’, reinforce and enable the “inside-outside learning” pedagogy that recognises the relationship between the physical and psychological learning environments and a child-centred focus. The buildings have a good sense of flow, ease of access and egress and lots of natural light. By careful design, the learning areas appear to me more spacious than their square metre dimensions.
The school buildings are of a modest physical nature, with the construction scale restricted by directive to equivalence in cost to modular buildings. Nevertheless, the buildings more than adequately support the educational intentions. The architect for the school, John Held, is commended for the architectural awards he has won for the Stage 1 and Stage 3 buildings completed under financial constraints.
The school gave the feel of being a rural school with strong community ties although it is on the developing city fringe of Adelaide. Related support facilities adjacent to the school support the local community objective for family-centred learning.
The school is commended for its ‘bravery’ in allowing an outside play-based education that includes rocks, tree branches, sticks, mud, sand pits and milk crates, and allows tree climbing. The creative play aspects were exemplified in the large number of temporary student-constructed ‘cubby-houses’ around the school and in the trees. Most schools would consider such a play environment messy and unsightly and dangerous to the point of breaching Occupational Health and Safety regulations. The school is brave in tolerating ‘creative messiness’ and working through a learning program with the students to meet OH&S regulations.
The school says of itself in something akin to a ‘mission statement’:
Galilee takes an ecological approach to learning based on an understanding that there is a reciprocal relationship between the physical and psychological environments, and this includes a focus on sustainability. The purpose built learning spaces foster collaborative, inquiry based learning as well as explicit, individual and group teaching. Learning spaces and furnishings are designed to support wellbeing as well as learning. Learning at Galilee is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach with the central themes of caring about learning, caring about self and each other and caring about the environment guiding the learning program.
From the perspective of three visits to the school, I believe the school has bravely and determinedly stuck to its educational philosophy and vision for learning. Visiting the school engenders a sense of freshness, excitement and innovation in support of learning. I look forward to a fourth visit at a future time to renew my sense of freshness, excitement and innovation in the school’s operation.
Thank you staff, students and parents of Galilee school for the opportunity to visit. I wish you every success as you proceed along your innovative, caring and ‘creatively messy’ way based on a well-established educational philosophy.
(Prior to retirement from full-time work, Bill Walsh was the Director Resources Policy and Capital Programs, Catholic Education Commission NSW)