In today’s school visit I had a chance to teach 24 eleven year olds from Niels Steensens. It was a lovely experience and I had a chance to work with the students for around 90 minutes. After looking at some images of Australia and thinking about the different perspectives the students had an opportunity to ask questions. Although this was quite reciprocal as the three of us in the room asked as many questions of them. It was clear fairly quickly that students in Denmark are different to those in Australia. The respect from the teacher was one of mutuality. Not once did she make a decision without asking the students if it was OK first. And I felt silly when I asked her if it was OK to take the student’s photos. She turned directly to them and and repeated my question. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t considered their voice to begin with.
Our conversations turned to different rules schools have in Australia and they were shocked to hear that in schools we had to wear uniforms, could be suspended from school and each class had a set of rules, which were strictly adhered to. It became clear that students here had a huge respect for what their teachers asked of them, which I believe comes from the teachers also having such respect for them. It was an expectation that they were responsible for their own learning and that all of the students felt it was important to go to school.
Our afternoon visit was to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium where we were mesmerised by some of learning spaces. Gammel Hellerup is the former school of the famous Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, who has recently returned to design the sports hall and field. Ingels’ designs aim to make the best use of space and even the curved top of the sports hall is utilised as seating in the outside area. The new football field will form part of a drama and arts centre, where the roof will become the seating for the sports field. Take a look at the plans here.
During our chat with teachers from Gammel Hellerup it is clear they have had to deal with lots of changes over the last few years. The 2005 reforms which saw more autonomy for head teachers and a new financial structure has meant the leadership teams have had to deal with new and unexpected issues. I am intrigued how autonomy and choice of schools affects students in Denmark where the welfare state ensures everyone is treated equally. In Australia I expect the push for more autonomy and school choice because of the traditionally more dog eat dog environment we have but for Denmark it seems to be more traditional for them to prioritise equality. Maybe that’s for a later blog post!