“Childhood is not preparation for life; childhood IS life. A child isn’t getting ready to live; a child is living. No child will miss the zest and joy of living unless these are denied by adults who have convinced themselves that childhood is a period of preparation. How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize children as partners with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing them as apprentices. How much we could teach each other; we have the experience and they have the freshness. How full both our lives could be…”
John A Taylor, Notes on an Unhurried Journey
Blue Gum Community School is a ‘real world’ learning environment, which is designed to be a microcosm of, and an access point to, the broader community. Students of all ages are active participants in, and citizens of, the real world; they are instinctive researchers of the world around them, seeking knowledge and skills. Students and educators work together as co-researchers investigating/exploring/theorizing, in the process of making meaning. New forms of expression are often needed, so the arts offer a rich source of creative ‘tools’ and different ‘languages’, through which to think ‘outside the box’, explore ideas, and then to communicate their findings and responses to others.
Students are learning that their identity is bound up in their community and the part they play in it. To be mutually beneficial, this relationship requires deep respect and active listening. Community is founded on relationships, which invariably have high points and low points. As part of living in the real world, students will experience conflicts, disagreements and annoying people in everyday life – they need to learn and practise strategies for handling these situations constructively. In the process, they discover the powerful learning that emerges when they work in collaboration with many different ‘others’.
Blue Gum is a secular school, where individual families’ beliefs and values are supported, if possible and consistent with the school’s philosophy; however, one set of religious/spiritual beliefs is not valued more highly than another. The school has a passionate commitment to social justice, e.g. issues around the four fundamental principles of equity, access, equality and participation. Ethical issues frequently arise, offering students a myriad of opportunities for robust debate and meaningful learning.
Our classrooms are usually a hive of activity, as students work through a variety of learning possibilities. They have a strong sense of ownership over their learning, and can negotiate the direction it takes, frequently taking the initiative in seeking resources, discussing theories, collaborating with peers and investigating real-life issues. However, a balance is always maintained between student initiatives and teacher-instigated explorations, research and workshops (e.g. targeting core skills).
Outdoor education is an important part of the core learning and compulsory for every student, not simply an ‘elective’. Taking students into challenging situations requires them to appreciate their vulnerability, and the need to work/communicate effectively within a group to problem-solve, learn risk management skills and rely on one another. Blue Gum students spend large chunks of time outdoors, exploring and engaging in the natural world around them. This may mean climbing boulders and trees, sliding down dirt hills, experimenting with and in water, using sticks as tools – extracting maximum learning from ‘hands-on’ investigations. The importance of regular contact with the natural world is now well-documented.
More information on Outdoor Education
Students’ questions are welcomed and listened to with respect; they often act as a trigger for further research. By treating students’ questions/theories seriously, educators send a strong message to students that they have something worthwhile to say. This encourages the development of deeper, higher-order thinking. Sensitive topics will be handled sensitively, but will not be avoided simply because they may make adults feel uncomfortable. So, topics such as death and sex will inevitably come up in conversations, and educators’ responses will be simple and honest and, in appropriate circumstances, outside experts may be invited to share their expertise – with students, educators and, if desired, parents.
From their earliest years, students are encouraged to investigate real-life projects/problems using real tools in their work, e.g. knives, stoves, hammers, glue guns etc. They learn how to light wood fires safely (e.g. to bake potatoes) and maintain fires in fire pits (e.g. for campfire cooking). As students’ maturity and capabilities grow, so do their opportunities to work with more complex tools/equipment.
Our staff are professional educators; they are also compassionate human beings. Students’ health and social/emotional wellbeing are as important in the learning process as their academic achievements. Our educators make time to listen to students’ concerns and personal challenges, and support them to problem-solve to find workable solutions. ‘First aid’ might involve a band aid… or a reassuring hug. Personal contact is part of being human. Of course, inappropriate contact is not acceptable, but a truly professional educator knows where the boundaries lie… and students too know the difference, when they are surrounded by a team of people they trust.
We hope this brief introduction to Blue Gum has given you a taste of the values that are important to us. However, a wise parent once commented – Blue Gum is a wonderful place for students; it’s not always the right place for parents! And this is ok. Please understand that our school’s philosophy may not suit everybody. Different families need different schools. But if you seek, and are accepted for, enrolment at Blue Gum, please understand that you are taking ‘the whole package’ (It is not possible to ‘cherry-pick’ some aspects and reject others).
However, if you are attracted to a school community full of joy, challenge, excitement, self-reflection, research, exhilaration AND, most importantly, LEARNING – have we got a deal for you! As our educators will tell you, being involved in Blue Gum challenges us all – the way we think, as well as the way we act. It is a lifelong journey of learning for us all. Sometimes, we will take a side-track, hit a dead end and have to retrace our steps and rethink our plans – just like life. But the longer we are involved, the more the experience changes who we are. And, just like the students, the adults become much deeper thinkers, more creative problem-solvers, much more willing to persevere with challenges, and appreciative of the need to find and nurture our strengths alongside our interdependence as human beings.
As W.B Yeats so eloquently phrased that ‘deal’ –
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.