Archers College: A School for Tomorrow!

COVID-19 was a major turning point for us as a school – one for which we will in fact always be grateful.

Before the pandemic started, 2020 was a set to be an exciting year for staff and students at Archer’s College in Johannesburg, Gauteng. For a few grueling months, we had been busy with renovations and preparations to move to our new premises.

Then, as we were enjoying our new space, COVID-19 brought about major changes in the way our school would operate, and the way the delivery of the curriculum would take place. A few months into the remote teaching journey, educators had transformed the way they taught lessons.

Our biggest goal was to keep learners engaged and fully immersed in lessons. If that meant hosting a superhero physical education lesson, where students and teachers alike dressed up like superheroes and enjoyed an online adventure, then that is what we did.

We sent children on nature scavenger hunts in their own gardens, motivated them to delight in their own art and science experiments, and included movement and mindfulness sessions in their daily timetables. Together we navigated our ‘new normal’, which not only motivated every one of our students, but brought about positive changes for our school.

Cross-curricular Teaching and Learning

When planning began for 2021, as a teaching team, we reflected deeply on 2020. We embraced the concepts of a hybrid classroom because we had watched many children thrive during our hands-on remote lessons. These sessions were embedded into our planning for ‘Our Dream School’ of the future.

We decided to teach the curriculum across various subjects and refer to it as cross-curricular learning. A specific example is our Grade 7 project: Geometry for a Better World. Learners researched cities and structures around the world which demonstrate the principles of geometry; they researched and studied nature around us that encapsulates the principles of geometry; they constructed their own city using only recyclable materials.

The three-month project in which they created a city for a better world showed their ideas and exercised their problem-solving skills. It culminated in ‘business-like’ presentations in which the learners engaged with one another in peer feedback sessions, which elicited comments such as ‘grueling’, ‘fun’ and ‘taught me whether I would like to be a boss or work for a boss’.

Our introduction of nature studies has become a firm new favourite. We now have a dedicated weekly session to get back to nature. These classes are golden opportunities for students to notice the beauty in everyday life, create art with natural objects, and, most importantly, get messy and dirty and become fully engaged and grounded in nature. The ‘mud kitchen’ has become a much-loved corner for all our students. Our pre-preparatory learners make and create mud cakes, often even ‘selling’ them!

We have grown our own vegetable garden, where students pick their own spinach and other vegetables then make healthy smoothies, which is linked to learning more about their topic of Wonder (Theme): Healthy Habits.

A highlight of our 2021 school year was collaborating with a nearby organic pomegranate farm, Ganico, where our seniors were immersed into the daily workings of the farm. They picked, collected and transported produce and learnt the skills of sorting and weighing the pomegranates and then they used the fruit to create a variety of different dishes for us all to enjoy.

Experiences like these are no longer just school outings, but now form part of essential life skills and learning experiences for every learner at Archers.

Meaningful Mindfulness Lessons and an Apple a Day

We have also incorporated other aspects into our curriculum. We offer a range of mindfulness sessions including Growing Your Mindset and Mindful Movement. Every child begins their school day with movement, dance or mindful reflection. One of our primary goals is to allow our children to move as much as possible throughout the school day.

A morning filed with stretching, calming exercises, core work and setting our intentions and goals for the day or week ahead has transformed the way our students carry out their school day.

Our emotional intelligence sessions are designed to help children focus on connecting with their emotions and feelings and motivating them to work on encompassing qualities, such as gratitude, kindness and empathy, into their everyday conduct.

Archers College is working hard to achieve our goal of becoming recognised as an Apple Distinguished School. Our children use iPads as learning tools throughout their school day. They participate in lessons dedicated to allowing them to develop their minds creatively as they work through the Everyone Can Create curriculum (created by Apple), as well as working on developing their coding brains. Sphero has become our students’ best friend, as they code the robot to create beautiful art pieces and solve area and perimeter problems.

We strive to keep a balanced view in our use of technology. Our life skills lessons frequently focus on digital citizenship, teaching the children to observe their screen time, set limits and be a responsible citizen of the digital world.

The world as we once knew it has changed and it will continue to be ever evolving. When sitting down to reevaluate our future course we focused on a few fundamentals:

  • Learning should be first and foremost enjoyable and relatable. Every single concept can be taught in this way.
  • Learning should never take place in one specific way. It is a process and one that every single person or child works differently.
  • Learning should be life-long and not confined to one lesson or a specific concept.
  • Learning should take into consideration the skills, habits, and knowledge we will need to rely on in five, 10, 15 or 20 years from now. Teach these skills, habits, and content.
  • Learning should often, if not always, engage as many of our five senses as possible and be as hands-on as possible, for us to remember what we learn or for learning to become valuable to us.

As a school, we are proud of how we have evolved over the last few years, and every day we continue to ‘push the boundaries’ of traditional education, as we work to accomplish our goal of being ‘A School for Tomorrow’.