Ness Middle School in Winnipeg, Canada, is proud of its tradition of excellence in education and social justice using symbols of knights to create a community that cares.

The school’s mascot, Nestor Knight, suggests a mythical knight embodying courage, determination and intelligence.  The Ness Knights are the school’s basketball team that is recognised in St James-Assiniboaia School Division as being outstanding sports warriors.

The school wears a mantle of modern day Ness Knights as it tackles social and educational challenges similar to those faced by Australian and New Zealand schools and it is winning the contest.

Prof. Robyn Ewing, from the School of Education and the Arts, University of Sydney, asked Australian schools to do for building students’ creative potential.

“Creativity, problem solving and developing our imagination is important if we expect kids to solve  problems in the 21st century,” she said on the ABC.

Using the research-based Destination Imagination structured program, Ness Middle School offers its students real-life challenges on a daily basis, encouraging them to be self-directed.

Through DI the curriculum shifts towards creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. Students move away from isolated study to collaborative problem solving, tackling exciting challenges and having fun.

Teachers use the four Cs of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, describing them as four pillars that support children taking risks, questioning, evaluating and transferring skills to cross-curricular tasks by using scaffolds and graded exercises. 

Principal, Tammy Baydock, Ness’ enterprising leader, saw an opportunity to improve the learning environment and asked each teacher to give every child a chance to do DI and, now, each child is exposed to critical thinking.

“Now there’s a curriculum where teachers find different strategies to use in cross-curricular ways,” she said.

The staff wanted to assess critical and collaborative problems, track children’s thinking and make their teaching evidence-based, similar to what is done in Australian and New Zealand schools.

They made assessments skills-based, linked to critical thinking while students contributed by assessing their team’s skills and reflected on ways of doing things better.  

The focus for all teachers was assessing critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration, linking their assessments to school-wide policy and reporting to parents.

Creativity and collaboration are features of the Ness Middle School Knights “Power School” approach that empowers parents and staff.

Geret Coates, a teacher and parent at Ness Middle School, explained how technology lets parents log on at any time to see what their children are doing in every aspect of study.

Parents get updates on attendance, their child’s progress and it helps them to have informed conversations with teachers and their children, he explained. 

The system makes teachers more accountable to get their marks in on time and parents have a role to play in being informed, Geret said.

Before Power School was launched only a handful of parents attended but it soared to over 60 per cent attending parent information sessions after the program.

Ness Middle School may have an answer to Australia’s Federal Government’s Commissioned Report in 2014 to “re-balance” the curriculum requiring schools to have more time devoted to literacy.

Ness’ Middle School civic-minded Knights use a Literacy Links Program to engage parents, pre-schoolers and school-aged children with support in literacy that is offered in addition to its other literacy programs like FAST Reading.

Through Literacy Links selected families in the St. James-Assiniboaia School Division is allocated a full-time instructor on a pre-agreed basis to get customised literacy support.

Literacy Links gives children timely support before they come to school and sustains it through school with resources so they can cope with 21st century demands.

The Ness Knights have shown Australian schools how to re-balance critical thinking and literacy without losing either.

Photo caption:

Tammy Baydock, former principal of Ness, with two of her staff teaching Destination Imagination.