An Architecture of Ownership: Students and teachers forging agentic identities in an innovative learning environment

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2017
Project end date: 
March 2019
Principal investigator(s): 
Noeline Wright and Rachel McNae
Research team members: 
4 staff members from Rototuna Junior High School and a research assistant (Waikato University)
Research partners: 
Rototuna Junior High School



This project seeks to understand how students and teachers in a new school forge their identities within innovative physical, curriculum and relational spaces to reflect modern learning needs. We will use The Architecture of Ownership concept (Fletcher, 2008) as the unifying framework to understand how teachers and students at Rototuna High School make sense of, and develop agency in a new school. It is hoped that findings will contribute new understandings about how students and teachers forge agentic identities of ownership within and across various architectures (physical, relational, learning, curriculum, assessment) in Rototuna High School.


This research aims to re-vision what is understood as “meaningful involvement” in an Innovative Learning Space in a way that draws on a collective view of student and teacher experiences. The project aims to:

  • establish a context in which participants, as members of this study, have as much agency as possible in defining what counts within their school.
  • examine the extent of the influence of various architectures of ILEs (physical, pedagogical, social and relational) on the ways in which students and teachers make sense of their identities and develop personal and/or collective agency as either teachers or students.

Why is this research important?

Little is known about how new secondary schools come into being. There is certainly little literature in New Zealand that helps understand this process from the perspectives of teachers and students. This research therefore contributes to the sparse literature on new schools. It contributes to what is known about how new schools develop their cultural and ritual practices and how they create distinctive identities that constitute their logic of practice.

Findings from this study will contribute to what we know about how teachers and students contribute to this new school formation of identity and cultural practices. Findings will also contribute to better understanding how students can become effective contributors to their learning community in partnership with their teachers.

By examining how participants (both teachers and students) forge their identities in these new learning spaces in a new school, this project will contribute new knowledge about ways in which students and teachers make use of Innovative Learning Spaces. We will do so through processes of individual and collective reflection, partnership, shared wisdom and supported practice. This new knowledge can inform the future planning and design of future schools in New Zealand schools, and possibly internationally. It may generate new knowledge, skills and theory about how teachers and students make sense of their experiences and form identities in a new school in New Zealand.

What we plan to do

The research is being undertaken at Rototuna High School.  A small group of students and staff are collaborative participants, collecting digital artefacts of their choosing as examples of taking agency and/or developing an identity in this new school.  They will select artefacts to share during the research visits, as prompts for discussion and/or interviews. Artefacts might be class work, video narratives, photos or audio diaries. These chosen artefacts and the selection reasons will illustrate how students and staff are making sense of themselves in this school, under the categories of meaning-making, agency, and belonging. This will help us better understand how participants forge agentic identities within the Architecture of Ownership framework. Analysis will take the form of coding, combing and thematic analysis of data from focus group interviews, classroom observations, and review of collected artefacts. The classroom observational data in particular will deepen our understanding of how teachers develop their meaning-making, pedagogy and agency in a modern learning environment.

Our partners

Rototuna High School: Leaders:  Anna Pratt and Megan Barry, along with 10 participant staff and 25 students (from years 7-11).


Left to right: Noeline Wright and Rachel McNae, (University of Waikato) Megan Barry and Anna Pratt (Rototuna High School)


Contact Details

Dr Noeline Wright                                                                        Dr Rachel McNae
Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research (WMIER),         Director of Te Puna Rangahau o Te Whiringa
Faculty of Education, The University of Waikato                         Centre for Educational Leadership  Research,                                                              Faculty of Education, The University of Waikato   
07 8384500 ext 7861                                                        
                                                                                                      07 8384500 ext 7731