Every child CAN learn

As we come to end of the 2012 school year in Australia, I wanted to reflect on the work of our system of nearly 80 schools and in particular our focus for the year – learning by inquiring. This, in essence, means learning about the learner, learning about learning, and learning about teaching, in order to meet the needs and improve the learning outcomes of each and every student in our care. At its heart, it’s a simple proposition but the nature of the work is ever complex and challenging.

As I said to our system leaders at the very start of this year, there is greater student diversity in our schools today than at any time in our history. Our schools represent, in microcosm, the diversity that in exists in modern society. Coupled with this, is the expectation that every child can learn – not should learn – but can and will learn.

One of the great joys of my work as an Executive Director of a large system of schools is that I get to observe some absolutely outstanding examples of learning and teaching. Last month I was privileged to officially open our second Catholic Trade Training Centre at Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt funded largely through a $9 million investment by the Australian Government.

For those of you who don’t know Mount Druitt, it is about 40 kms west of Sydney and has a high migrant population with 48% of residents coming from countries where English is not their first spoken language. The median age of 30 years is about 7 years younger than the median age for Australia. Mount Druitt is one of the lowest SES (socio-economic status) areas in Sydney and has double the national average unemployment at over 12%. * 2011 Census 

This is a hugely diverse community with a great many challenges, but I don’t provide these statistics to garner sympathy for the teachers at Loyola. Rather, I provide them to paint a picture of the community Loyola serves. In fact, Loyola’s principal Rob Laidler is adamant that his students’ postcode doesn’t equal their potential.

We know from the work of John Hattie this is true. The greatest effect on student performance is not socio-economic status or family background, the greatest effect is the quality of the teacher.

Over the course of the year I have traversed a range of issues via Bluyonder with the central themes of:

  • Identifying new ways of learning by starting with the kids – knowing who they are and what they can do and responding to their diverse needs; and
  • Investing in our teachers so they can deliver the learning and teaching needed to see every student succeed

Loyola is an outstanding example – a lighthouse – of just what a school community can achieve when teachers take this responsibility seriously. In terms of meeting the needs of each and every student they ‘walk the talk’.

They meet the kids where they are at, value them, identify and use their talents and interests and ask the question: ‘how can we help you?’. They provide depth and breadth (diversity) in their delivery of schooling.

Loyola provides multiple pathways for learning. Every student can follow a curriculum that meets their needs, not just the requirements of external examinations. Whether through the traditional academic route, the University Hub, the Step Up Into Teaching program, the Nicholas Owen vocational program or now the trade training centre – Loyola finds a way to meet the needs of the kids in their care and give them the best possible opportunities to succeed.

Caption: Remy Low from the University of Sydney speaking about Loyola’s University Hub

This can only happen with great leadership and vision, and the continuous development and willingness of teachers prepared to go outside the square and ask the question: ‘what do I need to learn to help you learn?’.

I was reflecting on this point at the end of the opening and blessing ceremony when a group of Loyola’s students stood up and sang ‘Amazing Grace’. They looked like they could have represented the United Nations the diversity was obvious.

When one of the students, Ida, started to sing a solo piece she simply lit up. There was so much passion in her voice; so much confidence in her song and I know her school – our school – has contributed to that. What an awesome example of our work.

Caption: Ida (far right) and Loyola’s Choir singing ‘Amazing Grace’

There are many, many more and it makes me so proud as an educator and leader to be in the business of schooling today.

Thank you for being on the journey with me this year. Have a joyous Christmas.

Greg

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