Archive for the ‘Catholic schooling’ Category

Enterprising schools

Harvard Professor, Richard Elmore once asked ‘is it possible that schools can continue to operate in the 19th century while the rest of society moves into the 21st century?’ The simple answer is no – although the adversarial position historically adopted by unions suggests otherwise.

NSW and ACT Catholic employers are currently in the process of discussions with staff and the union on a new enterprise agreement that we believe reflects the need to create contemporary working conditions relevant to a twenty first century model of schooling.  This conversation is not limited to teaching profession, it is happening in most professional organisations around the world.  Federal education minister Christopher Pyne recently said that education is one of the last bastions in the working world where length of service is still rewarded.  Length of service in any profession does not guarantee that you are the best you can be.  It simply means you lasted the distance.

We want all teachers no matter what stage of their career to develop high level skills and knowledge in their work.  I know the majority of teachers want greater control of their working lives.  As John Hattie states ‘schools need to collaborate to build a team working together to solve the dilemmas in learning, to collectively share and critique the nature and quality of evidence that shows our impact on student learning, and to cooperate in planning etc.’

This calls for a new professional maturity that provides teachers with greater autonomy but acknowledges the need for all teachers to adopt a rigorous and intellectual approach to improving teacher practice. In 2018, Australia will have a new national teachers standard administered by AITSL.  This is one of the foundations of the new Catholic schools enterprise agreement. The standards are imminent and non-negotiable.

What is negotiable under a new enterprise agreement is how each local school community structures and shapes learning and teaching.  For more than a century the working lives of teachers have been controlled by bells, timetables and externally imposed agenda. Do we continue to defend an industrial model of schooling in the face of the irrefutable and overwhelming impact of a knowledge age or do we embrace the opportunities for teachers to chart new waters?

Enterprise is defined in the dictionary as a ‘readiness to embark on adventures with boldness and energy.’  Educational expert Yong Zhao believes the time has come for schools to be enterprising, for students to be entrepreneurial and for teachers to be bold in re-shaping the educational agenda.  This is what the new enterprise agreement is about.  It challenges teachers to think about new ways of working together to improve the quality of learning and teaching in schools.

We don’t just want teachers to last the distance, we want them to shape their profession and to continually raise the bar of excellence for themselves, the school communities and most of all, the students they teach.

If twenty first century schools are enterprising schools, then we need a contemporary enterprise agreement which reflects a 21st century teaching profession.












The proposal for an enterprise agreement stems from a recognition that a new century requires new ways of working in schools.  It aims to increase collaboration at a local level by supporting leaders but most of all, it aims to bring alignment in the standards





Enterprising schools need enterprise agreements.  It’s time for educators to be bold and to lead the way with imagination and initiative on how we want to work.



Blue Mountains Fires

We’ve seen some devastating fires in NSW over the past 24 hours especially around Springwood, which is home to two of our schools.  I’ve spoken to the principals of St Thomas Aquinas Primary and St Columba’s College and there only seems to be damage to the perimeter of the schools.  A full assessment is now underway to ascertain the extent.

Sadly, some of our staff and families across our schools have lost their homes.  Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta has made provision for emergency relief for affected staff and requests should be made through your school leaders.

The Diocese is planning to launch a crisis appeal next week which you might like to make a donation to support families in need. Details will be available next week.

I’d like to take this opportunity to recognise the outstanding work of our schools and office staff yesterday in managing this crisis, particularly our leaders, Sergio Rosato and Phil Stewart, for the care and well-being of their communities.

I’m extremely grateful to the Rural Fire Service and the NSW Police and all the volunteers for their courageous work in protecting our students and staff.

Please keep our staff and families, the wider Mountains community and those affected by the NSW fires in your thoughts and prayers.

‘Connected’ learning

Canadian principal George Couros spent last week sharing his  ‘connected’ learning with our teachers and leaders.  Several school leaders said they felt ‘inspired’ after hearing George talk so passionately about his students, profession and his professional learning.

The workshops with George and our Principals Masterclass may look like ‘stand-alone’ or ‘one-off’ events but they are actually part of a learning continuum that began seven years ago.  The mere fact that our leaders have an opportunity to collectively engage in deep conversations on learning is powerful learning.

At the start of the 2012 school year, we set our collective focus to ‘learning by inquiring’ – how we could engage in the inquiry and knowledge building cycle within schools and across the system.  It builds on the work of Helen Timperley by responding to the emerging needs of ‘our class’ – whether it be school leaders, teachers or learners.  It requires a commitment to engage in continuous learning through collective problem solving and data analysis to improve the learning outcomes for each student.

PMC-98For me, the principals masterclass was a high point in this journey to improve learning and build capacity.  When we started we relied heavily on outside experts but last week we had our own leaders sharing their learning.  Although the context of the school communities may be different, there is a shared vision that transcends physical and virtual borders.

As I listened to the keynotes, three things became clear.   The first is we are beginning to get the language right – we are crafting a new narrative shaped by the best of what we know when it comes to improving learning and teaching.  The second is we are developing greater precision around the work by getting rid of the ‘noise in the background’.  We are focusing on the things that make a difference – the high effect strategies to drive change where it counts most.  Thirdly after listening to our school leaders, we are now seeing tangible evidence of building teacher capacity and its impact on student engagement and learning.  It’s starting to make a difference.

All of this leads into new areas for discussion and new ways of working but we are doing this together.  In the past we’ve “intellectualised” the process of improvement but ignored the implementation process.   Competing narratives haven’t led to sustainable change – the discussion was broad and shallow.  Yet what I saw and heard last week was a significant shift at the point of delivery – system leaders working with school leaders working with teachers – everyone as George said ‘elbows deep in learning.’

If there is one thing that resonated with me when listening to George it was the importance of modelling the what, how and why of what we do.  It challenges us to lead in the way we ask our leaders to, teach in the way we ask our teachers to and learn in the way we ask our students to.

A learner’s voice

I have often asked my colleagues to write guest blogs as a way of sharing expertise from those at the coalface. In reality, those at the heart of schooling are our students.

CCSP - kidsIn May, we hosted the Council of Catholic School Parents’ Conference.  The theme was iConnect and the weekend was in part an opportunity to assuage the fears of parents by allowing students to showcase the technology being used in many of our classrooms. It was a case of students teaching the adults – a wonderful thing to see.

Among the senior students at CCSP was Lois from Loyola Senior High at Mt Druitt.  I asked Lois if she would write a guest blog on how technology has helped enrich her learning.  Lois jumped at the opportunity to share her reflections on the use of technology:

As students we are actively engaging and learning with technology to enhance and support our learning. Educational tools, such as the iPad (which many schools have rolled out an implementation program for) are not only simple to use but the availability of apps helps us learn and enables us to present our work in a variety of ways.

Of course, “What apps are there really out there that can truly be deemed educational?” and “How is it really benefiting the learning of students?” are questions that deserve an answer. There is never a clear, concise answer or a right or wrong answer. However, as a student who has firsthand experience with growing up in an education system that focuses strongly on technology and uses iPads in the classroom, I would like to share from my perspective as a young learner about educational apps for learning and the real benefit technology has on students.

Many have heard of iMovie, Garageband, Popplet, Pages, Creative Book Builder etc where students have created work based on Challenge Based Learning projects and present their findings through a chosen option such as mind maps, short film clips, songs and possibly even their very own iBook creation. The highlight about learning with the iPad is that it potentially allows every student to express their learning as they like it best. An auditory learner can effectively showcase their learning by creating songs and clips just the same as a visual learner can through creating mind maps and iBooks.

With technology expanding and growing, I see the role of a teacher in a technology rich world as someone who is able to use technology wherever and whenever appropriate and applicable. A number of educators I have come across have not only supported our use of technology in learning but also took the initiative to create their own resources for their classes that students can access on their iPad.

As a senior high school student, an app I recently came across called ‘Prelim Legal’ was designed by a senior high school teacher which involved videos packed with straightforward, uncomplicated material along with annotated pictures to make it much easier for any student to grasp the content and understand it easily. Filled with hours of videos including mp3 audio with clear explanations, the syllabus can effectively be taught and be accessed at any time, not restricting learning to only take place in the classroom.

Other teachers have created their own iBooks for distribution to students. The content is straight to the point and focuses on what needs to be learnt in the most effective way possible.  This allows students to comprehend the information at their own pace and in their own way as each student absorbs and remembers content differently.

Lessons that involve technology suddenly become more exciting, and students tend to become more engaged. It may be that when we hear ‘technology’ we immediately think of lessons being appealing and stimulating, or it could possibly be that we acknowledge and appreciate when teachers incorporate the use of technology in the classroom. Then again, it may just be that with technology at the touch of our fingertips and all these resources suddenly available to students, we can begin to take charge of our own learning.

I don’t think Lois is an atypical high school student. I meet so many like her. These are students who understand the world in which they live and the tools needed to enable them to learn, communicate and contribute. Are schools good at listening and learning from these voices?

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.


Honoured to be in schooling

I was surprised and humbled last night at our Silver Jubilee Celebration when presented with a Papal Knighthood in the Order of St Gregory the Great. I am not often lost for words, as this blog attests, but I was quite moved by the significance of the honour presented by our Bishop, Anthony Fisher OP. The citation read by Fr Arthur Bridge said I was being acknowledged, not just for my contribution to Catholic Education over the past few decades, but also for my work in reframing schooling in a contemporary age.

As I said last night – when I was finally able to string some words together – our work in the area of making schooling relevant for today’s world is only possible through the support and confidence of the Bishops with whom we work. Some might think it’s remarkable that the Catholic Church is so willing to lead a progressive agenda in schooling – I disagree.

Catholic schools are called to be different. The Catholic Church is by nature counter-cultural; it follows, then, that Catholic schools must also be counter-cultural. It’s in our DNA. If Catholic schools simply mirror the existing landscape and become extensions of the ‘norm’, we will have failed to fulfil our moral imperative which is to ‘have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). This doesn’t mean we hole up and forget the secular world. On the contrary, we have to be an integral part of the world we serve, but we must also seek to transform that world – to make it better – by challenging the status quo and continually looking to improve the experience of schooling for the young people in our care.

In the Diocese of Parramatta, we are working collaboratively to find new ways of learning and teaching informed by what we know is good theory and practice; we are trying to embed that at every level of the system; and to continue to build the capacity of our teachers and leaders so they can prepare the next generation to go out and transform the world for the better.

This Papal honour is an acknowledgement of the work WE, as a diocese, are doing to ensure Catholic schooling is relevant, meaningful and transformational for our 43,000 students; and of our responsibility to share this work with our colleagues across sectors and across the globe.

To my colleagues, thank you for your ongoing commitment to Catholic education and happy Jubilee.

Sir Greg ;)

Policy muddle stifles innovation

I, like many, eagerly awaited the Prime Minister’s response to the Gonski recommendations at the National Press Club earlier this week with a degree of certainty that a new funding model for Australian schools would be announced.

But when the Prime Minister made no announcement about the funding model, the quantum of funds and the processes to support and introduce it, we were all left scratching our heads.

All schools need to forward plan. This planning requires funding certainty. Instead of steering a clear path ahead backed up by detailed funding measures, the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday only seemed to stir a pot of growing frustration. In the absence of providing any details, the void is mostly filled with questions. I can only hope that clarity around funding levels comes soon.

I was also concerned by the issues the Prime Minister raised and her call for us to join her ‘national crusade’. In one sense, her speech was very Whitlam-esque; forward looking and spoken with passion, filled with case studies and imagery to tug at even the hardest of hearts. While a good crusade always rallies the troops and builds momentum, it is a call to the wrong thing.

The simple assertion of the need ‘to improve schools’ doesn’t stand up to scrutiny; nor do the simplistic international examples that reduce the complexities involved to a ‘race to the top’. The literature and the practice are clear on this matter.

Professor Anthony Welch made the point in an article in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald that a narrow focus on improving Australia’s rank on international league tables avoids real and persistent problems in education. He says if the government places too much emphasis on test results, we’ll have teachers teaching to the test, children learning but not understanding and a widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.

This narrow focus does nothing to raise the overall standard of learning and teaching in Australia.

The proposed scheme to hold schools to account based on a new school improvement plan that is checked and published demeans the work already going on in schools and the good work that our teachers currently do.

‘Irreplaceables,’ a great way to think about good teachers.

We know that the most effective way to improve student learning and thus improve schooling is to invest in good teachers and leaders. I recently came across The Irreplaceables, a report from the US addressing the ‘good teacher retention crisis’. It struck me that the term ‘irreplaceable’ is a great way to think about good teachers, and highlighted how we need to support them by building their capacity and providing ongoing feedback. The report found that top teachers who were provided with a mix of feedback and development, recognition, leadership opportunities and access to professional learning resources planned to remain at their schools longer than those who didn’t.

We already know how to do this.

Building teacher capacity is the way forward. Why is the government focused on implementing a policy aimed at measuring teacher capacity rather than building it?

Good teachers make the difference. Building teacher capacity is how we will improve student learning in Australia.

The human dimension of schooling

Last Thursday, our system hosted French Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès OP, the Vatican’s Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, who is responsible for Catholic educational institutions around the world. While speaking specifically to more than 1,000 leaders about the nature and purpose of Catholic education, I believe his analysis of the challenges schools face today, is not only relevant to Catholic schools but has universal application for all schools.

Archbishop Bruguès OP

Archbishop Bruguès OP

Archbishop Bruguès called on Catholic schools to adapt to pedagogical evolutions and even anticipate them, saying pedagogy ‘is by nature in constant evolution: one can no longer teach today in the same way as 40 or even 20 years ago’ and to aim ‘at excellence: excellence of knowledge, excellence of its pedagogy, excellence in transmission’.

The pursuit of innovation and excellence should be the aim of all schools as we work to reframe schooling to meet the needs of today’s learners. The digital world is dramatically reshaping the way we live and we need to respond creatively as educators if we are going to keep pace with our students and provide them with the knowledge and skills to navigate and contribute to the world.

This requires new skillsets for both learners and teachers and the Archbishop encouraged educators to engage both curiosity and reason in the way forward.

‘A Catholic school is essentially a school with a sense of curiosity, interested in all the various forms of knowledge and the multiple dimensions of human culture… one in which reason is given a privileged role in the quest for truth, the moral good and beauty…’ Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès OP, 2012.

The ability to incorporate human reason in navigating both digital and physical environments is essential to effectively prepare young people for the unknown challenges our world will face. We can harness the insatiable curiosity of our students, and aligned with innovative pedagogy, guide our students in the pursuit of knowledge about the world, about learning, and about ideas. This is achievable and should be a hallmark of all good schools.

Our own Bishop, Anthony Fisher OP, addressed our principals the following day and made the point that in a world marked by secularisation, consumerism, family dysfunction and values disorientation, many – even outside the church – recognise the challenge we have to transmit vision and values.

This is not a specifically Catholic challenge but applies to all schools in the modern world and lies right at the heart of learning and teaching. As educators, we need to approach our students with compassion and understanding of the diversity they bring into the classroom. When we know each of our students as individuals and tailor learning and teaching to meet their needs, we are valuing each student as a distinct person worthy of dignity, trust and respect.

Often the focus on schooling is around economic value, but as educators we need to shift our thinking to see the broader dimension of the human purpose of schooling. In modelling core values to students, educators – regardless of faith background – play a key role in forming the hearts and minds of the young people they teach and enabling them to thrive in an increasingly complex world.

Bishop Anthony expressed his desire that our young people be formed into young men and women of ‘principle, purpose and passion’. We need teachers with principle, purpose and passion, who in the doing and living out of these qualities will strengthen them in their students.

In today’s world learners need good teachers more than ever. Archbishop Bruguès nailed it when he said, ‘the time of teachers has a bright future’. Indeed it has.

The road less travelled

I thought it a good opportunity over the next few months to get a fresh perspective on some of the issues and initiatives we are addressing and implementing at the coal face of learning and teaching. I’ve asked our Team Leaders in System Learning to share their insight on bluyonder as a way of providing a lens on some of the work.  My thanks to John Gildea, Team Leader Vocational Educational and Training for his post below on the status of VET in Australian schools.

You may have come across a report released in Britain last year that appeared in the media with headlines such as “Vocational education and training not good enough” (BBC). On first reading this might imply that the commitment of energy, time and money being made in this area is failing. In fact when you read the Wolf Report, one of the key findings is a call to strengthen the quality and range of VET courses to ensure they give students not only solid learning experiences but carry with them realistic opportunities for career in their chosen fields. The British government has pledged to reform the area.

The direction of VET in schools in Australia and in our system in particular is doing exactly that.  In 2004, the National Council for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) published a report on VET in schools. Research included canvassing over 1400 students and 300 teachers and found that:

VET plays an essential role in making the curriculum inclusive of a broader range of needs. VET was also viewed as a useful means of improving learning and giving many students a chance of success at school, some experiencing it for the first time. (NCVER report on VET in Schools, 2004, P.7)

This and other research demonstrates that students completing a VET course as part of their HSC, increase their likelihood of having life long employment to 85%. These same students also demonstrate an improved ATAR and their VET course is most often their first or second best result. This helps to dispel the myth that VET is a less academic pathway and only students who are somehow “not very capable” should be offered or encouraged into VET courses. VET courses are challenging and require a commitment of time and discernment that could be attractive to any student, which is why all students should have an opportunity to engage in VET courses.

VET provides a tremendously effective way of personalizing learning. Key aspects of VET that support this include competency based performance and assessment, where students can proceed at their own pace and capabilities and where assessment is not about just how they perform against a group of other students but fundamentally centered on whether the student can competently demonstrate the skills and understandings necessary for the qualification and success in the workforce. VET courses are founded in real world contexts and experiences and include embedded work placement.

VET courses allow students to pursue a range of pathways into university, work and further training.

Our system has extended its commitment to VET in schools through two key initiatives. The first was established some years ago and is the Cluster VET model where leadership and management of VET resources and delivery is coordinated by school clusters who through their management committees and dedicated Cluster Coordinators have allowed us to be much more flexible and responsive to change and ensure a strategic vision and direction for VET in schools.

The second initiative is the Trade Training Centre program which began in 2010 with our first Trade Training Centre at McCarthy High School and a second in 2011 at Loyola Senior College. These state of the art centres allow school students to achieve an apprenticeship pathway as well as completing their HSC. No other education system in NSW has the provision for high level qualifications and apprenticeship pathways combined with the HSC that our TTC’s provide. The TTC’s provide access to the ‘traditional’ trades such as carpentry, brick and block and hospitality but also are moving into emerging trade areas in technology, engineering, financial services and transport and logistics.

Students have the opportunity to experience some of the best VET in the state and to access  qualifications pathways that very few others can. The question isn’t why VET but why wouldn’t a student consider it as part of their learning pathway.  It shouldn’t be the road less travelled.

Art of teaching

Over the course of the year I have written about a range of issues but the central theme has been about learning and teaching in a contemporary and connected world. The more I write about this, the more I recognise that improving student learning is about improving teacher quality.  It’s not pie in the sky stuff, it’s achievable when we get teachers working and learning together, opening their practice up to critical reflection and setting high benchmarks for themselves and their students.

I know this has been the road less travelled in our profession for the past hundred years and I suppose it can be difficult to imagine how teacher practice could change.  Opening your teaching up to comment is a huge risk but when done in the spirit of continuous improvement, the rewards are great.

I am fortunate to be able to see this in practice when I visit schools.  When I hear teachers talking about Helen Timperley’s inquiry cycle as a framework for reflection, it not only changes practice but culture.

Recently, I was asked to view the art work of students at Caroline Chisholm, Glenmore Park.  These students are being taught by teachers who are part of a professional learning community committed to improving their own and their students’ learning.  I know I often say I was wowed by student work but I don’t think I can capture the standard here in words.

What is impressive is that the art teachers expect their Year 1o students to produce Year 12 quality work – and they do.  By the time this cohort gets to Year 12, the standard is extraordinary.   Out of a class of 30 this year, 10 were nominated for the NSW Art Express  and 7 have been chosen to exhibit. The teachers are charting the progress of their students from Year 7 through to Year 12.

I spoke to several of the students who acknowledged their teachers and were supportive of the stretch their teachers provided.  The teachers didn’t think their practice was out of the ordinary and this is when you know you there’s been a cultural change.

Learning Conversations Caroline Chisholm

It’s a great base from which to build and I look forward to continuing the learning conversations with teachers and leaders next year.


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