Archive for the ‘Catholic schooling’ Category

Looking for the next generation leader

Australia has its Sport Hall of Fame, the US has its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but where are the Education Halls of Fame?  We can name the great teachers that have touched our lives but what about the great school leaders? There are a plethora of books on educational leaders and educational leadership but who do we hold up within the educational community as exemplars of school leadership in today’s world?

These are some of the questions we’ve been reflecting on as we prepare to open a new school in outer Western Sydney next year. The proposed St Luke’s at Marsden Park will be ‘next generation’ – an innovative learning community built from the ground up through partnerships with Stephen Heppell, industry and the wider community.

This school will challenge the industrial constructs by embracing a pre to post schooling model not a K-6, 7-12 one. It’s collaboration not isolation, it’s integration not segregation and it’s personalised not programmatic.  We want learning to be adaptable to the changing needs of learners and the changing times in which we live.

We are looking for a next generation school leader who can lead a culture of change and innovation.  Someone that demonstrates 21st century skills like creativity, curiosity, adaptability, problem-solving and collaboration. Next generation leadership is entrepreneurial – looking beyond the next five years; seeing the infinite possibilities and making it happen. This is about being able to lead by example, to lead by doing, to lead by knowing and ultimately, to leave a legacy for future generations locally and globally.

Could it be you?


Opening the door to learning

Richard Branson wrote a fantastic piece last month on why there is no such thing as an ‘average’ human being. Reflecting on his own experience he writes, ‘The concept of ‘average’ has failed us in many different aspects of life – most notably in our educational institutions.’

Branson wants to see an education system that isn’t geared to making students fit in but enabling each one to stand out.  He says when you base an educational system on the concept of an ‘average learner’, we fail to ‘recognise and nurture talent’.

I am sure there are many for whom schooling was a less than average experience.  It illustrates how critical it is for teachers and leaders to see the world from the eyes of the learner, to understand what motivates and challenges and to provide ladders to climb instead of hurdles to jump.

At the start of our school year, I wanted to share the inspirational story of one of our former students. Nas Campanella lost her vision at 6 months of age and despite this, went on to achieve her goals including becoming the world’s first blind radio newsreader.

She spoke recently to our system leaders about her experience of schooling and her work as an advocate for students with disabilities.

Our work as teachers and leaders must be as advocates for all learners; opening the doors of learning no matter how challenging.

Deeper learning is shared learning

It seems quite ironic the most effective way of becoming an independent learner is through the process of interacting with others. This was social psychologist Lev Vygotsky‘s zone of proximal development argument.  Essentially we learn best when we learn from and with others.

Alma Harris and Michelle Jones from the Institute of Educational Leadership, University of Malaya, write that professional collaboration “in the form of professional learning communities, can be a powerful catalyst for building professional capital and by association, improving school performance”.  They go onto say that what really matters is the difference professional collaboration makes to learners.

Its impact comes from having a clear model for professional learning and the right conditions to make it work.  As Harris and Jones explains, it also needs to have a strong evidence base for it to be truly effective.

In 2008, Parramatta Marist High School adopted a new pedagogical approach to their learning and teaching strategies with the introduction of Project-Based Learning (PBL), Problem-Based Learning and the Flipped Classroom.  Although each of these strategies have been learner-centred and designed to provide students with the necessary skills for today’s world, it has also cultivated a culture of professional collaboration and learning within, and now, beyond the school.

This shift has resulted in a relentless focus on building professional connections and sharing ideas with the aim of deepening teacher learning and practice.  Discussion and reflection takes place on a daily basis and it is always as Harris and Jones describes, focused on what difference it is making to learners.

The implementation of PBL meant that Parramatta Marist teachers also had to engage in the inquiry and reflection, collaboration and critical thinking that is expected of students as part of the PBL process.

Collaborating and connecting with other professional learning communities has been key to the success of PBL at Parramatta Marist. Their affiliations with the The New Tech Network for Project-Based Learning and Republic Polytechnic, in Singapore for Problem-Based Learning has been key. Several of the staff at Parramatta Marist are also undertaking doctoral research under Prof. Henk Schmidt (a world leader in PBL research) of Erasmus University to build their evidence-base and contribute to the growing body of research on the impact of PBL on student learning and self-efficacy.

As the learning circle widens, so does the opportunities for innovation. Marist’s Centre for Deeper Learning (CDL) was established not only to build the professional capital of its own staff but to share their learning with other teachers.

Kurt Challinor from CDL says the school is now coaching several schools in Australia as they transition to a PBL model.  CDL has been facilitating workshops between each school’s common faculty areas as teachers connect on a regular basis to workshop ideas and share resources.

In reflecting on the impact PBL has had on his own teaching practice, Kurt says it has enabled him to continually push new boundaries.  The challenge he says, is to stay in orbit long enough to embrace new opportunities and possibilities.

CDL is one example of how shared learning can deepen the learning for students and teachers beyond the school walls.


Making maths meaningful

Why is it that so many students struggle with numeracy?  Is it coincidence that Asian countries out perform the rest of the world when it comes to maths?  Do we as teachers perpetuate the view that maths is intrinsically difficult?

Seven years ago, the National Numeracy Review recommended greater emphasis in the early years be given to ‘providing students with frequent exposure to higher-level mathematical problems.’  It went on to state that it should be in a context that is relevant to the learner. I still hear adults say that learning algebra or long division was a complete waste of time.

Central to deconstructing the myth of Mathematics is about contextualising the learning.  How can teachers make mathematics relevant to each learner and therefore more engaging and challenging?

Professor Peter Sullivan from Monash University says we have a fundamental problem with teaching Mathematics and we need to think differently about the way we teach maths in primary and secondary.

As a result of the Review, we introduced three system initiatives which invest in the professional learning and competency of teachers supported by leaders. Our approach has always been that improving teacher understanding and learning improves student understanding and learning.

We are forSt Clare's Catholic Collegetunate to have partnered with Professor Sullivan on the EM4 (English Mathematics Stage 4) program.  It began last year as ‘first wave’ teaching in English and Mathematics in secondary schools.   It is about creating opportunities for students to enhance and extend their skills and knowledge.  These strategies all rely on data and professional learning to inform good practice. For me, these should be evident across all key learning areas not only English and Mathematics.  However, without a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy, we cannot build upon a student’s learning.

EM4’s premise is to get students to think creatively about problem solving by posing questions that they don’t know how to do.  Professor Sullivan makes the point that we have taught maths by telling students what to do and then getting them to practice what they are told.  However, in this model, students create the maths not the teachers.

It’s a move away from the one approach fits all in favour of the many paths to the top of the mountain. According to the data being collected by Professor Sullivan, student-driven learning is leading to a deeper understanding of Mathematics.

I have been amazed when visiting these classrooms by the rich mathematical discussions between students.  Very different from my experiences of school maths.  Many of the teachers I speak to acknowledge that these strategies have led to a shift in practice and a new way of seeing their role in supporting rather than driving learning.

This “open to learning” approach by both the teacher and the student is the powerful engine driving a very different schooling experience . What is not made explicit, but is at the core of this approach is the shift of responsibility for the learning. For the teacher it is recognising that the curriculum requirements but then engaging in designing learning experience for each student. For the student it shifts the focus from one right answer to the process of how they arrived at that answer. Ultimately they both take responsibility for their learning.

The great art of companionship

Spanish SistersFor the past year, we have been fortunate to have two Spanish sisters working in the agile learning space at St Monica’s Primary, North Parramatta.  It’s been a great cross-cultural experience for all involved.  They say the children are helping to correct their English!

In Spain, Sr Maria and Sr Teresa were the principals of two progressive K-12 Catholic schools in Barcelona.  Their congregation is dedicated to the education of children in Spain and abroad. Youth unemployment in Spain is among the highest in Europe – a staggering 54.9%.  The Sisters recognise that they have to educate their students to be global citizens.  Many of their students will need to move to other European countries or further abroad to obtain meaningful work.  Such is the reality of life in Spain today.

What impressed me was that every single teacher is proficient in using technology.  As a congregation of 9 schools and a university, they developed a model eight years ago whereby every school has a small technology team that coordinates learning for teachers either online or face to face.  As teachers become ‘expert’, they share their expertise within and across schools.   The Sisters accept that students will always know more about technology but to ask a student for help shows a “humbleness that teachers are also in a continual process of learning.”

As school leaders, they see their role as primarily helping others to flourish.  They believe that knowing your staff well leads to building greater levels of trust and transparency.  Sr Teresa says that teachers need to feel at home just as much as students when they come to school.   Teachers not only model collaboration but they model what is to be a learner.  The question they ask themselves continually is ‘how can we do this better?”  They are not afraid to look outside their communities or country for inspiration or ideas.  They’ve had educators from Finland and Reggio Emilia visit their schools to share ideas and practice.

Their mission (like Sir Ken Robinson) is to make schools places where creativity flourishes.  They admitted that not every child can change everything but some children can change somethings for the better.  Their staff see this as a great achievement and testament to the value of education in modern society.

In Spain they work across K-12 because it enables them to have a deep understanding of their students and the learning environment. In a week, each school leader in their system spends approximately 20 hours teaching across primary and secondary.  After school, teachers and leaders meet to plan and learn together.  It is a continuous cycle of learning and improvement.

They have been very impressed with the standard of education here and the support of our state and federal government.  The Spanish government has cut education funding, which is never the solution.  Despite this,  teaching is a popular vocation for young people.  They see good teachers as Spain’s great hope.

I asked each what they were most proud of as school leaders.  Both agreed that it was the quality of the relationships with students, with teachers and with parents.  They told me that students in their final year of high school don’t want to leave and when they do, they come back regularly to visit.

This reminds me of Maria Montessori’s wonderful quote that teaching is ‘the great art of companionship’.





Catholic schooling in Australia

Earlier this month I was asked to be a part of a three speaker panel to discuss the topic of Catholic schooling in Australia. The panel was part of the University of Notre Dame’s silver anniversary celebrations in Australia.  This was my contribution on the history and future of Catholic schooling.

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.