Reflections (RAMBLINGS!) from a Principal without a School!

Following are different thoughts that spring to mind when reflecting on the past 6 months; albeit in no particular logical order! It has been an unusual experience for me to date. The start of the year was unsettling in that I left my school community at San Clemente at the end of last year and relocated to the Catholic Schools office (CSO) at the start of 2019.

The first couple of weeks were particularly strange in that I was not experiencing the usual chaotic and frantic start to a typical school year. In contrast to this, I sat in a very quiet office without a clear game plan! I found this challenging with a sense of guilt, feeling that I should be more active. My usual leadership style is that of presence, attempting to be visible and connected within the school community.

While I have not followed a specific ‘jobs list’ at this point and I moved around in terms of daily tasks, I feel that I eventually found a ‘rhythm’, engaging in valuable activities that will prepare me well for 2021. It has been a privilege to have some time to contemplate my vision for the College. This is something that needs a lot of thought and it is my intention to articulate this in a few ways to communicate via:

– College Mission, Vision, Values statements
– CSO Leadership
– Community
– Parents
– Students

I have found that it is easy to get bogged down on details and am beginning to develop a clearer picture of how to communicate to different people. It needs to be simple, succinct and clearly articulate what I want the College to stand for. Time has provided me an opportunity to gain a much better understanding of this and allowed me to begin a narrative for the College.

The educational brief for the College states “The learning & teaching at CMCCM aims to equip students with key twenty-first century competencies: collaboration, problem solving, inquiry, risk taking, deep thinking, team work, independence and quality communication”. This has been central to my thinking in terms of preparation.

Something that I have enjoyed doing is having an opportunity to read relevant educational literature which I find energising. Books such as Michael Fullan’s ‘Deep Learning’, Ted Dintersmith’s book, ‘What School Could Be’ (after attending an evening with him, Pasi Sahlberg, Stephanie McConnell from Lindfield Learning Village and Peter Hutton at NSW Uni run by the Gonski Institute) and Yong Zhao’s book ‘World Class learners’ are thought provoking. Additionally, I have been devouring professional articles and blogs such as ‘Learn and Lead’ by Greg Miller. This blog has been excellent as he is in his third year of starting a school, so it gives me a good insight into what lies ahead.

I recognise the need to gain support from key CSO staff and try to, where possible, bring them along the journey with me. I need to keep asking ‘why’ when challenged about my thoughts and vision. I would like the new college to become a flagship in the diocese underpinned by innovation which is informed by research and best practice. I am feeling nervous about staffing recruitment – will I attract quality staff that buy-in to my vision? I am thinking carefully about how to achieve this, starting with job advertisements that are not typical for the Diocese but are uniquely articulated to capture exactly what I would like to attract on the staff team.  Does staffing have to be conventional or do we start thinking laterally in terms of what roles are most ideally suited to meet the needs of the school, in line with the vision?

I’m currently shortlisting for Assistant Principal and am looking for someone with an open mind and wanting to do things differently in schools. ‘Team Player’ and a passionate educator is very much a priority along with the ability to be flexible and adaptable, particularly with the challenges that are inevitable in starting a new school. These attributes sound very much like what I want developed in students!

Regarding staffing, Peter Hutton (Future Schools Alliance – FSA) has encouraged me to consider assumptions about school before a staffing model. Think creatively in terms of flexibility and best use of resources and where they are really needed. A flexible timetable does not necessarily equate to greater costs (always a factor in a system of schools). Explore what young people can do and where the learning opportunities are prior to staff. I am exploring different models that may be possible within the parameters of the Enterprise Agreement.

I am beginning to see how important it is to challenge assumptions about schooling when beginning a new college which aims to ‘reimagine’ schooling and education. In fact, I have recently added this to the draft CMCC Teacher Norms:

“Staff will be required to let go of their traditional knowledge and assumptions of what schooling should look like and merge innovative learning spaces with innovative teaching and learning practices.”

After arranging for the architect to meet with Peter when he was in Newcastle, we have made some significant changes to learning space design!

Key themes of consideration during past 6 months have been:

* Staffing – desired attributes, qualities, skills etc A priority is to develop structures (incl. titles, role descriptions) that ensure there is connectedness between who students are and what they learn. All teachers are both pastoral and academic.

* CMCC Teacher Norms – importance of getting this right prior to advertising so applicants are clear on the desired culture of the school. Essential!

* Learning Framework – how do I bring my many ideas into a powerful succinct statement? I’m wanting to develop an infographic but struggling to do so. Still too many thoughts in my head!

* Culture – how do I develop a student-centred culture of deep learning underpinned by quality relationships within community? I am interested in a Coaching culture. Recent upskilling in Coaching (GCI) validated this approach – participation in 2-day course Solutions Focussed Masterclass. Belief that these skills will be beneficial for all.

* School design (learning spaces) and aligning pedagogy to this. Melbourne University conducting interesting research on Innovative Learning Environments. Elements of Learning Design as a guide, adapted from New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL): Pedagogical Practices (includes focus on student-centred practices i.e. inquiry based but blended appropriately with explicit instruction), Learning partnerships, Learning Environments and Leveraging Digital.

* Network Model of Learning (the 6 Beyonds):

(i) Beyond discrete disciplines – Cross disciplinary (explore how this will look).
(ii) Beyond the Traditional Disciplines – renewed visions.
(iii) Beyond content (skills, capabilities – different models to investigate such as ACARA, NPDL etc)
(iv) Beyond Local – Industry links (particularly in local area). Global connectedness.
(v) Beyond Topics – content as tools for thinking & action. Application of content in different situations.
(vi) Beyond prescribed studies – personalised learning, choice for students.

* Staff Training/Induction/Professional Learning – ensuring all are ‘on the same page’ and well prepared to support the vision. Having a clear plan in place to support teachers in inquiry learning and how to utilise potential of new contemporary spaces. To date, this has involved connecting with different people with the view to have external expertise on hand.

* Student centred in the truest sense (beyond the usual school practices i.e. SRC etc). Wanting breadth and depth and not tokenistic.

* Student choice – how to best embed this in culture?

* Flexible curriculum in a stage (not age) based model – how to cater to interests and passions of students. High School needs to have a purpose but it also needs to have a pathway that is a launching pad for what you are going to do as an adult and who you’re going to be.

* Learning anywhere, anytime; different modes of learning (online opportunities – flipped learning, exploration of MOOCS, badge certificates, self-paced courses).

I have arranged a meeting with Prof John Fishetti next week; Head of Education at Newcastle University to explore a potential partnership with Catherine McAuley. My interests are:

1. Assessing & Reporting 21st Century Skills / General Capabilities – does the University have a common approach to assessing graduate qualities? I am interested in embedding capabilities in student learning and thus developing an approach to planning alignment and integration of assessment across course components. This will involve defining these capabilities or attributes (and components that best represent these), constructing rubrics to measure growth and develop relevant and meaningful assessment tasks to do this with descriptions of performance for each level. Key questions are how can we measure these and how do we report on these?
2. Developing student interests and passions and combining curriculum with this creatively through school-based programs. For example, not exceeding mandated NESA hours (400 hours 7-10) and using time to pursue a program that targets student interests, linking in with relevant external people/organisations. For instance, ‘Pathways’ program as seen at St Luke’s in Marsden Park, Sydney.
3. Integrated approach to STEM learning.
4. Cross-disciplinary, collaborative inquiry-based approach (driving question used to guide student learning) and common approach to assessment of this (PBL)
5. Pedagogical practices most effective in innovative (contemporary) learning environments.

Essentially, I see a new school being an ideal platform to connect with UoN and develop a partnership and I would like to know if the university has a particular area of interest.


? Student-produced portfolios – what structure and digital platform is used? How is this used for assessment?
? Cross-disciplinary approach – how can this work well? How extensive? What does it look like when timetabled?
? Maths – standalone KLA? Maths Pathway? What hours are generally needed 7-10 (is the mandated 400 hours sufficient?)
? Timetable – options? Priority on deep learning, simple & practical with flexibility. How long should the average lesson/session be and how many per day?
? Stage 5 Electives – standard elective courses or how do I provide variety of choices to cater for interests?
? Stage based approach – details on how this looks in a school?
? Wellbeing system – how does this look? Vertical/horizontal House System?
? Staff spaces – how will this look? Own desks or not?
? No grades – what does this look like, along with reporting?
? Student choice & ensuring NESA compliance. How do I provide authentic student choice but ensure NESA compliance and outcomes are met?

I am always interested in feedback and any suggestions/ideas are most welcome!