Our Story So Far …

Recent media attention (NBN, Newcastle Herald & Port Stephens Examiner) of the approval of the Development Application for Catherine McAuley Catholic College at Medowie has generated much excitement. Time this year has allowed a deepening of the vision, researching of best practice and connecting with like-minded educators from far and wide, including the Future Schools Alliance (FSA).

Our story so far includes the exploration of a few key aspects to ensure the College is a point of difference in our diocese and region. As I have said before, a new school, built from scratch, provides a rare opportunity to reimagine learning. Learning that is relevant for young people today entering a very different world from what most of us experienced growing up.



Infographic from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning
http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/12/3-awesome-visuals-on-todays-education.html (courtesy of the Future Schools Alliance)

The approach to learning will retain the best of past practices but ensure it includes new and evolving pedagogies. Design thinking will inspire teachers to collaborate and structure learning experiences that are engaging and meaningful for students.


A recent meeting with consultant Anne Knock, along with Foundation Assistant Principal Peter Antcliff, provided great insight into developing a learning culture.

Anne draws on the work of Gislason’s School Climate Model, outlined by Cardellino and Woolner (2019):

“the success of the learning environment can be understood in terms of alignment between the interdependent elements:

→ ecology

→ organisation

→ staff culture

→ student milieu together define the environmental quality of the school.

Should one of these elements be significantly out of joint…then a design may falter in its intended purpose”.

(P. Cardellino & P. Woolner (2019) Designing for transformation – a case study of open learning spaces and educational change, Pedagogy, Culture & Society)



Learning spaces need to be flexible and allow for different experiences, from catering for teacher direct instruction to small/large groups and individual work, flexible furniture arrangements, quiet breakout areas, presentation spaces and, where possible, links to outdoors. Design principles, developed with Webber Architects, will ensure a consistency across building stages. What is most important is aligning pedagogy to the finished design – there is no place for the traditional teacher dominated approach.



In the past our education system has supported students for a linear career pathway. If we continue to adopt this approach, we narrow the possibilities for our young people who each have their own unique strengths, passions and interests. For many, this may not mean university which is just one such pathway. We need to redefine what individual success means today. Greg Miller, Principal of St Luke’s Marsden Park, is doing some excellent work in this area and wrote about it in his blog in 2016. Future pathways and careers, and links to these, need to be considered much earlier than they have in the past (i.e. senior high school years).


Traditional high schools are constrained by individual subject areas and 45-to-55-minute periods. This makes deep learning experiences challenging. It places teachers at the centre with lecture as primary pedagogy and often leads to boredom, disengagement and loss of student motivation. It also limits opportunities for cross-disciplinary work which provides valuable links between subjects and connects learning, allowing for greater meaning for students.

The timetable needs to support deep student learning and allow for flexibility in curriculum. The NZ high school in this link is an example of this flexibility which allows for student choice in the curriculum – it falls under the umbrella of 3 core areas and students choice options based on teacher passion and skill:


II. Humanities

III. Kinesiology

Why larger learning blocks such as 100 minutes?

An Article written over 20 years ago by David Marshak highlights that this is not a new concept. 

  • Teacher-centred → Student-centred as teachers cannot rely solely on traditional role where lecture predominates (this is only one teaching tool). They need to adopt new ways to enrich their instruction, so they need to re-evaluate their mental models of learning, curriculum, assessment. 
  • Student-centred pedagogical practices are not constrained by time. Time is an ally and not a constraint. 
  • It allows for change, variety and novelty which lead to greater engagement. 
  • Personalised learning – students have greater opportunity to organise and direct their own learning, with teacher support.
  • Greater time for collaboration, critical thinking and problem, solving.
  • Focus is more on depth and breadth of learning, including development of skills and competencies, rather than just content and curriculum.
  • Time to allows for connections between KLAs to be explored and connection to students’ lives and the real world. 
  • Time to use digital to leverage and deepen learning.


This is something that needs greater thought: 

– Do traditional roles best resource and support student learning’? 

– Does a flatter leadership structure allow for greater staff input, collaboration and ownership of practice? 

– How can we be innovative in starting afresh and utilising staffing resources in the most relevant and meaningful way for student learning? 

– What model best supports wellbeing FOR learning rather than these areas being viewed as separate?


‘Know thy Student’. The College will eventually grow to a size of approximately 1100 students, so there is a need to develop structures that will ensure students are well known by their peers and staff. To achieve this personalised learning environment, students need to interact with each other throughout the day rather than just a single class. This becomes more difficult the larger a secondary school is, but challenges can be overcome by establishing ‘schools within schools’.

There are opportunities to explore structures that bring groups of students together regularly, such as those Houses seen in Harry Potter! These Houses bring students and staff together, in smaller groups, where they get to know each other well and allow for stringer relationships and greater trust. Such a concept, whether in the form Houses or other alternatives, are valuable for supporting students to feel safe, known and connected to their school – essential ingredients for optimal learning.

Any thoughts on our story so far are very welcome!