Honouring the uniqueness of each child

Michelangelo, 16th Century

…we seek to find this lovely apparition and chisel each student to display their strengths and magnificence.

As a new college, we are committed to honouring the uniqueness of each child, and this means meeting each individual at their particular point of challenge in their learning. Each child should feel success in their learning, from those who may experience great challenge and difficulty to those of whom learning may come much more easily.

Our recent recruitment drive has resulted in a team of high-quality teachers who have the drive and passion to co-create deep learning experiences with their students. What is essential is differentiating the curriculum to provide appropriate learning opportunities for students of many different abilities.

“The most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher…. More can be done to improve education by improving the effectiveness of the teacher than by any other single factor” (Wright Horn, 1997 )

Differentiation requires skilled practitioners, and this requires the school to provide the ongoing professional learning, along with a culture of reflective practice, to successfully achieve this. A differentiated curriculum is the provision of learning experiences that offers a variety of entry points for students who differ in abilities, knowledge and skills. In a differentiated curriculum, teachers offer different approaches to what students learn (content), how students learn (process) and how students demonstrate what they have learned (product). This involves using meaningful data to inform planning and teaching that responds to the needs of individual learners.

Recently, I came across an excerpt from the children’s novel Understood Betsy written in 1916. A young Orphan by the name of Betsy leaves a traditional city school to a one-room schoolhouse in the country where education is done differently. The new teacher recognises Betsy’s academic strengths and weaknesses and responds accordingly to her learning needs. As a result of this, Betsy now experiences independence, self-discovery and genuine joy in her learning. Betsy finally understands why she goes to school!

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 5 in the book (Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher Published 1916 Public Domain in the USA).

 “If I’m second-grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third-grade spelling, what grade am I?” Betsy asks.  The teacher laughed at the turn of her phrase. “You aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re  in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?”

You’re just yourself, aren’t you? … We recognise that, like Besty, we will be supporting a variety of young people with their own unique learning needs. In educational speak, we refer to the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. In simple terms, it means providing just the right amount of challenge and appropriate support for each individual learner – too little or too much challenge leads to disengagement and this, sadly, removes the joy from learning.

Despite being written over a century ago, there is much to take away from this 1916 narrative. While our college vision is contemporary and paves the way to empower our learners to thrive in a fast paced, changing world, we also recognise the wisdom of earlier days. Sometimes experimentation in the past can look similar to the innovations of today!

What class are you in?

In casting my mind back to my time as a student, I recall the practice of being allocated to a class based on your perceived academic ability. Classes were streamed and named accordingly for each subject. At the start of the new year, students would typically ask each other “What class are you in?” The responses would obviously be different for each individual. It goes without saying that a response to this question of 8A was delivered differently to that of an 8F.

In my role as principal, I have always enjoyed wandering through classrooms to get a sense of the learning that is taking place. I vividly recall one occasion in which a student asked me the question, “Sir, why are you visiting us. We are the dumb class?” These words sent a shudder through me…

At a time during adolescence when young people are trying to discover who they really are and forming opinions about themselves that can potentially last a lifetime, these labels can be incredibly damaging. Being labelled can pigeonhole students not only while at school but also in future careers. In fact, it plays a vital role in students determining their pathways, significantly limiting their options and potentially shutting the door to possibilities that could otherwise have been truly rewarding. Self-belief is an important determinant of success and if students are continually told they are a failure, they eventually believe this. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A commonly asked question is “do you stream your classes?’ As we prepare for the commencement of the College in 2021, beginning with Years 7 & 8 and growing annually to a Years 7-12 learning community, we have given much thought to the process of streaming. In doing so, we have had to also question the practice of grading students. The real issue is not how but why?

The underlying question is what impact do these practices have on student motivation and learning? Furthermore, what impact do they have on student self-efficacy and self-worth? Alfie Kohn in his book ‘Punished by Rewards’ wrote back in 1993:

“The trouble is not that we are sorting students badly … it is that we spend so much time sorting them at all. As a general rule the goal of sorting is simply not commensurate with the goal of helping students learn” (p. 202).

Why then is streaming classes (sorting students based on perceived ability) so prevalent? The fact is that it, along with grading, has been integral to our education system for several years and, for many, it is hard to imagine life without it. Streaming may be common practice, but it’s based on an assumption that international research has shown to be incorrect.

The purpose of streaming is essentially to sort students based on ability (the reliability of how this is done is often questionable). It is also easier and more efficient for the teacher. There is a perception that teaching can better target the needs of these students when grouped by ability. Streaming, however, does not always mean personalised learning. If given the right support, almost any student can achieve at the academic level. If we are being honest, it is also a marketing tool for some schools to increase their ATARs and attract more academically able students.

In short, streaming has shown to impact negatively on lower to middle ability students with minimal benefits for the upper group. Essentially, the gains from streaming are too small to be significant and it does not improve academic outcomes for most students.

In contrast to this, the damage that can be done to a student’s self-belief can be detrimental to student learning and growth both at school and in future years. Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, has said that while there is no evidence that streaming benefits students’ learning, the effects on equity are profound and negative.

Streaming can force students out of particular subjects and prevents them from accessing certain areas of the curriculum. Students access different content dependent on the stream, but this does not necessarily mean it is the content the student is ready for. Streaming can label, polarise, encourage segregation and set low expectations for lower ability students.  Students are perceptive and they quickly pick up on these low expectations. The process can often be incompatible with our core business as educators of helping students learn.

While streaming (and grading) can be a source of pride for parents, we need to question the assumption of its value for learning. How about we inspire an environment for our young people that instils a genuine love of learning by knowing their needs, passions and interests? One that personalises learning, provides choice and quality and meaningful and actionable feedback that fosters growth. An environment in which mistakes can be made and it is not seen as a weakness to ask for help.

I acknowledge that, while we are faced with the HSC as a culmination of schooling today, we need to ensure we prepare our students for this high school ‘end game’. For those students who see this as a valid pathway to university and their career, we need to provide a learning environment that puts them in the best possible position to access this. In doing so, it may be necessary to consider practices prior to them reaching Stage 6 so they are ready for the structures they will face in their final years.

In the meantime, however, we need to seriously consider the purpose of schooling. As educators, and leaders, the decisions we make impact on our young people and influence their sense of self, passion for learning and future mindsets. Our mission at Catherine McAuley is to co-create learning environments where faith, purpose, fulfilment and joy are experienced by all. If we are to live this mission, and bring ‘joy’ to learning, we need to create a safe place where our students do not live in fear of humiliation and judgement. Instead, they feel valued in a community that honours their uniqueness, particularly in their learning.

Academic & Pastoral … you cannot split the two

“They may forget what you said but they will not forget how they made you feel”

(Carl W. Buechner)

When you think back to your days at high school, what memories spring to mind? I am guessing it isn’t necessarily Friday afternoon’s math’s or history lesson (these subjects have been chosen randomly!). This is not to say in any way that knowledge is not important! Nor is it to suggest that it cannot inspire learners. I am guessing that you may, however, remember the teacher in this lesson.  I am sure that for many parents, like me, the memories that really stand out are of the relationships developed during these years. Those friends that made you laugh and feel good about yourself … and those teachers who did the same.

What we need to remember, as educators, is that we put young people first, not subjects. Yes, we need teachers who are passionate about their subject area, know and understand the content, and have a good understanding of a variety of successful teaching and learning practices and how best to implement them. These are of course vitally important. But what is also essential is the teacher who knows and loves their students, your children, and can demonstrate this each day. Ultimately, our young people remember how a teacher made them feel, not necessarily the wonderful lessons they created.

No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. Essentially all learning is understanding relationships. I’m sure all of us have been affected by a teacher or an adult. Teaching, I believe, is one of the noblest professions in society. To be delegated the daily task of caring for your children, and educating future generations, is ultimately a great honour. In the past, I have at times referred to the following quote by educator Rita Pierson. Her TED talk is well worth watching.

“Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

In short, a teacher’s job is both academic and pastoral – you cannot split the two. This division has become widely accepted, and while “it may be a convenient way of ‘divvying up the jobs’, it does not reflect the interconnectedness between who your students are and what they learn” *(Claire Jarmy, 2019). In short, learning and wellbeing are intertwined.

With this is mind, a new school provides the opportunity to implement structures which support the merging of both learning and wellbeing. While the predominant practice has been to recognise that wellbeing affects academic progress, we need to acknowledge the influence that learning can have on one’s wellbeing. In our community learning and wellbeing are treated as equal and synergising partners. Learning and wellbeing are not mutually exclusive. Earlier this week we launched our CMCC Wellbeing for Learning Framework, titled ‘myARC’.

This framework will guide our college in equipping students with the skills and tools to thrive in a dynamic, globally connected world. Underpinning our wellbeing practices is our common language of our six global competencies: Character, Citizenship, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration & Communication, supported by our college values of Courage, Compassion, Hospitality & Faith in Action.

A focus on the 6Cs immunises and protects against social and emotional difficulties thus building positive and mental health resilience. Learning and wellbeing are intertwined, one supporting the other ensuring that CMCC students are “good at learning and good at life”.

Our mission is to co-create learning environments where faith, purpose fulfilment and joy are experienced by all. Teaching & learning should be joyful! Our framework will ensure students experience genuine autonomy in their learning. This autonomy increases intrinsic motivation and leads to authentic engagement.

Students who feel a genuine sense of agency in their learning see relevance in what they are doing. Learning is more joyful and has greater purpose and meaning, with students better able to learn and practice social and emotional skills. Autonomy supports ‘Voice, Choice & Agency’ and plays a key role in developing wellbeing skills which result in a number of benefits for young people.

myARC supports purposeful choices for our young people which are flexible and target individual learning needs, passions, interests & strengths, allowing for deeper, richer learning experiences. myARC, or my story, respects each student’s personal journey and provides a framework that seeks to fulfil our College Moral Imperative of empowering agile, reflective and confident learners.

* Source: (Jarmy, Claire. 2019. ‘Teachers’ jobs are academic and pastoral. You can’t split the two.’ http://www.tes.com.)

Deep Learning at CMCC

“Imagine a world where students are good at learning and good at life. Now imagine you can make it a reality.” (NPDL)

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, A Global Partnership

With the College having now made a commitment to the global network New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL), I will be travelling with Assistant Principal, Peter Antcliff, to Christchurch in two weeks to attend a Facilitator’s Institute.

We believe this framework, underpinned by the 6C’s, will play a key role in assisting individuals to excel as independent lifelong learners. NPDL provides a wealth of information, support and networks which will guide the College to successfully embed these in the learning culture.

They align closely with the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities, designed to prepare those essential competencies necessary for a changing world.  This focus on competencies aligns well with learning that is co-constructed, student centred, and inquiry focussed.

In continuing the fascinating journey of preparing for a new secondary school, Catherine McAuley Catholic College, I once again ask the question, as put forward at the start of the 2019 in a blog post, “What do we want our students to be?”

A visioning workshop with consultant Anne Knock late last year helped unpack this question more deeply. Peter Antcliff and I spent some time looking at the following questions:

Why is what we are doing so important?

– People: Redefine success for the student and the teacher

– Principles: How will we organise school?

– Practices: What will characterise the activity of our school?

In reflecting on this question, we began with “At CMCC we are seeking to provide every opportunity for our students to be career ready and life ready. These students require the dispositions and qualities that will see them thrive in today’s world”.

The importance of “CO” as being central to our planning … “Co”-learning – students, teachers, families, community and industry – this collaboration is essential for deep and powerful learning experiences.

Co-constructing learning experiences – do we listen to our students?

Last year’s planning day identified 3 important elements; Deep Learning, Purposeful Learning and Globally Connected – each with stand-alone principles, as well as those that intersect, as indicated below. Each are situated within the context of Mercy-inspired values.

A theme that arose during this day was for “students to experience deep, purposeful learning in a globally connected, Mercy-inspired community”. With the start of 2020, Peter and I continued to delve more deeply into the College Vision and Mission with it continuing to evolve. It is slowly being refined to clearly and concisely articulate what the CMCC will represent and we look forward to unveiling this to the community, along with our visual identity and uniform, on March 4 at pacific Dunes!

CMCC Visioning Workshop “What do we want our students to be?”

Brian Caldwell, educational consultant and past Dean of Education at the University of Melbourne, summed up an emerging global agreement on society’s expectations for schools back in 2002:

“All students in every setting should be literate and numerate and should acquire a capacity for lifelong learning, leading to success and satisfaction as good citizens and productive workers in a knowledge society”.

Essential Skills required for the workforce are changing …
we need to prepare our young people for success.

There is a consensus amongst the business community that young people are lacking the essential skills required to thrive in a changing world and workforce.

Schools have a moral obligation to astutely respond to these needs. Re-imaging education and purposeful schooling require courage. Courage just happens to be one of the core Mercy values, so we are well placed to tackle this challenge with Catherine McAuley watching over us!

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!


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!

Graduate Profile & Attributes

I am currently completing a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) through Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) titled ‘Envisioning the Graduate of the Future’. It is a collaborative and exploratory design process to reflect on the purpose of secondary school. Participants are able to convey what their communities believe a secondary school graduate should know and be able to do. And it is free!

Engaging with a MOOC is a very effective way to learn. Learning now can take place anywhere at any time for both young and old. The digital online world has presented countless opportunities for this and it makes me wonder if schools currently tap into this effectively. As teachers, with technology as an enabler, quality learning experiences can be facilitated beyond the school gates.

Some significant shifts in the world are affecting schools. Justin Reich, instructor for this course, refers to:

  • Online Learning
  • Technology and the working world
  • How university instruction is changing
  • Our knowledge of how we learn (science of the brain)

Schools would benefit from unpacking what a graduate profile for their own setting looks like.

Some examples found within the U.S are depicted below.

Sacred Heart College in Geelong has done some wonderful work in articulating learner dispositions.

In starting a new school, I will be asking the questions:

  • What does an ideal “McAuley graduate” look like?
  • What do these students need to learn to thrive in life after high school? Soft skills, enterprise skills, capabilities and competencies, attributes?  What knowledge would they possess?
  • What type of person would they be?

Co-created with input from the community, a profile will ensure a clear representation of key teaching and learning goals and the driving philosophy for the school can be developed around these. With universities (i.e. Southern Cross University, UNE, UTS, University of Canberra, University of Adelaide) and employers increasingly identifying these attributes, particularly enterprise skills, as essential, it is time for schools to recognise these needs and be creative in how they teach and develop them. The Graduate Profile is an important step in ensuring our students are life ready.

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) report suggests “It’s more likely that a 15-year-old today will experience a portfolio career, potentially having 17 different jobs over five careers in their lifetime“. They argue that such portable skills and capabilities are vital to succeed in the increasingly automated and globalised workplace of what it calls the “New Work Order”.

In returning to the question “what defines a good school”? John Hattie suggests we ask for a “basket of goods” instead of focussing on narrow outcome measures such as NAPLAN or PISA. What should be in the “basket of goods”? Let’s start with the question “what do we want our students to be”?

Where do I start?!

There are a number of challenges, and emotions, experienced when starting a new school. The first couple of weeks of 2019 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 found myself in a very quiet office without a clear game plan! Where do I start?

It has been good 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 best connect and communicate with different stakeholders.

I find myself now having to consider the staffing recruitment process. Like a coach picking his side, I am in a position of now having to plan for progressively recruiting and appointing a completely new staff team. This process is not too unlike some professional sporting codes and the challenges faced, such as the Salary Cap! I need to work within the constraints of the system and the resources that are made available to me.  

Shortly, I will be advertising for a Foundation Assistant Principal to join me at the start of next year in preparation for the College to begin in 2021. This is quite a unique opportunity! A school with a blank canvas, that will redefine learning with a vision for the future, will shortly be seeking a leader who will bring innovation and creative thinking to new and exciting challenges. This rare degree of autonomy in building a new school is sure to attract much interest.

I recently came across a report by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, ‘Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective’. One theme in this report is that of “Changing the Script”: Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles. It states (p. 4):

 “Twenty-first century ideas about knowledge and learning demand shifts in the traditional roles or ‘scripts’ followed by learners and teachers. If the purpose of schools is not to transmit knowledge, then teachers’ roles must be reconceived… This calls for a greater focus on … thinking about what role teachers can play in supporting the development of every learner’s potential… (and) how learners and teachers would work together in a “knowledge-building” learning environment.”

Peter Hutton, Advisor at the 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. This is a challenge to those of us who have experienced the narrow and somewhat prescriptive traditional model of education (which still dominates today). Peter was able to turn around Templestowe College in Victoria which has built a student driven and empowered culture.   

Some initial thoughts about staffing from ‘scratch’ include:

  • How do I effectively communicate my vision with clarity, so I am attracting the right staff ‘cultural fit’?
  • Can existing and conventional roles be changed to better meet the needs of today’s learners who will enter a complex and rapidly changing world?
  • What leadership structure do I want? How do I most effectively use the Staffing Guidelines and Base Establishment, for instance, to develop a team of leaders that will build capacity amongst staff and successfully drive the vision?
  • How do I ensure staffing structures are conducive to merging both student learning and wellbeing as one, not two separate entities? A priority will be to empower staff to strategically and collaboratively work in teams to plan, prepare, teach and co-teach.
  • What will be the teacher role requirements for Catherine McAuley Catholic College?

Your thoughts and feedback are welcome!

Time to Reimagine Learning?

(Source: Future Schools Alliance)

First time Blogger!

This blog (my first!) allows me to communicate my thoughts while planning and preparing for a new college. My hope is to elicit feedback through responses from a number of different people, including future stakeholders of the College. It is a digital forum that allows me to connect, engage and collaborate with those who have an interest in education, particularly those who will be joining the community of Catherine McAuley Catholic College, Medowie from 2021.

As the Blog title ‘Connect, Collaborate & Lead’ suggests, leading is a collaborative effort. Connecting with others allows me to share my thoughts and ideas, collaborate, seek feedback, learn and lead.

A new school is an opportunity to look forward and ask some challenging questions about how we best prepare our young people for a global world that is rapidly changing, including the nature of a changing workforce. This includes not only what jobs people do but how they do them. Is the traditional model of education, initially designed to prepare young people for a static occupational world, now relevant in a new digital age?

Planning for a new college can be overwhelming, so it is important to keep a few key considerations and driving questions in mind. This term I have been delving deeply into educational research and best practice and investigating what good innovative schools are doing. There is an incredible amount of information out there, many ‘ornaments’ for the tree, but it is important to focus on what is at the core, or ‘trunk’ of this tree! I am looking forward to connecting with the College community (particularly students and families) to listen to their thoughts on:

  • What are their hopes and aspirations for their children?
  • What are the values, mind-sets, skills, and capabilities they feel are important to lead a meaningful life in a fast-paced, rapidly changing and complex world?
  • What do they believe are the qualities and ingredients of a great school?

My aim is to collaboratively work with others; leaders, teachers, parents and students, to co-design a college that provides an innovative educational environment that prepares young people for today’s world, not yesterday’s. Does the traditional model of education do this? Some would argue that it ranks potential rather than develop it.

The above quote by John Dewey challenges us to reimagine learning; a new school, a blank canvas, provides a unique opportunity to do this. I read a great book recently by Ted Dintersmith, ‘What School Could Be’ who wrote that:

“Innovation thrives when a community celebrates the aspirational goal of reimagining learning to elevate life prospects for its children”.

It takes a village … I am looking forward to connecting with the community to engage in conversations about this. This is the exciting beginning of an ongoing conversation and journey in establishing a new secondary college. One in which I am committed to ensuring prioritises the development of individual potential. This is not achieved by a learning culture that ‘teaches to the test’ but instead:

  • identifies student strengths, motivations and passions
  • personalises learning, particularly through leveraging technology, to nurture and develop these to assist young people find their purpose
  • develops a self-awareness in students of who they are as unique individuals so they can identify their own learning pathway and be supported in pursuing this
  • is learner-centred and empowers students through choice, voice and agency
  • develops enterprise skills and capabilities, not only content knowledge, to thrive in today’s world &
  • is real world and globally focused, linking with local industry and beyond

Thank you for reading. Your reflections, thoughts and feedback are welcome.


Dintersmith, Ted. (2018). “What School Could Be”.