Be the lamp for all to see

Graduation 2021

Matthew 5: 13 – 16

“You are the salt of the earth: but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one, after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and gives it to light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glory to the father in heaven.”

In selecting this gospel reading for today’s graduation I want to remind you that each of you is unique, that you each have a set of gifts and talents, and these should be on show for all to see. Throughout term 4 many of you have had to put some of your gifts and talents on hold, as we navigated the difficulties imposed on us as a community with the recent COVID 19 outbreak in Albury Wodonga. For the first time in my career as an educator, I asked many of you to become “hermits.”

I know that most of you took this very seriously and limited your movements. I am aware of several students who told their families that they were being a “hermit,’ until the outbreak settled down. Importantly, your actions not only protected you but the others in this room. Well, done.

Reflecting on the gospel from Matthew, and considering the story of the lamp placed under a bushel basket, parallels can be drawn between the lamp and my request for you to become hermits. As the gospel highlights, lamps should be on a lampstand so that their light shines forth, lighting the whole house. For me, each of you is a lamp, the light. I want you to leave Catholic College Wodonga shining your light for all to see.

How will we see your light?

Your light is your actions and words: In the way in which you continue to build and grow relationships with the other students in this room, your families, and friends; and in the relationships you develop as you leave our community and start your journey post Year 12.

As you move beyond Catholic College your light will shine brightest when you are the best version of yourself. I have often spoken to students of my passion for all our students to be the best version of themselves and to not be influenced by what is presented to them via the three storytellers. Social media, print media, and advertising consistently present images and information on how you can be better.

But always remember what your teachers, me, and those closest to you want to see – we want to see the best version of you, for you to be that shining light.

Our school is founded on the works of Catherine McAuley, the Mercy Sisters have played a pivotal role in the establishment of our wonderful school. Catherine McAuley is remembered for saying,

“We should all be shining lamps, giving light to all those around us.”

The time for you to shine is now, go forth with my blessing and I look forward to hearing about your journeys as you shine brightly in our world.

Take care

Happy days

Darta

New era in Leadership at Catholic College Wodonga

Four weeks ago I accepted the position of Principal at Galen Catholic College Wangaratta. This was done with a heavy heart, however this presents an opportunity for a new principal to work with the outstanding staff at CCW and for them to place their stamp on our exciting and innovative community.

Attached to this post is the article that was recently run in the Border Mail newspaper, many thanks to David Johnston. The article highlights two particular features which are only part of the amazing story that I have been fortunate to participate in over the past eight years.

Currently we are into our second year of our vertical curriculum structure and I believe that the new Principal has the opportunity to work with the brilliant staff at Catholic College Wodonga to take our vertical curriculum to the next level. The curriculum structure will be supported with the new Pathways Centre which will hopefully be operational by the end 2024. At the same time our new Student Services model becomes fully operational in 2022. These initiatives will support the 15% growth in enrolments over the past eight years.

These are but a few of the strategic directions, which will not only hold Catholic College Wodonga in good stead, but will continue to see CCW at the forefront in educational initiatives into the future. I look forward to having a more extensive post in term four exploring my eight years and many of the leadership learnings I have experienced and where these will inform my leadership in the future.

Link to article – Catholic College Wodonga Principal leaving…

Do you really trust those you lead with?

Have you ever had a moment when a bolt of inspiration hits you and the next thing you know is you are sharing it with a colleague? As I shared one of my little ‘jewels’ that came on me in mid 2020 with our Executive Team, I started to feel that sensation that rises from the pit of your stomach, that continues to rise through your body and leads to you feeling like your chest is constricting. This, for me, is caused by sharing a possible activity, in which I have not fully considered the impact on myself. Often in leadership we focus on the impact we will have on others, leaving ourselves to come a distant second.

The jewel

Asking the Executive if they would be happy to advertise, shortlist and interview the five vacant positions on our Leadership Team for the next three years, with zero input from myself. Yes, zero. In late 2020, I went on Long Service Leave for four weeks in November and December. We had completed staffing for 2021, all positions of leadership had been appointed for the 2021 – 2023 cycle and the last task was to interview and appoint the five Leadership Team position which were open to all staff. At Catholic College Wodonga we believe that all staff are educators regardless of their role and therefore available to apply for our Leadership Team.

One of the great challenges in leadership is delegating responsibility and allowing others in our teams to have real input. This decision was a little different. At the time, my decision was motived for two reasons. Firstly, time pressure due to my leave and secondly, I was and am very conscious that in my eight year as Principal of CCW, I do not want to hit the cruise button, or as I shared with all our staff at the start of this year, “turn up with my slippers on.”

Is this something you as a leader could do?

One key factor underlined my confidence in offering this opportunity to the Executive Team, I trust them. Tony Loorham, Eamonn Buckley and Tony Holt have worked with me since I arrived at CCW in 2014, whilst Shaun Mason started with us in 2016. As a group, we intimately know how each of us works, our strengths and areas for growth. As a group we are able to say when one of us has got it wrong, but also support each other to work through difficult times.

In not being a part of the selection process for the five positions and having made no comments regarding who I felt should be in, I positioned myself ready to help build a new team with no input. All I asked of the Executive Team was to clearly articulate why each member was selected and highlight how they will compliment other members of the team.

What I’ve learnt from this

In my experience, when a leader is away, those in ‘acting’ roles just keep the ship heading north, staying within their channel lanes and moving at pre – determined speed. In my 15 years as a Deputy Principal, the longest opportunity I had as an Acting Principal was one week. As leaders we are duty bound to provide real leadership opportunities to those we lead with, a real chance to navigate their own course and reach the destination which best suits the strategic direction of the College. Shaun and the Executive Team had this. I then had the great privilege of understanding their thinking on the appointments and where they were right for us as a community heading forward. A couple of weeks ago the Leadership Team worked with Jenni Donohoo, in these early stage of formation as a new team I could see the reasoning for their decisions in plain sight. A truly wonderful moment in leadership.

My second learning from this initial “jewel” was never underestimate the time need to form trust. In particular invest your time in people, not just within your community, but also those from outside. Paul Browning and Brendan Spillane have been key figures in assisting me with understanding what it means to build trust.  Not just in theory, but also in practice. Importantly, I will continue to draw on the work of Paul and Brendan as building trust is a daily activity in leadership and one which I believe is at the heart of my role.

“Standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” Year 12 Jumper Presentation.

Year 12 students of 2021,

I start by acknowledging the loss we as a school community experienced late in 2020 with Aachal’s passing. At the time I was on leave, I prayed for Aachal, her family and all of you through this difficult time. I know she is with us in spirit today.

In a short time, each of you will receive your 2021 Senior School jumper. You should feel a sense of pride receiving the jumper and I look forward to seeing each of you wearing it proudly in our community.

We see the wearing of this jumper as being a significant sign of your place in our community. Your jumper, by its nature, visibly sets you apart from the main body of students. It tells everyone that you are one of 161 Year 12 students in our community. There is a clear identity that comes with the wearing of the jumper. I believe the jumper sets a standard.

In choosing to wear this jumper, you are choosing to set a standard for others to follow.

I recently watched a YouTube clip where Lt Col David Morrison, former Chief of the Australian Army, passionately addressed current and retired service women and men, and the Australian public on the treatment of females serving in the armed forces.

Lt Col Morrison made one point that resonated with me and one I have spoken to in the past:

“The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.”

This quote had me reflecting on the meaning of today’s presentation of our Senior School jumpers. In accepting this jumper, in choosing to wear it, you are also choosing to accept the standard we expect of a Senior student at Catholic College Wodonga.

For example, we are an inclusive Catholic community. We welcome all regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identification or the gifts and talents each student brings to our community. If as a Senior student wearing your Senior School jumper, you hear or see behaviour which does not reflect our inclusive Catholic community, then you need to act. When the time comes to act, we, the staff, are here to help.

If you choose not to act, then the “standard you just walked past, is the standard you accepted.” Consider the message you send to others, the individual and ultimately yourself. But, in choosing to not walk past, you empower others, you send a clear message to those impacted that they are not alone. This is an important step in fulfilling your role as a Senior student at Catholic College Wodonga, as well as developing a skill that will hold you in good stead when you leave the College at the end of the year.

Can you imagine the standard that would be set by a Senior group of students, all 161 of you, choosing to not “walk past”, and to instead choose to stand up and say this is not who we are as a community at Catholic College Wodonga.

I choose to stand with you throughout this year. I will do all in my power to support you. I want to make sure that this year, is a year where our community talks about the brilliant standards set by the 2021 Year 12 students at Catholic College Wodonga.

I congratulate you on entering your final year of secondary schooling. On behalf of the staff, I wish you all a successful year and hope you will have positive experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your lives.

Good luck for the year ahead

Happy days

Year 12 Graduation in 2020

What a different and challenging year it has been. Here is how I addressed our Year 12 cohort for their Graduation turned Academic Award assembly.

“On the 12th of February this year I spoke to each of you at your Jumper Presentation evening about two themes.

Firstly, I asked you what you hoped your jumper would signify for your year as a Senior student at Catholic College Wodonga.

The second theme I addressed was the impact that the three storytellers – print/digital media, social media and advertising – would have on you.

Unfortunately, I did not address one issue which at the time had only surfaced in Australia seventeen days earlier, COVID-19…

Crystalised Leadership

The challenges we overcome serves to strengthen our resolve, build our confidence and therefore our ability to approach the obstacles we will inevitably face in the future.

It is within these moments we find purpose and identity – a view that has been reinforced for me recently, after appointing 25 leadership positions to energized applicants during a time of significant adversity.

In a three-week window, between staged lockdowns in Victoria due to COVID-19, we have completed interviews and appointments for all Positions of Leadership at Catholic College Wodonga for the 2021 – 2023 period. In total we advertised 25 positions across Catholic Identity, Learning and Teaching and Pastoral Wellbeing. Two positions were advertised externally.

I was recently speaking to a Principal from another regional secondary college regarding our process and how pleasing it was that we were able to complete it in three-week window at the start of Term 3. Our conversation highlighted one point that I have continued to reflect on over recent weeks.

For all the positions we advertised we had at least one applicant from our current staff and in many cases multiple applicants. I have been in educational leadership since 1996 and this is the exception and not the rule. It is not unusual to have at least one position without an applicant. In these situations, we would advertise again internally, approach team of staff or an individual and see if they would be willing to apply.

In this case, there is a difference between the reasons for applying: there are those keen to lead a team and those who are being asked. In our case we are very lucky that our leaders are choosing to lead, they are passionate about their role and truly desire to lead their team and collaborate with other leaders over the next three years.

I recently read Uplifting Leadership by Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris. The book resonates with our current educational climate where we have been impacted by uncertainty and isolation, precipitated by two periods of remote learning due to COVID – 19. The interviews for the positions were uplifting, full of promise and passion and it was inspiring to listen to staff who are prepared to take a risk in this time of uncertainty and lead us forward. The following quote from the authors remind me of the interviews:

“Uplifting leadership entails engaging a talented team that values risk and creativity, acknowledges and tolerates honest mistakes, and has members that participate and play in interchangeable roles and positions.” (p.93)

Hargreaves, Boyle and Harris.

Every staff member who applied for a position did take a risk and in a time of uncertainty it is uplifting for me to see so many staff want to join us in the challenges that will arise over the next three years.

The beauty of having staff choose to lead is that they are committed to current leadership culture and will in turn help us move to the next level as we take risks, develop creativity and use the uncertainty of 2020 to be the platform for our next stage of growth as a community.

Daniel Coyle in Culture Code discusses how companies such as Pixar see times of difficulty and crisis as an opportunity:

“The difference between successful cultures seems to be that they use the crisis to crystallise their purpose.”

Daniel Coyle.

I believe that COVID – 19 has done exactly that for education. The impact on our education systems and on our school, has crystallised our purpose. Never before has it been so important to engage with our students. By engagement, I mean engagement in learning.

As leaders it is our purpose to not only make sure students are connected to our community, that they feel safe and valued, but most importantly that they are engaged in learning.

For me, the engagement in learning is the crystallisation of our purpose. In times of uncertainty we must be uplifting leaders, prepared to take risks, be creative in our approach and build a culture where we collaborate consistently with each other.

Between the Ship and the Shore

On June 9 we welcome back all students and staff to Catholic College Wodonga. I say this with a sense of excitement and relief. Over the past month, I have noticed an increase in mainstream media and social media highlighting how schools should respond to the new educational landscape that we enter post COVID 19. Perfect fodder for my Hume Highway dreaming.

Last week I participated in an online gathering of Principals from primary and secondary settings. This medium is clearly a new part of my educational landscape. The gathering was facilitated by Brendan Maher, an ex-primary Principal, who has always challenged the view of what a school should be. Brendan has recently joined Leading Teams as a Facilitator.

As pre-reading material Brendan provided us with an extract from Stan Grant’s book “Australia Day.” This was beautifully timed as we are currently in National Reconciliation Week. Brendan drew our attention to the following passage where Stan writes:

“The story of Australia begins on that shore, when a people of steam and steel met a people of flint and wood and bone.”

Brendan asked us to consider:

“As you lead your school communities in and through this turbulent time can you consider who ‘the people on the shore are and who are those on board the ship’?

Having listened to and watched Stan regularly over recent years, I hear his story of being caught between the shore and the ship in his world, and dreaming of a future connection where both those on the ship and those on the shore come together as one. In my case Brendan’s question draws me directly to those whom I am aligned to as Principal – our students. I find myself considering:

“Which of our students, as they move through their years at Catholic College Wodonga, are in the space between the ship and the shore”?

Over the past month, two opinion pieces from Twitter sparked my interest and have challenged me, as I consider which students might be between the ship and the shore. Andy Hargreaves, a world-renowned Educator, and Bernard Marr, an author and futurist have written about the opportunities that are presented to us post COVID 19.

Hargreaves focused on the opportunities for schools to provide vocational skills and training. He believes there will be a related ‘push for vocational skills’ as economies look to lessen their dependence on the vulnerable global economy.  Being based in a large regional community, we need to consider what pathways our students have to develop their skills and enter a regional workforce that extends to capital cities on our eastern seaboard. We currently provide vocational pathways through the seven VET subjects as well as our VCAL pathway. These are in high demand and our students are able to develop skills which Marr highlights are those which employers will look for in the years ahead. He reminds us that the technical skills that come with courses such as Engineering or Creative Industries are very important, but so too are creativity, critical thinking, innovation and entrepreneurialism.

A couple of key questions arise for me when considering these themes. Are we offering the right range of VET courses? Are our students caught in the space between the ship and shore, where they are selecting courses which do not necessarily fit within the pathway they are truly looking for?

This year has shone a spotlight on services which have been front and centre in our response to COVID 19. Our health care workers have provided our communities with incredible support and this is clearly a field which a large number of students choose as a career. We will explore the possibility of running Allied Health as a VET course so that our students will have the opportunities to develop skills and have experiences with the health sector. This could in turn lead to further studies or careers in a field which will continue to grow in the years ahead. At the same time our community continues to look for ways to support families as parents re-enter the work force, we see an opportunity to provide partial certificates in Early Childhood and Care which could be delivered at Catholic College Wodonga.

Being a college located in the North East of Victoria we have many families involved in the agricultural sector. Over a ten-year period, whilst I taught in Ararat, I delivered the VET course Food Processing – Wine and I have seen first-hand how agricultural courses in secondary schools can lead to careers for our students in fields such as the wine industry. We currently have five students participating in Agricultural SBAT’s (School Based Apprenticeships and Training) via Wodonga TAFE and while we may not deliver all the courses at Catholic College Wodonga, it is important we look to strengthen our partnership with local TAFE and universities.

In the coming months our students will commence our course counselling process. As a school we will continue to look at new courses such as Allied Heath to complement our current vocational pathways and explore external partnerships so that our students are not caught between the ship and the shore.

Look how far we’ve come

On the drive to Wodonga from my home in Killawarra on Tuesday morning the Matchbox Twenty song, “Look how far we’ve come,” randomly played on Spotify. It was not the message of the song that struck me, but the repeated chorus, “Look how far we’ve come.” As I drive up the Hume Highway in the mornings I often find myself reflecting on aspects of our school community. I am confident that some of the Leadership Team would attest to me coming up with some very unusual ideas on my journey to work– Hume Highway dreaming maybe?

In light of the journey we have been on over the past months, it is a valid question, how far have we come? As we potentially transition into the next phase of remote/school learning what are the lessons we have learnt and what needs to be a part of our ongoing approach to education?

In weeks seven and eight of last term the Leadership Team developed three possible scenarios for what remote learning might look like. On four large whiteboards we brainstormed what we would need to consider for two weeks, four weeks and a term of remote learning (two-week board in photo) as well a one board full of “what ifs.”

whiteboard

Over the holiday break we continued to refine our ideas, staff continued to prepare for a minimum of two weeks of remote learning and just before Easter our State Government announced that all schools in Victoria will be remote learning for all of term two. See you later whiteboard one and two.

After arriving at school and coming out of my Hume Highway dreaming, I took the opportunity to touch base with the students who were participating in remote learning at school throughout the morning. I wanted to get feedback from them regarding what aspects of remote learning have worked for them and what should we consider to include in “normal” school life when we return. In essence I was asking students, how far have we come and what should we keep?

Whilst the following will not be true for all students, it does remind us of an important aspect of learning. The theme of independence and flexibility came through in my discussions with some of the students. The ability to receive clear, succinct instructions with flexible options to demonstrate learning has been important. When enough time has been given for students to then complete tasks, or manipulate their timetable they have been able to complete the work set in a way that works within their day. The development of our Horizon and Pathways vertical curriculum were created with similar intentions to increase independence, flexibility and ultimately increase student ownership.

The opportunity to use platforms such as Zoom in the future was a clear wondering from the students. The ability to connect if unable to attend, or with interested groups for further learning, catch up groups or research was mentioned. At this early stage from my own perspective, there is only so much Zoom I can handle in one day, but focussed activities with clear learning intentions and agendas will provide us with new learning opportunities.

A number of the students commented on the lack of distractions that come with remote learning. Whilst a number highlighted that if they wanted to they could create a distraction, such as messaging a mate and going for a kick of footy at Raiders. But the ability to jump out of a Zoom, go on with their work and log back into the session was popular response. The lack of class room distractions allows students to continue at their pace, decreasing the anxiety that can come from potentially noisy learning environments.

We will explore this in greater detail with our students, staff and families over the remainder of the term. In considering how far we have come, I am also drawn to how far have we got to go? More clarity around this is due to arrive on Monday when the Victorian State Government informs us of the next stage in our response to COVID 19 for our state. For the remainder of this week and into next week the Leadership Team at Catholic College Wodonga will continue to explore what the possible scenarios could be for our community over the remainder of terms two, three and four.

I was also asked how my family is coping with remote learning and my response was to show the photo below. Our youngest daughter Georgia is in grade six at St. Bernard’s in Wangaratta. Last Thursday I worked from home and supported Georgia with her remote learning, while Bel was supporting students at Borinya in Wangaratta. Like all families, the Hovey’s are juggling remote learning, our jobs and family members who we can only see through Zoom and FaceTime. A challenging time for all. Once again I extend a sincere thank you to all families for your support, patience and understanding.

Take care

Darta

G

Year 12 Jumper Presentation

Fr Jun Jun, Fr Shibo, Parents, Staff, friends and most importantly Year 12’s.

In a short while each of you will receive your 2020 Catholic College Wodonga Senior Jumper. This is the final step in acknowledging to our community that each of you are our Year 12 students for 2020. I have no doubt that tomorrow, even if it the temperature is above 40 degrees all of you will wear your jumper, many of you will wear it all day.

Your jumper will be one of your lasting memories of your time with us at Catholic College Wodonga. Your jumper will be with you long after your final days at Catholic College Wodonga. Given this, my simple question to each of you is,

“What will your jumper signify?”

Rather than say it reminds you of your time in the Mercy Centre, Pipes’ Maths class, Catholic College days or our Year 12 retreat at Falls Creek, I am challenging you to consider “What does the jumper signify about you as the person, who will wear it throughout 2020?”.

I am asking you as an individual, to always remember who you are and what you want from this year. Today, more than any other time in my 32 years as an educator, Year 12 students are pressured to uphold the expectations of many influences, many of those are not your own.

Today, there are three significant storytellers who attempt to influence you by telling you what you should be and how your world is. The first is the media. In 1984 the media did not have the same impact on me as a Year 12 student, as it does and will have on you. You are consistently presented with stories that are negative. This negativity continues to tell you that our world is difficult and is consistently getting worse.

The second storyteller is social media. Social media constantly compares you to others, it creates the impression that to be successful, to be popular, to be in, you must look a particular way, be into specific things and act a certain way. Social media tells you that to fit in, you need to be like or better than the images and messages you see.

Finally, the third storyteller is advertising. You are sent direct advertising because of the social media activity. It sends you advertisements which are selling you goods and a lifestyle that says, if you have this, you could be a better version of you.

These three storytellers, tell you to be a better version of someone else. They tell you that you are not good enough.

My wish for you is that your Year 12 Catholic College jumper signifies the person you are, not the person the three storytellers have told you to be. This will require you to carefully consider all information that comes to you via each of the three. To combat them I am asking you to set goals for 2020 which are what you want, not what the three storytellers are telling you.

And now for the good news.

There are positive storytellers who have genuine expectations of you and want you to be the best version of you. Whether this is your family, friends or a staff member at Catholic College Wodonga, take the opportunity to seek their advice and support. Share with them your goals for 2020. Strive to make your jumper, your year, signify the real you and only you because it is you who we are deeply invested in.

Good luck for 2020 and happy days.