Why “Headstart?”

Over my time in education, we have seen a greater emphasis placed on the finishing of one school year and the commencement of the new school year, before the year is actually finished. Confused? The vast majority of secondary schools conduct a period of classes at the end of the school year in preparation for the year ahead. Whether they are called “Up week,” ‘Commencement Program,” or in Galen Catholic College’s case “Headstart,” these programs can go for anywhere under a week to 3 weeks.

Our two-week program gives our students an opportunity to experience a full two- week cycle of their new subjects for the following year. In the early stages of such programs, they were traditionally for just senior school students, but today most secondary schools see all their year levels roll up into the new year. I have been involved in this style of programs since 2004 and I see a number of benefits to the students and the staff.

Firstly, our students have the opportunity to fully engage in learning, at the same time understand the expectations of the course they will be participating in the year ahead. A clear advantage of this is the ability to prepare senior students for their year ahead e.g. such as reading set novels and participating in related activities, but it also allows the staff and students to develop an understanding of expectations so that the new year can get off to a flying start.

Secondly, all students have the opportunity to make sure that their subject choices do directly align to their passions and pathway post school. This opportunity also allows us to modify any selections or pathways, before the full year gets underway. For myself, as a teacher of Vocational Major Numeracy in Year 11 in 2023, I will have the opportunity to meet my students, better understand their learning styles, interests and needs. This will allow myself and the staff I work with create engaging and innovative learning opportunities, aligned the pathways our students hope to move into post-secondary schooling.

A significant advantage of such programs is the ability to transition students into our community before the full school year commences. Whether that be the traditional Year 7 transition activities or participating in a full two-week program from Year 8 to 12, each students has the opportunity to know our college, our traditions and expectations as well as their teachers. The long 6-week angst that can be built up over a Christmas holiday period is lessened and students can enter the new school year knowing where their locker is, where the classrooms are, who their teachers are and have the opportunity to create new and lasting relationships with their peers.

As the year comes to a close, we now have the opportunity to reflect upon our achievements of 2022 and re focus to create goals for 2023. A continued passion and goal from myself will be again to create learning pathways for all students to achieve success based on their gifts and talents. One clear success for Galen in 2022 has been the significant number of senior students accessing apprenticeships and traineeships with local businesses throughout this year including Stamps Electrical, Justin Byrne Plumbing, Trail Master, Webb Cabinets and Jack Amery Construction to name a few. We thank these companies for their ongoing commitment and support.

Interestingly, the North East of Victoria consistently has a high rate of senior students accepting apprentice and traineeships. In 2021 17% of Senior Students received apprenticeships/ traineeships and we anticipate this to be higher for 2022. In 2023 we will continue to explore our learning pathways and review our current curriculum against the feedback we have received from our students, which tells us that they are keen to engage in pathways which are aligned to their skills and talents. Year 8 students of 2023 are the first group to have had the opportunity to explore a larger elective structure and we will continue to develop these pathways as they move through into the senior school.

Happy days

Darta

Creation of Learning Spaces

The start of term three has bought with it the early stages of our $ 8 million building program, consisting of a new Performing Arts Centre and a doubling of the size of our current indoor sports stadium. At the moment we have two cleared pieces of land which by the end of erm three next year will be fully operational, providing our community the opportunity to engage in state-of-the-art facilities.

These two separate spaces will ensure that the significant demand we see at Galen Catholic College for our physical education, outdoor education, drama and music programs will not only be met, but staff given the opportunity to engage with our students at a deeper level providing learning opportunities that are seldom seen in regional secondary schools.

When I first saw the plans this earlier this year, I did not immediately focus what the buildings were primarily designed for. Whilst as a community we have significant opportunities for physical and outdoor educations, sports, as well as drama and music classes from Year 7 to Year 12 including VCE and VET. What I first saw was an opportunity for the whole school community to come together as one. My experience of the past eight years in leading another school in our region which had a facility for up to 1400 people to gather, highlighted the importance of creating a space we a school community can gather to celebrate who we are, to come together in times of challenge and to engage in growing the community to be the best version of itself.

When we develop learning spaces, we look to see how they can be flexibly used. These facilities need to be used every minute, of every day. They are designed to engage students and staff, to not just compliment learning and teaching, but to inspire students and staff to get the most out of their gifts and talents. These facilities can be and will be utilised by all staff and students who believe their learning opportunities are best suited to be delivered in these spaces.

The past two and half years have made it incredibly difficult for students, staff and families to gather and interact to further develop our relationships. In the first half of this year our assemblies have been conducted outside under our dome or on line. Both these new facilities will allow us to gather and engage in school activities such as Discovery Nights, Junior and Senior School Productions, whole school assemblies and multiple sport activities at the one time. But I believe this ability for us to come together and continue to complete activities that allow us to engage face to face, all year round in one space, will make us a tighter, more connected community. This also includes our families as the new sports stadium will have the capacity to bring our families into a space, where they too can fully experience the opportunities, we offer with our student body.

The first event the new Performing Arts Centre will host in 2023 will be the Junior School Production. College productions at Galen Catholic College have been a hallmark of our community and as a result we regularly have large numbers of students participating in this pathway. This facility will also support our House Leaders, providing them will a more intimate space to engage with all the staff and students aligned to their House community, further developing the House identity.

The Performing Arts Centre also provides us with the opportunity for staff professional learning, staff meetings and as well a regional hub for educators to come together with students from other regional schools. Importantly these facilities will not be just for school use only. We see these facilities as being a part of the extended Wangaratta community and we will explore with local organisations and groups how the facilities can be utilised so that they are not just a 9am – 4pm, 5 days a week facility.

For the moment, I need to be content dreaming of what will be, wondering what will our first production be, how many sports activities can we hold in the stadium at one time or who will be a key note presenter at our first professional learning day late in 2023. Hopefully the rain will stay away for a few more days so that our cleared siters do not sudden convert into outdoor swimming pools.

Happy days

Darta

Building a learning partnership

Since arriving at Galen Catholic College I have had the amazing opportunity to see how our community approaches learning across Year 7 to 12. Each educator in our community uses their skills to support our students on their pathway to success. Unfortunately, for most school communities, the past two years have made it impossible to allow anyone, other than staff and students to see what happens inside our classrooms and our school yard, due to the restrictions placed on our communities. As a new member of Galen Catholic College, I have constantly moved around the school to see learning in action.

Term one saw us start our three-step approach to opening up our community and providing real opportunities for our families and the wider North East community to see who we are, how we approach learning and how they can engage in learning to support students. Our Family Discovery Night in term one started the process of welcoming in current, new and prospective families, as well as members of the wider North East community. The evening was intentionally designed to allow all ages to see who we are and what opportunities we can present to students and families. As principal, one of the great joys in my role is hearing the stories that come from parents who are ex-students walking into the school for the first time since they left the college as young adults or as was the case on the evening, a number of people who live close to school who came for a look. Each conversation brings with it a window to the past that helps me understand more about the learning community, which is Galen Catholic College.

Over term two we move from opening up and sharing who we are, to showing what we do as educators to help our students reach their full potential as learners. A key component to showing what we do i engaging our community in learning. Just before the pandemic commenced, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Karen Mapp, a senior researcher in partnerships among families, community members and schools, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She highlighted the importance of engaging families in the education of their child and the increased outcomes for students that comes with deeper relationships between families at school, based around learning. In showing what we do, we are moving to a deeper engagement in learning. This is currently being done through our Learning Walks, which myself and other educators at Galen Catholic College are currently running. Learning Walks are not school tours, they provide opportunities to see learning in action, to ask questions and to understand the learning intentions of a specific lesson. I have run Learning Walks in both secondary and primary schools as an educator and for many of the adults who participate in them it is the first time that have had a “real” look inside a classroom since they left secondary education as a young adult. The next stage, which I believe is the most important in engaging families in learning, is developing a strong relationship between the student, the family and school, based around learning goals.

A key point of Karen Mapp’s approach to family engagement was providing opportunities for students, families and educators to come together and design learning goals. Towards the end of term two we move into the learning goal space with our new Year 7 families. During the sessions we will come together and design learning goals which we can all work together to help support, grow and achieve. The move out of the restricted, closed community which has been education since March in 2020, is proving to be an exciting opportunity for all members of the Galen Catholic College community to engage in a relationship where learning is at the core.

Happy days

Darta

Leadership Lessons Learnt at Catholic College Wodonga

Throughout my principalship at Catholic College Wodonga I have always attempted to write about what is front and centre in my mind about the role. It is interesting that over the past two years I have moved away from themes related to curriculum and leadership development, too themes about our community. I believe this speaks to my desire to reach our community on the here and now, and impact of the pandemic on our community. But since late November I have challenged myself to consider what I have learnt as a first-time principal over the past eight years. Whilst the following are in no order of importance, the order reflects my journey. I have certainly learnt more than six lessons over this time, and I have half a dozen journals which reflect my experiences.

Lesson 1 – Patience and Vision

I have placed patience and vision together deliberately because if you arrive at the front door and immediately begin highlighting your vision, without some background understanding of the school’s culture and current direction, a new principal can come across as arrogant and disrespectful. It reminds me of the saying, “A leader with no followers, is just a someone out for a walk.”

Regardless of what your experience has been before you become a principal, regardless of the size, sector, or the roles you have had previously, we all start “green.” The unique experience of sitting in ‘the chair” cannot be underestimated and every new principal must understand the bedrock, the foundation upon which the community they are entering, is built on. A colleague once said that understanding the 11th Commandment was the most important: the commandment of the corridor. It is the culture of the community in the day-to-day interactions of those who live and breathe the day to day, and not that which is broadcast on the annual review or a glossy strategic plan which is important.

Gaining a deep understanding of the community can only be done through forming meaningful relationships with all staff. This relationship will give a window to what has happened and where the staff want to go. But this takes time, much more than one term. On reflection, I feel that I could have taken more time to fully understand the journey the community had undertaken to develop the Learning Mentor system which is a key pillar on which Catholic College Wodonga is built.

Importantly, understanding a school and its culture then allows you to explore your vison with a full understanding of how to navigate the course to fulfil the vision.

Lesson 2 – Trust

Developing trust in teams is critical in creating a community which can engage with each other at a level that allow for consistent growth. Leadership literature is awash with statistics and charts on the value of trust and honesty. It is consistently seen as the most valued characteristic in leaders by employees. Developing trust is a journey and it is something that all principals, new or old, must take the time to develop. My mindset on this has changed over time. Once I believed that trust is evolved through interactions and happens organically through day-to-day interactions. This is true, but leadership must consider how to develop trust across large groups of staff and make sure that is more than a “start of the year” norming session. I used the work of Paul Browning which is accessible for free at https://compellingleadership.com.au/ as a starting point to explore how we could develop trust in our new leadership team. Over time we have continued to revisit Paul’s work as well as taking the opportunity to use consultants such as Brendan Spillane and more recently worked with Jenny Donohoo exploring collective efficacy amongst our community.

A key feature of building trust in continuing to communicate a clear and consistent vision for the community, whilst also providing the opportunity for all staff to buy-in. Buy-in can take many forms and over an eight-year period we have had to work hard to find multiple ways for staff to engage in our vision. Whether that be through project teams, surveys, focus groups or whole school consultation; this must be strategically planned over an extended period, because when communication is poor, questions will be asked. These questions can be an indicator to a lack of transparency. Therefore, all principals must consistently communicate with staff so that we continue to build trust across the whole community.

Lesson 3 – Leadership can be situational

Leading from the front is necessary at certain times and I believe that our response to COVID 19 over the past two years has highlighted the need to be clear and consistent providing one voice for our community. At the same time, I cannot be at the forefront project teams, focus groups and other strategic initiatives as principals today should not micromanage their communities. Instead, they need to understand the style of leadership required in any given situation. I have learnt over my time at Catholic College Wodonga that leadership can be situational. There are times when I will be at the back of the pack and allow others to lead initiatives but at the same time making sure that I support and coach them through the process. This allows leaders within our community to grow and develop within their role as they get the opportunity to navigate the ups and downs of leading strategic initiatives.

Lesson 4 – Networking

I believe networking is more important than ever. The style of networking I am most invested in going forward is physical, not virtual. Getting out seeing what others are doing, to see what new opportunities are available to our community. Many of the great initiatives that Catholic College Wodonga has taken over the eight years has had their origins in things that we have seen and researched in schools external to CCW.

The longer I have been in the role, the more I have been invited to be on committees or groups e.g. Albury Wodonga Educational Deal or the Victorian Catholic Secondary Principal’s association committee. These give me the opportunity to be at the forefront of current educational initiatives, in turn strengthening the opportunities available for our community.

After two years of lockdowns, we are now ready and keen to see how other communities have responded to enhance learning opportunities for all students, God willing, we will be able to journey to other communities to see this in action and create new networks that will create new opportunities for our staff and students.

Lesson 5 – Visibility

“Get out of the bunker”. I would love to know how many times I have told myself this over the last eight years. There will always be days where for one reason or another I am unable to move out of my office. The challenge is to make sure that one day doesn’t move into a week. I have learnt over the eight years with the support of my executive assistants to allocate time for movement about the College to the point where at times we will schedule an hour working in different areas of the school that are highly visible to students and staff.

Visibility is so important because it creates connection with all members of the community. Another challenge for me in the space of visibility is to rely on a mantra that I developed in my second year ‘that for every email from a staff member, I must have two conversations.” My reasoning for this is that emails should be confirmation of a conversation, not the start, middle or end. Whilst this is difficult to achieve in a school this size, aiming high gives me a better of chance of moving me out of the office and connecting with others.

Lesson 6 – Developing Leadership from within

Living and working in reginal Victoria has many advantages, however, there can be disadvantages as well. In 2016, I developed the Leadership Development Series as a response to a growing frustration as our staff had to travel to capital cities to access high quality professional learning. For our staff this could mean up to three days away from home and family as well as added expenses of accommodation, meals, and travel. Since 2016, 45 staff have participated in the Leadership Development Series – this has allowed me to foster stronger relationships with staff as they commence their leadership journey or look to develop their skills as a leader. I believe Principal’s must provide a platform for staff to enhance or develop their leadership skills withing our community. Being a part of that journey with our staff has been one of the great joys for me over the eight years. I look forward to continuing this at Galen Catholic College and will continue to invite staff from CCW and other schools to participate in the series.

I recently watched the 1989 the film ‘Field of Dreams’ which has the stirring line repeated throughout the film, “if you build it, they will come.” I have reflected on the possible parallels that come over the eight years I have been at CCW where we have seen enrolments move from 1040 at the time of my appointment to being close to 1300 by end of my journey, but one word needs to change. “If we build it, they will come.” At the heart of principalship is “we,” not ‘I.” Its not “my team”, its “our team” and most importantly it is not my school’ it is ‘our school’.

I believe that for the past eight years I have been blessed to be a part of an innovative, engaged, and welcoming community. I deeply thank all students, staff and families for the care and commitment they have shown me over my time at Catholic College Wodonga.

God Bless

Happy days

P.S. If you would like to watch the video created by our Media Team member Rhys reflecting on my time at Catholic College Wodonga please see below

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.