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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.