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.”


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



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.








Year 12 Graduation Speech 2019

At the start of this year I asked you all to consider what, in future years your 2019 Catholic College Wodonga jumper would mean to you.

Would it symbolise friendship, belonging, hard work, perseverance and inclusion?

I wonder where this sits for each of you now.

Recently we celebrated our 40th anniversary. On the day I spoke about our first school captain Juli Dugdale. Whilst I am not sure whether or not our first senior class had a senior jumper I am very confident that Juli’s next 40 years symbolised friendship, belonging, hard work, perseverance and inclusion.

Post Catholic College Wodonga Juli took her first role in employment with the State Government of Victoria in Youth Affairs, from there she moved to the UK working initially with the YWCA and moved to Scotland implementing the UN’s Rights for Children. After 13 years in the UK she returned with her husband to Australia working for the Melbourne City Mission and reconnected with Sr. Mary Duffy, our first Principal, helping Mercy Services advocating for women and empowering young females.

In 2009 Juli and her husband moved to Geneva where she worked for the International YWCA as the Asia Pacific Development Officer for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Sadly, Juli passed away in Geneva earlier this year.

Whilst Juli’s story is just one of many ex-students from Catholic College Wodonga who have had a powerful impact on communities both locally and internationally. For me, it is the way she brought the themes I challenged you with at the start of this year to life, in her life.

As I look out from where I stand now, I see so many of Juli’s qualities in each of you.

It is now your time to make your mark on our community, whether that be here in Wodonga or beyond our local boundary.

In highlighting Juli’s achievements, I encourage you to continue to strive to maintain and create new friendships, find ways to belong to this group and news ones, work hard, persevere and be inclusive.

Juli strived to make young people, in particular young women, to rise up and stand for themselves, to be strong and true to who they are. In this day and age where your generation is bombarded via social media and at times society telling you who you should be and what you should do, I want you to remember this and I believe this will be my most important request in the six years we have been together.

At all times, remember always, that you are enough.

By this I mean, don’t be someone else. Don’t listen to the noise that comes from those who do not know who you truly are.

For you are enough.

Be happy with what you have been given, build upon gifts and talents that you have received because;

You are enough, you are enough.

So, go and share you with the world.

Good luck and God bless.

Happy days


Horizon in a vertical curriculum. Presentation at Australian and New Zealand Principal Conference

Last week I shared our Horizon journey at Catholic College Wodonga with Australian and New Zealand Catholic Principals’ conference in Adelaide. This journey was led by our Learning and Teaching Leaders and Deputy Principal Learning, Teaching and Innovation. They researched, explored and developed our response to what we saw as a lack of engagement in learning from a group of students at CCW. The journey, which I have spoken about in earlier posts, now takes on a different meaning for us as educators, as we need to consider where Horizon, in 2020 which we are calling “Pathways” does fit as we move to a vertical curriculum structure, .

The presentation at Korero 2019, which is below, charts our journey to date and explores what we may do to continue to allow our students to engage in a individualised learning program, that has exceeded my expectations. The presentation also contains a slide listing resources which was originally shared with me by Greg Miller (, which we are currently using as a part of our research in considering what skills our students need, to engage in the world beyond CCW.

Late last week, we conducted our interviews for the new Horizon cohort for this semester. I was involved in the interview for a Year 9 boy. I listened to a young student discuss how a traditional school pathway is not igniting his passion. His passion is music and his project will be the recording of an album over the six months. At this stage he believes the album will contain between 12 to 15 tracks. He was able to discuss the resources we have that can help him, the staff who have expertise with whom he could work and the VCE classes from which he could learn. In the space of ten minutes I was once again reminded that a standard, lock step education offering does not work for all students. Horizon will provide him with the opportunity to dive deeper into a passion which in turn will allow him to understand himself as a learner, leading him to design a pathway to success.

All credit must go to the Learning and Teaching Leaders from 2017 and our DP Shaun Mason as it is their vision, as well as the work currently being done by our Horizon Leader Logan Hayward as we explore how we look to re imagine Horizon in our school beyond 2019. If you would like to check out the slides and some of the audio please click on the follow link;

Horizon Presentation V2.2


Darta’s student feedback & CCW Coaching

In earlier posts I discussed the sources we use for feedback, in particular from our students. At the end of Term 1 I received my feedback from my Year 11 Business Management class. As a school we use PIVOT Learning as our feedback tool ( The questions are designed to reflect the AITSL standards 1 to 5 ( Our staff receive feedback from two classes, staff nominate a class and another class is selected at random. The question set used by Pivot allows our teaching staff to benchmark their student response against standards which are accepted across Australia. Importantly, for Catholic College Wodonga, we are able to use the feedback for not just our coaching and feedback program, but also for our Annual Review Meetings which are held in second semester.

Pivot Questions

Most staff with a Position of Leadership or a Position of Responsibility are coaches and can have up to three staff that they coach. In 2018, we added another layer to this structure, having each coach being coached by another leader. In my case I coach three staff members who each teach in different learning domains.

Earlier this term I sat with my coach Mick Russell who is our English Learning Coaching and Literacy Researcher to discuss my feedback and develop goals for the teaching of my Year 11 Business Management class.

Below is the summary of my meeting which Mick sent to me via email. As you read his summary take an opportunity to look at the Pivot “Heat map” which is a summary of my feedback.

Hi Darta, 

This is just a summary email confirming what we talked about in the coaching meeting the other week.

Your feedback was really positive and your class are certain about your high level of knowledge in the course and the fact you respect them as individuals.

 You spoke about wanting to work on various ways of giving regular feedback to your classes. We spoke about:

  • Oral feedback
  • Voice recordings
  • Group feedback
  • Quick writes

 Looking forward to catching up and seeing how this is going in the next coaching round.


As the bullet points highlight, I will be focussing on providing the students with direct and timely feedback that will allow us to set specific goals. The students have highlighted that I push them to correct mistakes, so for me the next step will be to assist them with clear directions for improvement. Leveraging off my strength in order to help the students set new learning goals.

We have come up with a variety of strategies to do achieve this goal. The variety in approaches will also focus on engaging the students in their learning, leading them to understanding what it is they need to do to achieve their learning goals. Mick will come into my class to observe these strategies in action over the second half of the year providing me with another opportunity for feedback. The staff that I coach, as well as any staff at Catholic College are also most welcome to come and see what is happening in my Year 11 Business Management class.

In addition, I recently sought further feedback from my class, which I will address as soon as we start Unit 2. I decided to present them with the heatmap and explain the feedback I received. I asked the students to reflect on the feedback and then provide me with examples of what I should continue with and what could I do to help address their needs. Their top three responses were;

  1. Continue to provide mini quizzes and test style questions to give quick feedback
  2. More group work tasks
  3. An excursion to a local business to place for a real life window over what we do

Later in the year all staff have the opportunity to survey their class a second time. In the meantime, I will use such things as exit slips to gain quick feedback on the approaches I am incorporating into my teaching since the meeting with Mick. An example of a simple exit slip is also attached.

Happy days


Leadership Development Series 2019


Over the past two years I have run the Leadership Development Series at Catholic College Wodonga for just CCW staff. In 2019 we are looking to open this up to staff outside of CCW. Leadership Development Series is a great opportunity for leaders or those aspiring to leadership to complete professional development over an extended period of time, with a leadership project running alongside the professional development.

Below is the link to the flyer for the professional development and a short clip discussing what LDS is. If you would like to know more about LDS, simply read some of the previous posts on this blog or make direct contact with myself using the email on the flyer.

LDS 2019 Flyer