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

Maintain course, maintain speed

Throughout 2018 I shared with the community the Leadership Development Series in which 20 staff over two years have participated. This is the first reflection for this year and it focusses on the third session in the five part series. I received feedback last year requesting I put examples of what we are currently doing at Catholic College Wodonga which aligns to the content covered in the series.

Change is a constant in education and there is a wealth of research focussed on how leaders should approach change. In my experience change, whether it be real or perceived, creates strong reactions in staff, and this is something that leaders need to be aware of. The learning intentions for this workshop provide the scope to explore how to prepare for change and look closely at how it will be delivered.

The two learning intentions for this workshop are to:

  • Engage team members in developing innovative approaches to bring the vision of the project to life
  • Identify the steps and possible roadblocks to maintain course and speed

An example of a potential change at Catholic College Wodonga is the current review of our curriculum structure lead by members of our Leadership Team.  As a College our current curriculum and timetable structure places a number of restrictions on student choice and staffing. This is nothing new in large secondary schools, but we have chosen to explore the possibility of creating a vertical curriculum structure.

As you would be aware, at the start of term three all students at CCW start the process for selecting subjects for the year ahead. Next year our current Year 8 students will have the opportunity to select subjects that best align to their ability and interests. Many students will still select a pathway similar to students in year gone by, but, for others we are restructuring our curriculum offerings providing students with the possibility to select more subjects that suits their interests and educational needs. We are calling this a vertical curriculum as it allows students to select subjects that extend their skills and open up greater opportunities to explore a pathway which best supports their gifts and talents.

In LDS three “maintain course, maintain speed,’ we will focus on the potential responses to change. Your project may create a variety of responses from staff. As leaders we must consider what type of responses we may receive, how we will respond individually and as a team so that we maintain course, maintain speed.

One of the learning activities in this work shop is titled, “Lead Like a Penguin.” (take the opportunity to view the Penguins from Madagascar on you tube).



The picture above sums up exactly what we discuss in the session. Each of the penguins has a role, they execute their roles and when unexpected things happen (i.e. such a granny who will not say no), the team work together to resolve the problem. They manage to ‘maintain course, maintain speed,’ to achieve their goal.

By the time we start LDS three most participants are ready to start, or have started, their leadership project. Taking the time to consider how the project be delivered, what roles each of the team members will play and what could be potential roadblocks to overcome, is a key feature of a leader’s role as they attempt to lift their eyes off the dance floor and view their project through a strategic lens.

Each year I am asked where the title for the third workshop came from. Towards the end of 2016 a fellow teacher, Dimity Smith, told me of a simple phrase her father used to tell her to help her remain focused on the road ahead and not to be overwhelmed by the present. I thank her for sharing this with me as it now forms part of every project I involve myself in “Maintain Course, Maintain Speed.”

Leadership Development Series – Lead the Way

When I was first appointed to my current role of Principal at Catholic College Wodonga I was advised by two colleagues to give a speech to all staff at the earliest opportunity, making it very clear what I believed and what I wanted as Principal.

Reflecting on this advice and what I actually did, certainly helps me to appreciate what I actually believe. What I did was be me. I am not a fire and brimstone, yell it from the bridge Principal. I am a Principal who believes in working as a team regardless of our role, to put our students first and to model what I expect through action. For example, in 2019 I am teaching the Year 11 Business Class.

It was very clear to me that simply saying this in my early years was appropriate for then, but not as I moved into my third year. It was here that the mantra I developed in 2016 started and holds true to this day.

“We will find the next educational horizon; we will not catch educational waves.”

It then comes as no surprise that the use of a mantra and vision for the leadership project is the key focus of LDS 2, “Lead the Way”. I believe that it is important to consistently repeat your vision to the community you lead. By the time you believe you have said it enough times that the community know it, you actually need to repeat it at least five more times. A colleague, from whom I often sought advice reminded me that at the point you became uncomfortable repeating the mantra, was about the time it could be resonating amongst the staff.

At what point did I know it was reaching our staff at Catholic College Wodonga? The time a teaching staff member told me he believed we were catching an educational wave by implementing a particular program. In many ways I believe he was right. Over the past year I have shortened the mantra to “We will find the next educational horizon”.

The following clip is of the ten staff from Catholic College Wodonga who are currently participating in LDS for 2018. Beyond having a mantra and vision you also need to be able to articulate it to the community. The recording of the mantra and vision by Hayley Neves, Publications & Media Officer, gives each member the opportunity to share their mantra and vision. Sharing it on camera can be tricky, but it is also a great way to start and receive feedback through viewing your clip.

I thank each of the ten staff who are participating as they have given me permission to share this as a part of my blog post.

Happy days, and I look forward to posting again in 2019.

Leadership Development Series -Take the Lead

Have you ever wondered what might be the hopes and fears of people who may be considering a role in leadership? As leaders this is a question we should consider as we open opportunities for leadership roles in our communities. The first activity in the Leadership Development Series 1 (LDS 1), looks specifically at this question. Whilst the sample size, twenty participants over two years, might be considered small, the results from both groups have been identical. Surprisingly, the top hope and fear are the same, confidence. Confidence has many layers. For example, if we look at confidence as a hope, participants hope that LDS will give them the confidence to speak in front of others; to make decisions; to manage relationships; to have difficult conversations or to see feedback as a positive. Therefore, when asked what they are most concerned about, a consistent theme was a lack of confidence.

I believe that a lack of confidence can also reflect a lack of opportunity. If people are not given the opportunity to lead, then potentially a lack of confidence, is actually a fear of the unknown.

At the heart of the LDS is the Leadership Project. The project runs for the length of the series, and in some cases beyond. Each project, which is designed and implemented by the participant, must fulfill the following criteria.

  1. The project is a “passion”
  2. The project must relate to their role within the community
  3. The project will lead to enhanced outcomes for our students

In preparation for leading a project, we consider what characteristics are most admired in leaders.

The work of Kouzes and Posner over a thirty-year period showed that people want leaders who are honest, forward looking, inspiring and competent. Whilst we focus on these four characteristics, it is honesty (trust) that we spend the most time on.

take the lead image

Dr. Paul Browning the author of A Compelling Leadership reminds us that;

“To be trusted, you have to extend yourself by being available by volunteering information, by sharing personal experiences, and by making connections with their experiences and their aspirations.”

Between each LDS session I meet with each participant individually. In the first meeting between LDS 1 and 2 we discuss potential leadership projects. In this discussion we look at how we might start to build connections with potential team members, and how we extend ourselves and present confidently to those they might lead. I firmly believe that each person has a characteristic or skill that is a strength. This becomes an important tool in the early stages of leading a project.

This year our Leadership projects are:

  1. Develop GRIN Math’s strategies
  2. Part time staff guide
  3. Peer reading with EAL students
  4. Review the Rite Journey Program
  5. EAL program for CCW
  6. Resilience Project for Year 7
  7. Digital projects in Year 7/8
  8. Maths Flipped Learning
  9. VCAL resources for our community
  10. Yr. 7 Caritas annual event

As you can see, these projects are rich and expansive covering many different aspects within our community. Projects importantly incorporate other staff. From my observations, and discussions with staff, it is clear that deeper connections are being made as a result of the leadership projects. The ten LDS participants have moved into a space where they are “taking the lead”.

Leadership Development Series – part 2

LDS banner blog 2

At the time when I commenced working on the Leadership Development Series in late 2016 I had one mantra: “We will find the next educational horizon, and not catch the next educational wave”. Today this mantra still holds true and I believe it will live with me throughout my career.

I believe this series is one way we will bring this to life. It is my hope that this series provides each participant with the support and guidance that allows them to find the next horizon in their leadership journey.

This series is designed for anyone in a leadership role, or for those considering a role in leadership, regardless of their role in our community.

There are three distinct stages within the series. Firstly, a self and peer review, covering the themes from each of the five core sessions. Secondly, five core sessions which are delivered over the three terms. Thirdly, a second self and peer review. This review at the end of the series forms the basis for future goals and professional development.

Each participant meets with me to discuss the themes and activities from the previous session, as well as their leadership project. The leadership project aligns to an area of interest or the participant’s role in our community. The one stipulation for what makes a project is that it is designed to enhance outcomes for students at our school.

The series draws from the work of Kouzes and Posner (2012) Lencioni (2012), Sinek (2009) and Fullan (2011). Complementing the work of these authors, I have incorporated learning, from professional development led by the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL), Atkinson Consulting, and Brendan Spillane. Most importantly in 2016 my Leadership and Development Coach was Dr. Paul Browning, Headmaster of St Paul’s School in Brisbane and the author of “Compelling Leadership”. Paul’s encouragement and the sharing of his experiences has been pivotal in providing the inspiration to move beyond the Leadership Development Series being simply an idea.

In 2017 ten staff from Catholic College Wodonga bravely put their names forward to participate in the series. The following projects were designed and implemented;

  • Damien – Engaging, disengaged Year 10 boys
  • Dee – Integrate digital technologies across domains
  • Heather – Review assessments across Languages curriculum
  • Cassie – Mental health screening tool for Yr. 12 students
  • Lou – Induction process for early career teachers
  • Lisa – Senior students study skills workshop and tools
  • Brad – Improve communication channels across Yr. 7 & Yr. 8
  • Chris – Flipped learning in Visual Arts
  • Kieran – PD for Geography teaching across Yr.7 – Yr.9
  • Ash – PBL unit for financial literacy

This year, the series has undergone a number of changes based on feedback from last year’s group, as well as further research and reflection from professional learning in which I have participated in.

Throughout this year I will post updates of each of the five sessions. In these updates, I will reflect on what the intention of each session was, as well as what I have learnt. It is never lost on me that when we are leading professional development or formation activities with staff, I am also a learner.

Leadership Development Series – part 1

Over the coming months I will share my experiences of the two years which have led to the second group of staff from Catholic College Wodonga participating in the Leadership Development Series (LDS). Interestingly, there were two significant moments that led to my decision to explore how I could develop leadership skills at Catholic College Wodonga.

Firstly, in the second half of 2016 I had my mid contract appraisal. The appraisal was facilitated by Educational Consultant, Ann Sexton. Ann’s approach was highly reflective, using the feedback from staff to assist in opening up a conversation for future growth. What pleased me the most was the focus on leveraging off my strengths as a leader.

The following comment,

“Take time to provide deeper guidance to those in positions of leadership,” was the catalyst for a rich discussion. It became very clear to me that one of the roles of a Principal not just to assist staff who are leading or aspiring to lead and to develop their skills, but to facilitate opportunities for this to actually happen.

The second moment came through my participation in the ACEL Early Career Principal Program in which I participated throughout 2016. A key aspect of the program was the appointment of a leadership and development coach for the year.  I was incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Paul Browning, Headmaster of St. Paul’s School Brisbane, as my coach. Paul and I were able to explore the concept of leadership development within a school through the work he had done with his staff.

My ‘why’ as Simon Sinek the author of “Start With Why,” would say had become clear. I believe that if I am able to assist staff develop their skills as a leader, then they in turn will increase the outcomes for staff and students in our community.

Within regional settings such as Albury/Wodonga, exposure to professional development is limited. A great deal of professional development is offered in capital cities such as Melbourne or Sydney. Further to this Paul highlight that the vast majority of professional development was conducted by the staff in his school, they were the experts. Added to this, not all staff had the time to enrol in University or TAFE courses as the juggle between professional and family life can be very difficult. From these two key moments, the concept of providing professional development for staff, regardless of their role, was born.

Paul again provided further direction, pointing me to the work of Kouzes and Posner, as well as Lencioni. This, combined with other reading from authors such as Sinek and Fullan, and the insightful formation provided to me from Brendan Spillane lead to the first draft of the Leadership Development Series in early 2017. Finally, I placed one other key “driver” in the timeline to being ready to deliver LDS in the second half of 2017. I was to present to Australian and New Zealand Catholic Principal’s on the title of “Developing Leadership from within,” by May of 2017.

So, the challenge was before me, it’s now time to combine the research with an approach that would resonate with staff and other leaders to whom I was presenting. My ‘why’ has quickly becoming “how”?

Recognition for Horizon Program

World renowned Cambridge University has included Catholic College Wodonga in its list of the globe’s most innovative schools.

The College features in a publication celebrating 800 years of excellence at Cambridge University.

‘Innovation 800’ showcases global leaders and institutions at the forefront of change in the field of education. The project celebrates a shortlist of just 100 schools and colleges worldwide, and highlights their novel, impactful and effective solutions to some of the most pressing challenges faced by educators: how to keep up with the demands of a rapidly changing world; how to reenergise and inspire students to their fullest potential; how to foster healthy happy, confident, life-long learners, passionate and optimistic about their own and the planet’s future.

One of the key pieces of feedback we received was for the recognition of our Horizon Program. The Horizon Program, which was developed by our Learning and Teaching Leaders who are led by our Deputy Principal Learning, Teaching and Innovation Shaun Mason, commenced in the second semester of 2017. Horizon is an independent learning program which is comprised of three separate elements

  1. A weekly challenge
  2. An ongoing project
  3. A collaborative project

The program is available for students from Years 8 – 11 and we currently are interviewing applicants for Semester Two.

On Tuesday of this week, with Shaun and our Horizon leader Logan Hayward, I participated in the interviews for the students shortlisted for next semester. To say I was blown away listening to students articulate their passion and how they would like to explore it, is an understatement. Students discussed in detail, passions such as permaculture, coding, sport leadership, reconstructing engines and beef cattle genetics. Connecting students to their passion as a vehicle for learning truly excites me.

As learners, our Horizon students are breaking new ground. They are not only designing learning opportunities for themselves, but also gaining a deeper understanding of themselves as learners. This understanding, I believe, is a key skill which we must develop at schools for our students who are moving into careers that are yet to be invented. This was highlighted by the Foundation for Youth Australia report in 2015.

“Other policies to promote problem solving capabilities include shifting pedagogical methods in schools and universities away from volume – based rote learning to inquiry – based or experiential learning.” (p.33)

Over the coming term I will connect with the Horizon students at least twice a week. I am very confident that it will be me, who becomes the learner, as I engage in the passions of our Horizon students.

Below is the audio from an ABC interview which was aired last week (20 June) discussing our school being recognised as a ‘best practice’ pioneer.