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.

Darta talking data

Over the past 10 years educational settings such as Catholic College Wodonga have become swamped with many different forms of data. But the question is often asked which data is the right data, and further to this, how do we interpret the data?

When using data, we know that using just one source can be dangerous. So instead we look to use multiple sources to inform our practice. The days of purely working on a hunch with no evidence have disappeared.

An example of Catholic College utilising data sets and our “gut feeling” as educators to develop an educational approach, is our Horizon Program. Our data told us that specific groups in our school were not engaging in their learning and the “gut feel” of our Learning and Teaching Leaders also supported this. So, the utilising of NAPLAN growth data, Insight SRC student engagement data, as well as our observations as educators led to the development of the Horizon Program.

In 2018 we introduced two new data sets to provide us feedback on Literacy and Numeracy utilising the program Essential Assessments and On Demand Testing. These are supporting the work of our teaching teams to better understand the skills of our students in Years 7 – 9. This will allow us to “target teach” rather than repeat skills students have already mastered.

The data from this program also supports the work of our Literacy and Numeracy Researchers who provide us with a deep analysis of where best to focus our efforts in improving the Literacy and Numeracy needs of our students.

The second new program we are using this year is PIVOT. The PIVOT program underpins our Coaching and Feedback Program which is now in the fourth year. In this program all teaching staff have two of their classes complete twenty-five questions. The questions target specific areas of professional practice which are aligned to the Australian Institute for Teaching School Leadership (AITSL) standards.

The following questions were presented to the students to provide feedback for their teachers.

  1. This teacher treats me with respect
  2. This teacher cares about student’s point of view
  3. This class keeps my attention – I don’t get bored
  4. This teacher models different ways/strategies for learning new concepts
  5. This teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not
  6. This teacher is knowledgeable about the topics in this subject
  7. This teacher explains difficult things clearly
  8. This teacher pushes me to set challenging learning goals
  9. In this class, the teacher helps me build my vocabulary
  10. This teacher makes what we are learning interesting
  11. This teacher pushes me to think instead of just giving me the answers
  12. This teacher asks me to explain my answers – why I think what I think
  13. This teacher explains why we are learning what we are learning
  14. This teacher gives us time to explain our ideas
  15. I know what I am supposed to do in this class
  16. This teacher’s use of technology helps me learn in this class
  17. In this class, the students are well behaved
  18. This teacher encourages me to share my ideas or opinions about what we are learning in the class
  19. Our class is busy learning and doesn’t waste time
  20. I feel comfortable asking the teacher for individual help about the things we are learning
  21. I understand how my work will be assessed in this class
  22. The comments that I get on my work in this class help me understand how to improve
  23. I know how well I am doing in this class
  24. This teacher pushes me to correct my mistakes
  25. At the end of each lesson, this teacher reviews what we have just learned.

We also added 3 bespoke questions

  1. This teacher should continue to…
  2. This teacher should stop…
  3. This teacher should start…

Our students used a rating scale from 1 – Strongly Disagree to 5 – Strongly Agree. As a school community the question we rated the highest in was question 6 – “This teacher is knowledgeable about the topics in this subject” (4.4 average across 2700 responses), whilst the question rated lowest by our students was number 25 (3.4) – “At the end of each lesson, this teacher reviews what we have just learned.”

For each teacher they discuss their data with their coach. Our coaches are drawn from all teaching staff who hold a position of leadership or responsibility in the school. From the coaching conversations, goals are set and in term three coaches observe our teachers in the classroom. There is a significant amount of research on the impact of utilising student feedback as a key component of goal setting and classroom observation. Researchers such as Hattie and Timperley have devoted significant amounts of their time highlighting the importance of such programs in schools.

I find as a coach, it is often myself that becomes the learner. Over the past three years I have incorporated strategies I have seen used by Logan Hayward and Ash Stockwell into my practice as a teacher. As a teacher I also am coached by a leader in our school, in 2017 Sam Russell was my coach. I believe our Coaching and Feedback program is one of the key components which produces excellent outcomes from both staff and students at Catholic College Wodonga.

Performance coaching and feedback at CCW

Every now and then I wonder whether other organisations have as many meetings as schools. The potential to run meetings for events, pastoral needs of students, curriculum direction, professional development and strategic & operational activities abound.

In a school of 1100 students and 150 staff, meeting schedules are a part of the life of a school. The key is to make sure these meetings have a purpose, are linked to the strategic direction of the school and lead to action.

Our 2014 Insight SRC data highlighted that the leadership of CCW needed to improve communication and role clarity. With this in mind we established the Combined Leaders Meeting, which runs three times a term. To do this we rationalised the meeting calendar and linked the new meeting to the leadership meetings.

The creation of this team was an attempt at bringing our key leaders together to discuss strategic issues and initiatives. It was envisaged that all of us would be on “the same page” and we had an opportunity to depth our understanding of our roles related to the programs or initiatives we were undertaking.

The membership of this team includes our leaders of learning (Learning & Teaching Leaders; Learning Coaches) our leaders of Pastoral Wellbeing (Learning Community Leaders; Wellbeing Leader) and the College Leadership Team. As many of us know, pastoral wellbeing and learning and teaching go hand in hand. If a student is engaged in their learning, they are less likely to create issues that need intervention from those who work in wellbeing.

One of the key focuses of this combined group of leaders has been the delivery of coaching and feedback program. Over this year we employed the services of Group 8 to assist us in setting up a structure for the coaching of professional performance amongst our teaching staff.

Prior to 2015, Catholic College Wodonga had ventured out on its own to develop a healthy culture of professional feedback via a process called the ‘Feedback Loop’. The move towards the Group 8 structure was to allow all our leaders to take a significant role in developing a coaching and feedback program. A key component of the Group 8 model is the use of student feedback, which each staff member receives. Our leaders and the staff that they coach design feedback and observation protocols, which reflect the needs of the individual teacher.

Each of our combined leaders is responsible for coaching three other staff. In my case I am responsible for coaching our Year 8 Learning & Teaching Leader, MacKillop Learning Community Leader and our VCAL Leader. My initial coaching session with my three staff was a reflective activity that focused us on establishing goals for professional and classroom practice. Each of the three staff selected goals, which were specific to their needs and area of growth they had identified.

Over the past weeks I have been observing each of the three teachers in the classroom. Each teacher has focused on a specific goals related to their teaching. One great benefit of this program, which was highlighted to me by a colleague, was that the observer has the opportunity to not just reflect on the teaching they are observing, but also reflect on their own practice. I certainly have taken away ideas that will enhance my teaching.

This journey into professional coaching and feedback is a commitment that is part of our strategic plan for the next two and half years. As we progress, it is our hope that the program evolves into a process, which reflects the needs and beliefs of our school community. Therefore it would not be Group 8 Performance Development and Coaching program or the “Feedback Loop,’ but instead Catholic College’s own coaching and feedback program which addresses the needs of each individual staff member and our students. The work of the Combined Leadership in shape this will be critical over this period of time.

I was recently reading the Grattan Institute report by Dr. Ben Jenson “Making time for great teaching” in which Jenson (2014) highlights”

“Improving teachers effectiveness outweighs the impact of any other school, education program or policy in improving student performance.”

Clearly at Catholic College Wodonga we are on the right track to developing a coaching and feedback program, which will improve our teachers skills and student outcomes. I looking forward to sharing feedback received from my classes in the future.

“An organisation is only as good as it’s conversations”

Earlier this year Brendan Spillane, a consultant who the Sandhurst Diocese has employed to work with Leadership Teams and staff, discussed the “Forum Board” which was being used at a school in New Zealand.

The concept behind the “Forum Board” is a simple one. If a staff member believes the school is moving away from their vision, then the staff member may list the item/issue on the board. If enough staff sign their initials next to the post then it will be discussed with members of the Leadership Team.

For myself, I believe it was Brendan’s quote, of which there are many, that brought the concept of the forum board to life.

“An organisation is only as good as its conversation.”

So, with this in mind, at our Leadership and Combined Leaders meeting we discussed how the Forum Board would look at Catholic College Wodonga.

I presented the following information at a staff briefing and via an email.

  1. If a staff member would like to place an item on the board they must be able to discuss how this item is moving our College away from our Vision.
  2. The staff member who posted the item needs to place their staff code next to the item and the date.
  3. The item will remain on the board for one week.
  4. 10% of our staff would need to support the item for it to move to the next stage. Therefore, 8 staff will co-sign the item with their staff code & date.
  5. Once the required number of staff initials have been gathered we will then convene a meeting on the next Friday at 8:10am. This meeting will be chaired by two members of the Leadership Team.
  6. A decision will be then made by the Leadership Team, they will/will not deal with the issue/make the suggested change.

Before we held out first meeting I made contact with Brendan to explain where we were up to. He suggested I make contact with Mike Gillett from Hutt Intermediate School in New Zealand. Mike and Brendan’s advice was important and allowed me to consider my role in chairing the meeting.

In the first instance, I informed staff that any items that needed further discussion would go to the Leadership Team. On reflection this was wrong. If an organisation is as good as their conversations, then taking the conversation to just the Leadership Team is not transparent.

It was very clear from the first Forum Board that some issues were easy to solve; therefore the decision could be made on the spot. For example, this year we have one preparation day before all students returned for 2015. This placed pressure on staff that were working in new teams as well as the new staff who started at CCW (we had 17 new staff). In 2016 we will revert back to two days for team meetings and preparation before students return.

For myself, it was wonderful to hear staff discuss how we, in their eyes, need to align ourselves back to our vision. Importantly, all discussions focused on how we improve the current situation. This lead to construct and open input which was solution focused.

At our first staff meeting of this term I presented the key points from the discussions at our two Forum Board meetings. One component of this was our draft strategic plan for the coming three years, as well as other activities that will bring greater clarity.

Overall I found the Forum Board activity to be one which allowed myself, DP Staff and Leadership Team to explain what is on the horizon for our staff as well as to highlight what we see as the key initiatives that we will be involved in over the coming years.