Australia Day Eve Provocations

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On Thursday 25 January, the day before Australia Day, as a member of the St Luke’s Leadership Team I gathered with over 500 system and school leaders from 80 primary and secondary schools for the #CEDP2018 Leadership Day. The day engages its participants by providing various keynote speakers who provoke our thinking around a central theme.

Bishop Vincent Long threw out the first challenge of the day when he asked if we were Empire Builders – those preoccupied with success, power and ambition, or Kingdom Builders – those who foster and nurture relationships with the powerless poor. In the current climate of testing mandates, leagues tables and data driven discussions to ensure accountability, it resonated with many when Bishop Vincent stated…

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Our Executive Director Mr Greg Whitby, who the very next day was named in the Australia Day Honours list with his appointment as a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM), followed with his characteristic mix of encouragement, inspiration and challenge. Greg recalled some of his recent learnings as part of a course of study where he engaged with leaders from a cross-section of industries, backgrounds and nationalities. The message was loud and clear…


Greg encouraged us to “be bold enough to do the work” by becoming “curiouser and curiouser”, just like Alice in Wonderland. Later that evening when viewing the Australia Day Awards live on ABC Television, I heard Etienne Masle-Farquar talking about his father and 2018 Senior Australian of the Year, Dr Graham Farquhar when he said,

“He is driven by an insatiable curiosity. He really needs to know the reason why things work the way they do and how they work.” 

Dr Farquhar himself encouraged all of us when he said,

“We can be creative, we can struggle for honesty and we can deal with failures. We are all lucky because of our ability to embrace creativity and hence progress as a nation.”

Bishop Vincent, Greg Whitby AM and Dr Graham Farquhar are all great leaders.

“Great leaders prepare themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday but for the realities of today and the unknown possibilities of tomorrow” – Anne Masterson.

In looking for inspiration for the year ahead as a school leader, maybe I should consider what @hamishcurry  tweeted,

I’d take that quote and replace ‘leaders’ for ‘education’.

I enjoyed listening to the provocations of significant local and national thought leaders on the eve of Australia Day. It was a privilege. Interestingly, not one of them is a politician and not one of them a bureaucrat. Among all of their inspiring words, there was no mention of marks, grades, league tables, testing or benchmarks as the key to their success. I only heard encouragement to engage with discovery, to take on challenges and be curious, all of which will lead to the transformed learning so necessary for a changing world.

Whilst pursuing a transformed learning agenda there will be the inevitable failures; however, when these arise we can remind ourselves of the four mantras of the 2018 Australian of the Year, Professor Michelle Simmons. They are:

Do what’s hard. Place high expectations on yourself. Take risks. Do something that matters.

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2018 Australian of the Year – Professor Michelle Simmons

Professor Simmons’ story is fascinating – a female quantum physicist in a male dominated world. To overcome the barriers she faced in her career she regularly reminded herself that, “It’s is important not to be defined by other people’s expectations of who you are and what you might be.” Professor Simmons especially encouraged young people to pursue what they love, to set their heights high and tackle the hardest challenges in life. One of the hardest challenges in pursuing a transformed learning agenda may be proving to our politicians and the media that…

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Have a great start to the 2018 school year.







Capabilities and Data

One of the privileges for any school is to nurture the curiosity of young people so they  contribute creatively for a better world. There are many who argue that the current school system struggles to do this. I am one of those. Mandated testing, the relentless pursuit for better grades and league-table comparison of results, limits the development of skills and capabilities required for a changing world.

In all the recent media about end of year results, I read about a school’s marks, ranks and where they sat on league-style tables between makes and females, public v private schools, last year to this year, etc.etc. However, I could not find any information a student’s ability to:

  • Manage themselves
  • Relate with others
  • Communicate and collaborate with peers
  • Think creatively and critically with experts
  • Engage with digital platforms to solve a problems
  • Witness in the way of Jesus.

A few days ago, Jenny Allum, principal of SCEGGS Darlinghurst, recently penned an article, As HSC students reflect on their marks, we must reflect on the HSC. In it she wrote, “There are many employers out there looking for people of creativity, strength and purpose, able to demonstrate skills in many different ways. Our society needs people with the most diverse set of skills and attributes possible.”  She also expressed…

“It’s vital that we acknowledge and defend the underpinnings of education-the values we instil in our young people and a broad liberal education that focuses on specific disciplines but also on creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship & divergent thinking.”

I agree. So, how does the HSC inform a student about their demonstrated ability in these areas? It doesn’t. How does the ATAR demonstrate how schools support students to develop these necessary capabilities? It doesn’t.

At St Luke’s Catholic College,  we deeply believe that supporting each student to nurture social skills and enterprise capabilities is what will serve them best for a changing world.  This is demonstrated through our commitment to the St Luke’s 6 Pillars of Learning. Each time we program, each time we assess and the many times we provide feedback to students, we embed references to the the Pillars as a part of the learning. Furthermore, teachers increasingly have students “use Pillar language” when they self reflect and offer peer feedback.

Interestingly, our semester reports have enabled us to develop a ‘capabilities data set’. By comparing first semester feedback and second semester feedback, we have identified patterns, asked questions and formulated ideas to better address and plan for the development of these critical skills in each young person.

We know,

“Assessing capabilities is often not as simple as assessing literacy and numeracy, and may require a triangulated assessment strategy” @Mitch_Inst 2016 report, page 21.

As such, teachers have ‘scanned the data’ using A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry by Helen Timperley, Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert (2014). 

By referring to the data set below,  and in an effort to “get underneath” and understand what these number are actually telling us, teachers reflected on:

  1. What the data shows
  2. What it could mean
  3. And, what it could also mean

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The conversation and reflection, which is in its infancy stages, informs our strategy and planning for 2018. However, the longer term aim is that the class of 2023 leave St Luke’s with a folio of work which serves as evidence about their skills and capabilities to address real world global challenges and real world local problems. A focus on data and evidence stemming from our 6 Pillars of Learning will achieve this aim far more authentically than a fixation with marks and grades.

As always, comments, feedback and questions are welcome.



A unique role and different appointment process

Next Monday signals an interesting moment in the short life of St Luke’s Catholic College. The unique role of Pathways Leader commences. This role has been confused for a Career’s advisor role. It has also been seen as similar to a Pathways Liaison or Manager type role which more progressive schools have recently added to their staffing. However, the role of Pathways Leader at St Luke’s is neither.

St Luke’s has taken the stance that, from Year 7 onwards, we will cover all mandated subjects and hours to the NESA indicative requirements. That means in Year 7 next year we will have 7 hours per fortnight to design, establish and commence a personalised Pathways Plan for each student. Over time that increases to 10 hours per fortnight in Year 8, 20 hours (or 4 days) in Year 9 and 23 hours per fortnight in Year 10. That’s a great deal of time!

To ensure students properly develop their Personal Plan, they need to understand who they are, what they can do and how their talents and strengths can purposefully and meaningfully contribute towards solutions to local problems or global challenges. To do so, we will delve into new data sets to complement current academic data. Those new data sets will possibly include:
• Emerging patterns obtained from assessing, reflecting and reporting on general capabilities as expressed in our 6 Pillars of Learning.
• Wellbeing data obtained through current attendance rates and mental health indicators.
• Survey tools including the Clifton StrengthsFinder for youth.
• Input from students and families about their perceived strengths obtained from when the student is ‘in the flow’.

These new sets of data, both quantitative and qualitative, will broaden the definition of success for students at St Luke’s. Furthermore, it will mean students will make informed decisions about personalised learning which aligns with their personal interests, social skills, enterprise skills, academic strengths, technical skills and personal dispositions.

Searching for the best applicant to lead this new initiative proved to be extensive and successful. In fact, by the end of the appointment process we were in the enviable position of being able to offer the role to three people; however, as we know, 3 into 1 does not go. From advertising to appointment took 3 months; in part because the role is so unique and, in part, because there is no clear traditional educational appointment pathway for such a unique role. Maybe this is a sign on the times for school and education roles in the future.

On Wednesday 2 August, applications closed for the above mentioned position. After the initial shortlisting on Thursday 10 August, we expressed interest in two applicants; however, the panel was wishing for a greater depth to the field.  As a result, we adopted a strengths based approach to the appointment process. We engaged recruitment and coaching industry experts who highlighted the inherent strengths required for the role as per ‘Gallup Language’.

To broaden and deepen the field of applicants we engaged with their networks. Furthermore, I wrote to recently appointed St Luke’s personnel asking them to highlight the role within their networks. This process resulted in more applicants, each of whom completed the Clifton StrengthsFinder survey. From here, we interviewed five people for our first round of interviews. Three persons arose from the interviews and proceeded to the next phase.

I wrote to all three applicants inviting them to meet with the panel for a second time. As well, I asked each of them to review the updated Pathways Leader Role. Also, they were asked to read the most recent FYA Work Order Reports – The New Work Smarts and The New Work Mindset. All three applicants were informed that our 90 minute conversation would look like this:

  • 0-15 minutes: The Principal to provide initial thinking about the Pathways Program.
  • 15-30 minutes: Panel to leave the room for the applicant to have preparation time to respond to a lead question.
  • 30-45 minutes: Applicant to provide response to the panel.45-50 minutes: With reference to The New Work Smarts and The New Work Mindset reports applicants to be given a challenge.
  • 50-65 minutes: Panel to leave the room for the applicant to have preparation time to respond to the challenge.
  • 65-80 minutes: Applicant to provide response to the panel.
  • 80-90 minutes: Final discussion/questions from the applicant to the panel.

One lead question, one challenge, 90 minutes x 3 persons later, and all three could have appointed to the role. We were able to facilitate a process which allowed each person to put their best foot forward in a way where they developed their understanding of the role and confidence about what they would bring to the role. Whilst this made it extremely difficult to make an appointment, the discerning conversation between panel members at the end of the day and again the next day, ensured excellent alignment between the role and preferred applicant.

‘The appointed’ is ready for this great challenge after a process which was focused on how their strengths, talents and capabilities would best serve the role. There is no doubt it will be a challenge for the Pathways Leader and their team to work with College Leadership to both support and challenge students of St.Luke’s to fully utilise learning time which is self directed and free from mandates. I know there will be many challenges moving forward; however, I am strong in the belief that inspiring and committed colleagues will make this work because it is work centred on the best interests of our students.

Any questions, comments of feedback will be welcomed.







Strengths Based Parenting

The Council of Catholic School Parents @CCSPNSWACT is the peak body for parents with children in Catholic Schools in NSW and ACT, Australia. A few weeks back I was invited to be on a panel at their biannual  #FutureReady Conference. 200+ educators & parents from across New South Wales and beyond enjoyed engagement with a number of speakers.

One such speaker preceding the panel was Professor Lea Waters who actively promotes “Visible Wellbeing in Education“. Professor Waters’ presentation resonated with much of the work occurring at St Luke’s Catholic College.  Much of Professor Waters’ work and other research:

  1. affirms the Positive Behaviour Support for Learning (PBS4L) approach which has been adopted at St Luke’s
  2. complements the St Luke’s commitment to bring social skills and enterprise skills to prominence as articulated in our 6 Pillars of Learning.
  3. aligns with the intended strengths based approach to our Pathways Program from the beginning of 2018.

I was also interested in many of her free resources accessible via her website. One in particular is a self reflection tool which prompts parents to reflect on their approach to parenting. It is not meant to offer a judgement, but act far more as a reflection tool which also comes with some tips and insights into how to be be a ‘strengths based parent’. Click here to access the link.

Most importantly, Professor Waters reminded me that parents are the primary educators of children. I walked asking myself… “How often do schools stop and ask parents about the strengths of their child?” I am not talking about a child’s ability to read, write or add up, but more so, for example, their ability to manage themselves or relate with others. Schools possibly ask parents, “When is your child at their best?” Yes, I know parents can, at times, be deluded about the abilities of their child (I may be one of those parents!), or may ignore their obvious deficiencies, but, imagine the engagement that might come if schools formally invited parents to offer a comment about their child’s strengths, not their academic strengths, but their natural talents, skills and capabilities ‘beyond school’. Maybe it is something that can be done as we host 2018 Kindergarten or Year 7 Orientation Days as they occur this term.





6 months on

Historically, the word “frontier” has connections with the United States. The word frontier was known as the area where settled land met with the wilderness which lay beyond. As a greenfield site, it is more than apt that St Luke’s street address is Frontier Avenue. Over the last 12 months, the unsettled land has given way to the emergence of new buildings. But the real story has been about the people and our humble beginnings.

On February 2, 2017, St Luke’s Catholic College, Marsden Park opened its doors for learning. A few days before, staff hosted parents for a ‘meet and greet’ before taking them of the classrooms which resembled a scene from ‘The Block’. We look back on those first days and remember there was no yard, no car park and our magnificent COLA was was not completed until the end of term 1. Play breaks were a balance of indoor activities with some students accessing a makeshift 15m x 15m play space. The staff were wonderfully adaptable, our parents tremendously supportive and the students very patient as we moved quickly to provide more outdoor space by the end of term 1.

Of course, we had to get to ‘know our class’. St Luke’s began with 86 students. There were 25 Kindergarten students with the remaining  61 Stage 1, 2 and 3 students, arriving from 31 different schools. Each student brought with them their own story, and teachers worked tirelessly to adapt their expertise in balancing each child’s abilities with a brand new  educational context. Six months on we have 108 students and, looking ahead to 2018 we have 322 committed enrolments from Kindergarten to Year 7, 89 of those are Kindergarten enrolments. This is a credit to the great work of our staff and the wonderful ‘word of mouth’ expressed by both students and parents.

As a new school, St Luke’s has been both empowered and challenged to reimagine education from the system leaders of Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta. As such, St Luke’s is designing and establishing the new normal for preschool to post school learning across the five educational services of early learning, primary, secondary, out of hours school care and a high needs studio. We are unsure if there is another Catholic systemic school in Australia pursuing this bold vision.

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St Luke’s Catholic College – A conceptual preschool to post school framework.

From Day 1 the school has been staffed from 6am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. There is no ‘bolt on’ out of hours schools care. There is an Activities Club which provides learning focused activities either side of the core hours of the school day. Other innovations include:

  • Bringing Social Skills and Enterprise skills to prominence through our 6 Pillars of Learning. This resulted in a more informative school report and meaningful Student-led Conferences at the end of Semester 1.
  • No merit awards or stickers for students, just positive affirmation as part of our Positive Behaviour Support for Learning (PBS4L) approach to learning and wellbeing.
  • Each teacher blogging twice a term to share their work via social media channels. This confirms our collective commitment to act as connected and networked educators.
  • Increased use of Social Media, in particular Twitter and Facebook to connect and communicate with our parent community. In fact, Facebook Live was used to record the visits of Tanya Plibersek and Luke Foley. Also, on two occasions, the principal connected with parents for two parent engagement event held of an evening.
  • The use of Seesaw to provide formative, real time feedback to parents. Over time, students will have a digital folio of work which showcases their very best social skills and enterprise skills.
  • A cashless school with provision of an offsite canteen with online ordering.
  • Sports uniform worn each and every day – quite comfortable for all students and realistic considering the amount of movement that takes place in our our agile open learning spaces.
  • And much much more…

All this was taking place adjacent to our new building program. For the beginning of 2018 new buildings with outstanding new learning spaces will be ready to accommodate our K-6 enrolments, our new year 7 cohort and the Long Day Care centre. In preparing for 2018, and thanks to system support, we will have two weeks of orientation for new staff. This will take place in Term 4 and will assist in the ‘next steps’ of establishing the new normal for preschool to post school learning where we will be committed to extending the frontiers of knowledge by deepening our understanding of preschool to post school learning for a changing world.

St Luke's Catholic College
The Site – 30 July 2016
The front of the school
Taken on the front corner of the 8 hectare site, 30 July 2016.
Our first building onsite – The Front Office, November 2016.
The 1st learning space arrives onsite – December 2016.
The Kindergarten classroom four days before Day 1 – Monday 30 January.
An overview of the site from a drone Perspective – March, 2017.
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Looking towards Frontier Avenue from the rear of the site. From left to right – COLA, The Hub (3 stories high), Staff Room and Early Learning Centre – 11 July, 2017.

Of course, the physical emergence of the site is an interesting story. However, the real story is the learning narrative which has unfolded before our eyes in real time on both Twitter and Facebook. I invite you to spend 10 minutes to review our learning story unfold and it has been a privilege to be a part of it.

Comments and feedback are welcome.






Reporting on social skills and enterprise skills

“Governments need to prioritise the teaching, testing and reporting of achievement in capabilities alongside core curriculum. For capabilities to count they need to be measured and reported at a national level, assessed in schools and communicated to parents and considered alongside or contribute to ATAR.” (Mitchell Report, 2016:19).

As you may be aware, St Luke’s Catholic College in Marsden Park is committed to bringing social skills and enterprise skills to prominence for our students and their parents. This commitment has seen us align the Australian General Capabilities with our 6 Pillars of Learning. By focusing our learning around these 6 Pillars, over time, a folio of evidence will emerge for each student to better understand their strengths and capabilities to assist them become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.

At St Luke’s, the 6 Pillars figure prominently when:
  • teachers collaboratively plan the learning,
  • students self reflect on their learning,
  • students seek feedback from peers and teachers, and most recently,
  • when writing semester reports.
As you will see from this sample report, whilst they adhere to A to E reporting requirements, they are very different to most NSW primary school reports. The College undertook an extensive process which was made possible due to:
  • Our Assistant Principal developing many iterations of reports after many collaborative conversations between teachers and the leadership team. Here are her latest reflections about the process.
  • Teachers using Scope and Sequences and Programs to align the 6 Pillars and syllabus outcomes.
  • Parents attending a Parent Engagement Event on Tuesday 13 June. This video was used on that evening to provide “the why” of reporting in this new manner.
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“New Ways of Reporting” – Parent Engagement Event, St Luke’s Marsden Park, Tuesday 13 June.
As we know, Parent/Teacher interviews usually follow ‘reporting season’. To complement these new reports, it was identified that another way to bring social skills and enterprise skills to prominence was for the students themselves to reflect and then offer feedback via Student-led Conferences.
At the same Parent Engagement Event on 13 June, parents were informed that the goal of Student-led Conferences is to help students communicate their learning to their parents using their work as evidence. Conversations often tell us more than perhaps we can measure through conventional assessments and through the Student-led Conferences held over the last few weeks, teachers noted that students:
  • shared understandings of their strengths according to the 6 Pillars,
  • confirmed areas for improvement; and,
  • highlighted personal achievements of which they were proud.
The initial verbal feedback is quite encouraging about both reports and Student-led Conferences. Collectively, teachers and leaders now see many possibilities for closer alignment between daily learning, weekly ​​formative feedback and summative reporting at the end the year. In saying that, the Leadership Team is overseeing processes which will obtain feedback from parents, teachers and students via surveys. This feedback will assist our thinking for the next iteration of reports.
Exciting times!
As usual, I would appreciate your time to provide comments or ask questions.

Skills, Capabilities, Feedback and Reporting.

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Credit to Accessed 10 June, 2017.

There are numerous articles and many research papers which argue that schooling needs to shift its focus from high stakes testing to a greater focus on the social skills and enterprise capabilities each student requires for a changing world.  In fact, Bill Lucas from Mitchell Institute declares capabilities are the new currency for success in life.

In Australia, the importance of these skills and capabilities are expressed through the seven General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum. These “… play a significant role in the Australian Curriculum in equipping young Australians to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.”

St Luke’s is a next generation community establishing the new normal for preschool to post school learning as part of an extended school day, 6:00am to 6:00pm. The General Capabilities are foundational to the St Luke’s Learning Statement, which, in part, reads:

Within a safe and secure environment, literacy, numeracy and faith formation are viewed as strong foundations to assist young people identify and solve problems. With each person taking responsibility for their own learning, all learners participate actively in a changing world where they are obligated to:

  • WITNESS by living the Good News as revealed through the Gospel of St Luke
  • MANAGE self
  • RELATE with others
  • COLLABORATE  with peers and experts to respond to challenges
  • COMMUNICATE responses to real world problems
  • THINK CRITICALLY using self reflection and peer assessment as part of the learning process.

St Luke’s has translated the General Capabilities into these 6 Pillars of Learning (above) which shapes our approach to programming, assessment and reporting. This is because “social-emotional development is not ancillary to the work of educators, but foundational to it” (Adams, 2016). Such a belief has resulted in many questions including:

  • How do we bring to prominence the development of social skills and enterprise skills so necessary for a changing world?
  • How can we engage align real time formative feedback for students and parents?
  • How can we ensure social skills and enterprise skills are prominent in programming, reporting and assessment?

As a result of asking these questions, students now engage in ongoing self reflection and peer critique about their progress along the 6 Pillar continuum. Furthermore, when they offer these reflections via the online application Seesaw, parents are notified in real time with some posting comments of encouragement. These digital artefacts have resulted in a developing folio of evidence, some of which will be used by each child at our upcoming Student-led Conferences with parents and teachers.

The General Capabilities offer an excellent reference point for our school community when nurturing curious, faith filled children to become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.

As always, comments and feedback are welcome.