Catch them doing good

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

I recently came across this article, “How Ending Behavior Rewards Helped One School Focus on Student Motivation and Character”. It is a 5 minute read and outlines the reasons why some schools have adopted a ‘No Merits, No Rewards’ approach. I encourage you to find the time to read the article. The reason I do so is because it provides insights into the ‘WHY’ we do not have rewards, merits, stickers and stamps at St Luke’s Marsden Park.

The article reflects wider research which, on balance does acknowledge that rewards, merits, stickers and stamps can work, particularly for “hard-to-reach kids”. It also confirms that human nature can be to repeat good conduct that’s positively reinforced and/or avoids punishment.

“But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behaviour is not only futile but harmful.”

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink identifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards. They are:

  1. they cripple intrinsic motivation
  2. limit performance
  3. squash creativity
  4. stifle good conduct
  5. promote cheating
  6. can become habit-forming and
  7. spur a short-term mindset.

With an increasing need to nurture creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world, offering rewards and merits can become what Daniel Pink calls, “a very dangerous game”.

We know what the research says and what what real life presents. There may always be a place for recognising student effort, behaviour or achievement ‘above and beyond’ what is expected of them. This leads me to ask… What are the reasons for handing out certificates or merits or rewards to students?

  • Using your manners? But isn’t this the expectation?
  • Producing your best effort with school work? But isn’t this the expectation?
  • High levels of attendance? Again, isn’t this the expectation? Maybe if a student was to do this 2 or 3 or 4 years in a row, that would be exceptional and quite probably above and beyond the expectation.

Instead of handing out rewards, merits, stickers and stamps, I am strong in the belief that we are better to catch  students ‘doing good’ in the moment. Private words of encouragement in the moment have greater impact than the public monthly awards at assemblies, often when the moment has passed and been forgotten. 

As always, comments are welcome.


What is the ‘new normal’?

As Principal Leader of St Luke’s Catholic College, I am constantly challenged and supported to collaboratively work with leaders, teachers, students and parents to co-design and establish a ‘new normal’ for preschool to post school learning.

Recently, I was asked to offer my insights into what the ‘new normal’ is. The comparative table below is by no means comprehensive, and nor is St Luke’s covering all of the ‘new normals’ listed below. However, the table offers a reference point, one which is continually updated and changed, just like a ‘start up’ I suppose.


 New Normal (or next iteration)

Religious Literacy and whole cohort Faith in Action. Experiential Religious Inquiry and personalised faith experiences.
Literacy: Speaking and Listening, Reading and Viewing, Writing. Literacy: Speaking and Listening, Reading and Viewing, Writing, Oral Literacy.
Numeracy: Number & Algebra, Measurement and Geometry, Statistics and probability. Numeracy: Number, Measurement, Geometric Reasoning, Multiplicative Thinking, Reflection.
Early Years Assessment EYA, AND, qualitative observations, assessment and feedback of social and emotional skills, and student independence.
Literacy and Numeracy Assessments ongoing throughout K-9. Egs? Running Records purely to find a ‘level’. Literacy and Numeracy Assessments EG: assessments that purely drive learning/using the information to inform the teaching not just to have a ‘grade’ attached.
Assessment of learning outcomes informing to A to E reporting. Assessment of learning outcomes to inform General Capabilities.
A top down, crowded curriculum designed and centred around Key Learning Areas (KLAs). A streamlined curriculum with core content, skills and knowledge driven by student interests and passions.
Moderated teacher assessment for  student achievement measured against syllabus outcomes. Moderated teacher assessment, self assessment and peer assessment validated by teachers for syllabus outcomes, general capabilities and dispositions.
HSC Exams and major works/projects to attract marks, bands and ATAR for university entry. Major works, projects and folios of work showcasing individual skills informing multiple post school pathways. No exams.
Separate, disconnected services on different sites. eg. Early Learning separate from primary separate from Secondary, seperate from High Needs School. Connected aligned services merging together on one site which allows for ‘funding continuity of learning’ for students, supported by connection across the services.
Teacher wellbeing leaders of large cohorts (Pastoral Care Coordinators, Year Coordinators, House Coordinators) genreally without health and wellbeing qualifications. Learning Mentors based in smaller, family based groups supported by in-house allied health and wellbeing personnel such as speech pathologists, occupational therapists, paediatricians, psychologists, etc.
Students’ birth dates define the learner’s journey… Students are grouped based on:

  •  Literacy, numeracy and academic standards.
  • self awareness of general capabilities.
  • level of independence and ability to self-direct.
  • ability to collaborate.
Learning revolves around curriculum (and mainly content) requirements… Student learning involves real world challenges which contextualises cognitive skills, technical skills, character strengths, and subject-area content.
The school day is divided into subjects… Subjects are integrated into self-interest projects. The school day is a balance between deep learning time for long-range projects, and time for self-paced mastering of core skills and content with ‘opt in’ small group workshops.
Static A-E grading and twice yearly reporting. Students work folios reflective with a mastery transcript and evidence of learning, accessed 24/7 by parents.  Learning Mentors communicate with post school industry and tertiary groups aligning student capability with direct entry post school pathway options.

What are your suggestions for the ‘new normal’. What’s missing from the new normal above? What are you doing that would constitute the ‘new normal’? What is your learning community doing that would constitute the ‘new normal’? Feel free to add to the table via the comments section of this blog.

Thanks for reading,


NSW Curriculum Review – I’ve had my say.

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My most recent blog The NSW Curriculum – Less is Best (November, 2018)  encouraged Professor Geoff Masters and colleagues to declutter the NSW Curriculum. Since then, and in response for a call for submissions, I considered the four leading questions of the Review. 

  • What should the purpose of schooling be in the 21st century?
  • What knowledge, skills and attributes should every student develop at school?
  • How could the curriculum better support every student’s learning?
  • What else needs to change?

So, I decided to answer these questions with many links and references to blogs I have written over the last 3 to 4 years. Here we go…

What should the purpose of schooling be in the 21st century?

To consider the purpose of schooling, one must consider its connection with learning and teaching (January, 2015). So, for me, starting with a deep belief that each child can learn, the purpose of schooling in the 21st century is to firstly provide precise and rigorous instructional teaching so students can engage with the foundations of literacy and numeracy. Once these essential foundations are established, a child is then enabled  to develop the social skills and enterprise skills so they can maximise their potential as learners and then become creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a rapidly changing world.

What knowledge, skills and attributes should every student develop at school?

There needs to be a greater focus on the ACARA general capabilities as per Recommendation 7 of the Through Growth to Achievement Report which reads:

“Strengthen the development of the general capabilities, and raise their status within curriculum delivery, by using learning progressions to support clear and structured approaches to their teaching, assessment, reporting and integration with learning areas.”

As such, a new curriculum needs to bring social skills and enterprise skills to prominence (February, 2017) in schools and promote these social skills and enterprise skills (March, 2017) to parents and wider community so that they are seen as the equal of literacy, numeracy and key learning areas. Schools should be encouraged, challenged and, most importantly, trusted to develop a local contextual interpretation of the GCs.

At St Luke’s Catholic College, 6 Pillars of Learning provide a strong reference point for learning growth and development for each child. These 6 Pillars, framed largely from the Australian General Capabilities, were established in 2017 in response to the school’s commitment to bring social skills and enterprise skills to prominence (December, 2016). These 6 Pillars support a student’s ability to reflect on the skills and capabilities, receive feedback from teachers and we even report on social skills and enterprise twice a year (June, 2017). And over the last six months we have developed a partnership with UTS to use the “Review Tool” to develop and update our 6 Pillars.

Whilst the GCs address the skills and capabilities for a changing world, we also need to consider and reflect on the development of dispositions for each child. As young adults they will also be required to have endless reservoirs of empathy, resilience and persistence to problem solve with various teams of people in order to respond to the needs of the local community and the capitalise on the opportunities of living in an increasingly global world.

With a balanced approach towards the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, the development of the GCs and a commitment to engage with the messiness of assessing (even assessing) dispositions, it may mean we continue to proud each and every Australia Day (January, 2018).

How could the curriculum better support every student’s learning?

We need to give back the learning to students by reducing core curriculum hours (even less than they are now) and allowing even instructing teachers and schools to not then ‘go over hours’ to ‘fill a day’ or fill a timetable’. This would encourage free thinking to minimise the hours and allow for exciting learning initiatives such as Adventure Learning (July, 2018), Genius Hour or Google 80/20 time.

We also need to get better at creating time (January, 2016) by considering bold ideas to better use time (November, 2015). We could flip the thinking about mandated hours (March, 2015) so that we can ‘give back time’ to students so they see their time at school as My Learning (March, 2018). This will assist with the aspiration to provide authentic personalised learning (November, 2016). Instead of parents asking how to study for NAPLAN or how do I best prepare my teenager for the HSC, it might mean that parents see a new set of non-negotiables (September, 2016) by asking:

  • “What did my child create today?”
  • “How is my child collaborating?”
  • “How are their presentation skills developing?”
  • “What team is my child working with and what problem are they trying to solve?”

What else needs to change?

With leadership from NESA, schools rethinking education (January, 2015) will move away from easily measurable standardised approaches to learning which will reduce media fascination with league table comparisons between schools.

Furthermore, there needs to be new pathways to post school (June, 2016) and a significant adjustment to what was labelled a modernised HSC (January, 2016) so that online folios of work showcasing the very best of a student’s skills and capabilities count more than one mark on one day at the end of 13 years of schooling.

What are your answers to the four questions of the Review?

As usual, comments and feedback are most welcome.



The NSW Curriculum – Less is Best.

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The New South Wales curriculum is a little like our state’s capital city – overcrowded and full of congestion!

Thankfully, the NSW Government has commenced a review of the NSW school curriculum to ensure students are prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. This is the first comprehensive review since 1989. The aim of the review is to reshape education in NSW so that it engages and challenges every student to develop the strong foundations of knowledge, skills and capabilities required to flourish in a world experiencing unprecedented and unpredictable change.

Recently, I read the article There is a better way fo teaching bored Australian students. In the article Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel talks about “T-shaped workers.” The vertical line of the T represents deep knowledge and subject expertise. The horizontal bar represents the skills and capabilities required to apply that expertise as part of a team to solve real world problems. Maybe the new NSW Curriculum could adopt the intent to nurture “T-Shaped” students. I grant you, this is too simplistic?

We know that Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) are the keys which unlock the potential for all learners. From 2018, the national literacy and numeracy learning progressions will be phased in to replace the existing NSW literacy and numeracy continuums. We could do worse than strip back the curriculum so that it focuses on students moving through these progressions as they engage in passion projects which integrate Key Learning Areas. It would be good to do this without the scheduling of ‘minute perfect timetables’ in an already full school day. Less rather than more is needed because there can be no more put into the school day.

In the same article mentioned above, Professor John Fischetti is quoted as saying,

“We have to get everyone to figure out what their potential is, how it maps to their passion and go for it – because there’ll be nothing to do if you are under-educated in Australia.”

As the foundations of literacy, numeracy and language are developed by each student, it might be that we facilitate learning opportunities which will enable them to deepen their understanding of ‘Who I am’, What I can do’ and ‘What problems I want to solve’. As they become young adults, students can come to know their vocation by answering the 3 questions of Reverend Michael Himes:

  • What gives you joy?  This is not the same as being happy.
  • Are you good at it? Know your strengths and talents.
  • Does anyone need you to do it?  Identify how you can work with others to respond to the needs of the local community.

With such provocative questions shaping each young person’s thinking, learning could increasingly become more self-directed with a reduced core curriculum forming part of a broader personalised curriculum. This personalised curriculum could be made up of passions projects and/or bespoke courses designed to enhance skills and capabilities identified and needed by local businesses, national industries or online, global networks.

Who knows what will come of the NSW Curriculum Review? I trust that Professor Geoff Masters and his team will declutter the curriculum by taking a ‘Less is Best’ approach.

As always, comments, questions and wonderings are welcome.


A TEDx Talk – What an experience!

Part of being a principal means having many chats, conversations and presentations. Some you plan for, especially for big events, others are on the run in the middle of the playground, some are impromptus with small groups in the staff room, as well as the one to one confidential chats with parents behind closed doors.

And then there is a TEDx Talk!

A few months back I was nudged by an online connection to consider delivering a TED Talk. My immediate response was, ‘That’s not something for me. It is for the Gurus around the world.” But that’s just it, there is a difference between TED and TedX, with the latter relying on local people spreading their ideas that are making a difference in their local community.

Holly Kershaw and Nat Wadwell are the two young ladies who gave up every spare minute of their time for about 4 months after they obtained the license for TEDx Parramatta, Their reasons for doing so…

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Holly and Nat deeply believe in the potential of the rapidly changing region of Western Sydney. As one of 8 speakers in the day, I spoke about the need to shape a ‘new normal’ for preschool to post school education using the emerging story of St Luke’s Catholic College as the reference point. With 900 000 people moving into Western Sydney in the next 15 years we have the opportunity to do this, but do we have the courage?

My reflections about TEDx?

Firstly, it was a privilege to join seven other speakers who are making a real difference in this world. Secondly, upon reflection, the real differences between my every day chats and conversations, and that of a TEDx Talk are numerous. However, the following 3 stand out:

  • The ‘red dot’, cameras and a program pushed out on Social Media is not an everyday, run of the mill occurrence, and it brought on the need to acutely focus like very few times before.
  • Waffle was out, precision was in. Eduspeak, acronyms and contextual language was out, and language which resonated with a discerning mainstream audience from diverse backgrounds was required. Holly and Nat often assisted me to turn 3 or 4 sentences of elongated eduspeak into one concise sentence. An example of ‘simplexity’ perhaps?
  • I was reminded that “stories sell”! “Relate your idea with the stories or people or times when your idea came to life.


There were plenty of hours practise required in the weeks leading up to ‘Grand Final Day’! I need to say “Thank you” to my wife and live at home daughters who heard the talk over and over and over again. As an aside, it was satisfying to hear my wife say that “That’s the best I have heard you say it” – High praise indeed from a hard marker – haha!

My wife and daughters were joined in the audience by my father (thanks to a very thoughtful colleague who gave up her ticket), sister and colleagues – their presence was uplifting. I also appreciated the thoughts from my son and daughter-in-law from the other side of the Blue Mountains, and I was thankful for the many messages of support from colleagues and connections who offered their best wishes either in person or via social media. I am also thankful to the staff of St Luke’s who took time to listen to me twice and provide feedback so I could better my pitch, performance and presentation.

Finally, congratulations to Sara, Jesse, Susan, Jane, Victor, Queenie and James. Thank you for your contribution to the event and helping me learn about inspiring actions and ideas beyond schooling and education. I enjoyed listening to each and every one of your talks. Each one of you are are inspiring those around you and making a real difference in your immediate world. Let’s continue to spread the ideas…

James, Jane, Susan, Queenie, Sara, Jesse, Victor and Yours Truly. Photo by Erielle Sudario.



P.S. Links to each TEDx Parramatta talk will be uploaded to the TED site within the next few weeks.

Adventure Learning

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Earlier today, the staff of St Luke’s Catholic College introduced ‘Adventure Learning’ to 360 students across Kindergarten to Year 7. Through a clever use of time, Adventure Learning will take place each Wednesday afternoon after lunch for 90 minutes.
In the foreground, students learning more about “Slime Madness” from our Director of Mission, Mrs Julie Atkins.

‘Adventure Learning’ offers experiential learning through deep inquiry with increased choice for students. Students will engage in ‘courses’ which comprise a ‘passion project’ or ‘deep dive’ into an area of interest. There were courses with “cool” names such as”Bop ’til you drop”, “School Entrepreneurs”, “Design and Make Pokemon”, “Let’s Create a Mess”, “Kitchen Chemistry”, “It’s my Beanstalk, not Jack’s!” You can view all courses here.

Young people are crowding around Mrs Jackie Koelmeyer as she introduces “Coding Foundations”.

The number one priority of ‘adventure learning’ is to allow students to have the opportunity to pursue learning about an area of interest without traditional curriculum requirements.

Mrs Elisa Pettenon talking to students about “Mural Madness”.

After input from students about their interests and hobbies during late Term 2, staff designed an expo style presentation of 45 different courses Students have over half an hour to view the course options. Soon after, all students forwarded their preferences to their teachers. Over the next few days, those preferences will determine what courses actually run for the reminder of this term.

Mrs Rebecca Rainima puts students through their paces as they get a taste of “Muscle Up”.

From next week, each Wednesday afternoon throughout Term 3 there will be learning sessions which combine the interests and knowledge of students with their own strengths, talents, interest and/or hobbies. Adventure Learning will conclude with a Showcase event on Wednesday 26 September. Parents and the wider community will be more than welcome to view displays, presentations and projects delivered by students. We look forward to conveying more information to you throughout this term about Adventure Learning.

Communications and Marketing Co-ordinator, Miss Nicky Alsemgeest speaking with students about establishing a “Content Creation Team”.

No doubt over the next weeks and months there will be many St Luke’s staff, and maybe even the students, sharing their thoughts and insights about Adventure Learning.



6 Pillars of Learning – A time for ‘Review’ (Part 2)

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Recently, I published 6 Pillars of Learning – A time for ‘Review’ (Part 1.) I made the point that Review – the future of assessment can open up possibilities to assess our 6 Pillars of Learning, an adaptation of  Australian General Capabilities, without compromising our rigorous tracking of learning outcomes as required by NESA – and that is very exciting!

A few weeks back, a team of 5 teachers gathered and:

  • Reflected positively about the potential of Review to assist students and teachers with the assessment of the 6 Pillars;
  • Confirmed there are far too many ‘sub categories’;
  • Asked, “Do the pillars represent what we want?”
  • Proposed to ‘split’ “Think Creatively and Critically” to “Think Critically” and then
  • replace “Be Digitally Literate” with “Make and Create”.

We also tabled the following considerations:

  • Relate doesn’t really indicate how we work with each other.
  • Manage doesn’t necessarily talk about how we manage ourselves?
  • Descriptors limit what is given to students. “Explain” or identify rather than actions. Actions are what should be given.
  • We need a clearer indication of the strengths basis throughout.

With this in mind, we then bounced around more relevant titles of the 6 Pillars

  • Witness, Manage, Relate, Communicate and Collaborate, Think Critically, Work Creatively.
  • Witness, Manage, Relate and Collaborate, Communicate, Think Critically, Work Creatively.

We then asked what does “Work Creatively” mean? Well, it means working in the practice of your subject (eg. practice of working as a mathematician, scientist etc. I stress, these were initial reflections.

A few more iterations and the team came up with an update on the 6 Pillars. Namely:

  • Witness
  • Manage
  • Relate and Collaborate
  • Inquire and Communicate
  • Think Critically
  • Work Creatively

Knowing that currently there are far too many sub-elements, we then looked at what we perceived to be current duplication of sub-elements and drafted the following…


  • Appreciate diverse perspectives
  • Explore ethical concepts in context
  • Change stereotypes and prejudices
  • Recognise ethical concepts
  • Identify the impacts on society
  • Explore rights and responsibilities


  • Making Positive Choices of Making Good Decisions (Instead of ‘Make Decisions’)
  • Regulating Emotions (instead of Recognising Emotions)
  • Utilising Strengths (new)
  • Being organised (new)


  • Understand relationships
  • Work Collaboratively


  • Communicate Effectively
  • (Access, Collect) Organise and Process Information
  • Transfer knowledge into new contexts.



  • (New) Solve Problems
  • Seek Solutions and put ideas into action
  • Thinking about Thinking – Metacognition.



  • Generate solutions to challenges and learning areas tasks.
  • Generate ideas, plans and processes
  • (New) Practice working as (a scientist, mathematician, musician etc.),
  • (New) Make

The working party of 5 know this is far from complete. All teachers will need to be involved quite a few times as part of the next phase in this ‘Review’ process.

Looking at the above, and remembering this is a round 1 Draft suggestions… 

  • I like that there is a reduction in the sub-elements from 56 to 22;
  • I wonder about the place or addition of dispositions such as empathy, perseverance and tenacity;
  • I am unsure about the wording and titles; and,
  • I look forward to the ongoing discussion with teachers before we work closely with the people from UTS and engage with Review.

Comments are welcome.