Col~Legi Montserrat – A privilege to visit

On Friday 5 May, I had the great privilege to visit Col~Legi Montserrat in Barcelona. This school is one of ten led by Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. They have four of schools in Barcelona, four in the Canary Islands and two in Madrid. Their founder, St Josep Manyamet was proclaimed a saint of the Catholic Church in 2004.

Col~Legi Montserrat provides learning for 1 year old children through to 18 year olds adults, all on the one campus pearched high on the hill overlooking Barcelona. Each ‘year group’ has 60 students with 2 or 3 teachers and hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They have a two hour break at 1pm where they have lunch, play and engage in extra curricular activities, everyday.

For preschool (1-5 year olds), the start of each day begins with 30 minutes of prayer, story and play based learning. The story for each day focuses on faith, a value or context based on a theme for the week/fortnight. For example, the 5 May story related to Mothers’ Day. Questions were asked about the characteristics of mothers and then a song was sung and danced by the students. This happens each and every day.

At the end of the 30 minutes, those students move off with their teachers. I witnessed 2 year olds, all still learning to talk, start the day by taking the roll. Each student learning to pronounce the name of another as the teacher reads the roll. For 30 minutes, 3 year olds engaged with flash cards containing letters, visuals, cartoon pictures and landscapes where students were asked to name the image. Images chop and change quickly. This happens everyday. 

Moving from one room to another, I witnessed Year 1 have an open and transparent discussion about a child who was crying earlier that morning. The conversation took place in Catalan, the language of Barcelonians, but Sister Monika interpreted, 

“One child said they noticed another student crying and asked why. The teacher then asked that child, ‘What happened?’ The child talked about how their parents upset them at home that morning.” 

Instead of a discussion with the principal about mandatory reporting, the teacher named the feelings of anger and hurt. Empathy and understanding can be a focus at any given point as a part of ‘just in time learning’. Without hesitation, the class moved onto the next activity which was counting. 

The whole school learning approach is based on updated and ongoing research about multiple intelligences and learning styles. As such, educating students to speak, read and write involves ‘the whole body’ multiple times throughout the day. In the video which follows, 4 years olds are ‘reading with their body’. One gesture relates to both a sound and a word. As Sister Monika said, 

“It is a playful, game based way to learn to read.”

There is a also a strong commitment to the arts as a part of catering for and educating the whole child. For example, commencing in Kindergarten, there is the commitment for a specialist art teacher to work with children to learn specialist art language and apply that language across class projects within mainstream learning.

Also, all 3 to 5 year olds are withdrawn once a week to learn to play the violin. Wow!

Col~Legi Montserrat is not a new school school. It is a big brick building set on the side of a hill. It is 5 stories high and also has a more modern looking second building which is their separate senior secondary school for Year 11 & 12. Upon my arrival I mistook this part of the school for the preschool. It is bright, modern and playful – for 17 & 18 year olds! Anyhow… To invigorate the ‘old’ building, the staff have turned their corridors and stairwells into learning showcases and display spaces. When travelling between classrooms and observing the showcases I observed and heard from Sister Monika about the following:

  • A Year 1 project which started with the question, “Do you think your journal is suitable?” The question centred around their daily timetable, its operation and its appearance, whether it suited their needs. In responding to this lead question, students interviewed their parents about how they used their time across the week and, as a part of this, they had to learn about minutes and hours in each day. Learn the days of week, heard about times of the day by interviewing parents and grandparents.
  • Integration is a big part of their work, most especially in the secondary area. Rarely is a subject taught in isolation. In some cases there are 2 or 3 subjects combined, and those subjects change across year groups and within the year. There is an agility to the learning in so many aspects of the day, week, month and terms. Furthermore, for each secondary school project, there is an aspect of service learning, faith context or outreach commitment added to the project where students ask,

“How can our project, our product, our idea help others?”

  • Year 10 has two hours on entrepreneurship every week. Recently, small groups of Year 10 created a real company based on a social need. It commenced with an empathic investigation by looking at ‘needs’ near and far. One group design a fashion bracelet that acted as a tracking device for those seniors who occasionally wander from their nursing home.
  • 20 years ago, the school developed its own mathematics program for 3-12 year olds. It was heavily scaffolded with high energy activities with actual book work equalling 10 minutes out of a daily one hour commitment to mathematics. The other 50 minutes is made up of play based, ‘whole body’ activities. This same program is now present in 700 schools across Spain. 

  • In primary, through to Year 8, each child has Coding & Robotics for one hour a week. The ‘subject’ is delivered by a technology specialist teacher who delivers each and every lesson ‘in English’, as is the case for drama & film for Year 7 to 10.
  • Preschool, Primary & secondary classrooms seamlessly flow from one into another. There is no clear division.
  • A few years back teachers asked, “Can we knock the walls down?” So they did!
  • The whole time I was there I never heard a bell. As Sister Monika said,
  • “We don’t use bells in the real world. I think the bells are more for the teachers. We haven’t used them for years.”

There is only so much you can get to know about a school in a day. Like any other school, I am sure that Col~Legi Montserrat is not perfect. I am sure there have been mistakes made along the way, Sister Monika said there have been many. However, it was a privilege to witness a creative school with a commitment to innovation – a school which is committed to being the best learning community it can be and one which has students at the centre, working collaboratively and driving their own learning.


Reminders from Picasso

A few days ago I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Museu Picasso de Barcelona. Just to be upfront, I have little artistic capability and even less knowledge of art appreciation; however, knowing that Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous artists the world has known, I felt compelled to visit.

Picasso’s father knew early on that his son possessed great talent, and he was keen for his son to extend himself. In preparing for his son’s first entry into an exhibition, Picasso’s father knew the signs of the time and knew what art would attract the judges’ eyes. Therefore, at the age of 13, Picasso’s first piece submitted for public critique adhered to a religious theme, “First Communion”. Whilst the piece did not win the competition, it was noted as a highly commended piece which, at the time, grabbed the attention of the local art world in Barcelona. For me, this is a reminder that young people, when compassionately nurtured and effectively mentored, can occasionally match it with the adults of this world.
In 1897, Picasso was encouraged to move to Madrid and learn from the traditional teachers of the time. As it read from a wall in the museum, 

“Convinced he was learning nothing new, he soon rejected the established education system.” 

Upon his return, Picasso spent most of his time at “Qautre Gats”, the heart of the artistic and literary world in Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century. This Barcelonian “Avante-Garde” of the time saw Picasso communicate, collaborate and critically reflect with artisits, thinkers, writers and musicians who were experimental, unorthodox and even radical with respect to the arts, culture and society of the time. This for me is a reminder that a “Qautre Gats” approach to contemporary learning will promote the creativity necessary for young people to become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.

Quartre Gats (4 Cats) Cafe today

Of course, Picasso went on to spend most of his time in Paris where his most of his famous works were produced. However, one cannot underestimate the influence his formative years of learning had on his most famous years as an artist.

Your comments are most welcome.


Connecting, Networking and Blogging.

When applying for a position at St Luke’s prospective applicants are invited to read a role description. The second line usually reads… As connected and networked learners teachers are required to nurture faith filled, curious children to become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.” Notice the first part of this sentence,

As connected and networked learners”

One way to ‘connect’ and ‘network’ is through blogging. Teachers at St Luke’s have recently undertaken the commitment to blog. Most teachers at St Luke’s have not blogged and are therefore understandably a little nervous about venturing into the unknown world of blogging.

As a means of support, our first step was to gather as a collegial group to reflect on the purpose of blogging. We referred to:

The resulting discussion confirmed…

“… our purpose for blogging is to reflect on our learning and growth by documenting our professional work.”

Our next step was to start a blog. WordPress was deemed the starting platform of choice but with the understanding teachers could choose their own platform. As such, working through the WordPress options teachers chose a name for their blog, used a simple theme to design their blog and selected plugin options. Teachers are now ready to honour the “Sharing Our Work” edict of Austin Kleon.

We anticipate the benefits of blogging will be that each one of us will:

  • Think and write more clearly
  • Connect with thought leaders
  • Teach more purposefully
  • Respond to positive and constructive feedback

Two interesting developments within 24 hours of this collective commitment to blog have been:

  1. one teacher deciding to use Instagram as their platform of choice. This immediately challenged the few experienced bloggers in the room who see Instagram as a microblogging platform at best. No doubt there will be learning for all seeing how ‘Insta’ can support reflection through documentation of professional work.
  2. Our first blog, In the Beginning, was written by Meg Stone and appeared within 6 hours of our workshop. Meg gets the prize for first post!

The remainder of the teachers have until 6 April. 

Next steps? To see support staff blog as well so we can Put it in the Soup!



A Digital Artefact – Bringing Social Skills and Enterprise Skills to Prominence


As many of you are aware, for the last 9 months I have experienced the privilege of leading an emerging preschool to post school learning community known as St Luke’s Catholic College. Although we are at the very early stages of our evolution as a learning community, we are responding to the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta transformation agenda, led by Greg Whitby who challenges all school leaders to act with “the fierce urgency of the now”.

Part of the now is to develop the social skills and enterprise skills required for a changing world. A recalibration of jobs and lifestyle is taking place before our eyes. According to many experts, the changes have only just begun, so much so, “Five million jobs will be automated by 2030,” – SMH 4/3/17. Our Kindergarten class of this year, our Year 12 graduates of 2029 (that’s if there is such as thing as Year 12 by then) will walk into a very different lifestyle dependent upon very new jobs and new ways of working.

Increasing automation means different types of jobs, jobs that require people to ‘write code’ or use algorithms to attend to consumer needs. If people wish to be employed in the future, or better still create their own work, it appears that many will need coding skills and higher level computational thinking skills. Most importantly, young people will require the social and emotional dispositions to respond to the inevitable moral dilemmas and ethical challenges that will come with vastly improved technology, both for work and for lifestyle.

Part of preparing our young people for their independent future is to bring their parents along on the journey, a journey which requires us all to understand the importance of the social skills and enterprise skills required for a changing world. Parents need to be informed of what the future will look like, a future that will see their child engage with multiple jobs across multiple industries, some of which may not yet be known. The ability of a child to collaborate with others in responding to challenges across the globe, or thinking critically to solve problems within their local community, will require adept capabilities as articulated by the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities.

To assist parents at St Luke’s, we developed this digital artefact which affirms our commitment to bring social skills and enterprise skills to the fore. I hope this may be of benefit to the wider community as well.

Feedback welcome.


Bringing social skills to prominence

There are numerous articles and many research papers which argue for the focus of schooling to shift from high stakes testing to a greater development of social skills and enterprise skills for a changing world. One such article written by Bill Lucas in 2016 stated,

“Too often we focus too narrowly on literacy and numeracy when these are only the beginning. We become obsessed with school subjects rather than thinking more broadly about the capabilities which will be valuable in the real world.” 

The importance of social skills and enterprise skills are reflected through the General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum.The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) requires schools to develop a number of capabilities in young people in addition to literacy and numeracy. These include

  • information and communication technology (ICT) capability,
  • intercultural understanding,
  • ethical understanding,
  • personal and social capability, and
  • critical and creative thinking.

Those capabilities, as ACARA states, “play a significant role in the Australian Curriculum in equipping young Australians to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.”

We know that the social skill development and the enterprise skill development are foundational to the work of educators across early learning, primary and secondary schools. We also know that students with well developed social skills and enterprise skills are increasingly hopeful, resilient and engaged participants in their local and global communities. Such dispositions are credible leading indicators for life success as compared to the lagging indicators such as HSC, VCE, ATAR and NAPLAN test scores.

As part of establishing any new school, foundation staff are presented with a blank canvas to deeply consider ‘what matters’. Social skills and enterprise skills matter! One of the challenges we have taken on at St Luke’s is to ‘bring to prominence’ the social skills and enterprise skills students need for a changing world.

As such, at St Luke’s Catholic College, staff have engaged with a process which aligns the ACARA General Capabilities with our ‘6 Pillars’ of learning. These pillars are:

  • WITNESS by living the Good News as revealed through the Gospel of St Luke
  • MANAGE self
  • RELATE with others
  • COMMUNICATE and COLLABORATE with peers and experts
  • THINK CREATIVELY and CRITICALLY through deep and rigorous reflection

Each pillar

  • has a rationale with reference to the Australian Curriculum and explains its importance in our context
  • contains a number of elements from various General Capabilities, and
  • adopts the continuums from those elements to describe the relevant attitudes, behaviours, skills and dispositions relevant to each stage of learning.

Here is a sample…


Overall, the ‘6 Pillars’  assist teachers to plan for the development of social skills and enterprise skills as students engage with the curriculum. The ‘6 Pillars’ figure prominently when preparing and evaluating student learning and are priorities when we provide feedback to students. Furthermore, there is the commitment for students to increasingly self reflect and peer assess the ‘6 Pillars’, as well as provide real time feedback to parents about each child’s development along the ‘6 Pillar’ continua. This work will not be easy but it will be worthwhile!

As always, comments, feedback and questions are welcome.

Until next time.


3 thoughts on “Bringing social skills to prominence”

  1. agl13 says:

    Great blog Greg. You have captured the essence of the AC’s General Capabilities. I believe the content in AC overshadows the GC. Well that is what teachers are mostly concerned about anyway. Some teachers tend to gloss over these important skills. We must bring it to the top – as literacy and numeracy is important across the curriculum – so are these general capabilities! Good on you for highlighting and making theses GC prominent in your school with your new staff and others in the community!

  2. Thanks Greg. Looks like great (but not easy) work going on at St Luke’s.

    Just wondering how involved students have been or will be in evaluating and taking charge of the 6 pillars?

    Best of luck with what I’m sure will be a great adventure in learning.

    1. Hello Matt,
      Great question. Teachers are at the beginning stages of introducing this to students with the intent of students increasingly taking responsibility to self reflect and peers critique appropriate evidence demonstrating growth along the continua. We also wish to engage parents with real time feedback via electronic means. It may be a good 12-18 months before students are precise with it.


Capabilities, Feedback and Reporting.

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 6.30.05 AM
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.




Soft Skills and Enterprise Skills

Within one to two weeks, systems, schools and communities across the country will engage with the media frenzy of examination results and ATARs.

Excellent HSC results (in New South Wales) are promoted by many as indicators of success and they often form part of a school or system’s marketing campaign. One of Catholic education’s leading data analysts, Dr John DeCourcy, continually reminds us that test scores are in fact, lagging indicators of success. We keep reading about the need for students to develop their ‘soft skills’, their ‘enterprise skills’ or their ’21st century skills’ so they can function in, and contribute towards a changing world. However, there will be very little heard or read about these skills  when HSC results and ATARs are released in a few weeks.

Education leaders are now challenged to bring soft skills and enterprise skills to prominence because they are leading indicators of success which will assist students to function in and contribute towards a rapidly changing world, not just in the future, but today!

The good news is that within NSW syllabus documents there are outcomes which directly relate to soft skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationships. Furthermore, there are enterprise skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity found within Key Learning Area (KLA) outcomes.  I acknowledge the measurement soft skills and enterprise skills is more difficult than identifying growth of literacy and numeracy or exam results. However, if we deepen parent, student and teacher understanding of how soft skills and enterprise skills develop over time, and what that looks like, together we will increasingly develop our ability to observe, reflect and critique the skills which are not easily measurable.

Although many soft skills are ‘hidden’ within a KLA outcomes approach as part of an ‘A to E’ reporting environment, the NSW syllabus documents are a great starting point. Further to this, the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities are also an excellent reference point.

Australian Curriculum General Capabilities

Given that all seven domains support the development of soft skills and enterprise skills, there are three domains which are particularly relevant. They are:

  • Information and communication technology – using technology to access information, create products and solve problems.
  • Critical and creative thinking – learning how to think and find ways to approach problems.
  • Personal and social – recognising others’ emotions, supporting diversity and working together.

These domains are expressed through learning continuums. The Critical and Creative Thinking continuum, the Personal and Social continuum and the Information and Communication Technology continuum are excellent reference points for teachers, parents and students. Given the opportunity, I know students can rise to the challenge of finding evidence to demonstrate their progress along these continuums. Maybe that’s the problem, there are not enough policy makers and education leaders who trust students to drive and understand their own learning through self assessment and reflection.

It will be a watershed moment for schools and education systems when the prominence of soft skills and enterprise skills are as mainstream as KLA assessments and public test scores. Due to the disruptive changes to our world, some of which have already arrived, the focus will change, it has to! For the sake of our students, hopefully that time will arrive sooner rather than later.

As always, your feedback and comments are more than welcome as they assist with my learning.