Thursday / April 25

Five Years On: An Australian First [Excerpt]

Since 2018, over 350 educators have visited the classrooms of St Bernard’s Catholic Primary School in East Coburg, Victoria. They have travelled from inside and outside the country to see Australia’s first Visible Learning+ Certified School in action, to tap into the knowledge and experience of the school’s 5-year journey and to be inspired for their own context and practice. It’s hard to imagine they would leave disappointed – and certainly not if they had the privilege to speak with students, teachers and leaders. However, what these visitors can only see is one moment in time – a time when learning now sits at the core, when practices are deeply embedded and where evidence of success is tangible. They could not be expected to perceive the significant cultural shift that has taken place or imagine the investment of energy, commitment and resources. Yet these shifts are exactly what others can best learn from St Bernard’s story. What is instructional is not just what the school is doing now but why and how they got there – and where next.

In and Out of the Learning Pit

As with the learning approach evident in the school, the journey has been one of going deeper into the change process, to become increasingly sophisticated in their ways of working and to be ever more demanding of themselves. The phases of the ‘learning pit’1 that the students readily identify in their learning are equally applicable to the school transformation. By way of illustration, both Joanne Doherty, the Principal, and Shane Crawford, Impact Coach, vividly recall the time several years in when all seemed lost and they felt mired in confusion and doubt – at the bottom of that pit. The progress of the previous few years seemed illusory in the face of less-than positive national assessment data. As Joanne starts:

“I remember getting our NAPLAN data and I was devastated… at that point we realised we were in the pit. And the pit’s uncomfortable and it’s challenging.” Shane continues that when he asked the students: “They said to me bluntly, ‘NAPLAN, you don’t tell us about it. You make us sit it. You send it home in an envelope. Every other assessment, you explain why we’re doing it, where it’s going, what we’re doing with it and then afterwards, where we’re going to next. So, it’s not important to you, so we didn’t make it important’… That’s all we changed.”

Read the full report here:

Written by

Dr. Pam Ryan is an educator who consults in Australia and internationally on leadership and school and system transformation. Having previously been Industry Professor (Learning and Education) in the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, Pam is now Adjunct Professor there. Previously Pam spent 10 years as secondary principal and 11 years as an Education Director in NSW and Hong Kong. Pam has authored: Leadership in Education: Learning from Experience (2015); Wise Heads Wise Hearts (2016), and Action and Reflection Tools for Busy School Leaders (2017).

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