As Term 3 in schools evolves, many will be focused on the various ‘weeks’ we celebrate during the term. In this edition, I wish to highlight a few and provide a comment or two.
We also will be watching and working with a re-elected government. The Coalition education policy was provided and APPA responded in a number of ways. APPA will be looking to meet very soon with the minister, his office and the department to discuss the policy and implementation of key aspects.
A special week this Term 3 will be the NAPLAN Online trial (aka) the Platform Trial and Readiness Test (PTRT). We know some principals were at information sessions before the term break and will be preparing to conduct the trial with their Year 3 and 5 students. I also appreciate the interruption this will bring to schools and learning programs. The key focus of the trial is to test the platform and technology.
APPA Board met with ACARA and the points were:
APPA raised the following points:
APPA’s reference group will continue to meet with ACARA and present questions and concerns. I encourage every principal to write directly to ACARA posing questions and concerns to: firstname.lastname@example.org. And also raise them with your state or territory education minister.
NAPLAN Online will create a major change in primary schools. APPA is proposing that if we need national data on student achievement then sample testing, as is done with PISA and other international assessments, be introduced. We also see that a contemporary and 21st century learning program is not using mass testing to measure achievement and growth. Schools and teachers provide ongoing feedback to students to measure achievement.
The NAPLAN and MY School programs are not reflecting contemporary learning approaches and overall have not had any significant impact on school performance or change in student achievement (ACARA Media Release, Aug 2015). So why are we still funding ineffective programs? Surely we could use these funds for direct student and teacher support. Already in one state, schools will be required to redirect limited school funds for technology upgrades and hardware purchases to implement NAPLAN Online. If introduced, we can see students in Foundation to Year 3 needing access to digital devices every day and this cost will be passed on to parents. We have already seen media reports of the impact of the digital divide and intrusion access to the Internet is causing in schools (The Australian, 18 June 2016). APPA is asking all principals to talk with their community about the impact and is the direction we wish to take with education in Australian primary schools.
In 2017, schools will be either doing NAPLAN as computer or pen based which, in reality, will be two different tests, one an adaptive test on the computer and the other a pen. These two tests will then be used to compare schools. It is difficult at this point in time, with the available information, to be confident in the reliability of the tests.
APPA at this stage is not convinced that computer based marking of writing can pick up all nuances of Year 3 or Year 5 writing. The profession would need to be 100% confident that this would not disadvantage any school or student and at this stage we do not have that assurance. We also have no evidence of successful trials and believe it will lead to a decrease in creativity and imaginative writing. We will get formulae based teaching and writing, where digital skills will be the focus not writing.
This year we encourage everyone to leave the office work behind and ‘get reading’ with students. The website has great ideas and promotional items. APPA is working with Scholastic Australia on research that shows how the actions of the principal will influence the reading and literacy achievements of their students. It is not rocket science, to use a colloquial term, but we can implement some very simple strategies in our schools. And remember it’s mostly about example, attitude and values.
This year many will be swayed to focus on STEM or STEAM and get into Coding. The theme is Drones, Droids and Robots. How have the autonomous technology inventions impacted our lives? This could be a great focus for primary schools, especially as we grapple with technology overload and intrusion. When is some older technology just as effective in learning (pencil and paper) and interactive conversations in person versus online chats or video conferencing? APPA is keen to see support and resources being directed to principals and school leaders on effective strategies to lead an innovative and STEAM school. We know STEM is not a subject: it is an approach. We still need to teach the concepts and knowledge for students to demonstrate their understanding and application of learning.
This is the week you complete you Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey. That’s right; set aside time in a week during August to go online and do the survey. Information will come to leaders already part of the survey and APPA will provide further information.
APPA is supporting the Captain Courageous Foundation’s My Hero Day (July 29). Also, the Teddy Bears and Flowers National Response to the tragedy in Nice, France has APPA as a partner for the appeal by SchoolAid in the response to the tragedy. Go to the www.kidsgive.com.au website for more information and how to get involved.
We are pleased to announce new partnerships with Teachers Mutual Bank and the launch of MyLifeMySuper through Catholic Super.
Teachers Mutual Bank will be supporting APPA with the focus on leadership resources for primary principals and aspiring leaders. A dedicated page on the APPA website will be developed and will include information on finance and budgeting for school leaders, resources for aspiring leaders and information on leadership programs.
While this focus was just recently held, the theme of Song Lines: The living narrative of our nation was well received. Schools might like to look at a resource focused on visual arts and Indigenous art from Western Australia. You can check out the lesson plans here:
I would like to bring to your attention a report by the Australian Government Productivity Commission on Indigenous Primary School Achievement. Cultural recognition, acknowledgment and support have been identified in the literature as fundamental to Indigenous students’ school participation and achievement. The report states:
The recent education literature suggests that the key to improving student achievement, for both Indigenous Australian and non-Indigenous students, is high quality instruction — including assessment of each child’s learning needs, identification of strategies to meet them and evaluation of the effectiveness of those strategies. Particularly important to high quality instruction are:
Best wishes,Dennis Yarrington
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To find out more contact Ethical Clothing Australia to ask how we can assist your school to source ethically accredited school wear.
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Describe your current school, its students, the demographics of your school community, and any special challenges and/or strengths.
Oxley Christian College is situated in Chirnside Park, Victoria. As a co-educational, multi-denominational K-12 Christian school, Oxley provides Christ-centred education that has its foundations in Biblical truth. It offers excellent educational opportunities from preschool to year 12 through an academically sound, balanced and stimulating curriculum. Oxley College attracts students from diverse cultures and backgrounds – including a number of students from overseas. The College campus is located in the Yarra Valley Shire, in eastern Melbourne. Set on thirty hectares of tranquil, semi-rural landscape at Chirnside Park, 25 km east of Melbourne, the school is readily accessible by public transport.
How many years have you been a school leader?
I commenced my current role as Head of Junior School at Oxley Christian College, in January 2014. Prior to accepting this role, I was a general classroom teacher at a local government primary school and held the role of team leader of years 5 and 6 and Literacy Coordinator for the whole school for a number of years. I also served as School Council President for six years at the same school.
What motivated you to become a school leader (and when)?
I have always possessed a heightened sense of responsibility in any role I have held, whether that be as Secretary of the local preschool and netball club, or as School Council President at my children’s school. I don’t see myself as a born leader but recognise that the encouragement and confidence of others, as well as a ‘give it my best shot’ attitude, have positioned me well for leadership. A former colleague of mine encouraged me to apply for my current role, as Head of Junior School, three years ago. Principals I knew had advised me to have a 10 year plan for becoming a school leader and I knew that I would probably have to apply for many positions before being successful. This was not the case and this role for me is an unexpected match made in heaven. I hope I have many years ahead of me to refine my leadership skills and understanding.
What was your first leadership role, where was it located, and what were some of your early challenges as a new leader?
My first leadership role was as a team leader of Year 5 and 6 staff at a local primary school. After a 14 year hiatus away from teaching, where I focused my energy on raising my four children, I was employed at a government school as a classroom teacher. Not only was I on a steep learning curve in terms of curriculum and assessment, I was also focused on being the best leader I could be to my team. This was a case of having to learn on the job and garner support from experienced leaders with whom I worked! I spent time getting to know the staff in my team and building trust and a common vision. Encouraging open and regular communication was critical and weekly team meetings ensured we collaborated and planned as a team. I was supported by the leadership team and provided many opportunities to build my leadership skills through professional development and leadership courses.
As a Head of Junior School in a new environment, the biggest challenge was becoming accustomed to the school, its vision and its staff. Again, building relationships and trust was key. Change is always a challenge to navigate and ensuring all staff were a part of the process was critical. My desire was to serve and support the staff in their role and to collaboratively initiate changes that had improved student outcomes as the focus.
NEW resilience and wellbeing program
Dusty and Friends is a great resource for learning and building resilience in children. Game ON highlights the importance of being calm and prompts children to see how consequences result from actions. A popular resource in Early Stage 1- Stage 1 classrooms, children identify and relate to different characters. The program aligns with the Australian Curriculum and works well for Stage 3 in a peer support model. Available for immediate download through the School For Living website.
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As a new principal, what was the most useful lesson you ever learned from a more experienced principal colleague?
The most useful advice I was given by a long-standing Principal was to ‘not go anywhere alone.’ As a leader, we can often be the one that others assume have all the answers, but we don’t. Leadership can also be a very a lonely position. This advice has been paramount to my survival as a leader. I cannot afford to feel that I am alone or to act alone – there are other leaders and staff around to support and encourage me with their wisdom and experience. When initiating and facilitating change, I can’t be the only one leading it – everyone has a part to play and we all want to move in the same direction together. And, at the end of the day, I am human like the rest of us and I can’t do it all or know it all. Being part of a team ensures success and guards leaders against burnout.
What makes you smile at work?
What make me smile at work? The children, of course. That’s who we are there for and they make it all worthwhile. To see a child overcome a challenge or achieve a learning goal they have set, brings me such joy. To hear a child, who has experienced heartache or bullying in other environments say that they feel safe and can now blossom, brings me hope. I love having children share their work or achievements with me. Those are moments worth cherishing.
In managing your staff, what are your most valuable skills and beliefs?
I believe that every individual is unique and treating others with respect and honour is critical to managing your staff. I have worked hard over many years to develop that ‘listening ear’ and to ensure that others feel heard and understood. I don’t need to be right and I value the ideas, experience and wisdom of others. I am highly organised and this has been a most useful skill in a busy learning environment. I don’t settle for second best and strive to ensure that whatever we do, we do well as a staff. Building positive relationships with staff, students and parents is imperative and I ensure that communication with all key stakeholders is clear and timely. Showing appreciation is also another valuable skill and saying ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ goes a long way to helping build a strong team.
What was the best day you ever had as a school leader?
I think the last day of Term 4, in my first year as Head of Junior School, was my best day ever. Not because anything newsworthy happened but simply because I had survived my first year in the role. There was a sense of accomplishment in knowing that it had not only been a year of challenge and growth as a leader but also of celebration. This gave me incredible hope and focus as I moved into my second year in the role. Another moment that springs to mind was following the introduction of a revised performance and development process for the junior school. Staff did not initially consider this to be a positive process but the encouragement and feedback received when staff presented their goals for review, was noteworthy and has been a positive springboard into the next cycle.
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What was the toughest day you ever had as a school leader?
Tough days happen. No particular day comes to mind but I would have to say that managing situations involving students and parents can sometimes be tough. We are there to meet the needs of all students at all times and sometimes the perceptions of parents can be quite single-minded, understandably so. There is a delicate balance between hearing the hearts of others and being wise in your response, and keeping the needs of the students at the core.
What was the funniest single thing that ever happened to you as a school leader?
As a leader, I often have to be flexible and go with the flow. There are some things I am not cut out to do and I certainly know my limitations (that is why I am grateful I am not expected to run in teacher’s races at the athletics carnivals!) Being prepared to jump in and cover lessons I feel underqualified to teach – like Chinese or Art – can sometimes be funny. My biggest faux pas was booking two casual relief teachers for the same class on the same day. There were some very happy teachers that day, who were unexpectedly given an additional hour of time release!
What tips would you give new school leaders about staying positive and keeping their energy levels high?
I was encouraged to pace myself as a new school leader but to find one thing I could set in motion with the staff in term 1 and achieve within six weeks. This not only gave me a sense of purpose but also enabled staff to get to know me and my vision for them, the school and the students. Set daily priorities and allow space in your calendar for the unexpected. Maintain a healthy work / life balance and ensure you have set work times at home and stick to them. It’s okay to turn off the computer and the work phone and find things to do in the evenings and on weekends that bring you joy and refuel the energy tanks. Making connections and building networks with other leaders is beneficial and provides access to a wealth of experience and wisdom. Having a ‘trusted other’ to act as an impartial sounding board is helpful at times.
If you could name just one thing that kept you going to school every day, even on the really difficult days, what would that be?
One thing that keeps me going is that kids matter. Children are the adults of tomorrow and being in a position to affect the future through our youth is a wonderful position to be in as a leader and an educator. Never underestimate the power of your influence on, love and acceptance of another human being.
How do you achieve (or are trying to achieve) a positive work-life balance?
As a mum to four teenagers, achieving a positive work-life balance is paramount. I ensure that once I am home, the children and my husband know they are my number one priority and that their needs come first. I make sure that I complete any work in a timely manner and switch off my computer at a reasonable hour. Weekends are spent running children to their various sporting activities and scheduling in family time. I make sure I allow time for activities that bring peace and happiness such as quilting, reading a good book or spending time with friends.
What special measures do you take (if any) to protect and nurture your own health and welfare?
Getting a good night’s sleep is so important and I generally achieve the recommended eight hours of sleep. Eating healthy, home cooked meals and having an exercise regime, even if it is just a walk around the block, helps immensely. Self-care and maintaining emotional and mental wellbeing is what guards a leader from stress and burnout. It is easy to carry additional burdens that drain you of energy and focus so having supportive family and friends around you will help. As a Christian, I find my faith in God and church life help bring things into balance and support my own health and welfare.
What do you see yourself as doing with your life after the principalship?
A fellow principal recently made the decision to retire and wanted to finish his teaching career where it started, in the classroom. He welcomed the opportunity to have his own class again as he handed over the leadership mantle to another. I believe that this would be a wonderful way to do life after principalship. I also look forward to the day when my husband and I are retired and can enjoy the fruits of our labour and life by travelling and continuing to support our adult children.
Sharee Gaiser, Head of Junior School, Oxley Christian College
15-49 Old Melbourne Road
Chirnside Park, Victoria 3116
Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988
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