Empowering Leaders in Learning
Words By Michael Serenc
GIVING principals the tools they need to deliver a world class education is ensuring Catholic Education stays ahead of the curve in Far North Queensland.
Catholic Education in the Cairns Diocese is embarking on an education revolution across its schools, as it positions its students for success in the 21st century.
Shaping a renewed approach to educational excellence is a focus on empowering school leaders, combined with innovation, quality teaching, inclusion and parent engagement.
Executive Director of Catholic Education Services, Bill Dixon, is excited about the future.
“What we’re looking at here in the Cairns Diocese is ensuring that our system of schools is world class,” he explains.
“We’re working together to determine what is going to provide the best learning environment for our students and going about ways in which to develop that.”
The Cairns Diocese has 29 Catholic schools from Tully, north to the Torres Strait, educating almost 11,200 students.
With such a big responsibility for the education and welfare of thousands of students, Cairns Catholic Education recently sent five senior leaders and principals on a professional development “Benchmark Tour” to Los Angeles and Ontario, Canada.
The tour, which is part of the Executive Development for Education Leaders professional learning programme run by Queensland Education Leadership Institute (QELi) and Brisbane Catholic Education, exposed educators to a variety of Catholic school types and their systems, and the impact they were having on schools.
“The Catholic schools the group visited in Ontario are world class. They’re up there in the OECD rankings,” Bill says.
“So we looked at what it is that Ontario is doing that is so successful and how can we bring those concepts back to our schools here in Cairns.
“That QELi professional learning programme over the last three years has been a game-changer for us in the way we do things.
“It has informed our Strategic Directions going forward, with a strong focus on empowering our leaders to develop optimal learning and wellbeing for all students.”
Within Cairns itself, St Joseph’s School in Parramatta Park, Mount Peter’s MacKillop Catholic College and Holy Cross School at Trinity Park, among other schools, are embarking on an exciting array of new projects and initiatives.
St Joseph’s principal Gavin Rick has been on international best-practice seeking missions and his school is now undergoing an infrastructure blitz in its 90th year. About 80 per cent of the school is being rebuilt to house modern, vertically integrated 21st century classrooms known as Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs).
“We need learning to be transformed and that’s happening through moving away from a very content, teacher-directed way of learning to a student-focused, innovative way of learning,” Gavin says.
ILEs incorporate purpose-built furniture that can be rearranged throughout the day, from a traditional classroom setup facing the teacher to collaborative group setups between students and breakout spaces for those who prefer to learn in a quieter setting.
As the Diocese’s newest school in Cairns, MacKillop Catholic College is situated in an ideal future growth area south of the city.
Principal Luke Reed said the school would eventually become a fully-fledged P-12 school with an early childcare centre.
The school, which currently offers Prep to Year 4 classes, will offer Year 5 from next year.
“One of the advantages of a new school is, as it’s being designed, the best thinking and research is being transferred into its physical facilities,” Luke says, adding that ILEs were in place at the school.
“We’re developing a successful learning culture within our staff community, particularly with our student learning assistants in our classrooms.
“They work very closely with our professional teaching staff in creating learning experiences that engage students in inquiry and give them instant feedback on what they’re learning, how they’re learning and most importantly, what’s next and what to do when they’re stuck.”
Parent engagement also remains an important part of Catholic Education throughout the region, as Bill explains.
“We’ve got a common goal and that’s learning, growth and well-being for every student,” he says.
“We’ve all got a stake in it – our families who entrust us with their children and we as teaching professionals. The synergy that happens when you’ve got a community like that is very powerful.”
Holy Cross principal Sarah Hamilton has been busy strengthening the school’s Catholic identity and promoting its culture of learning.
“Within our culture to promote learning, we’re focusing on the use of technology to enhance student learning, so we’ve appointed an e-learning coordinator to look at how we can do that,” she says.
“We’ve also appointed a leader of teaching and learning. She’s set up professional learning communities who meet a few times every term to look at data surrounding student reading levels and how to help students grow.”
Part of the Catholic ethos is a strong sense of inclusion and Holy Cross is doing just that, with two special needs boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder welcomed into Prep this year.
Through a modified and flexible programme, the school is providing the space and opportunity for the boys to realise their potential.
But even within a plethora of school-driven projects, Bill says the Catholic ethos is always front of mind.
“Our mantra is every student, every class, every day,” he says.
“That’s what we believe will provide learning outcomes for each and every student.”