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The business of being Principal is the business of people

Toorak College is located on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It offers a co-educational environment from ELC to Year 4, with a girls-only approach from Year 5 onwards. It has a proud 142-year history, creating a unique blend of upholding the traditions of the past while looking towards the future of education. Education Matters spoke with Principal Kristy Kendall about her views on current trends, as well as her own brand of leadership and support.

Can you share with us some insights into your own career as an educator?

I started my career at Haileybury 15 years ago as a graduate teacher. In my first year I was given the psychology department to run, as well as coaching aerobics – these were big responsibilities for a teacher in her first year out of university.
Over time, Haileybury began to consider the possibility of introducing girls to the school, and so I eventually came to be Head of the girls’ senior school. That was an exciting opportunity; to establish a girls school within what was traditionally a boys-only institution.
I went on to have my own children and this made me consider early years teaching, so I moved on to lead Haileybury’s Berwick campus, which is an ELC-8 school. But after 15 years in the same role you naturally begin to wonder if there’s a better fit elsewhere. With Haileybury being so large I looked at Toorak College with its 750-odd students as an opportunity to really get to know every one of my students.
My first priority is always to get to know people, and at a smaller school like Toorak College I’ve had the opportunity to not only become familiar with all the students and teachers, but after just a year or so I’ve managed to get to know many of the parents and wider community associated with the school as well.

Could you tell us a bit about Toorak College?

Toorak College is located on the Mornington Peninsula. It is a thriving co-educational environment from ELC to Year 4, with a girls’ only approach from Year 5 onwards. It has a proud 142 year history and has a perfect blend of upholding the traditions of our past while looking towards the future of education.

How is the primary section of the school incorporated into the school as a whole? Is it a separate campus?

Toorak College’s Junior School, Wardle House, caters for students from 3 year old kindergarten to Year 6. The ELC and Junior School share the 11.5 hectare grounds with the Senior School. This means the Junior students can utilise the facilities of the Senior School such as the science labs, state-of-the-art music centre, aquatic centre and gymnasium. They also access specialty staff in science and technology, languages, sport and the arts.

How do you provide support and leadership to your primary school staff?
I encourage all of my staff to consider themselves as experts in their fields. Teaching is a profession that it seems everyone has an opinion on. I encourage my staff to remember that they are brilliant at reading and regulating children’s emotions, building their confidence, guiding their thinking, inspiring their questions and doing this in 20 different ways at once! Teaching is one of the most difficult professions there is and it is important for teachers themselves to regard it as such.

What role do you play in the day-to-day activities of the primary students?
A firm belief I hold in running an ELC – Yr 12 school is that no year level is more important than any other. The early primary years are vital in not just building the fundamental building blocks of learning but also in developing a child’s own perception of self. I enjoy spending as much time as I can reading to the students, involving myself in whatever extra curricula pursuits they chose and observing their successes and struggles in the classroom. I even enjoy morning duty at that crowded drop off zone!

What has been your most memorable moment, either as a teacher or specifically in the role of Principal?
As a new Principal at Toorak College I know my first year will be a memorable one. It is the community that have made this year with their support and encouragement. The students at Toorak College have the most beautiful spirit; they laugh at themselves, they truly support one another and they love to give anything a try. This spirit is one I wholeheartedly embrace, and represent, and the community has put a smile on my face each and every day.

What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?
I am in the business of people. That was the business I entered as a graduate teacher over 15 years ago and it is that same business I am in as Principal. Remembering to keep students at the centre of all of your decisions is key. I believe successful leadership involves constantly changing, inventing and reinventing yourself and always learning. Educators have an enormous moral obligation and responsibility to be the absolute best they can be. As a leader my job is to continually inspire those educators to do this each and every day.

What are some of the critical issues you notice that often appear in the media?
I get exhausted at the blame game that goes on with schools. The view that the education of children is quite heavily or solely the responsibility of the school seems to be the standard line in current reportage. Of course, I’m relentless when it comes to ensuring my teachers are the best they can be, but the development of the child’s mental, social any physical development is a three-way partnership between parents, teachers and, yes, the students. It’s part of a young person’s journey to make mistakes, but it’s then the responsibility of the parents to work with the teachers to help direct them. Ultimately it’s the student that has to decide on the path they take, but that will only be successful if it’s arrived at through that partnership approach.

What are your feelings about NAPLAN and its effectiveness?
I absolutely believe NAPLAN is an important tool for teachers for benchmarking, both internally and against the broader trend. Such a system can act as a trigger for reflection within a school and it’s based around core skills that every school has a responsibility to ensure it’s delivering on.

Can you discuss any obvious examples of digital disruption you’ve encountered in education?
I’ve actually been very involved with a company called Edrolo, having been invited to teach the entire Year 12 psychology course online. The idea is to level the playing field for students across the state, providing access to an expert teacher to help them perform at the highest level. The early years working with Edrolo saw us question many things regarding the role of digital technology in the classroom. For example, why do we need a textbook? Perhaps we can replace that antiquated notion with online resources. What makes for great teaching? Maybe we could inspire teachers to teach in a different way if they had access to the best technology can offer them. I’ve been very active in the space for looking at how we can make teachers act less as simply deliverers of content. If we can supply the content then we can allow teachers the time to make connections, organise their thinking and push or extend the boundaries of what’s possible.
I sometimes think back to those days when I was in school. If you really wanted to buy the latest hit single, you’d have to go to Brashs to by the CD. Now, all students have to do is press a button and the song downloads. I feel like in many ways the education system is still caught in the Brashs era and we need to shift that. I’ve been very lucky to get to work with Edrolo in a bid to begin changing the paradigm.

How is Toorak College placed regarding the new focus on STEM learning?
This is one area that Toorak College is an absolute leader in a number of ways. Students as young as ELC and receive STEM-inspired material and we teach prep students to code. It’s not a standalone thing, either. We’ve incorporated elements of STEM into every subject we teach, encouraging students to consider how they solve problems or invent solutions. We’ve a number of staff members that have led various conferences, even internationally, on the subject of STEM teaching. It’s something that’s not only important for students in general, but something that’s doubly important to teach young girls.
In furthering our commitment to STEM learning, Toorak College is embarking on a new project to create a whole new building designed around the concepts of imagination, creation and implementation, and so it ties together ideas of strategic thinking, with marketing and even entrepreneurship. This is not just about STEM knowledge but also about incorporated STEM thinking into everything we do.

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Teaching is a rewarding and positive career choice; it can be one of the most rewarding professions in the community. The influence a teacher has on helping to shape the future of so many young people is often profound. But at times, teaching can also be extremely challenging.

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NAPLAN, PISA results

NCCD data shows funding gap for students with disability

Students with a disability face a funding gap in Australian schools, according to new figures from the Productivity Commission and Education Council.

ABC News compared last year’s Education Council data from the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) for school students with disability, with the Productivity Commission figures.

The comparison showed more than 268,000 students with disability are in school without funding support to assist in their education.

NCCD figures for 2015 showed 12.5 per cent of all Australian schools – 468,265 students – received some form of support due to disability that needed additional funding.

Known as “educational adjustment”, the funding includes more money provided to make schools handrail and ramp accessible, as well as helping to pay for learning support officers to assist students with a disability in the classroom.

The Productivity Commission’s report on government services released earlier this month found the total funded students with disability in 2015 by all Australian governments was 200,168.

According to their numbers, more than 268,000 students with disability were in school without funding support to pay for adjustments to assist in their education.

The Federal Government told ABC News the NCCD statistics were flawed.

“It really is very disappointing,” Education Minister Simon Birmingham said.

“This data … hasn’t come to a credible landing point just yet.”

The NCCD statistics are delivered through a survey filled out by school principals and teachers.

Senator Birmingham said the numbers produced wide variations between states and territories that made the results unreliable.

“There’s much more work to be done by the states and territories to ensure that (the NCCD data) truly is nationally consistent,” he said.

“We’re using it as part of a mix of information.”

“There’s really not enough resource allocated to school communities to really address the needs of these young people,” said Terry Bennett, principal of Melba College, in Melbourne’s outer east.

Mr Bennett told ABC News he supported the NCCD process, and that it was especially useful for principals and teachers in identifying students with disability in school without allocated funding.

Boys answer questions

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes shares priorities

New South Wales’ new Education Minister Rob Stokes has laid out his priorities for education in the state.

Mr Stokes told The Educator increasing schools’ capacity to accomodate students would be a priority, as the state’s population is expected to grow by 28 per cent over the next 20 years, with an additional 164,000 public school students in NSW by 2031.

“We need to increase our schools’ capacity to accommodate all those students. That will require new schools, as well as upgrades to increase the capacity of existing ones, and being smart and imaginative in our development solutions,” Mr Stokes said.

“Though a challenge, having more children in our state is a great thing – and providing greater school capacity is a top priority for me.”

Mr Stokes said he will be pushing for the Federal Government to deliver on $5 billion worth of new funding for NSW schools during ongoing negotiations between the federal, state and territory leaders.

“We have a signed agreement with the Commonwealth Government on the Gonski reforms, in which NSW schools stand to gain $5bn in new funding,” he said.

“The NSW Government led the nation in signing and implementing these reforms, and I will continue to do everything possible to ensure this commitment is met by the Federal Government.”

Mr Stokes thanked his predecessor, Adrian Piccoli, who he said did an “outstanding job” as Education Minister.

“It is my intention to build on his achievements, including reforms to improve student results, foster quality teaching and provide greater support to students and teachers,” he said.

“We also have a vast demographic challenge ahead of us in terms of the number of school-aged children in NSW.”

Study finds classroom discipline impacts academic performance

Better behaved students learn more and perform among the world’s best, researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney have found.

The researchers analysed results from the international measurement of student achievements, the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment, concluding that classroom discipline could hold the key to improving academic performance.

“This study suggests that education investment alone is not sufficient to boost educational performance as well as global competitiveness,’’ the research found.

Researchers Chris Baumann and his Macquarie colleague Hana Krskova analysed PISA data to ascertain the impact of school discipline — students listening well in class, the noise level, teacher waiting time, class start times, and students working well — against the impact of increased education spending.

“When we contrasted school discipline and education investment on the effect of performance, it was roughly 88 per cent in comparison to 12 per cent for education investment,’’ Dr Baumann said.

“That’s not to say investment is not important; of course not. But it indicates the importance of school discipline. The way we actually run the school seems to have a massive effect on how the students perform.

“If you look at the East Asian model of education where the teacher enters the classroom, the students stand up and greet the teacher. What’s the cost? Zero. But you get everyone’s ­attention.’’

The results of the latest round of PISA data for 2015 found the performance of Australia’s 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading was in “absolute decline’’ and the nation was being outpaced by New Zealand, ­Estonia and Slovenia.

The Australian reported government spending on school education increased by $10 billion in real terms in the decade to 2013-14, with an extra $2bn in 2014-15.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham is in the process of negotiating a new funding deal with the states and education sectors, with a view that the ­debate has focused too heavily on the amount of funding being delivered as opposed to maximising funds provided.

Interactive technology

Melbourne schools lay out Smart Schools vision

Melbourne schools are working to become “smart”, as a number of institutions innovate with the use of forward-looking subjects.

The Weekly Review reported that daily virtual reality experiences, deep space travel, artificial intelligence are just a few concepts that could become a reality over the next few decades – a future Melbourne’s independent schools are preparing for.

Referred to as “smart schools”, the concept encompasses those that not only educate, but innovate through the use of technology, preparing students for the future workforce.

Helen Carmody, Korowa Anglican Girls’ School principal told The Weekly Review smart schools are responding to rapid changes in science and technology occurring globally.

“Our students are graduating into a world with very different demands compared to the past, as a result of globalisation, technological development and the changing nature of work,” Ms Carmody said.

“Across the school, our programs are focused on developing key 21st-century skill-sets in our students, such as entrepreneurship, problem-solving, collaboration and innovation.

“Our students’ learning experiences build on the principles of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) and the Maker Movement (the creating, tinkering and sharing of ideas).”

Ms Carmody said Korowa introduced new electives in mobile phone app development and computer game design this year.

At Camberwell Girls Grammar School, a similar approach has been implemented, with students participating in the Girls Invent program, which encourages students to be entrepreneurial while studying science, technology, engineering, art and maths.

Debbie Dunwoody, Principal of Camberwell Girls Grammar School, told The Weekly Review Girls Invent connects students to these subjects and allows them to think creatively and innovatively, with coding as a strong focus.

“The program really connects our students to all elements of STEAM and focuses them on design thinking. The girls work collaboratively to bring ideas to life. From concept to design and development, marketing to distribution and sales – Girls Invent is a program so relevant to their futures,” Ms Dunwoody said.

“Our partnerships with Xero and Telstra have seen Code Clubs formed at both the junior and senior school, with experts from each organisation running weekly coding workshops.”