A co-educational school with five campuses, Caulfield Grammar School offers early learning and primary years programs at its Wheelers Hill and Malvern campuses. Simone Reilly, Head of Caulfield Grammar School’s Malvern Campus, speaks with Education Matters about the importance of working closely with staff and students.
What is Caulfield Grammar School’s philosophy and how does it guide you and your staff?
Our school’s purpose is to enable quality learning every day, in every experience, for every learner for life. The repetitive use of ‘every’ is purposeful and significant and is what guides and drives me.
The moment people step into Malvern Campus, the goal is to ensure that every experience, every resource, every learning environment and every encounter reflects the values and culture of our school. I am proud of the ways our staff also aspire to this goal. They demonstrate this in the way they interact with prospective families on campus tour mornings, their open-mindedness and willingness to try new things, and the pride they demonstrate in their students and school.
How does Caulfield Grammar School differ from other schools?
I am asked this question a lot by prospective parents. For me, what makes Caulfield Grammar School unique and sets us apart is two-fold. Firstly, we are never complacent. We always strive to be and do better. This means that as staff we are open-minded to the feedback of our students, families and of each other. We spend time reflecting on all that we do and continually make adjustments. From the seemingly minor decisions like selecting furniture colour to the high impact student experiences such as our Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) programme or our recently reinvigorated Year 6 to Year 7 transition programme, our attention to detail is outstanding.Secondly, the professional learning our teachers are engaged in on a weekly basis sets us apart. A significant amount of time is dedicated each week and throughout the year to teacher training and I believe this is what makes us an employer of choice.
What is the history of Caulfield Grammar School’s Malvern Campus?
The main building of Malvern Campus, the ‘Valentines’ Mansion is a significant heritage listed landmark. Designed by English-born architect, Thomas Watts, the two-storey Italianate style mansion was built in 1891-1892 as a 40-room family residence for the Hon. John Mark Davies, a prominent solicitor and Member of the Victorian Legislative Council. The highly decorated building is impressive in scale and it is said that craftsmen were brought from Italy to install the elaborate plaster mouldings, the ornate grand staircase, wood carvings and intricate parquetry floor in the central ballroom. Due to the 1890s financial crash, Mr Davies was forced to sell the estate and the family lived in the servant’s wing of the partially completed mansion.
By 1911, the large grounds were subdivided and the mansion converted into flats, known as Valentines Mansions.
In 1924, Malvern Grammar School began classes in the building. The school existed as Malvern Grammar, and then Malvern Memorial Grammar, until 1960 when the school was incorporated into Caulfield Grammar School and Valentines was re-named Malvern House. Today, this much-loved mansion is alive with the cheerful voices of students and staff following extensive renovations.
In what ways has Malvern Campus evolved or changed since you joined the school in 2016?
When I began at the school we were at the start of our candidacy for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP). After an 18-month candidacy process, both our junior school campuses experienced a highly successful authorisation visit and are now accredited IB PYP World Schools. Undertaking this process together strengthened the bonds between all members of the community – students, staff and parents. Learning has evolved to the point that students can make connections between previous disparate areas of curriculum and parents understand the theory behind our approach.
For our staff, the greatest change has been our involvement in the local and international network of schools that being an IB world school provides.
What are some of the exciting initiatives at the school that are either currently underway or soon to be introduced?
There are a number of new initiatives we have begun that are testament to our endeavours to improve the experiences for our students. In Term 2, we launched our formal STEM programme to all students through our pastoral care Buddy programme. The value and importance of cross-age, peer-to-peer learning is significant and we are proud that this initiative facilitates the learning of key STEM concepts in addition to strengthening the relationships between our students across the years.
Additionally, we are excited that our Maths Club for highly capable mathematicians continues this semester. Planned and delivered in person each week by a group of our senior students from our Caulfield Campus, this initiative is another great example of the value we place on peer-to-peer learning and providing opportunities for our students to learn in creative and innovative ways.
How do you provide support and leadership to your staff?
By being present, interested and honest. I always have my lunch breaks in the staffroom – these are scheduled in my calendar. This is a great time to hear what is happening in the classrooms or just to share a laugh. I check in with all staff, teaching and non-teaching, informally and formally throughout the term and share my gratitude both publicly and privately. I provide feedback as needed or as requested and am quick to do so.
I am an advocate for our team and encourage the staff to have the confidence and courage to always do what they believe is right. My door is always open and I try to maintain a greater perspective and strive to model this through my actions and words.
How do you encourage wellbeing among your staff and students?
I believe our approach to wellbeing at Caulfield Grammar School is also a significant point of difference. Through our Visible Wellbeing partnership with Professor Lea Waters from Melbourne University, we are strengthening our wellbeing practices and shared language across the school.
On a daily basis we promote wellbeing through acknowledging and celebrating the achievements of our community; providing opportunities for group activities such as our parent-led mindfulness workshops or our staff Cardio Tennis group who exercise together each Thursday afternoon.
One of the first initiatives I introduced when I started at the school was Thriving Together week. This week occurs at the mid-point of each term and whilst it initially only involved staff, over the past three years, it has expanded to include students and parents. This week is a designated ‘meeting-free’ week for all staff and is also a homework-free week for students. Each day during the week we have a range of wellbeing experiences on offer to the community such as coffee carts before school, massages for staff, workshops for parents and morning teas. It’s always fun to try and think of new ways to thrive together.
What role do you play in the day-to-day activities of the students?
Each morning I greet our students as they enter the campus grounds and it is one of my favourite times of the day. The students are so quick with a smile or an anecdote and it is also a wonderful time to catch up informally with parents.
I schedule time each week in my calendar to visit classrooms and I particularly love sharing picture books with the students. I have quite a good collection and I enjoy the shared experience that a quality story enables.
This year, I am also learning an instrument alongside our Year 5 students which is something I have never done before. Every Thursday morning, I attend a horn lesson alongside the Year 5 students in my group and for 30 minutes experience both the highs and frustrations that learning something new can generate. I am set the same homework as the students and again, this shared experience allows for quality relationships to be formed. Next semester, I am learning a string instrument with our Year 2 students so fingers crossed I may be able to play a few good notes.
What are some of the current issues faced by educators in the primary sector?
When I first met our Director of Teaching and Learning at Caulfield Grammar School, Dr Katherine Hoekman, she shared that our prime responsibility is to protect the school from fads. I couldn’t agree more. The ‘next big thing’ in education is always around the corner and whilst some of these fads may stick and have genuine benefit, many serve to provide change fatigue and confusion for teachers. I stand by the belief that if you are going to introduce something to your school, you must take something away.
What has been your most memorable moment, either as a teacher or specifically in the role of Head of Malvern Campus?
I have so many moments, both funny and sentimental, that I could draw on but my most memorable moment in my new role has been our first staff day back this year. I surprised the staff with a team building activity that saw us complete a series of team building activities over a couple of hours which culminated in building nine bikes from scratch for children in need from the Melbourne area. As a team forming exercise it was brilliant but the true highlight was the final surprise – actually gifting the bikes in person to the children. There were tears, pride and smiles all round and I think it was the first time in the history of Malvern Campus that we had children riding bikes on our ballroom floor. It was a special day.
What are your feelings about NAPLAN and its effectiveness?
I believe NAPLAN is one of many assessment tools that help contribute to our understanding of how our students are developing. I believe its effectiveness as a teaching tool could increase if access to the analyses was more timely. I believe a limitation is the potential misinterpretation of results, as when they are received in August-September, they reference one point in time back in May and don’t factor in the growth that has been achieved since that time.
What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?
Emotional intelligence, clear and transparent communication, and maintaining a daily sense of curiosity and humour is key. Understanding how to connect with each person in front of you is paramount to success as throughout the day you have to meet so many diverse needs and being rigid in your approach just won’t work. Communicating in an honest and timely manner is important to me. I have found that the easiest thing to be is yourself. I am always honest and candid with our team and believe that this candour is appreciated, even if the news being shared isn’t what they had hoped for. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is to never forget the wonder of childhood and the incessant need to understand the world around you. I love asking questions, answering questions, sharing stories and having fun with the students. It’s why I became a teacher in the first place. EM