Principal of Caulfield Grammar School, Ashleigh Martin, speaks to Education Matters about how the school encourages professional growth among its staff, and nurtures the interests and abilities of its students.
What is Caulfield Grammar School’s philosophy and how does it guide you and your staff?
Caulfield Grammar School is a grounded school. We pursue excellence in all we do, however we have a tangible sense of community and broad opportunities available to all in our school. We are a school that is passionate about authentic co-education. Girls and boys take part in all activities together and this just makes sense to us.
We want our students to engage in their learning in an environment that is aligned to the society they will immerse themselves in beyond school. We are also an open-entry school that doesn’t base enrolment (or continued enrolment) on academic testing. We are unapologetic about this approach as we encourage diversity and want all arrays of skills and talents to make up our Caulfield community.
How does Caulfield Grammar School differ from other schools?
Caulfield Grammar School is a five-campus school with 3320 students, 700 full-time employees and over 400 casual staff. Our size and scale afford us the privilege to provide a vast range of broad and balanced programs to our students and staff.
I firmly believe there is a pathway for all involved in the Caulfield community to pursue their passion.
In what ways has the school evolved in the past 10-20 years?
We have a rich heritage of 138 years and it is in the understanding of what went before us that helps us think responsibly about the future. We have a campus in China that has been a part of a Caulfield Grammar School student’s journey for 20 years.
When in China, our Year 9 students immerse themselves in a new culture whilst residing in our own purpose built campus in the heart of Nanjing. The duration of the program is five weeks and it has a profound impact. Over 6000 students have benefitted and thrived from this experience since 1998.
Caulfield Grammar School has always evolved while maintaining the fundamentals of an outstanding education for our students. We certainly haven’t sat still for the last decade and I value that the fabric of who we are has always been maintained. I don’t underestimate the honour of leading the conversation on what our next 10-20 years could be. This is the real privilege of educational leadership.
How do you provide support and leadership to your staff?
With such a large staff, it is essential for me to be a collector of great leaders who can inspire and motivate. If you are a leader at Caulfield Grammar School you will have autonomy and trust to improve the experience for our students.
We have recently launched an inspiring set of values and underpinning behaviours that will provide our leaders a great platform to thrive. If you work at our school you are clear on what we value and what we expect of each other. For me, this is great modelling for our young people.
One of the fulfilling elements of my role is seeing staff promoted internally. There are a multitude of opportunities at Caulfield Grammar School for staff to feel professionally satisfied and to pursue growth in the profession.
How do you encourage wellbeing among your staff and students?
I have said publicly a number of times that gone are the days where the last car in the carpark is the hardest working staff member. I understand as educators, staff need to be present and working with students during the school day. The productivity of our staff before and after school hours is up to them.
I’m a morning person and where feasible I want to be a husband and father at night. Other people work differently and as long as you are delivering in your role, I have trust in our professionals to manage their time.
The wellbeing of all of those in our school will be the cornerstone of our future. Whilst we aim to be ambitious in achieving many priorities, ensuring a balance and improved mental health for students will be the centre of all decisions. Everything we do at our school will be to help equip our students to thrive into the future and find their passion. I want a school where everyone is known and valued, where we can be authentic, where the contributions of all are genuinely acknowledged.
What role do you play in the day-to-day activities of the students?
There is a risk in a school like ours, that the principals could quickly become invisible to the student cohort. I have always felt and am now even more convinced after one year leading our school that a principal must be relevant, accessible and approachable to the student body. I block out 7.30am to 9am every morning and ensure this is community time where I can engage with students, staff and parents. This gives me energy and also allows people to share their views on our school which helps inform my decision making.
What would you identify as some of the biggest challenges faced by teachers in the secondary sector?
Our Director of Teaching and Learning, Dr Katherine Hoekman, often talks about fads in education. We believe schools can knee-jerk and overreact to the next big thing in education and always be searching for a point of difference. This approach can be a difficult landscape for teachers to navigate as they are the ones who are on the end of the new ideas from above. There is nothing more frustrating for teachers than when they see ideas come and go. I believe the fundamentals of our school are sound, and students value healthy ritual and routine. We will always innovate and provide engaging, purposeful learning experiences for our students, but we will never react to ideas that aren’t bound in research and proven to positively impact the lives of young people.
What has been your most memorable moment either as a teacher or specifically in the role of principal?
One of my fondest memories at Caulfield Grammar School is accompanying a Year 11 study tour to our Nanjing Campus. Spending extended time in a foreign country with a group of passionate and energetic students was a privilege. Being able to experience first-hand, learners adapting, adopting and immersing themselves in a culture entirely different from their own left a lasting impression on me.
As Principal, I love the interactions every day that help me be the leader I want to be.
What are your feelings about NAPLAN and its effectiveness?
NAPLAN is a measure that acts as a good temperature check for individual students and their families and also provides our school a set of data that we may use internally to help inform future practice. We have an open-minded approach to NAPLAN and don’t invest too much time into thinking about what it is not. We have many other programs and initiatives at Caulfield Grammar School that inspire our students.
What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?
Those in our Caulfield community would know I hold authenticity and humility as the two distinct leadership attributes required by educational leaders.
Through my leadership journey I have realised quickly you can’t wear a mask and pretend to be someone you are not. Humility is about taking a step back and allowing others to shine. I don’t want to be a leader that is known for self-importance. All schools have challenges and none of them are insurmountable with the right people and the right culture. To lead Caulfield Grammar School is a privilege and whilst there might be some cynicism about the future of education, I certainly approach my role with a great sense of optimism. Our young people deserve this from their school leaders.