At one of Victoria’s most disadvantaged schools, a shift of focus and change in culture has achieved significant results.
For teachers at Western Port Secondary College, it was once easy to despair. Only 35% of students finished VCE and staff morale was low.
According to the school’s principal, Michael Devine, the culture needed to change. The attitude was, “The results are bad because the kids are hopeless. I’m not interested in that. The shift I’ve tried to take is to focus on what we can achieve, and what we can do well,” says Mr Devine, who developed his leadership skills with a postgraduate degree from Monash.
In his view, that meant placing less emphasis on academic results, and instead measuring how much learning happened over 12 months. “The students may be miles behind in NAPLAN, but if you put benchmarks in place, you can grow students. It’s one year’s growth for one year’s learning,” he adds.
And it’s yielded results. Today, 60% of students finish VCE at Western Port and it has an 83% endorsement rate from parents. “It’s really important for our school because the school has created barriers against long-term disadvantage and unemployment,” explains Mr Devine.
“It’s not down to me, it’s about enabling teachers and staff, extending and growing their capacity. It’s not easy being an effective teacher at Western Port Secondary College. It probably never will be. Disadvantage is really hard. It’s a really tough job.”
Mr Devine, who was recognised as a Commonwealth Bank Teaching Fellow last year, says it’s also about having a clear and articulate vision for his school. “One of the real beliefs I work by is our kids are worth whatever it takes. It’s about making a difference where it’s needed most.”
For Mr Devine, completing a Masters Degree at Monash in Educational Leadership was a real turning point in his career. “I was a Year 9 coordinator and became a lead teacher and we were looking at changing the way we teach Year 9,” he says.
“It was really good. It gave you the theory and the pedagogy behind the work you were doing back in the classroom. And that’s something that’s sometimes missed when you are making changes. It gave me the opportunity to think in depth.”
Mr Devine’s degree helped him to create strategies to apply at school, and develop new ways of thinking about what he was already doing.
Throughout his studies and his career, he says the one thing that has remained with him is the belief that, “Our kids are worth it you know, every child, every opportunity.”
For more information about postgraduate study opportunities at Monash, please visit the website.