Camberwell High School is located in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria. The school’s motto, Disco Consulere Aliis, still guides it today, according to Principal Jillian Laughlin. We spoke with Jillian about her approach to helping students become resilient and independent learners.
HOW DOES THE SCHOOL’S PHILOSOPHY AND ETHOS GUIDE IT TODAY?
Camberwell High School opened in 1941 with the latin motto, ‘disco consulere aliis’ – which means ‘learning to be considerate of others’. Established during World War II, CHS became the new institution for Melbourne High School students as the selective-entry school was used as a military base. So the school’s motto was immediately put into effect.
It’s now 75 years later and the motto still holds true for our current cohort. We challenge every student to know themselves as a learner and to achieve their personal best.
We foster a culture of respect for every member of our school community in our values, behaviours and through differentiated learning options in our curriculum and co-curricular programs.
HOW DOES CAMBERWELL HIGH SCHOOL DIFFER FROM OTHER SCHOOLS?
Our school community is unique. We are very much a school serving our local community, with most of our families living close to the school, walking, cycling or catching public transport for a short distance. Our students are closely connected to the school and to one another.
As a secondary school, we are fortunate to have strong parent involvement, particularly through our School Council, Parents and Friends and Friends of Music associations. New families and staff often comment on the warmth of welcome and the breadth of opportunities that the school offers. Our students have access to a rich learning program and a diverse co-curricular program including; competitive sport, musical productions, camps, tours, sister school exchange and a large instrumental music program with 11 ensembles.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS THE SCHOOL EVOLVED OVER THE PAST 10-20 YEARS?
Just as the world has changed dramatically in the last two decades, so too have schools. One of these big changes is the rapid development of technology, including the constant use of personal phones and computers. Students are continually processing huge amounts of information and communicating with others. The role of the teacher has changed, reducing the demands on content production and increasing the emphasis on developing students’ skills, particularly as independent learners. Our physical environment for learning has changed as desktop computers have come and gone and interactive whiteboards, cameras, notebook computers and phones have become important learning tools. However, there are important aspects of the school which have changed very little, such as the dedication of teachers to their learners.
HOW DO YOU PROVIDE SUPPORT AND LEADERSHIP TO YOUR SECONDARY SCHOOL STAFF?
Building the capacity of leaders to implement the school’s educational vision is core work for any principal. At a large secondary school like Camberwell High, it is essential that a distributed leadership model is developed so that all members of the school community understand and enact our vision for learning. The leadership team consists of three principal team members and 10 leading teachers and we work closely together as a team and as smaller working groups within the team. Each member of the leadership team leads other staff across the school in professional learning, staff discussion groups and curriculum development teams. We are always looking for opportunities to build the capacity of teachers to create leaders for our own school and for the system. We do this through professional learning within the school, including our aspiring leaders program, which I lead and currently has 15 staff members at varying stages of their careers.
WHAT ROLE DO YOU PLAY IN THE DAY-TO-DAY ACTIVITIES OF SECONDARY STUDENTS?
The best part of working in a secondary school is seeing the growth and development of children into adults. One of the reasons teachers are sometimes reluctant to take on leadership roles is because it removes them from the classroom and their immediate contact with students. This was true for me, so it is important to me that as a principal, I create opportunities to connect with students frequently and in meaningful ways. I see myself as an educational leader rst and foremost. I have a mentor class once each week for 75 minutes. I started with this group when they were Year 10 students and now they are in Year 12. In my weekly meetings I act as their learning advocate and ensure that they are progressing with their learning. I ensure that they know what is happening in the school and encourage their participation in school programs.
I meet with Year 12 student leaders every Tuesday morning to support them in delivering their action plan for the year. Together we run a student forum every term to ensure we are hearing from students directly. Every day I spend time with students, but there is never enough time to do this as much as I would like.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MORE CRITICAL ISSUES FACED BY EDUCATORS IN THE SECONDARY SECTOR TODAY, IN YOUR OPINION?
One of the biggest challenges in the senior years of secondary school is to do it all and to do it effectively. Schools have increasing demands placed upon them to develop knowledge and skills and deliver programs to prepare students to be good citizens and community members. At the same time, schools need to prepare students for external exams and a variety of tertiary settings. Finding ways to meet all of the demands and ensure the happiness and wellbeing of young people at a time of high stress and anxiety is a major issue. We know that our young people experience anxiety not only about doing well at school but also about an uncertain future in regard to employment and big world problems such as global warming. Building individuals who are resilient, positive and able to solve complex problems is essential and challenging work for schools.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT, EITHER AS A TEACHER OR SPECIFICALLY IN THE ROLE OF PRINCIPAL?
There are so many wonderful moments for me, including travelling with students to our sister schools and seeing the world through their eyes. The wonder and excitement of being with students experiencing the terracotta warriors or climbing the Eiffel Tower for the rst time or telling you about their first night of homestay in China or France. One moment that I will always cherish is meeting up with an ex-student at Melbourne University who I had taught when he was at my previous school. He was an English as an Additional Language student and he had achieved extraordinarily well at school, despite his challenges with language and migrating to a new country in difficult circumstances. He had completed a medical degree and was going
on to postgraduate studies. Seeing students overcome obstacles, persist and achieve success is always a thrill.
WHAT TRAITS MAKE FOR AN EFFECTIVE AND SUCCESSFUL LEADER IN EDUCATION TODAY?
School leaders are diverse in their personal approaches and school contexts are unique. But the consistent requirement for leaders is the capacity to communicate an educational vision for the school and to develop personal commitment to it from all stakeholders. Building ownership across the community of the school’s direction and ensuring it is alive in all aspects of the school requires constant attention. It means that wherever possible, community members need to be engaged in providing input and are encouraged to give feedback. In this way, the vision can be owned by everyone. One of the biggest challenges is the diversity of views and ideas within the school community which pour into the school, so the principal needs to consider these carefully and not be afraid to make improvements while maintaining a clear direction.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE ANY SPECIFIC WAYS IN WHICH THE DIGITAL ERA IS BEGINNING TO DISRUPT THE EDUCATION FIELD?
The pace of change in technology is exciting and challenging for schools. We have a 1:1 notebook program and this has enabled us to provide students with access to online tools and resources at school and at home. So the ways in which we communicate and share the curriculum has changed. We use a continuous assessment model so students’ results are published once tasks are completed. Parents can track their child’s attendance and academic progress easily. As a result, communication between home and school has been greatly enhanced. Teachers also use collaboration tools which enable students to work online together. Students are able to monitor their own growth and development using technology. The learning process and students’ understanding of how learning occurs can be greatly enhanced through the use of technology. We have introduced Digital Technology as a subject in Years 7 and 8 so students can develop their skills, particularly in regard to programming and exciting technology such as robotics. As the creators and designers of the future, this is a vital area of skill development.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT NAPLAN AND ITS EFFECTIVENESS?
In our school, data is consistently used with the intention of improving student learning. Classroom teachers use multiple sources of data, including NAPLAN, VELS and pre-assessments to establish entry points for each learning sequence each term. VCE teachers analyse their students’ results to determine improvements to the learning program for their new class. Ongoing formative assessment is utilised by teachers as tools for determining the effectiveness of the learning program and to develop the next learning activities which ensure students’ needs are being addressed. Importantly cohort data, including NAPLAN, is analysed by teams across the school to determine the impact of learning programs. Student learning growth is the key criteria of any data analysis.