From the Principal
This is our final Newsprint for Term 1 as we look towards Mission Action Day and the end of term next Friday 27 March. Despite this being a relatively short term — only eight full weeks — there has certainly been a great deal happening in the wider life of the College. Much of this will be reported elsewhere in Newsprint by my colleagues. I would like to focus today on two elements of our College so intrinsic to all we do, but more importantly for the future direction and status of our great school.
I would like to make a couple of references to Lent and the lead-up to Easter and also provide some insights into the strategies we are pursuing to improve learning for all in the school.
Lent and the Easter holiday
Even though Easter Sunday is more than two weeks away, I will not write to the community again in that time so I thought I’d reflect a little on the Lenten period, but look more toward what Easter means for us as a Catholic school. I often do a little research and reading in preparing for these articles and yesterday I came across some advice from Pope Francis, in this year’s Lenten message, which has handy links and relevance to our situation at De La Salle as we prepare for Mission Action Day.
Pope Francis explained, “Every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. The Church is missionary by her very nature; she is not self-enclosed but sent out to every nation and people.”
This aligns with the key message we communicate to our young men as we urge them to collect sponsorship for the MAD walkathon. As Lasallian students and educators we operate in a spirit of service, “exercising a preferential option for the poor,” as St. John Baptist de La Salle wrote. Knowing the money will support Lasallian Missions both in Australia and overseas, assisting in very real and tangible terms people so less fortunate than us, should be a driving motivation in making the effort to move beyond our comfort zones and gather sponsors.
In preparing for Easter I would urge all families to pause in the next fortnight and reflect on what this most special of dates on the Catholic calendar means for us as members of our Catholic, Lasallian community. Once again relying on Pope Francis for guidance here, in his 2014 Easter message he communicates clearly a central theme for Catholics which we should all remind ourselves of as Easter approaches: “This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew… In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.”
A focus on the future
A major focus for 2014 was setting about restructuring many areas of the College so as to facilitate the capacity for real change and genuine improvement, with student learning at the core and providing the basis for many of our targeted priorities. As the end of Term 1 approaches it is timely to provide an update for the community on the enormous amount of work undertaken thus far in 2015 to effect the desired improvement.
Primarily, the changes revolve around an innovative curriculum leadership structure, with four Directors of Learning and Development leading teams of approximately 25 staff, representing a range of Learning Areas. This is a strategic decision, reflecting my primary focus on students’ learning and effective teaching. The structure is designed to facilitate teams of teachers collaborating and learning themselves. Primarily this involves teachers working in Professional Learning Teams to identify key priorities, then plan and conduct action research in areas of interest to build collaboration and improvement.
In concert with a strong Executive Team, the vibrant Directors of Learning and Development, and the innovative Curriculum Standing Committee, I promote several key pillars for our College’s immediate future in relation to learning. As the combined leadership teams responsible for learning we have built a vision to establish a direction, then set about understanding and developing the range of staff skills, ambitions and needs to support this. Our program is essentially reshaping the leadership, administration and organisation of the way De La Salle College designs and implements our learning programs.
To provide a little detail around these pillars, we are basing most of our work on principles intrinsic to improving student achievement. The focus is on students as learners and how to address their needs and personalise their learning. The enhancement of quality teaching is central as we place increased emphasis on professional learning for all. Building leadership capacity among the staff and distributing this leadership across learning areas is already having significant and productive effects. We are moving to cross-curricula approaches in key areas such as enriching learning via ICT and whole-school approaches to data analysis, pedagogy, assessment and reporting.
Professional Learning Teams are working on targeted areas in relation to literacy in various learning areas and year levels, as enhancing literacy is the platform on which we can build student improvement. Other PLTs include:
- a Gifted and Talented program
- inquiry learning at Years 7 and 8
- personalising learning through ICT
- increasing student engagement in RE
- using ICT in Year 8 English
- developing “Gestures” as teaching method for LOTE
- numeracy skills in Year 8 Mathematics.
There is an explicit emphasis on developing 21st century skills over simply learning content.
The theme of teachers moving from working and teaching in isolation to preparing together to learn from each other and plan innovative improvements is central. Continuous innovation is being built into the teachers’ everyday roles and informs their planning. This strategic navigation responds to ever-changing and constantly updating information and interpretation. Instead of leaders following directions and meeting deadlines, they are free to respond to the situation as they read it. The result is a more dynamic approach to strategy that is more inclusive of staff in both the assessment of the issues and in the development of responses.
Leading educational academic Brian Caldwell in his keynote presentation at a 2014 conference stated, “Strategy is no longer a once-a-year task. For the school and its leaders and their colleagues it is the very core of their daily work, and the essential lens through which they evaluate and prioritise that work. As a result, what schools need is a community of leaders who understand the social and political trends, who share a desire to deliver an agreed possible future and who are therefore able to be responsive and innovative within a strategic framework. The goal of strategic navigation is to engage the whole community in a continuous ongoing process that will address complexity, manage uncertainty and embed a disciplined approach to innovation. Clearly, strategic navigation is a helpful, if not necessary tool, in keeping ahead of the game in creating a culture of learning.”
This is exactly what we strive for at De La Salle. All staff working together in largely cross-curricula teams, focusing on our learning; collaborating as professionals is an illuminating and powerful driver of change. While we are still in the initial stages and much of the work remains to be done, there exists a positive culture of optimism and the students are already responding as teachers develop new strategies.
Year 7 2016 interviews
This week we have begun another new program – the process of interviewing all the Year 7 2016 applicants and their parents. The interviews provide an opportunity for us to get to know a little more about the Year 6 boys coming in and gather information about their learning and wellbeing which enables us to better plan for their transition to secondary school. Having met the boys and parents/carers, we are better equipped to help them settle in and meet their needs, and have given parents/carers the opportunity to give information and ask questions about what we offer and how we will look after their sons. Another integral feature of the interviews is hearing from parents what they are looking for in us as a school and what they would like six years at De La Salle to instil in their sons. This feedback is very helpful data in our planning.
Finally, thank you to each member of our community for all you have contributed to a very busy first term. It has been great to see and meet so many parents at the range of community events we have had this term and I’d like to draw your attention to two key community events scheduled for early in Term 2.
Year 8 Time and Space: Father & Son Evening
Monday 27 April — College Gym, 7:15pm
Mother’s Day Breakfast
Friday 1 May — College Gym, 7:30am
Wishing you all a safe, happy and holy Easter.
Mr Peter Houlihan