2 August 2017

Celebrating Canberra Schools - Erindale College

| Suzanne Kiraly
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Michael Hall

Erindale College Principal, Michael Hall.

We’ve all heard that it takes a community to raise a child. It’s a common catch-cry in education circles, but at Erindale College, we see this in a whole new light!

Michael Hall, the Principal of Erindale College, came to Canberra in 2000, having been promoted from Deputy-Principal at Goulburn High School to Principal, at Lanyon High School. There, he had followed Barry Jeff Woollacott, who had been a forward-thinker and futures orientated educator.

“We have been a ‘one size fits all’, industrial education model for too long. It was refreshing to finally realise that there were other alternatives,” Michael explained.

Sitting on the National Executive for the Australian Secondary Principals Association, there is no doubt that Michael is a mover and shaker. Within that Association he took a keen focus on instilling Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) within the secondary sector of education. This means for example, that the Science teacher coaches other science teachers in literacy methodologies, and so on. It means that every teacher, not only English teachers, must focus on literacy within their own domains.

Enthusiastically, Michael took on the role of Principal of Erindale College, which is a truly unique, kettle of fish, compared to other Principalships. You see, Michael is not only the Principal of this College at Erindale, but also the General Manager of the whole community complex there, which includes the gymnasium, the sports facilities, the theatre and a public library. As you can imagine, it keeps him rather busy!

Michael is also in charge of the Community Education program, including a number of Adult Education courses, ranging from adults returning to study to complete their Year 12 studies, a number of languages, cake-decorating, belly dancing – you name it! The Centre, including the college itself, is all about the community coming together in one central place.

In our connected, global village world we live in, ‘local’ community has never been more important. We understand that in Canberra.

As for Erindale College itself, there are unique features that you won’t find elsewhere in quite the same way. Michael tells me that they were the first government school to join the Cambridge International Education program, and the 10th, nationally. They have forged a sister school relationship with Wanniassa Hills Primary School, where the entrance phases of the Cambridge program are commenced and the concluding phases offered at Erindale College. The decision to introduce the Cambridge International Education system was part of the overall strategy for Erindale College.

“It’s all about finding alternatives to the ‘one size fits all’ model,” Michael says. “We are well-known for our talented sports program and have provided a sense of belonging and security for some of our now-famous athletes to flourish under that program. Famous athletes like BMX champion, Caroline Buchanan, and the cyclist, Michael Matthews, are graduates of our program here.”

Erindale College also has a dance stream, a Yr. 10 Early Entry program, a Trades Training Centre (for which they are the lead college for in the Tuggeranong Valley) and the Mindyigari Centre, which offers an indigenous program, where Erindale has the highest number of indigenous enrolments in the ACT.

Michael is proud of all of these innovations.

He goes on to explain that the educational design of the college is also ‘Big Picture’ inspired. He is good friends with the creators of Big Picture Education Australia, whose ‘purpose is to influence vital changes in education’. The motivation of this design is to have every young person achieve their potential. Graduates of these schools are now entering University through ‘portfolio entry’.

“Erindale’s program is so far away from a ‘one size fits all’ kind of College, that it’s more like a ‘What might YOU like to do?’, type of conversation. So, it’s like tipping the traditional model on its head and saying, here’s a suite of offerings, but if it doesn’t fit, tell us what YOU might want from us here at Erindale.”

Of course, all of this is based on a premise of having great teachers and great teaching! (Jennifer Smith, head of English at Erindale is one of them, whom I have mentioned before in another article.) Apparently, they have introduced a Monday morning compulsory professional development time at the college, where teachers who have been sent to professional development courses, teach their colleagues what they have learnt. It’s about dissemination of the latest research, theories and ideas. Erindale also had the first Tuckwell Scholar. Indeed, they had two of the four finalists for that and the first-place winner, Lucy Kirk, is currently studying as a post-graduate Medicine student at ANU. She spoke at the Graduation night last year. It was a heart-felt moment.

The college has had their sprinkling of enthusiastic, talented writing students submitting to the Litlinks writing competition (which had been administered by the ACT Association for the Teaching of English – ACTATE, that I was involved with for the first five years), and produced students who had professionally published post their schooling, as a result of this.

It’s truly a community of achievers in a wide variety of fields, and isn’t that what life is about anyway? It doesn’t matter what you do, but that you should pursue your passions and strive to stand out in your chosen field of endeavour.

Erindale College, through Michael’s vision and passion, certainly seems to be encouraging that approach to education!

Erindale College
115 McBryde Cres, Wanniassa ACT 2903

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