There is a poster in the foyer of the Holy Spirit Primary School which has every child’s thumbprint, symbolising that each child is an individual, yet part of this community. It is part of the school’s 2018 focus, ‘We are God’s Fingerprints’. It is impressive, especially given that this is a very large school, with enrolments of 640 students in K-6, plus another 110 in preschool, and 70 staff.
Yet, Principal, Brad Gaynor tells me that his first impressions of the school when he arrived here were the friendliness of the students and an enormous sense of calm and order, that you would not necessarily expect to find in such a large school.
Brad is one of those educators who has always wanted to be a teacher in the Catholic system. (Teaching was a calling in my day, and I still think that is true.) But it is not hard to see why Brad chose this career path. When he was little, he attended St Matthew’s at Page, where his mother was a school secretary for over 30 years. He recalls that his mum befriended all the young teachers who often came from interstate and had no family with them, so she invited them home regularly for meals so they could get a family home experience. Brad remembers how often they would entertain priests, nuns, parishioners and new teachers at their house. So he was immersed in Catholic education from a very early age and finally trained at the Australian Catholic University.
Brad’s first appointment was at St Francis of Assisi in Calwell, then a stint at Birragai for two years before he gained his first leadership position at St Bede’s Red Hill. After St Bede’s came Holy Family in Gowrie and his first Assistant Principal position at Holy Trinity at Curtin. Brad’s first Principal’s position was at Sacred Heart Pearce, followed by Good Shepherd at Amaroo, and most recently, St Clare of Assisi in Conder, a very large school which prepared him well for his current position as Principal of Holy Spirit Primary School, in Nicholls.
Holy Spirit embraces inquiry learning methods, from the staff down to the children, and they have a targeted approach to professional learning. As staff, they tend to look at all the latest research and take the best of a variety of approaches to incorporate. Because education changes so rapidly, Brad thinks that it is best to be flexible and agile, rather than adopting one particular theory. One size does not fit all.
As for the students, like the poster in the foyer, Brad believes that every child is unique and that is how they teach them here. He tells me that the Holy Spirit kids are amazing. In fact, they recently had an Open Day and the Year 6 students had an important role to play. They acted as host ambassadors and showed the parents around. It was the best way to showcase the school and they did an admirable job.
ISMART goals are very relevant to the school’s approach to learning and teaching.
I = inspiring and the rest you may know already. You can read about them here: https://www.whatihavelearnedteaching.com/student-goal-setting-in-elementary/
The students are given lots of responsibility to be independent learners and self-regulators, both in taking charge of their own learning and emotional regulation when it comes to their behaviour. I asked about the colour coded charts I saw around the walls of the school. They represent the school’s restorative justice system when it comes to behaviour management. It is based on the Zones of Regulation. It reminds me a little of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in some ways and relates to whether the child needs to be co-regulated or self-regulated in order to end up with positive self-regard at the top level of the chart. The colours relate to how the child is feeling at a particular point in time. This language is used consistently throughout the school. Brad likens it to a kind of Zen philosophy, where the child needs to get to the green zone, where he/she is happy and calm. I like this notion and can think of a few adult situations where this could prove useful!
In terms of professional learning for staff, Brad has lined up the whole school for the Berry Street Education Model. The executive staff is doing this professional learning this year and the rest of the staff will follow next year. The Berry Street Education Model is designed to improve a school’s capacity to address school engagement of students so that they can achieve their personal and social potential through educational achievement. The training is led by Berry Street psychologists https://www.berrystreet.org.au/, who specialise in helping children to achieve in school, despite any adverse circumstances. You can read more about their research here: https://www.childhoodinstitute.org.au/educationmodel
The school is way ahead in terms of professional learning and implementing some of the research-based Gonski ideas. Brad tells me that Holy Spirit had already implemented some of the recommendations of the Gonski Report well before they came out. They are currently undertaking initiatives with flexible learning spaces, natural play spaces, spelling, and mathematics.
“I am proud to be a Catholic Primary School Principal,” Brad adds, and it is easy to see why he is the current President of the Australian Catholic Primary Principals Association (ACPPA). This national association supports over 1,200 Catholic Primary School Principals across Australia. In this role, Brad undertakes advocacy and representative work for all Catholic Primary School Principals in Australia. This role, along with executive committee members, Anne Staines (Sacred Heart) and Matt Egan-Richards (St Clare of Assisi), is where they are able to truly get a national view of what is happening in education in primary schools.
“It is an exciting time to be in education because we are entering a whole new phase never seen before in the history of education,” Brad concludes.
It has also recently been announced that Brad is a finalist for the Australian Education Awards for Primary Principal of the Year – Non-Government.
So if a school is a product of the enthusiasm of its Principal, then Holy Spirit is in good hands.
26 Kelleway Ave, Nicholls ACT 2913
Phone: 02 6241 8640