It’s not every day that the Governor General visits a primary school, but when he was hosting the Uruguayan Ambassador, Dr Ricardo Javier Varela Fernandez, that’s exactly what he did. Sir Peter Cosgrove took the Ambassador and four visiting politicians from Uruguay to visit Macgregor Primary School in Canberra and it was quite the occasion!
Why would such a thing occur, you might ask? Well, it all started when the Governor General attended a function in Uruguay where he found that each district school had a name and number. Then he came across a school called ‘Escuela 190 Australia’, and this sparked the idea that we should have a local school connect with that school. It was to be a gesture of good international relations which also gave the students of each school the opportunity to broaden their horizons.
The Education Directorate, along with the Embassy of Uruguay, facilitated the program. The hand of friendship across the sea is more important than ever today and so a relationship was formed between Macgregor Primary School and Escuela 190.
Magregor Primary Principal Jennifer Hall was beaming as she described the richness of the experiences that had mushroomed from this initial step and which the school continues to have through this connection. Macgregor Primary happens to have a brilliant Spanish teacher and the school is now also strongly connected with the Spanish community in Canberra.
The spin-offs came in many forms. Once a month there is a Spanish reading day in the library and the Ambassador usually attends; a pen-pal program is beginning to develop between the students of both schools; they have had a Futsal day; and they have had tango lessons taught by professionals in every class. The school also celebrates the National Day of Uruguay with a special barbecue, face painting, poster competition and an assembly.
Jennifer has noted that these initiatives have helped to foster harmony, inter-cultural understanding, and an understanding of the value of a diversity of cultures within the school community.
It also falls into line with the school’s acronym ‘LEAF’, which stands for learning, effort, attitude and feedback. It is all about having a growth mindset, which emanates from an American thought leader, Carol Dweck. She has an amazing TEDTalk on the growth mindset and the power of process for students, including how to change students’ mindset. It’s worth watching!
“This growth mindset is really vital for the students and teachers at this school,” Jennifer says. “Every school in the ACT prioritises literacy, but each does it slightly differently. My priority is differentiation; in other words, we do not operate on a ‘one-size fits all’ basis.”
At Macgregor, Jennifer says “we want each and every child to succeed and we do whatever it takes to ensure that all students achieve success in their schooling”.
“We use the National School Improvement Tool to analyse our improvement journey. With the support of the Education Directorate we bring experts into our school such as Christine Topfer, who is currently working with us to support us in using and leading highly effective literacy strategies with our students,” Jennifer says.
“We work with the gifted and talented students, providing them with an individual learning plan and some of them are involved in learning all about coding with our local high school students.”
I was delighted to be taken on a tour of the school and came across engaged, happy students. I came across a student wearing a ‘vice-captain’s’ badge and asked her what she liked about Macgregor Primary School. She replied: “I guess it’s that everyone helps each other and that makes learning easy.” Impressive!
Of course, the technology is strong, with all students in years 5 and 6 having chrome books and using them on a daily basis. In Kindergarten the students were thoroughly enjoying investigations and I was thrilled to see students engaged and having a wonderful time. (I found myself wishing my own Kindy experience had been like this).
Principal Jennifer Hall is running a thriving community here and she’s obviously immensely proud of the school right now. More than that, she definitely has her eyes on the future too, and what I noticed most about her and her approach to education was that she, too, had that growth mindset. And leading by example always has a trickle-down effect!
The vibe of Macgregor for me, and the message I took away, was that a differentiation strategy, coupled with a growth mindset can have an incredibly positive effect on a child’s success at school. After all, if a student has a passion for learning, and is then equipped with the most powerful tools for growth, and the capacity for empathy, then their future is looking a whole lot brighter!
Macgregor Primary School
Hirschfeld Crescent, Macgregor ACT 2615