16 May 2018

Celebrating Canberra Schools - Macquarie Primary School

| Suzanne Kiraly
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Principal Wendy Cave with Macquarie Primary students. Photos: Supplied.

Principal Wendy Cave with Macquarie Primary students. Photos: Supplied.

As I enter Macquarie Primary School (and I have a few times now for various activities), there is a vibe in the air. It’s one of energy and it filters down through the staff, students, the parents and indeed the visitors like me.

Whilst I was waiting for Principal Wendy Cave in the staffroom, I noticed a group of teachers in an adjoining annexe through a glass partition, who seemed to be in a passionate and earnest conversation.

They were most animated, and when Wendy arrived she explained that the school has strong connections with the University of Canberra. Macquarie Primary School hosts around 200 pre-service teachers every year. Those I had been observing were a cohort of student teachers fresh from the University of Canberra. Apparently, English was an additional language to many of them, which made for a rich mix too, given that a third of the school student population hail from other nationalities. The school co-delivers tutorials on site, and Wendy said that the energy emanating from the ‘cutting edge’ learning that these new students brought with them was invaluable to the school, like a breath of fresh air – and that the school’s professional development model (framed three years ago) mirrored that of the student development model. So, these pre-service teachers were vital to the mix.

Wendy appreciates the fact that Macquarie Primary School personalises individual learning and that the students, parents, and teachers are all co-designers of learning experiences. She values the abundant funds of knowledge in the parent community, and even though the teachers were experts in curriculum, it was the parents who were experts on the development of their own child. It’s a powerful signature pedagogy, an enquiry-based learning model, where one seizes the moments for spontaneous enquiry. It sounds good to me!

There are core teacher beliefs that underpin the education here that I love, but my favourite of all is: “Hope is not a strategy”! In fact, all these principles are very sound and well thought out:

  1. Hope is not a strategy;
  2. Laughing children learn;
  3. No two people are the same;
  4. Learning doesn’t only happen between 9 and 3;
  5. Real context leads to real learning;
  6. Learners are leaders; leaders are learners;
  7. Curriculum should be centimetres wide and kilometres deep.

I must say I am fond of number 7 too!

Wendy is one of those educators always striving to keep up with the latest developments internationally, as far as educational research and new theories are concerned. I was, in fact, privileged enough to be invited to the school’s annual “Nano Conference”, where teachers are required to share a three-minute thesis style presentation on their personalised learning and teaching. They hold this Nano Conference at the end of every year, as a reflective and renewal activity, guided by a research partner. The inaugural Nano Conference Keynote entitled: “Dreamers are Doers” was delivered by a student. This set the tradition of the Nicholas Woodruff Address, which is presented by a member of the student cohort every year. Last year, partner Dr. Steve Shann delivered a powerful keynote presentation of “Mythopoetics”, insights into fiction that were invaluable. They also had one titled, “Transcultural Identity” delivered by Dr. Iqbal Hassim. It sounds absolutely inspiring.

And would you believe that all the classrooms are named after theorists? I just love such a vibrant learning environment steeped in growth and development of the highest order.

“This kind of atmosphere is also always nourishing for teachers, not just the students,” Wendy adds, “and our teachers do need intellectual nourishment, as much as our students!” Australian educator Hedley Beare’s principles of forward-thinking are much encouraged, as are community languages, AUSLAN, Spanish and Indonesian too. Multiple teachers and community members help to deliver such a diversity of programs.

And what I most like about Wendy Cave as a forward-thinking Principal herself is that she is a life-long learner too. She paid tribute to her mentor, and former Macquarie Primary School Principal Cheryl O’Connor, who taught her a lot, while reflecting on the school’s sense of community, which she says infuses a vibrancy that is genuinely heartfelt. The Principal is quick to point out that the role of a contemporary Parents and Citizens (P&C) council is quite different when we place student agency at the forefront. She acknowledges the brilliant work of the P&C in building social capital, along with supporting the school’s priority needs, which are student-driven, of course.

As I walked out of the school, Wendy showed me a recent initiative, which was totally student-led and which I found to be an extraordinary opportunity which certainly never happened in my days at school. The student leaders had identified that there was an issue with the traffic in the mornings and afternoons, in relation to student drop-offs. They felt that something had to be done to solve the problem. Working alongside Design Managers Australia, they applied the methodology of Service Design to enquire and co-design a unique solution. It was a most exciting experience for the student leaders and staff involved, and to add to the excitement, that local company won a global award for service design education in Madrid late this year.

“We are blessed to have such talent available to us locally – leading-edge technology and leaders in their field to mentor our students in problem-solving in the real world. While it’s invaluable preparation for their later working lives, it empowers young learners to contribute to their communities right now,” Wendy added.

And as for the future? What really excites her about the future is that the school is turning 50 this year, and with it comes a chance to hear the stories about the spirited children of Macquarie from so many decades ago.

Forward thinking and learning from the past are both gifts that the school community can cherish. Individualised learning is the cherry on top!


Macquarie Primary School

46 Bennelong Cres, Macquarie.

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