3 May 2017

Celebrating Canberra schools

| Suzanne Kiraly
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Canberra education

It’s NAPLAN time again.

On the MySchool website, Barry McGraw’s introduction states, “MySchool is a website designed to help school staff and parents evaluate important aspects of the quality of their school…” It goes on to say, “Quality is not a simple matter. How effectively schools ensure students build a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy is very important, but there’s much more as well.” In other words, education provided by our schools is much more than just focusing on NAPLAN alone.

I would like to add my own personal assertion – that student connectivity and a sense of community are essential for the human spirit to thrive, and should be the backbone of our education system.

Surely, we don’t want to just create clever kids, but rather, kind and happy children; children, who will make this world a better place. My approach to my own children’s education has always been based on the premise expressed by Mark Twain that, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” and I often told them, “Life is an education, only interrupted by twelve years of schooling”. What do I mean by that? Not that school is not important – it is. But rather, education is more about preparing for life after school, and that should be the foundation on which education is built.

When I taught at St Francis Xavier College (in a previous life, oh so long ago now), it was one of two of the best schools I had ever had the privilege of teaching in, in my earlier career as a teacher.

The students there, were not only engaged academically (let’s face it, some were not and never would be), but I would venture to say that the clear majority were engaged as a community. There was a sense of belonging and a sense of caring. And the school staff never lost sight of that priority. Here is what the Principal, Angus Tulley had to say when I asked him about their NAPLAN results recently:

“We are certainly mindful of our NAPLAN results and we appreciate the opportunity to use the school, cohort and individual results from a diagnostic perspective. We focus on growth and continuous improvement. We always encourage the students to do their best, but we also emphasise that they are much more than their NAPLAN results or their ATAR. We have a focus on literacy and numeracy as part of our annual school improvement plans and we work closely with teachers, Catholic Education Office personnel and appropriate consultants to provide the best outcomes for our students.”

He too, emphasised that students are “much more than their NAPLAN results”. Admittedly, it is a Catholic school and the spiritual aspects of education are always prioritised, but I believe that such a level of community and caring for one another can be achieved in our public schools as well.

I would venture to say that many of our schools in Canberra do indeed strive to create that sense of community and caring, and it is achieved from the top, down, in which excellent leaders and exceptional teachers play a major role.

Recently, I was doing some consulting work in public schools and witnessed it first-hand at Melba-Copland Secondary College, for instance, where they had brought in an external expert, Dr Misty Adoniou (Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL at Canberra University), with a strategic approach to improving their students’ literacy levels. The leaders and staff care. It is so obviously palpable and their efforts, admirable. Danielle Banks was the instigator of one of these programs there – a dedicated teacher of many years’ standing.

Other Canberra schools where the level of caring is high from my own (limited) professional observations, are Macquarie Primary school with Principal, Wendy Cave leading the way there, and Erindale College, with Jen Smith, who is the head of English. After teaching for many, many years, Jen is still an enthusiastic, caring and devoted teacher they can be proud of. And at Campbell High, where Cara-Jane Shipp, who won the 2016 Leadership in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Awards at the ACT Public Education Awards for her work and deservedly so, is very highly regarded.

From my (once again limited), general observation, our ACT primary schools and colleges are exceptional in the education they are providing for our children. High schools have a greater challenge (due to the ages of their charges), but many are constantly striving to improve.

I think, as Canberrans, we can be grateful for the incredibly dedicated teachers that work in our schools in one of the most demanding professions, who not only change people’s lives but also are the most vulnerable to criticism. Especially when NAPLAN comes around again.

We would love to celebrate our Canberra schools here on The-RiotACT, and to find out more about the positive things happening in our schools. It’s easy to criticise, and there is no shortage of negative news today, but do let us know about the positives and let’s share the good news for a change.

Do you know of an educator who has a positive impact on young lives?

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