From the Principal
This has been a special week in our Catholic calendar, with the Church recognising Pentecost last Sunday. John’s Gospel in Pentecost Sunday’s Mass related the story of Jesus’ first disciples having received the Holy Spirit, often referred to as the spirit of truth. Without delving too deeply into an analysis of scripture, there was a clear message for all of us – students, staff and parents – in the verses. I often look for a clear and contemporary message from the weekly Gospel which has the potential to resonate with our young people.
In relaying the following, Jesus’ implication is both relevant and significant with easily recognisable links to our everyday lives. “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” All of us are aware of Jesus’ principles and the general rules he recommended we follow to essentially live a good life and bring peace, justice, truth, love and respect to those around us. When he said “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” Jesus was essentially saying the Holy Spirit will enable us to spread his good word, influence us positively and provide us with the strength to deal with the attacks of the world.
My Parish Priest likened the Pentecostal Gospel message to simply using the Holy Spirit’s influence to be kind to each other. We don’t have to be overtly religious or know the Gospels intimately – just use our judgement to understand the truth, understand what’s the right thing to do, and treat others with kindness and justice. Sitting in Mass listening I was thinking about the very many ways I see our students do this each and every week in our De La community: the outstanding leadership and selflessness of our senior College and House Leaders in organising a marvellous celebration of Founder’s Day; the beautiful way the boys just relate to each other in the yard and around school; conceding that controversial line call at a critical juncture of the daily ritual of four-square; working as one to raise $108,000 on Mission Action Day; proud and expert contributions as guides on College Tours; outstanding responsibility and dedication on the Year 9 City Experience; representing the College superbly at a Community Mass; helping the elderly on public transport; helping a mate whose day is not going so well… I have seen all these in just the past week. Evidence of the Holy Spirit at work indeed and making all of us proud to work with such terrific young men.
With this in mind you may like to reflect on the Pentecost meditation of St John Baptist de La Salle:
“You carry out a work that requires you to touch the hearts, but this you cannot do except by the Spirit of God.” Med 43.3 (cf. Jn 14:23–31; Pentecost)
Challenges in Australian School Education
You will be well aware of the significant work so many of the staff have put into improving the quality of learning and teaching at De La Salle in the past couple of years. Last week the Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), Professor Geoff Masters AO, presented his analysis of the major challenges facing Australian schools in the report, Five challenges in Australian school education (Geoff N Masters, The Australian Council for Educational Research, 2016).
The report identified the kinds of interconnected strategies we need to adopt if we are to address the priorities in Australian schools. While we are well aware of the ongoing need for growth, development, improvement and innovation at De La Salle, I must say it was gratifying to read Professor Masters’ recommendations as they tie in very neatly with the research and thinking behind our vision and reforms for learning and teaching.
The following points are some of the key themes from Professor Masters’ work, some quoted and some paraphrased.
EQUIPPING STUDENTS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
The first challenge we face in school education is to identify and develop the knowledge, skills and attributes required for life and work in the 21st century. This is an ongoing educational challenge.
To be relevant in this era, students’ work needs to become increasingly cross-disciplinary
and promote creativity and the ability to develop innovative solutions to entirely new problems. At a time when employers are seeking better information about students’ abilities to work in teams, use technology, communicate, solve problems and learn on the job we need to enable these skills to develop in our classrooms and beyond.
Australian students – especially in senior secondary school – often learn in isolation and
in competition with each other, at a time when workplaces are increasingly being organised around teamwork and are requiring good interpersonal and communication skills. School curricula tend to be designed for delivery in traditional classroom settings, at a time when new technologies are transforming how courses are delivered and learning takes place.
A curriculum that prepares students for life and work in the 21st century is likely to be one that includes an emphasis on:
- deep understandings of subject matter and the ability to apply what is learnt
- the ability to communicate and solve problems in teams
- the ability to think critically and to create novel solutions
- flexibility, openness to change and a willingness to learn continually.
Two specific challenges for a 21st-century curriculum, both of which have been addressed in the recent development of the Australian Curriculum, are to prioritise depth of learning and to promote cross-disciplinary team-based problem-solving.
PERSONALISING TEACHING AND LEARNING
The purpose of diagnosing where students are in their learning before commencing teaching is to ensure that learning opportunities are well targeted on individuals’ current levels of achievement and readiness. It is now well established that learning is most likely when learners are given activities at an appropriate level of challenge – beyond their comfort zone in what Vygotsky (1978) called the ‘zone of proximal development’ – where learners can succeed, but often only with assistance.
Differentiated teaching and personal learning plans are widely used in schools. But these
practices sometimes compete with an alternative (policy) view that the best way to raise standards is to hold all students to the same high expectations, coupled with a belief that this is more ‘equitable’ than recognising that students have different learning needs.
Improved outcomes for less advanced students depend on establishing in some detail the points individuals have reached in their learning and then providing targeted teaching to address specific skill deficits and misunderstandings and to establish stretch targets for further growth. New technologies have the potential to assist in these diagnostic and personalisation processes.
MONITORING LEARNING PROGRESS OVER TIME
As an extension of the traditional system of teaching all students according to their age and year level and holding them to uniform expectations, more contemporary thinking is to expect every student to make excellent progress in their learning, regardless of their starting point. In this way, what it means to learn successfully is redefined as the progress (or growth) that learners make.
SHARING PROGRESS WITH PARENTS AND FAMILIES
The current system of school Semester Reports is likely to be of continuing interest to parents. However, it would be more beneficial to provide information about the progress students have made in their learning over a semester or school year – information that better indicates the amount of learning that has occurred. This information is important because some less advanced students can make good progress during a school year even though they may still be below year-level expectations. Failure to recognise and report progress not only provides parents with an incomplete picture of learning, but also can undermine students’ understanding of the relationship between effort and success.
When reading through, analysing and reflecting on Professor Masters’ research and recommendations I see clear and visible links with the direction our current work is taking around learning and teaching. Building 21st century skills via emphasising depth over breadth in our courses is already happening. The Year 9 Inquiry program is a terrific example of cross-curricula skills being developed by the students’ independence and creative approach to their research. Our work with the University of Melbourne Network of Schools and the Year 7 Maths Pathways is aimed specifically at using technology to gather and interpret data around measuring students’ progress versus simply listing achievement. This data is then used to inform personalised learning across the year levels. This is also gaining a good deal of momentum as we unpack the data and its implications for future teaching and learning. The 2016 thrust of staff Professional Learning Teams is primarily geared towards design and implementation of learning continuums across the curriculum so as to support progress.
While this is well and truly a work in progress and certainly takes time to become embedded, the innovative improvements to our pedagogy and curriculum are already having positive effects.
Community Mass – Sunday 5 June
On Sunday 5 June we are holding our second De La Salle Community Mass for the term, at St Dominic’s Parish, 816 Riversdale Rd, East Camberwell. In addition to students and families who came to us from St Dominic’s Primary School we would love to have as many families as possible from around the area, so if you live in Camberwell or a neighbouring suburb please join us for Mass at 9:30am, followed by morning tea. Our most recent Mass at St Paul’s, Bentleigh was a huge success and a great community gathering so I look forward to seeing you at St Dominic’s.
Master Plan Update
After many months of various teams’ and committees’ work with a wide range of people — College staff, the Board, Montlaur Project Management and Hayball Architects — our Master Plan is nearing completion. As we move into the final stages of planning and working through recommendations we would like to gain some feedback from parents. In the next couple of weeks, once we confirm the date and all presenters’ availability, I will write to families inviting you to an information evening. On this night we will present the draft plans as they stand and facilitate a consultation process before moving onto a conclusive proposal. After this we will begin the permit process with Stonnington Council and a range of other external stakeholders to work on timelines, finance, tenders and the myriad tasks these major projects involve. It’s a very exciting time for the future of the College!
Mr Peter Houlihan