Just like our students, I too have been enthusiastic to continue my own learning journey throughout this year. I have accepted an invitation from Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) to participate in a two-year research and study based program working with a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to explore the ways that we can best deliver ‘The Learning that Matters’ within our College context. Together with eight other Principals, I have the incredible privilege to work closely and collaboratively with these colleagues to frame and define the pathway to achieve the very best learning opportunities for all of our students.
Whilst our study has only just begun, I can already see that the work that our leadership team and the teaching staff have undertaken through our previous involvement with the Harvard programs, sees us very well positioned for the next exciting phase of our journey.
Providing our students with an ‘education that matters’ is the central aim at Christian College. We set out on this path some time ago and, together with our students, their parents and our staff, we have made great strides in this journey. It is now time to establish another a crucial signpost to guide us in our mission to provide our students with the brightest possible future. It is time to think more deeply about what really is an ‘education that matters’, and to help define this, I am drafting a Vision Statement that we hope will further enhance the magnificent culture in which our students already thrive.
This is a lofty goal and it speaks directly to what it means to be a Christian College student and – for our parents and our staff – what it means to be a part of the Christian College family.
In simple terms, we are saying that a successful student at Christian College is not just one who obtains a good job, builds a nice house and is blessed with great wealth. Rather, we hope and pray that our students would go into the world with a focus to contribute to making life better for other people, not just themselves.
In my first ‘Principal’s Blog’ of 2017 (which can be found on our website), I shared the concept of having a focus on doing 'good work', referencing the research undertaken by the Harvard University ‘Project Zero’ team. The ‘Good Work Project’ encourages a focus on improving the human condition through doing good work that is ‘excellent’, ‘ethical’ and ‘engaging’ – and I believe this philosophy is a perfect fit for our College, given the Christian view we take to serving others.
We want to encourage our students to produce an ‘excellent’ effort – their absolute best in their learning, safe in the knowledge that their education at Christian College is about ‘growth’.
Having a growth mindset will help students to see that their IQ, or their ability to accomplish, is not a fixed outcome – they have a capacity to improve throughout their journey. We also understand that the rate of this development will vary from student to student, and vary in various learning situations because we are all different.
We want our students to stare down mistakes as nothing to be ‘feared’, for it is in making mistakes that true learning takes place and we grow as a result.
This comfort level should unburden our students so they hold nothing back, giving all of themselves to their learning experiences – an ‘excellent effort’, if you will. The ‘excellent’ then flows into the ‘ethical’.
You can be excellent in certain areas of study, however, if you do not have an ethical understanding of how to apply that excellence, will it really be ‘good work’?
Whatever wonderful attributes and gifts God has given our students, the challenge is always to use them for good, and to have an ‘ethical’ lens.
‘Engagement’ is about how our students connect to others in a whole myriad of ways - as a learner, as a citizen in the local community, within their family, within their sporting team and so on. How do they view the world outside of Christian College? What do they think about issues that affect our country, and what is their willingness to be a part of the solution? How do they look at other human beings from a global perspective, and how does that then relate to their learning – what do they connect with?
For example, if they see displaced citizens from other parts of the world, who are fleeing violence or harsh conditions, are they looking at those people with indifference or a ‘not-my-problem attitude?’ Or do they say, ‘that is another human being, and what can I do to help’?
The ‘learning that matters’ has to be presented to our students in a context where they glean a sense of purpose and meaning, especially at a Christian school such as ours where we promote a servant heart.
We are in the process of framing the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of learning in a way that allows our students to find this purpose by making links to things other than the conventional notion of just ‘doing school’ and going through the motions, because they have to.
If they can find a reason to learn, then they can find meaning in the learning: ‘I want to learn’ and ‘this is what I can do with the knowledge and skills’.
We are not just teaching our students about facts and skills, we are teaching them about thinking.
We want them to think critically, to look at the world through a Christian lens – and identify what is and is not ‘good works’.
We are well down the track in building the ‘learning that matters’, however, the next piece in the puzzle explores how we can design the learning to maximise the outcomes for our students and the College. We currently have a ‘pilot’ group, an exemplar group of teachers, who have been invited to participate in a study with Ewan McIntosh, exploring a process called ‘Design Thinking’. This has great scope to offer a commonly understood framework to support our staff and students with their inquiry and project based learning activities.
I have always been a strong advocate of the work of David Perkins, who explores learning that goes ‘beyond the curriculum’. Good learning goes beyond the classroom, he contends, taking the way school relates to our children to a new level. That is a concept that I want to use to challenge our College.
We want to challenge the way we teach our students, making it less about the teacher at the front being the oracle, and more about the teacher becoming a facilitator.
I want us to be brave enough to give our students greater responsibility and autonomy to learn, thus giving them a voice; not only a voice about their own learning, but a voice about where their learning might seek relevance and influence.
An everyday example of this might be a ‘rich task investigation’, where a student might choose to align their learning with a cause that is particularly important to them, for instance preserving an environment or creating an action to prevent homelessness.
The natural question at this point is: ‘what about the results?’ How do you measure the ‘learning that matters’?
Professor Guy Claxton, the author of ‘Building Learning Power’ we use at the College, addresses these questions, and his response is simple: “Guess what? It works”.
And he is right, it does work. We have seen this first hand at Christian College already.
We are nearly three and a half years into developing this ‘learning that matters’ framework, and our last two years have been the best on record in terms of academic performances.
It is not only reflected in our ATAR results, it is demonstrated through our students’ abilities to prepare for interviews and secure places at universities and other institutions, or when students need to produce folios, receiving high recognition for the work they can produce.
It takes in a myriad of learning episodes - and as we have always said – it is not just about the score at the end of the journey. That will never define or truly measure our students.
To achieve this, a common understanding throughout the entire Christian College community is foundational. Only if the students, parents and the staff are totally aligned to the same vision will our College be able to move further forward in this exciting journey we have embarked upon. Our willingness to collectively ‘buy in’ has been a key strength for our College in creating an environment that is becoming increasingly in demand for families wanting their children to grow as a person as well as a student.
Our core values of Faith, Grace, Hope, Love, Truth are the seeds that allow our school to grow, and every branch of our College structure is rooted in this ethos.
In closing, for the ‘learning that matters’ to truly grow, we too must all embrace this vision and be prepared to grow along with it.
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