Above: Pete's Place students with Dr Frank Malloy, Christian Zahra and Michael Whitton.
Serving over 765,000 students in 1730 schools, the Catholic education sector in Australia is as diverse as it is large. Executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission Christian Zahra wanted to give prominence to some of the unsung stories of schools "working at the edges" of Catholic education. He spent some time this week with inspiring Catholic school leaders doing outstanding work with vulnerable students.
In early December, Mr Zahra spent the day with national director of Marist Schools Australia Dr Frank Malloy to visit three Marist schools and programs in New South Wales.As a former Marist student, having attended Lavalla Catholic College, Traralgon (formerly St Paul's College), Mr Zahra reflected on the impact of his own Marist education.
"One of the Brothers, Br Maurie Bambridge, spent many years working in Central Australia and taught us all about the Indigenous communities he worked with," he said. "It made me think deeply about the meaning and purpose of my own life. That commitment I learned from Br Maurie and other Marist Brothers to Indigenous communities and supporting disadvantaged people really stuck with me and has strongly influenced the work I've done, including working twice as CEO of Indigenous organisations in rural and remote Australia.""St Marcellin Champagnat's mission was to serve the most vulnerable in society," he said. "We often hear the stories of excellence in Catholic education, and we celebrate our sporting and academic achievements, which is very important, but I wanted to highlight and celebrate some of the stories of schools that do amazing work with vulnerable students and go quietly about their work often without much acknowledgement."
Pete's Place, named after Peter Robinson who bequeathed the building in Blacktown to the Brothers, is run by the Marist's outreach arm, Marist180, and is an alternate pathway for young people aged 12 to 16 years who have disengaged from school.The school accommodates up to 25 students whose attendance has been a constant challenge. Newly-appointed principal Michael Whitton introduced a one-off incentive program to encourage the students.
"Some of the typical educational approaches don't work for these young people, so we wanted to introduce the incentive of giving movie tickets to students who attended school regularly," he said. "I thought I would have to buy two tickets, I ended up having to buy movies tickets for over 20 kids.""Prior to some of the changes, student attendance fluctuated day to day," said Mr Whitton who was previously the assistant principal of St Clare's Catholic College in Mount Druitt. "Now we have about 23 students and attendance, other than genuine sick days, is nearly 100 per cent."
Mr Whitton said the teachers use a therapeutic approach to support and engage students to enable their social, emotional and academic growth."I don't want people to see Pete's Place as a 'behaviour' school. We are working with young people who have been seriously traumatised in many ways. The behaviour that might bring them here is a symptom of other underlying issues like depression and anxiety," he said. "The difference is we don't give up on them. These young people are used to being pushed away and when they come here they aren't being pushed away. For many of them school has become their respite."
A personalised approach is the foundation of the Marist's new joint venture with Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP), the Marist Learning Zone (MLZ), which will open to students in Mount Druitt next year.CEDP's program manager Patrick Barrett said the MLZ will support students for up to 100 days while they are still enrolled in their mainstream school. The program will provide additional support with the aim of re-engaging students back into school or to support them to find another pathway through vocational programs, apprenticeships or work.
"We will be developing an individualised program for each student at MLZ because each one will have different needs," said Mr Barrett. "We will work with them, their families and teachers and create a program to best support them. Some students might be here for two weeks, others might be here for a longer time.""We can't treat students the same; it reduces their life chances," he said. "We have to recognise the needs of each student, where they currently are in learning, and where they want to be so they are challenged beyond even their own expectations."
The program will be a support to schools in conjunction with other options like CEDP's wellbeing and counselling services. The students will be referred from their school based on a number of factors including chronic school avoidance.Marist Brother Jonnel Sisneros, who has recently arrived from the Philippines, will be one of four Marist teachers and two CEDP staff who will work in the Marist Learning Zone which will accommodate up to 20 students at any one time. Located at CEDP's Aengus Kavanagh Centre at Mount Druitt the MLZ, for the moment, is almost empty of furniture.
"We didn't want to buy too much furniture to start with because we want the students to help us design the best use of the space," said Br Jonnel. "The space will need to respond to their needs."The students will have access to a range of services on the site including literacy and numeracy support, a creative and performing arts program, the Jarara Indigenous support team and multimedia studios.
The John Berne School, located at Lewisham has recently undergone a major refurbishment that principal Br Mark Paul says has made a huge impact on the way the students think about themselves. With a capacity of 48 students, the Marist school was founded in 1998 and had 37 students enrolled this year."When we moved back onto the site earlier this term, the students were saying we are now a 'normal' school because we have the same resources as other schools," said Br Mark. "They felt like they had a certain standing in the community."
Creating the right kind of environment and opportunities is critical to student success says Br Mark who works with business partners and ambassadors like Labor politician Kristina Keneally to provide activities, excursions, immersion and work experiences. Students are involved in boat-building, sailing, artist and photographer in residence programs and one week of work experience each term in Years 9 and 10 to support the development of the whole person."Many of the students who come here have reading difficulties, so they misbehave in class because it's the easiest way to get out of school work," said Br Mark. "But the problem is not misbehaviour, it's a range of social and educational challenges that need to be addressed and we have to work with their parents who are often struggling too."
"Our work is to help these students tap into their gifts, which we do by exposing them to opportunities and creating an environment where they are respected and valued," he said.The Marist charism lies at the heart of these schools and programs, but it is often not as explicit as teaching religious education. Faith is shared in a very practical way by talking about students' life experiences and creating moments of reflection for students.
"Young people need some quiet time to think about what's holding them back from school and participation in life," said Br Mark. "Faith is central to being a change agent in the world and there is a great thirst for faith with these young people, which is being made alive here."For more information visit Marist180, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta and the John Berne School
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Commonwealth Bank has released a 'Jobs and Skills of the Future' report, authored by Dawson, which sheds new light on the changing role of teachers.The report details the ways that advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics and virtual reality might affect the classrooms of the future.
Dawson says one of the most significant changes will be a new focus on student capabilities, as opposed to skills."In a changing world with developing machine capabilities we are effectively competing with computers, competing with machines and so we need to focus on those uniquely human capabilities such as creativity, imagination, relationships, empathy, expertise that keep us ahead," he tells EducationHQ.
"You can have classes to understand, studying emotions, what are the differences between emotions? How we can see those, how can we respond to those, what can we do to inspire people?" he explains.Dawson says that a focus on these capabilities would help to prepare students for employment areas that will resist automation or grow in response to it.
Robots will not just affect the world outside the classroom, however Dawson believes it is likely teachers will end up sharing in-class responsibilities with them."One of the key shifts will be the role of the teacher," he explains.
"The teacher will always be fundamental, but now instead of the teacher being the source of the teaching they will be essentially an orchestrator of resources, and critically their role will be to inspire children to tap their capabilities and to build their love and joy of learning," he says."The single most fundamental role of the teacher is to inspire, it is to help them to see the possibilities, to inspire them, to give them the joy of learning. That is not something that a machine will ever be able to do, that is deeply and fundamentally human."
Dawson says that instead, robotic teachers could help facilitate a transition to larger, more flexible classes."Some students in the class may sit for a while with a robot or computer which is interacting with them individually ... this can enable a teacher to, in fact, to spend more time with individuals as well.
"The fact that a few of them are spending a little of their time having an individual interaction or conversation with a robot means that the teacher can support them in that interaction, spend more time with other individuals, circulate more," he says.Dawson says this will make for more efficient and flexible lesson delivery.
"The current structure is quite rigid, in the sense that we have a single class with a number of students and one teacher, and in order to make that more personalised ... we can start to move those configurations around and maybe one time when everyone is with one teacher, then maybe other times when they're broken into groups with different teachers.""It's just a simple thing of moving beyond the rigidity of single class, single group, single teacher, to one that has flexibility and being able to redesign that as best suits the needs of the students."
Dawson says the education system must begin preparing students for the not so distant future.
By Geordie Little
Published November 27, 2017 in Educationhq.com.au
"It is critical that all of us, including individuals, parents, governments, educational institutions, focus on what it is we can do today to focus on the education of the future, because that is what will be able to create a prosperous society for Australia."
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This is the final report for 2017 and I would like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a safe, relaxing and restorative festive season.
Dr Fiona Mueller left her position as Director, Curriculum in November and I am sure I speak on behalf of staff and stakeholders in acknowledging what an impact she made on improving the learning of all young Australians in her time at ACARA. Her unwavering dedication to students at the centre of Curriculum's work was inspirational for those who worked with her in the office and those in our many stakeholder groups.
The Curriculum unit at ACARA continues to support stakeholders in their implementation of the Australian Curriculum on request, while undertaking a program of research to inform future refinement of the curriculum. In October the unit hosted the annual meeting of Australian Alliance of Associations in Education (AAAE) at the ACARA Sydney office. This was an opportunity for representatives from a range of professional associations to provide input into some key questions about the purpose of curriculum and what students should learn.
ACARA's Curriculum Directors' meeting, hosted by the Department of Education in Hobart in late October, was complemented by a workshop on the Australian Curriculum Achievement Standards. The Curriculum Directors also explored those same key questions which will guide refinement of the Australian Curriculum.
A range of other curriculum activities are described in the reports below.
As always, please ensure that this Curriculum Activity Report retains its original format if it is circulated, and please share it with anyone you believe may be interested to read about our work.
Acting Director, Curriculum
The full report can be downloaded here
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