Catholic schools called to renew and adapt at annual System Leadership Day

Greg Whitby introduces Renew and Adapt - the strategic phase for 2015-16
Greg Whitby introduces Renew and Adapt - the strategic phase for 2015-16

Over 450 school and education office leaders in the Diocese of Parramatta gathered at Rosehill Gardens on Thursday 22 January for the annual system leadership day prior to the commencement of the new school year.

The day launched the 2015-2016 strategic phase for Catholic schools ‘renew and adapt’. Executive Director of Schools, Greg Whitby said his personal experience on the Bishop’s pilgrimage helped to influence the next strategic phase for schools.

‘For me, the opportunity to engage in rich and deep dialogue with colleagues has provided a clearer lens on our work as Catholic school leaders,’ said Greg. ‘The journey of Catholic schooling is one we walk together as a community.  As has happened on both pilgrimages, there is a deep commitment by pilgrims to renew and adapt - to ensure our young people are formed as spiritual, physical, moral and intellectual beings who positively contribute to the greater good.’

‘Renew and adapt is about building on the work we have done. It is about looking at what has worked and renewing and recommitting ourselves to continual improvement,’ he said. ‘It is also about acknowledging some of the things that haven’t worked being courageous enough to adapt and change.’

Greg identified five key areas around the theme of renew and adapt:
  • Purpose – reflecting on practice;
  • Strategy – renewing our skills and passion for the work;
  • Innovation – adapting pedagogies to individuals/improve student learning;
  • System performance – evaluating impact on practice on learning;
  • Collaboration – sharing, working and learning together.

Drawing on the key text for the year Good to Great to Innovate by Lyn Sharratt and Gale Harlid, he said the next strategic phase provides a structure as to how to move forward in the work of learning and teaching and how to practically apply innovation in schools. 

‘Innovation in education requires teachers who are willing to continually renew and adapt their practice in ways that positively impact on students’ lives and their learning,’ said Greg. 

Greg's presentation is available online.

In the following sessions, system leaders focused on ‘listening to the voices’, with a talk from Fr Chris de Souza, Priest responsible for education and Parish Priest of St Oliver’s, Harris Park, and reflections from Catholic school parents, Monica Jones, Our Lady of the Nativity, Lawson and Norma Farah, Delany College Granville.

Fr Chris drew on Greg’s reflections about looking to what has worked in the past and listening to the voice of God in going forward.

‘We don’t live in an idealised future or romanticised past, we live in the present,’ said Fr Chris. ‘Just as God’s voice is one, as Catholic educators our voice is one too. Religious Education is not confined only to certain prayer functions or spiritual experience or classes, it is one.’

‘The voice of God is heard not just in the voice of the other but where the two of you meet. As Jesus said ‘where two or three of you gather, there I am too,’ he said.

Watch Fr Chris' presentation in full online.

Fr Chris de Souza reflects on the importance of listening in the work we do
Fr Chris de Souza reflects on the importance of listening in the work we do

The keynote presenters for the day, Graeme Aitken, Dean of Education at the University of Auckland and Sandra Aitken Principal from Point Chevalier School, Auckland presented to system leaders on the results they have seen in learning and teaching by listening to the voice of students.

Graeme said there are three things students should receive from their education:
  • Interest, enjoyment and fun of learning;
  • Confidence that they can do things without their teachers as well as with them. Sense of autonomy; and
  • Achievement and success.

He said the challenge for teachers was creating the intersection of these things, which cannot happen unless we genuinely listen to students. 

‘Listening to students matters because autonomy and choice drives engagement and drives motivation,’ said Graeme. ‘Listening to students’ matters to understand what they expect of us as their teachers and the things we can do to support them and shift their learning through our teaching methods. Listening to students’ matters because it helps us, in the end to make teaching decisions.’

500 school leaders attended the day at Rosehill Racecourse
500 school leaders attended the day at Rosehill Racecourse

The day also included a session with Catholic Education’s Director Evangelisation and Religious Education, Ian Smith, setting the context for evangelisation and religious education in the year ahead. Building on last year’s focus of ‘forming intentional disciples’, principals were asked to take intentional discipleship to teachers through teacher formation goals connected to the evangelisation aims of the school. 

Classroom teachers Lorraine Maher, St Bernadette’s Primary, Lalor Park; Michael Dennis, St Pauls Catholic College, Greystanes and Monica Fitzalan, St Angela’s Primary, Castle Hill also had an opportunity to speak to leaders about their experiences of student learning and their own professional development. Watch videos of our teacher insights online.

Throughout the year, school leaders and education staff will have further opportunities to participate in their professional learning such as the Principals Masterclass and the Catholic Education, Ann D Clark lecture.