Connecting the school to the community

Chris Shaw was Executive Principal of Hillvue Public School in Tamworth, New South Wales, from 2013 to 2018. The school has an enrolment of approximately 300 students and 80 percent identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. It is also one of 15 Connected Communities schools in the state – this means the school is positioned as a community hub and broadens the influence of the community in the education of students.

During Chris' time at the Hillvue Public School, multiple initiatives were developed and implemented. Here, he shares the details of some of these successful school improvement initiatives.

This is an edited version of a paper originally published in the Research Conference 2019 conference proceedings.

Our journey has involved the development and implementation of many initiatives that go hand-in-hand to support improved outcomes for our students and families. At Hillvue our focus is on innovation, opportunity and success. Our belief that all students can learn and all students will learn because of what we do is fundamental to our ultimate goal of achieving improved outcomes for our students and families. We close the window and look at the reflection in the glass. What are we doing? What can we change? What can we control? What can we offer? We don't open the window, look outside and blame parents, community and governments. We identify barriers and challenges and we address them. We get on with the business of doing. This culture is being instilled in our students and community.

Development of a vision statement

The process of developing a vision statement took a semester and involved student, staff and community consultation. The end results are clearly displayed at the front of the school on a wall, covering an area of approximately 6 metres by 4 metres (see Figure 1). It includes these statements:

Hillvue Public School is my second family.
Hillvue Public School shows me our culture is important.
Hillvue Public School encourages me to be the best person I can be.
Hillvue Public School allows me to have choices.
Hillvue Public School shows me university is possible.
Hillvue Public School is a place where my teachers believe in me.

The vision statement is used as a teaching and learning tool for students and the community.

The new staffroom at Macgregor Primary School

Targeted professional learning

All teachers on staff are released from class for an hour each week to participate in grade professional learning led by our instructional leaders. The instructional leaders work closely with staff to reflect on practice, analyse data to inform teaching and next steps in learning, collaboratively plan, differentiate teaching, select and design interventions to support students, and team teach. This is sacred time and is never interrupted. If the instructional leaders are away, the session is led by one of the other teachers.

A focus on key transition points

In 2015, we moved a teacher from Year 2 to Year 3. We now do this with every grade each year. The transitioning teacher brings cumulative knowledge in relation to background, welfare and learning to the classroom. This has significantly reduced disruption to student learning and supports continuity of learning.

TAFE classes for parents

TAFE classes commenced at school to engage parents and community in lifelong learning. Parents were asked what they would like to learn and a program was developed at school in coordination with TAFE New England to support the areas identified by parents. Each session started with a wellbeing session, where parents went for a walk and did some exercise. The focus in the classroom was literacy and numeracy. This initial introduction has led to a number of parents enrolling full time in classes at the TAFE campus. Two parents are now employed as a result of their commitment to learning and the confidence they gained from attending classes and developing skills.


We had to build a culture of high expectations, explicit teaching and effective feedback, use of data to inform practice, wellbeing and collaboration. Many of our students were failing and staff were working in silos. Different results were being achieved across grades and in many cases poor results were being attributed to student cohorts and not lack of differentiation and the one-size-fits-all mentality of using whole-grade text books. The shift in culture from ‘this is how we do it at Hillvue' and having welfare as the priority, to placing academic rigour, professional learning and reflective practice as priorities was pivotal to our success. Believe in students, support and challenge students and they will achieve.

In the past, Hillvue was the school that many parents investigated ways to avoid enrolling their children. Hillvue Public School is now the school of choice for local families. A school that parents, students, staff and community are proud of. A school they feel part of and in which they feel they have a voice. Parents are more willing to come into the school and actively engage in their child's learning. There is also increased pride in the school by the entire school community.

A happy and collegial staff and a positive atmosphere in the playground with numerous activities to engage students has led to less stressful playground duties for staff (a comment from a teacher: ‘I don't even need to be on duty anymore, students have so much to do, it's great.'). We have seen reduced suspensions, reduced negative classroom notifications and significantly increased classroom engagement and literacy and numeracy results.

I know we often hear the saying that ‘there is no “I” in team', and this was certainly the case as we transformed the culture of Hillvue Public School. It was a team effort and for me personally it was like leaving my family when I stepped out of the role as Executive Principal and into my current role as Director Educational Leadership.

This is an edited version of a paper originally published in the Research Conference 2019 conference proceedings.


Australian Government. (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Retrieved from

Connors, N. (2000). If you don't feed the teachers they eat the students. Melbourne, Australia: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Dinham, S. (2016). Leading learning and teaching. Melbourne, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Hattie, J. (2011). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London, UK: Routledge

Mahammad, A. (2009). Transforming school culture. Melbourne, Australia: Hawker Brownlow Education.

NSW Department of Education and Communities. (2011). Connected communities strategy. Retrieved from

Chris Shaw says ensuring one teacher in every grade moves up to the next grade with students has significantly reduced disruption to student learning by supporting continuity of learning and bringing knowledge in relation to student background and welfare.

Think about the transition program at your school. How do you ensure a smooth transition and continuity of learning for students? Could having a transitioning teacher enhance what’s already being done?