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Hello and thanks for downloading this podcast from Teacher, I’m Jo Earp. Welcome to Episode 4 of the School Assembly podcast series. If you haven’t heard this series before it’s the podcast that explores what it’s like to build a school from the ground up and this year, Season 2, we’re following Jo Camozzato and her lovely team out there at Bemin Secondary College. As you can hear, I’m on my way to see Jo in person again, it’s great to catch up with her again because the last one was over Zoom actually, so it’s nice to see her again today. And the topic will be putting together the school mission and vision and values.
So, obviously, with no existing school and you’re starting from scratch – it’s going to be really interesting to talk about the inspiration for that, what kind of things she’s drawing on. And also, everything links back to that; so, you know, when you’re trying to sell to prospective employees; we talked about recruitment in Episode 3 and we were saying then, you know, really, you’re going back to that Mission Statement, that vision, that’s how you’re trying to sell the vision of the school. The school is a dual campus secondary college, it’s out in Truganina, which is just north of Melbourne, in Victoria. It’s a government school and due to open its doors first day of the school term in 2024. So, we’re getting to the pointy end, really. But, yeah, looking forward to speaking to Jo for Episode 4, and this will be our chat that you hear coming up now. I hope you enjoy it.
Jo Earp: Okay, Jo it’s good to catch up with you in person again because last time was via Zoom and it’s never as much fun is it, let’s face it. Before we dive into today’s theme then, Episode 3 was all about recruitment. How is that going?
Jo Camozzato: Yeah, it’s good to see you again Jo, in person. Look, we have made some solid progress. I have employed, I’m up to 38 staff for next year. That’s a combination of education support staff and teachers. We did crunch all the student choices for year 10 semester units and that means we actually still need a few more teachers. So, I probably need another 4 teachers.
JE: Good to hear. Okay then, so the focus for this episode then is the school mission, values and vision. We mentioned in our last chat that because the school doesn’t have a history, it doesn’t exist yet, it’s not up and running, so that vision and mission really, that’s what you’re using to sell to prospective teachers and support staff. So, I was thinking, there’s this exciting phase of developing all that, this ‘brand’, and what it stands for, what the aims are. What is the starting point for that as a principal then?
JC: Yeah, I think for me it’s really important, and I’ve mentioned this before, but you’ve got to find out who’s in the local community that the school will serve. Because all schools have visions, mission statements, values, you know, you just have to do a Google search and you’ll find all across the world different versions of the same thing. [But the actual point] is that you’ve got to reflect I think the community that you’re serving.
So, I always start with: Where’s the school opening? Who lives around the school? What’s the profile of the families? Where are my students going to be coming from? What’s important to these families and young people (because I think that’s changing as well across society)? What happens at the local council area, you know, what do I need to consider that will help shape the mission and the values of this school? So, it’s not just about what I think, it should ring true somehow. So, you’re sort of doing like an educated guess, based on some research from where the school is going to be based.
JE: Does that get you to think about ‘What are my own values as a principal?’ ‘What is my educational philosophy?’ or doesn’t it really work like that anymore?
JC: No, it does work like that, but I don’t think I really have a high-level academic answer. I always try to keep it really simple – what do I want for this young person when they finish school at the end of year 12? Well, I’d like to hope that they leave the school with literacy and numeracy skills, the ability to self-regulate and manage themselves, that they can form friendships and relationships with people, and that they go on to contribute to society the way that we would like society to be, and that they also have the ability to problem solve in their life. So, that’s I suppose really what drives me. And then, look, your mission and your aim that does have to reflect that, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
JE: Bemin Secondary College then, it’s a government school, here in Victoria. Does (I’m fascinated by this question), does the State Education Department – do they give you any guidance on this kind of thing? I mean, are there guidelines about what you can and can’t put in your statement? Does it need approving? How does it work?
JC: 100 percent. Basically, all new schools, all of us as principals, are supported by the School Registration and School Provision team within the Department of Education. And I’ve found that process has been quite seamless this year, in the sense that we’re allotted people that help us as we go through particular policies that we have to write, and they do have to meet the VRQA’s guidelines and minimum standards (so that’s the Victorian Registration and Qualification Authority … we’d rather just say VRQA) and they do have the final say in the end. They can push back and say, you know ‘your context across all these policies isn’t consistent – you’ve said one thing here and you’re not saying the same thing over here, so what is it, what are you actually doing at this school?’, or ‘yes, we can see a theme running through the school which reflects seemingly the community and the evidence that you’ve provided, or the data that you’re relying on to make your decisions on, and we’re comfortable with what you have written’. Then there’s also very standard policies. So, things like Child Safety has to have certain things in it.
So, we do get support from the Department of Education around editing and just guiding us – not telling us what to write, it’s more about guiding us and asking questions. ‘I noticed this when I read through it … is that what you mean?’, and you might go ‘yeah’ or you might go ‘err, no, no, that’s a spello, I didn’t mean to leave that sentence there’. And then we get a final ‘okay’ from VRQA.
JE: Okay, so that’s really helpful as well, and particularly for people who haven’t done it before. And you’re lucky in the sense that you’ve started a school, you’ve been founding principal at a school before, but for those that are fresh into it it’s really useful to have that, but useful for everybody as well. So, let’s go through the school’s values, vision and mission, then. The values, you’ve got 4 values there –Respect, Excellence, Innovation, Community. The vision is very much about that individual growth, from whatever that starting point is, which again struck a chord with me: ‘All students will be empowered to achieve their individual best learning and wellbeing outcomes. The learning growth and achievement of all young people will be underpinned by creativity, innovation and commitment to respectfully work together to create a sustainable future for themselves and their families’. So, it’s all really about that individual growth, isn’t it, wherever you join the school.
JC: Yeah, I think there’s no doubt there’s been a big shift in education over the last few years where it’s very important for us to understand that one size doesn’t fit all. And I think I’m also not wanting to appeal to people just generally, I’m actually wanting to say to students (and I imagine it this way): ‘Is this your individual best?’, ‘What else can you do for yourself?’, ‘How else can we support you achieve what you need to achieve?’. So, personalising it even on that level. I think what struck me as you were reading it out too is that, for me, and we talked about this a little bit in the last episode, learning and wellbeing is very important. It’s not just about learning, yes, it is, but it’s also about wellbeing. So that when a person completes their schooling, to me that’s the beginning of the rest of your life really. Sometimes we forget, there’s so much emphasis on education at high school – hey, you know, we’re just trying to help you out. Then you go out there and you’ve got a lot longer, generally, in life than you have at school. So, for me, getting that balance right and I think that’s why it’s in that statement.
But there’s things in there that maybe people might go ‘what does she mean by a sustainable future for themselves and their families?’. And that, to me, is about, again, looking forward. School is about getting you ready, like I said earlier, to go out and live your best life. And I’d like to hope that everyone that leaves school is going to have some kind of family no matter what that looks like – whether it’s made up of friends or partners or blood relatives, but they will have something for themselves that they can create and that is sustainable, so that they are supported through their lifetime. And I wanted to kind of somehow embed that in the language of the school.
JE: And then tell me a bit about the Mission as well, you say that you want to: ‘…foster a learning community identified by high expectations, a commitment to evidence-based practices, and a deep pride in the school values. The College will promote a strong sense of community by building strong home/school partnerships and welcoming all students from across the local neighbourhood. All students will be supported to develop their identity by differentiated pathways while acknowledging that their individual cultures and personal identities are sources of strength.’
JC: I was very, very particular about putting the words ‘individual cultures and personal identities’ in there. For me, culture, community and personal identity should all be identified as the strengths of our young people, and I’ve actually come to understand those words and what they mean a lot more over the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve actually sought out help from people like the Centre for Multicultural Youth and I’ve actively listened to podcasts, because I think acknowledging people’s culture and that they can all come together under one school culture but still retain their personal identity could perhaps be the key for us to continue to build a successful society here in Australia. And I wanted to say it, I wanted to make sure it was there. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, we have to (respectfully) try to do better at what we’re doing all the time to strive to improve. And we have our Indigenous people who have in their country, on this land, for over 40,000 years and then we have people who have arrived 2 months ago – and that’s sort of what makes up this new school. And I wanted to try to capture that in some words, somehow, and hopefully that will ring true for many people.
JE: And that idea of working from a strengths-based vision, instead of what are the deficits, looking at the strengths – What is it that you bring to this experience? What do you bring to the work that we’re doing, to the learning that we’re doing? Tied in with all of that is the branding element of the new school, I guess. Again, an exciting thing to have a blank slate there – you’ve got naming, colours, logos … The word ‘Bemin’ is a Bunurong word for ringtail possum. There’s also significance in the logo that you’ve created – can you describe that logo and the meaning behind that for listeners?
The Bemin Secondary College logo.
JC: Yes, so our logo isn’t the possum, I need to make that clear. I’m not saying that the possum won’t feature somewhere in some of the visuals of the school, because I’m going to leave that up to our students to unpack that a little bit more. But the logo started, if you like, way back to when I applied for the position. Often principals are asked to do a presentation, prepare something for the first 10 minutes of their interview about, you know their vision around this new school. And that’s your opportunity I suppose, and it’s a prompt, for you to go away, you should go away and do some research, think about what it is that you’re going to help set up and establish in the community. And at the time I was very aware that there were students coming in from this sort of unique thing we have in the outer west of the prep-9 schools, and that they were coming in from 3 main prep-9s into year 10, and then on the junior campus I had the more traditional collection of all different year 7s coming in from different primary schools. And even at that beginning, at that presentation, before I was even offered the position, I was explaining that I really wanted the school to symbolise people coming together – to actually acknowledge that, everyone was coming together.
And so, the logo is actually made up of organic parts that come together and look like a circle – it’s loose, some students have told me it looks like an exploding basketball! And I’m okay with that, that’s okay, I think it’s good that they see things in there. But the reality is, it is about young people coming together from around the neighbourhood, and that reflects one of my values, which is ‘community’. And even though it’s really important for our students and our community to unpack the values, when you register the school and do the policies you’ve got to sort of pick some values to put forward and, for me, community is very important. And one of the last little dot phrases I had explaining what community was from my point of view, was that we are going to make everyone welcome who comes to the new school. And so that logo symbolises that – everyone coming together, being one, one school, many cultures, dual campus but one school.
And the colours were intentional too, because, you know, logos are important – they live for a long time, they live on a uniform for a long time … I always think ‘what’s going to sustain a few years?’ And I also felt, what’s going on around us, what is society valuing more and more? And so, the logo colours are pretty earthy, they represent the earth, the sky, the sun, nothing complex there; but it does sort of say we’re joined, all here together, and the logo speaks to our landscape – waterways and sky – and I think it’s turned out to be okay.
We did get some of the community to vote on different logos … I had the opportunity to show different prototypes of the logo, different ideas that the graphic designer came up with and we showed community members at the initial, first meet and greet that we had back in August. So, we had these logos up and said ‘what do you think about them? Vote if like, give us your viewpoint’. And to be honest, the logo we went with was the one that had the instant response, and I think that’s a good sign too, that people are just responding to it organically as well ‘we like this one’. Doesn’t mean they could tell me why, but they understood it. And when I’ve been moving around to the different schools and talking to year 6 students and year 9 students, I always explain the logo, because they’re part of the pieces that are forming that shape; and I’ve found that all the students [nod their heads], they’re really listening, they kind of get it. So, I think ‘alright, we’ve hit our mark’. Hopefully it’ll be around for about 20 years, I can’t say what happens after that – someone might come along and review and revise, although like I said uniforms, branding sticks around for a really long time! So, I think you’ve got to be careful, you’ve got to think ahead.
JE: It does. And I’m thinking, we all have read those stories about really big companies, and they go on logo redesign don’t they, and they change the font or something and it costs them millions, so you don’t want to be going down that route, do you?
JC: Yeah, you’ve got to be careful, I think.
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JE: Oh, there was something I did want to ask about school uniform (talking of school uniform) and I don’t know whether we’ve talked about this before, maybe we have and I have to scratch this! But anyway. Do you have to sort of agree it with other principals because you don’t want something that’s going to be too close to something else, do you? You don’t want the same colours as another local school.
JC: Yes. That’s a good point. No, we haven’t actually talked about the research behind logo and school uniforms. Look, some of the new principals kind of shared their initial mock ups of the colours of their uniforms. Mine wasn’t ready when they were doing that, but they did say ‘this is what I chose’, so some people got in first, which was like ‘oh, no’, but the reality was I wasn’t interested in those colours, so that was okay. I did my own research around logos as well. It’s really important to have a look around all the schools nearby, in the wider western network that we’re in, and sort of go ‘okay, I don’t want it to look like someone else’s, I don’t want the same colours’, it’s not fair on the students or the other schools. So, I think everyone probably did a bit of their own research, the same way you research your values – and people might go ‘what?!’. Well, you still need to make sure that the words make sense to people, and you want exactly the same values that another school up the road has, although I will say that I think the majority of schools have the word ‘respect’ in there somewhere, and I think that’s absolutely understandable. But at the same time, values have to be unpacked by the students and by the community, we pick a word, what we believe it should mean, but you want to lift it off the page a bit more. But, yeah, there are some principals who got in very early with their colour schemes and possible logos.
There’s always a hold up over the official name, so some people were sort of getting worried about ‘well, what will the official name be?’ but I wasn’t concerned about that, I wanted a more symbolic [logo] I didn’t want an animal. So, it didn’t matter if it was going to be called ‘possum’ or something like that – I’m dealing with secondary students, and sometimes secondary students aren’t keen to have animals emblazoned on their uniform. I’m not saying all of them … I’ll sort of try and read the scene, that’s my view, read the scene, read what’s going on out there. But I was just more interested in what it could potentially mean, so we were able to go ahead and come up with these mock ideas and then add the name later.
…. I think it’s really important that the students start to own some of this. So, like I said, yes, we have values but the first bit of work is finding out what they mean for the students, in their language. I think artwork and signposts around the school that the students have student voice and agency in is also very important. And I might have mentioned earlier, we intend to have houses, but I haven’t named those houses yet, I haven’t done anything about designing what that is because I actually think this time around (and this is where I have had the luxury now, and the privilege of doing it twice) the students can do that. It’s okay if that take half a year, I think they should have ownership and research ‘what should our houses be called?’. I have an idea, but that doesn’t mean that’s what the students want to do. What kind of symbols shall we have for our houses? What colours should they be? And, I’d like to have them have the input into all of that.
JE: Great, that’s good, that’s how you get that investment isn’t it, in the school community and the sense of belonging as well, that’s an important part of that. Okay then, before we finish – actually, we’re down to our last 3 usual questions since last time we spoke. We’ve got proudest achievement, biggest hurdle and key learning?
JC: Proudest achievement, there was actually quite a few but I will say that we had an information evening last week. There were 2 sessions, one around 6pm, one after 7, so parents could book in or families could book in which suited them – before dinner or after dinner – it was on Halloween, so I wasn’t sure who was going to turn up, but a lot of parents thanked me because they didn’t actually want to have to deal with Halloween, and maybe that’s one of the reasons they turned up. But look, it was really successful from the point of view that over 150 parents turned up for each session, which was great.
And the reason I say it like that was the only form of communication you have is quite limited with the families, you’re pushing out emails, you’re not sure if people are reading them, you just push them out, occasionally you might get a response or a question by email, someone calls the school mobile number; and then you ask your local schools if they will just push out the flyer, if you like, through their electronic management systems. But that’s all you’ve got. You don’t know if people are reading anything, you don’t know if they’re going to book in, you don’t know if they’re going to show up.
And so, I actually was really I think slightly overwhelmed at the number of people that came in. We had some new staff there, which was great too – they came along and volunteered their time. We were able to produce (Sam, Sandy and I) a package for parents, detailing some of the key things for next year – uniform, parent contribution costs, what kind of device students should buy … So that felt very professional as well. But the reality is I thanked the parents for reading the emails, I said ‘thank you, thank you for actually reading and responding because that makes me feel like there’s people out there!’ because otherwise you don’t get to sort of know how they’re interpreting that. So that was a really great achievement.
JE: Good. Biggest hurdle, shall we do?
JC: Yes, that’s me. I’m the biggest hurdle this time. What I mean by that is that I’m needing to find time to think and plan. It’s getting very hectic. I feel really embarrassed to say that even after months of having time to organise this school, that now I feel like I’m running out of time. But the reality is that some things you can’t do until certain points of the year, and so this is now the really pointy end. It’s not like our build is finished yet, we know that our due date is 20th of December, so that makes it really tricky too. January is going to be really full on, but I need to take some time to have alone time, to plan, because the urgency is growing, and I’ve got to try not to panic – that’s not good. So, I’m just acknowledging, I am the hurdle.
JE: Yeah, just keep calm. And key learning.
JC: Yes, key learning. Look, this sounds a bit contradictory, but I continue to do this – I’m the hurdle, but it’s important and I recognise this, to tap into others. Get other people or request other people, see if they’d like to help you out with things. So, last Thursday and Friday I had 2 days together with the assistant principals and some of our leaders for next year and I invited a retired principal called Greg Sperling, who does a lot of facilitation for schools, he coaches principals, he works for the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership, and he does an amazing job. He came in and facilitated the team, which included me – I didn’t want to facilitate that, I wanted to be part of it, to get to know the rest of the people that I’ve employed. And he worked on ‘What is our moral purpose?’ and ‘What are our trademarks as a team?’ and ‘What do we want to be known for?’.
And what was really fantastic was, at the end of it all, we came up with our own sort of purpose, but I was probably the only one who knew out of the 7 people in the room (and our Business Manager participated as well, which I think is equally as important), that when we stepped away from it later and had a look, it sort of matched our vision. So, there you go. So that made me go ‘right, this is terrific, pretty much everyone is one the same page from the beginning’.
And maybe that takes it all around back to the beginning where, when we advertise our positions in the Department, we just have this blurb – it’s called the location profile. And you provide information in there about your school, and that’s where I’ve listed some key things like the vision, the values, I suppose frameworks that we’re going to work with, and some of those key words are in that. And I think that some people have definitely applied because that’s kind of resonated with them.
JE: Excellent. So much going on, you’re right, it’s so busy at the minute it just keeps coming and coming. We are forever grateful for your time, most appreciative of that, for taking time out to speak to us each month. I just want to squeeze another episode in before the end of the year, so I’ll be back annoying you again shortly. But until then, best of luck with everything that’s going on, keep calm and carry on, thank you very much Jo.
JC: Thanks Jo.
That’s all for this episode, thanks for listening. If you want to keep listening now, then you can access the podcasts in the Teacher archives – you just head to teachermagazine.com, or wherever you get your podcasts from. If you could do me a massive favour as well – if you could leave a review on the podcast channel that would be awesome, it helps people like you to find the podcast and it’s also a great support for team, so thank you for that.
You’ve been listening to a podcast from Teacher, supported by Monash University. Listen to their ‘Let’s Talk Teaching’ podcast for valuable strategies and insights on the challenges teachers face today.
Other episodes in this series:
As school leader, how do you communicate the school mission, vision and values to staff, students, families and the local community?
Do new students at your school get a chance to explore and unpack the school values in their own language?