This podcast from Teacher is supported by MacKillop Seasons, whose Seasons for Life project supports schools with loss and grief following a suicide and other loss event.
Thanks for downloading this podcast from Teacher. I’m Dominique Russell.
We know from the research that highly effective schools apply their resources – such as staff and school time, expertise, and facilities – in a targeted manner to maximise outcomes for students. For instance, resources are prioritised towards evidence-informed strategies aimed at improving student outcomes; leaders are making the best possible use of available expertise to meet student needs; and a flexible approach is taken with resource deployment.
In this episode of School Improvement I’m joined by Belinda Norrie and Jacqueline Hampson. Belinda is the relieving Deputy Principal at Narrabeen North Public School, a primary school in north Narrabeen, which is a beachside suburb in northern Sydney. Jacqueline is Head Teacher Secondary Studies over at Narrabeen Sports High School. Both schools are members of the NEST collaboration, where NEST stands for Narrabeen Elanora Student and Teacher. NEST also includes two other local schools – Narrabeen Lakes Public School and Elanora Heights Public School.
For the past few years, staff and students in the 3 primary and one secondary school have been sharing facilities to enhance learning opportunities and fostering relationships between staff. In this episode, Belinda and Jacqueline share how the collaboration began, why it extends across K-12, and their advice for other school communities looking to collaborate in a similar way in the future.
A quick note on terminology before we jump into the episode – you’ll hear Belinda refer to HPGE which stands for High Potential and Gifted Education; the DEL, which is the Director, Educational Leadership; APC&I which stands for Assistant Principal, Curriculum and Instruction; SLSO is student learning and support officer, and SIP, which stands for school improvement plan.
Let’s jump in.
Dominique Russell: Thank you so much Jacqueline and Belinda for joining us on this podcast episode. It's great to be able to chat with you about such a fantastic collaboration. It's really, really exciting. I thought just to kick things off though, it would be great if we could get an introduction to both of you and also your roles at the moment.
Jacqueline Hampson: Hi, I'm Jacqueline Hampson and I am the Head Teacher of Secondary Studies at Narrabeen Sports High School.
Belinda Norrie: I'm Belinda Norrie (Bel Norrie). I have been working between the high schools and the primary schools. My background’s in primary education, though, and I'm currently relieving Deputy Principal at Narrabeen North Public school.
DR: Fantastic. And so today, we're obviously talking about NEST, which is the Narrabeen Elanora Student and Teacher collaboration. Can you tell me a little bit about each of your school contexts then, before we get into the NEST collaboration itself, and can you also share with me a little bit about the school context of the other 2 schools that are involved in the collaboration too?
BN: Yeah, sure. So we have 4 schools that are involved. So the school I'm currently in is Narrabeen North Public School. We're based on Sydney's northern beaches in North Narrabeen, all the 4 schools are within about 5 kilometres of each other, Narrabeen North and Narrabeen Sports are literally across the road from each other, and that will become a little bit more clear later on as to where this all came from. So we've got about 700 students. We're just a comprehensive mainstream public primary school for the Department of Education.
Jac, do you want to talk a little bit about Narrabeen Sports?
JH: Narrabeen is a comprehensive public high school, but we also have a sports academy as well for that. So we have approximately 1000 students at our school.
BN: And the other 2 primary schools are Elanora Heights Public School, they've got about 440 students. They're up the hill – not far away, again, another government public school from NSW Department of Education. And Narrabeen Lakes Public School has about 420 students and their proximity to the beach and to our beautiful Narrabeen Lake is something that's unique for them as well. But they’re a school’s that growing and they're really beautiful little public primary school as well.
DR: Can you tell me about why NEST came about?
BN: Yeah, I can. So the NEST collab, it originated originally between Narrabeen Sports High and Narrabeen North Public school – so the 2 schools, they're literally opposite each other, they share boundary fences and there is one road in and one road out. Basically, we cross the road to them.
So it started, the 2 principals at the time, it was probably, I don't know, 3 or 4 years ago now that they worked together to say, ‘well, what can we do? We're right here together, how can we actually be strengthening this?’ And probably with the idea of transition practices, was the original thought, I believe. So they then pooled some money, and they employed what they called a Middle School Deputy Principal, who is now actually the principal of Elanora Heights Public School. So you can start to see how the connections are starting to form here.
And these 3 people, they work together really closely to start getting professional learning in place that the schools were sharing, writing programs, units of work together, starting to look at how stage 4 teachers and stage 3 teachers could collaborate so that students – and it all comes back to opportunities for students and great outcomes for students, every single thing we do, that's where it's landing. So when they were starting to put together things like understanding how each other's classrooms work, understanding how scope and sequences look and may look different between a primary and a high school so that teachers were knowing their learners that were coming through, that was kind of the origins of it.
It then grew. So as Lisa (the principal of Elanora Heights) when she became principal of Elanora Heights – and then we had another person step in, who is now the Principal of Narrabeen North Public School – the 4 schools then started to work together. And I believe they invited Narrabeen Lakes to be part of it – because they're all direct feeder schools into Narrabeen Sports High. So from there they then went, ‘Well, we now need another Middle Schools Deputy Principal,’ basically, and they then pooled their monies, and they employed me as the NEST Deputy Principal.
But at the time it wasn't called the NEST, that was part of the role, was to come up with something that was going to be inclusive of the 4 schools and their unique environments as well, while maintaining the individuality of each school. Because we haven't combined schools or anything like that, like we're not doing what other areas may have looked at where they've tried to have 4 schools into one type of thing. That's not it. They've got their own individual identities, but we're trying to use the strengths of each school to be better together is kind of, I guess, the ethos behind it.
So Narrabeen Lakes, Elanora Heights, Narrabeen North and Narrabeen Sports came together, the 4 principals of those schools, to develop this idea of what it would look like if we were together; to perform a K-12 learning pathway from each of those primary schools up into the high school.
We wanted kids and families to want to go to their local public high school. It's a great high school. There are so many opportunities there, but we're also in an area where there are a lot of private schools, there's a lot of independent schools and kids are getting on buses to drive straight past their local high school to go to a private one. Now, this isn't a public versus private debate at all, this is around making sure that our local community have a really great understanding of the opportunities that are in front of them, and they don't have to travel a long way or pay lots of fees to be able to access a brilliant education. And they've also got the sports high school. So that’s kind of where it originated.
I came on board in Term 4 of 2021 and spent pretty much all of Term 4 (and this is at the very end of COVID lockdowns as well), spent that end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 really trying to understand each of the contexts. And that was kind of the task that was handed to me by the principals to say – and the DEL [Director, Educational Leadership], our director, was really involved in this as well – ‘this is what we'd like, let's have a look at what opportunities exist. What are we already doing well in individual schools? How can we leverage what already works to be better together and to provide that really strong learning pathway from K-12?’ So when you’re starting Kindergarten from in one of these primary schools, you as a student know that you're going finish in year 12 at the high school. You’re already familiar with the teachers, the programs, the opportunities, you've already visited the high school multiple times. It's not just a, you know, end of year 6, go for a visit on the designated day. The idea is to be really building that strong, strong learning pathway and connection because there's things that we can do with that that you can't do just as a primary school or you can't do just as a high school and kind of blowing open the myths around what might be happening on each other’s side of the fence.
JH: … There are so many different opportunities that we have through the NEST that we're really excited to share. So one of the best facets, I guess, is all of the really innovative projects that have come about, come to light, such as our enrichment programs that really helped to take that learning beyond the traditional classroom and to really enrich and extend our students in the learning.
So, for instance, we had a Cracking the Case initiative that we've just been running over the last term. And that sees year 5 students that have been nominated from each of the primary schools to participate in compacted curriculum and extended learning outcomes. So currently our Cracking the Case students have been learning on site at Narrabeen Sports High School, so they didn't have access to those lab facilities. And that happens for 90 minutes a week where they're solving a mystery crime and learning the art of observation and critical thinking, problem solving through things like DNA extractions, fingerprint analysis, they go through and do the sheep brain dissection and look at the neuroscience behind the different facets that can impact an investigation. So we have a teacher from the high school that leads that and really, use some of the stage 4 and 5 outcomes that are really going to help the stage 3 learners as they come across and they can combine with the other primary school students with that.
We have our Hatchery project, which is our year 3 students from the 3 primary schools and that kicks off tomorrow. They have a chance to collaborate on site this time at Elanora Heights Primary School, and that's in collaboration with Taronga Zoo and it's a STEM-based challenge and they build Rube Goldberg machines so that they can help feed the animals without the need for human interaction. And so they're really producing some really innovative and authentic problem-based learning where the kids are really immersed in it, which we wouldn't be able to do without the collaboration between those primary schools and the high school.
Our year 5 enrichment students are now undertaking a Flying Through Time course and they're doing a deep dive into ancient Roman history, and that's in conjunction with Macquarie University. So we're also looking at other partnerships to really bring in those experts in the field, really make it engaging and something that the students want to be a part of and that they just really foster that love of learning. And they get to really showcase as well the diverse and dynamic nature of that collaborative learning between those students. They get to know and become familiar with other students from other primary schools and also break down some of the, I guess, scariness of the high school. And so they come across and they interact with some of our year 10 students that sometimes there are part of the process as well. So it's a really engaging and really awesome project that we have running.
BN: I think, Jac, if I can jump in there. I think one of the things that's been really successful here has been, we started looking in that high potential gifted education space because it was a space that everyone had identified they wanted to improve. But where it has then branched out to is providing opportunities across the board. So for students who have a real tilt in sport, the access to some of the programs that the sports academy we've started to grow, like some of those things are in their infancy at the moment, but we're starting to find those opportunities to connect. Our band program where we had a combined band and we had over 90 students, like that that wouldn't be possible in some of our smaller primary schools, to create that big band sound and to have expert tuition. So it's not just sort of that academic HPGE [High Potential and Gifted Education] side of things.
JH: It's really the social emotional. We have our SRC [Student Representative Council] leaders. So we have leaders from the high school that have come over and actually been part of the SRC induction with the primary schools as well and fostering and actually helping run their assemblies as well. So not only are the primary schools benefiting from this, but the high school students have also partaken in avenues where they can really develop their leadership skills and help them out with their journey, where they are in that in the high school development as well.
BN: I think it's really important for us to call out as well, that while we seem to be talking a lot about the HPGE space, what we do know and what we know the research tells us is what's good for the students who are identified in that HPGE space, the practices that go behind that and the professional learning for our colleagues that goes behind that is actually great for all kids. So we are making sure that, yes, we've got these opportunities that are ticking along here, but that's starting to feedback into some of the ways that teachers are doing things within the classroom with their own kids and opportunities to explore and connect with colleagues around that best practice for all kids.
So I don't want your listeners to think that this is just a HPGE project – we talk a little bit about probably more about some of the initiatives we've done in that space because they're the ones that are a little bit more grounded in and have a few more runs on the board, I guess. But what's coming from there is a branch out into some of the other spaces that are not HPGE-specific.
JH: One of the biggest spaces as well, that has been really successful, is in the wellbeing and transition space. So we've met up with key personnel from each of the schools. So we have Deputy Principals from over at Narrabeen Sports High School, the Head Teacher Wellbeing, Head Teacher Secondary Studies (myself) comes over to this, the deputies from the primary schools, the year 6 teachers and the year 7 teachers from over at the high school, they come together, and they discuss the students that will be coming across. So we discuss all of the different things – if they're in need of extra learning support, if there's cases of wellbeing that we need to be across, we already have that information. And so we can really set up the successful pathways for them to transition across and know what's best for those individual students.
BN: Can I add to that too, Jac, that I think those type of practices would be – your listeners would be going, ‘yeah, that probably happens in our in our high schools, they would normally contact’. I think what we've seen here is that the teachers now know each other. It's not a person on the other end of an email. It is not just a phone call and we have to go through a process. The teachers are actually becoming very familiar with each other. So when one of my year 6 teachers here at Narrabeen North says, ‘who's the best person to get in contact with to discuss XYZ’, I would say ‘right, you need to speak to this person, this person, this person over at the high school, they'll be able to talk about what opportunities are available for that student’. Doesn't matter whether they're in a learning support space or whether they're, you know, mid-range, middle of the road standard, you know student or one of our enrichment students that have been identified for extension, the teachers are able to pick up the phone and actually say ‘hi, Jacqueline (for example) you know how we've got so and so coming across…’ there's a genuine connection there now between our staff. It's not a mystery as to who you're going to be speaking to. That has been one of the powerful things…
JH: I agree. And also just breaking down the communication between those teachers as well, so often you do work in a bit of silos, especially the primary schools and the high school and everything. So, we know the programs that we're running, and the primary schools are definitely running programs, as we said the schools are individual and they have their own programs that they run and everything. But actually realising how similar we are in in different ways and how we all have the same goals and same purpose and that we want to support our students.
And so when we start to collaborate and we start to communicate with each other, we start to break down those barriers of just ‘okay, so what's the primary school doing here?’ What can we also do that's working? That perhaps we can really extend or spend more time on to transition them over to the high school?’ And vice versa or ‘what are some important things that perhaps the parents would like to know?’ That the high school can provide that information to those primary schools so that they can have those conversations with the year 6 parents and answer any of those questions as well. So things like that have come out of those meetings that we have with the different various teams that we have in the NEST. And those have been really powerful for not only I think the students, because they've been better supported, our teachers have a better communication pathway and link between each of the schools, but also our parents feel more connected, and they feel like they know what's going on and it helps to alleviate any anxieties that they might have as well.
DR: That was a question that I was just about to ask you, about whether the teacher collaboration comes about through explicit meetings, and you've just said that there are some teacher meetings that occur, whether it's kind of just a natural built-in element to the program that you just collaborate because that's just how you work in this way. So can you tell me a little bit more about what it looks like for the teacher end and how you are able to keep up such constant communication and build such close relationships with each other?
BN: I'll attempt to answer that with a caveat at the beginning, saying that this project, it's really in its early stages, so when you are looking for an impact or something where we're looking for, you know, a 3- to 5-year growth. And so we've had to go through some iterations of this. Nothing is ever, you know, first go, ‘Wow, everyone's collaborating and working together’. I don't want your listeners to think we're just living in a bit of a panacea, I guess.
It started with a lot of listening and it started with trying to understand what teachers, so the people at the coalface, wanted to actually see in a project such as this. And as you will find in every environment you've got, your people who jump straight on board, who are like, ‘this is the best thing ever, I can't wait to be involved’, you know, ‘give me all the things’ through to those that are going, you know, we're living through a teacher shortage crisis, right, so, ‘I've got enough on my plate, this is another thing I just can't see my way clear to be part of this at the moment.’
And our answer to both ends of that spectrum was that is really great and that is fine. It is okay to be involved and it is okay to take a step back because we need people that want to be involved, to have the enough rope to be able to do so, but we don't want a project such as this to burnout teachers as well.
So the involvement and the collaboration started with – it's opt-in, if you want to be involved, you're involved; here are the opportunities to be involved. And the initiative teams that came out of that came from the interest. It came from running lots of surveys, finding out where people wanted to actually see themselves, what was going to make an impact for kids. That's always coming back to what is important for us. And we wanted to make sure that it wasn't going to be lots and lots of extra time on top of what they were already doing. We know that as soon as it becomes on top of, you lose people. They will just go, ‘this isn't something I can do’.
So in the initial stages we bought lots of time. The principals really invested in this. They bought professional learning time in primary schools. We've got regular meetings, professional learning meetings after school – high schools look a little bit different; they still have them, but they're scheduled differently. We had to do things such as aligning our professional learning schedules, having it so that people then had bought (I said bought time in inverted commas) because they needed, I think, to feel that their time was valued and that this was going to be something that was embedded into what we're doing and was going to be seen as valuable ongoingly by buying time and that I think has a lot of impact for people.
From there the collaboration between the teachers evolved. They had to meet each other to start with. I remember the very first meeting that we had. We put anyone who was interested, we’d filled out surveys and we knew kind of the areas and the teams they wanted to be involved with, we put them all in one room and we basically just introduced them to each other and went ‘get to know each other’. You know, we work in such close proximity. They don't call us the ‘insular peninsula’ for nothing up here on the northern beaches because we would be familiar, I guess, with who each other might be. We would be familiar with the schools, but the faces within the school and the people that are making the things happen, we probably wouldn't have had that information so deeply to start with. I mean Narrabeen North and Narrabeen Sports, yes, to a degree, because the project had already had some legs in the early years. But certainly not Elanora Heights or Narrabeen Lakes. So there wasn't that connection. So I remember that first meeting really clearly and the chatter that was in the room, if I could have bottled and sold the excitement and the energy…
JH: Yeah. It was really exciting.
BN: …We would be really rich, because people just had so many ideas and we were using some clarity tools, I guess, some of Simon Breakspear’s work, to help narrow down, because what people do when they get excited about something is we just said put every big idea on the table. The sky is the limit at this point. What would you like to achieve? And let’s then work back from there. We tried not to put a limit on the enthusiasm and the creativity so that we could then align where the commonalities were, what we're going to be the big ticket ideas, what we're going to be the things that could really see a good impact in a short amount of time to start with so that we could keep building on that excitement.
What's happened over the last couple of years (probably the last 12 months or so) the initiatives which – and this is this is just natural, right, natural attritions – the initiatives that didn't have a lot of teeth or a lot of skin in the game, I guess, were the ones that naturally kind of took a backseat. That's not to say that the teachers involved aren't still interested and aren’t still passionate, but the energies had to go more into the things that were going to make an impact sooner.
JH: That were gaining traction.
BH: Yeah. …That said, we combined we had a really great big, long twilight session with the 3 primary schools that was done via Zoom. Even though we're close to each other, trying to fit 400 people into one space can be difficult, across our staff. That’s probably about how many staff there would be across the 4 schools. So we really had to make sure that we had leveraged technology to be our best friend, and it allowed us to explain to staff who perhaps hadn't been involved in what was actually going on behind the scenes.
And I remember that that PL as well, that was this year.
BN: People came away from it going, ‘I didn't realise that this is what we've been going on’. So when someone like, you might have heard of Steven Dinham from Melbourne Uni, he talks about, you know, get on the bus, right? We get on the bus, and we get going and we make things happen and you know, those will either get on or they won't. But we needed to illuminate everyone as to what was actually going on. And then that excitement ramped up again when we're able to share again what was going on, how teams were collaborating.
And I think the most powerful part of that was seeing there were people from across each of those schools…
JH: And they were presenting.
BN: They were presenting. It wasn't the Bel and Jacqui show. It wasn't the principals; it was the people on the ground who had got their teeth into something and were really seeing what could be possible with this.
JH: Yeah. And I think that that is where we actually showcased the passion and the dedication of those teachers and the different groups. So from the collaboration and the PL and the professional learning that what they have done to talk about going narrow and deep and the why of why we should be collaborating all of this, seeing the impact of that and seeing these individual teachers and groups of teachers running with something, having success with it and just the smiles on their faces as they're showcasing what they've done, that was really awesome for all of the schools to really realise that this is happening and to congratulate those staff members for their passion and for really just making school a better place.
So that was really powerful to be a part of that and to come away from that and yeah, so just putting a face to the names as well. You often hear these names, but you don't actually get to really see them. So yeah, it was awesome.
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DR: And so while we’re talking about the staff collaboration specifically, and to pick you up on something that you said just earlier, Belinda. I wanted to know if this collaboration, is it helping at all? Are you guys experiencing a teacher shortage in your area and is this partnership – could you see it in the future being of benefit to facilitating any staffing needs or is that kind of something quite separate still?
BN: I'd love to be able to say yes, I'd love to be able to say a resounding yes, but I can't, because each of the schools is suffering their own teacher shortage. Like, a high school teacher shortage looks a bit different to a primary school teacher shortage. What I can say is that we have been able to lean on each other and share some staff. So I've got a couple of examples where our SLSO's [School Learning Support Officer] – so we might have teacher shortage, but actually our support staff are really important as well. And we were having shortage of support staff and we were able to connect with the high school and have them share some great SLSOs with us so that we have students who will be familiar with an SLSO also when they go to the high school. Again, that support looks a little bit different in high schools and what does to primary, but we were able to tap into some of the resources that the high school have to be able to have – we inherited a couple of really great SLSOs who came and worked in our primary setting. That was really powerful.
We’ve also been able to support, what we call a staff movement as well. So we had a teacher from one of the primary schools who had been in that primary school for a little while, was really keen for a new experience, the principal of that primary school spoke to the principal of this primary school. And they said, ‘well, actually I've got an opportunity here. We have a year 6 teacher space’. So that teacher did a staff movement to our school and was able to broaden his experience. Because while we are very close to each other, the 3 primary schools, they're very different in their context, I guess, the experiences that you would have at each of those schools. So Narrabeen North with over 700 students, our environment looks a lot different to what Narrabeen Lakes would, and so that teacher was able to come across and he's been part of the team this year here, and I was just talking to him yesterday about the experience he's had and how grateful he's been for that experience to broaden his horizons. To know what it is to be in a small school, to come into a bigger school and his own professional growth has been huge.
I think the other way, where the teacher shortage, where we've probably leveraged that again, is through our APC&Is [Assistant Principal, Curriculum and Instruction]. So the 3 APC&Is from 3 primary schools – and this is again a probably a little more primary specific than high school, but it's where we have used the NEST to our advantage to go ‘not everything is going to apply to everyone within the NEST all the time. Let's not do things for the sake of doing things. Let's make them really purposeful’ – so our APC&Is have actually collaborated around the new curriculum and worked together to produce learning that looks a little bit similar across the 3 schools, but then contextualised, shared their knowledge and understanding.
One of the PL sessions that we did had the 3 primary schools divvy up into their stage groups and then go and do professional learning with one of the APC&Is from each of those primary schools. So they could actually collaborate with their stage 3 or their stage 2, or their early stage 1 colleagues. Where in a small school, there might only be 2 or 3 of you in a stage. In a school such as Narrabeen North, there's a lot more of us. Put us all together, they're now sharing experiences across the board. So that was a really powerful way of using what we have without having to bring in lots of other experts that aren't – we’re using the expertise that we have within the school and not having to send out for it, which we also know makes a really, really big impact, is that ingrained teacher knowledge.
So while, no, to answer your question more succinctly, I wouldn't say we have had a big impact around the teacher shortage question. I think that is just so widespread across the board, but I think we've been able to be smart about how we have identified what we're doing within our own schools to lean into that space first before having to go external, pay money for it, to bring in a big expert in, we've been able to really leverage the people that we have and value the people that we have. Because that has been probably one of the biggest myth busting, is knowing that within the 3 primary schools and the high school we have phenomenal expertise.
JH: Phenomenal expertise and interest and passion. Some of the feedback from those professional learnings that we've done have just been overwhelmingly positive, where they've really seen the benefit of it, because they can see practical, instant ways to impact and to improve their own teaching and learning in their own classrooms from having those teacher mentors from across the schools, different areas where you just naturally someone, they know a little bit more in that area and so they can share that. It's just that that's really been helpful and that's been a really big, huge positive for a lot of our staff.
DR: So for teachers and school leaders who are listening to this episode who are thinking that something like this could be really impactful in their own community, do you have any words of advice or any top tips for them for getting started?
BN: I think we do. We've learned a lot over the last couple of years, so we've got probably some key thoughts around, if someone wanted to get started on something like this, is to, one, start small. It can be really easy to get very, very excited and to see every opportunity as an opportunity and to make sure that we come back to what is going to make a difference, what is going to be sustainable in the long term as well.
JH: There’s been a lot of revisions, a lot of rapid action plans through professional learning and coming together and meeting and prioritising and taking the 20 different ideas and then filing them down to maybe 3 and going with that. So making sure that it's not just everything, it's actually picking what's going to have the biggest impact and what's going to get the traction as well.
BN: And making sure that it is evidence-informed as well. So we're not going with a gut feel, we're not going with, ‘we think it'd be nice’. We're going back to what was the grounding that started – something I haven't mentioned that I'd like to, is the research that we use to get this started. And so we use the research of deep learning from Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn and Joanne McEachern. And there is a coherence framework in that that looks at focusing direction, cultivating collaborative cultures, deepening learning, and securing accountability. So when we were getting this started, those 4 powerhouses of the coherence framework is what we kept coming back to. Is this focused? Are we actually developing a collaborative culture with this? Are we deepening learning for students and teachers, and how do we know that we're having an impact? How are we securing that accountability to make sure that we are making the hard decisions about what is going to stick and why? And that has been our grounding, I guess, is to keep coming back into that research. And we've quoted probably a few different people over the courses that have had an impact on this. But Simon Breakspear’s work, again, that narrow and deep, go into this, you know, focus on one thing, do it well. Let go of what's not working for you. Review. Reflect. Go again.
The other thing that we’d probably really like to call out is, I've mentioned it previously, but I really want to throw it out there, with the buy people and time. This project and this initiative would not happen without the principals and their commitment to it. So if this is OK, I would really like to call them out by name because (and the DEL who was involved in this as well) because they provided startup funds, they paid salaries of having a dedicated person off class – so that was my job initially was to be off class to focus on this. I didn't have other responsibilities within the school. They really invested in it, and we wouldn't be this far down the track with it if they hadn't invested in those people. And then when I stepped into this role, Jacqui, we had to start diversifying the leadership as well to make it sustainable. So Jacqui took on part of it and we've had other leadership.
So I really want to call out Adam Hughes, principal Narrabeen North Public School; Lisa Phillips, the principal of Elanora Heights Public School; Rob Zappia, principal of Narrabeen Lakes Public School, Heidi Curry, principal of Narrabeen Sports High School, and Andrew Stevenson, who is our Director of Educational Leadership for the Pittwater Network. So that, without their investment, money, time, resources, letting us have our head as well. I think that the freedom to give it a go.
JH: Also, celebrating in the successes. So when we have parent showcases and the students are showcasing what they've been learning about the principals, all 4 of them are always there. They're invested in just as much as our teachers. They show themselves. They show up for our students and that's been really, really positive. So they know that they're interested in what's happening. And they know that it doesn't stop at the primary school gates. It continues on and the principals are part of that journey just as much as the teachers are.
BN: I think that's, Jacqui, I think that's a really key example of that. Again, I'm a bit of a research nerd, I keep coming back to it because I know that's what is making an impact, you know, evidence-informed practice. We know and the research tells us that when principles are involved, we see bigger impacts (I think that's some of Hattie’s research). And principal as a lead learner is one of the parameters of Sharratt’s research as well. And our principals lead by doing which, by them doing that it allows us to do what we do, and they have. I don't want to sound like I am, you know, being over the top with it, but you get principals who can be micromanagers and they just want to control the whole lot. And these guys haven't done that. They have really allowed big ideas, big thoughts, thinking outside the box, funding where funding is needed to make this happen.
Now obviously that then needs to take its own teeth. It needs to become sustainable. We need to have that priority still, like they've written it all into their SIPs [Strategic Improvement Plan]. There's a goal in there within the Strategic Improvement Plan for each of the primary schools. We're accountable to it. We have to, you know, make sure that we are continuing to make gains, but it's becoming, because of what they've allowed us to do, it’s becoming part of what we do and it's part of the fabric of each of our schools as opposed to something that's just placed on top.
It's not perfect. There are things that we are still working on and refining and doing again and dropping and you know adding et cetera, et cetera. But as long as that review process is there, as long as the focus is there, and it is a priority for principals and for schools and for the DEL – like to have the DEL’s support has been invaluable – then this will continue to be a success we believe. If we, as a senior leadership team I guess, take our foot off the pedal and go ‘this is an important to us anymore’, very quickly it will fall away, so it has to remain a priority.
The last thing I want to call out is not everyone will want in to start with and this is okay. If your listeners who are thinking this is okay and I would like to have a go at doing something similar to this, I can't stress enough that it is okay to start small. It is okay to start with those that are interested and to grow it from there. I think the moment you make something like this compulsory to start with and you force people into something that isn't really their tilt, then it will just lose traction. I think that was some of the understandings that we had. Jacqui can probably talk a little bit more from the high school experience from that, but primary schools, again, and high schools, they're different beasts and different priorities. And the way that we work is a little bit different. So we've had to find some of that middle ground.
JH: Yeah. And I think that by being more exposed and speaking to other staff members and whatnot, it has actually gained, a lot of staff, have gained confidence through that process as well. So ones that perhaps were initially a bit sceptical and didn't really know if they wanted to be a part of it or whatnot, they would come across and just be a part of conversations and from that they could really speak to each other, become each other's mentors for each other, and grow their confidence that way as well. So it's not always going to be an immediate buy-in from all staff, and nor should it be, but it gains traction, and the more that we celebrate the successes and the more that we trust our colleagues and staff to follow their passions and follow their ideas and yeah, find ways to make it all happen and build that together. So it's really creating that holistic shared vision for education across the schools.
BN: I know I said one more thing, but I have one more thing. The final point, final, final point, I promise, is look at what already exists within your schools. We conducted a situational analysis at the very beginning of the project, and we spent a lot of time, a lot of time talking with the stakeholders. The people had to make the things happen in each school before we launched anything at all. We did tasks such as a SWOT analysis and Even Better If, sort out roadblocks and really tried to prepare for them before we got too far down this path. Listening to people was incredibly important because projects happen in schools all the time. There's always something new that happens. We got a little bit of, ‘oh, well, you know, we've seen this before. This has happened before. Never nothing ever happened. This will just die too.’ So we had to really face those head on and go, ‘what didn't work last time. What didn't work the last time you tried to do a collaborative project with another school?’ So we could come around it at from a different way and that that helped as well.
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Are you currently getting ready to launch a new initiative in your school? Have you considered what didn’t work last time you implemented an initiative? Have you spent time listening to your colleagues and answering their questions?
Think about the schools in your local community. With a colleague, or on your own, reflect on your current relationship with these schools and whether or not there are any new opportunities you could explore in order to improve student outcomes. What steps could you take to explore these opportunities?