Principally Speaking: St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar School

Principal at St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar School, Ms Annette Rome, talks to WhichSchool Magazine about how high quality teaching and learning is helping to prepare its students for whatever the future may hold.

How does the school’s philosophy and ethos guide it today?
St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar has a co-educational Junior School and separate boys and girls campuses for the senior years. The boys’ school is the only single sex non-denominational boys’ school in Melbourne. As Principal, I am one of the very few female principals of a boys’ school in Australia.

Everything we do at St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar School is actioned through our revised values of courage to do the right thing, curiosity to know and learn, character to be one’s true self and respect to live wisely and compassionately with others and the planet. We use these values to frame everything from HR processes to curriculum design and I am so proud of the fact that our journey to the revised values and new strategic plan involved input from all members of our community. The new strategic plan was one of the key actions in my first year as Principal in 2017 and its development was a terrific way to get to know the broader community.

In what ways has the school evolved or changed during your time as principal?
In the last 18 months we have established the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. This Centre links staff professional learning to research. The director is increasingly forging links with universities and industry to contribute to the body of knowledge that defines excellent practice. The Centre was established to focus solely on growing the capacity of the teachers. Teaching quality is the biggest in-school factor that affects the outcomes for students and the devotion of resources and people to this space reflects the importance the school places on the teachers. Class sizes, particularly in the Senior Schools are very small which permits the intense personalisation of programs and courses and the maximisation of feedback to students – a recognised component of academic and social/emotional progress.

The Centre, along with the School’s Victorian School For the Performing Arts hosts the Unicorn Series where the broader community, academics, students and parents are brought together to discuss topics such as ‘What makes a good Teacher’ and ‘Happy to Learn, Learning to be Happy: well-being and learning’. This series has prompted a regular appearance on local Casey Radio to make educational discussions informative and accessible to the broader public. Topics for 2019 include ‘Flourishing or Floundering: The challenges and opportunities for young people in the online world’ and ‘Growing Good Men: Equipping boys with the emotional literacy to thrive in the 21st century’.

The school has also established the Certificate of Global Responsibility, launched in 2018. It was developed by students, staff and academics from The University of Melbourne, Asia Education Foundation, and teachers from around the world. A key challenge for the development of this certificate is that we aim to provide opportunities to every member of the school community to access this certificate – not just those that may have the opportunity to immerse themselves in other countries through travel and work. The intention is also to move beyond the ‘Fs’ that many schools use. By referencing activities that prompt thinking beyond the food, fashion, festivals, famous people, flags and fundraising we are hoping to work to expand mindsets and worldviews of young people. We know that 80% of Australian graduates will live and work overseas so I believe this is a moral imperative to assist our students in this way. This complements the work the school is doing in refining its Reconciliation Action Plan and engaging with Australia’s First Peoples.

Can you describe any specific ways in which the digital era is impacting the education sector?
In 2017, an inaugural School/Industry Cybersecurity event featured Steven Merrill, a cybersecurity expert educator from the USA at the school. Some of the first teachers in Australia to be appointed Cyber Teachers have resulted from this program, including at our school. The school also linked to SINET 61 in 2018 and is forming increasingly strong links with the world of cybersecurity – a space where 1.5 million jobs are predicted to exist within the next two years.

In August 2018, the school hosted the Day of STEM Festival. Over two days, industry representatives, tertiary providers and school students interacted and exchanged ideas. This event referenced the moral purpose for all scientific and other human endeavours. Matters of truth, global connectedness, interdependence, sustainability and knowledge were explored with representatives from The University of Melbourne, Monash, Deakin, Holmesglen, Actura, Motorola, Telstra, EWT, Australian College of Educators, Geography Teachers Association of Victoria, GHD Engineering, and the Life Journey Organisation. Future projects include working on STEM and cross-cultural competence.

How do you provide support and leadership to your staff?
The school actively supports the opportunities for its leaders to fly. The Head of the Boys School, Dr Steven Middleton, has introduced a ground breaking ‘Growing Good Men’ project that focusses on the capacity of young males to know themselves, work together and respect all – resisting the pressures of toxic masculinity that can negatively influence young males. This has prompted extensive coverage on social and other media and started a conversation across gender and generational lines. Other staff have been supported to speak at national and international events; and through the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, a group of St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar teachers worked in September with principals and teachers in China to develop pedagogy (teaching), school leadership and STEM classroom approaches.

How does St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar School differ from other schools?
In 2019 the school is excited to be working with interested students to obtain their drone licences and recreational pilot’s licences. This is all part of the intention to ready our young people to take on the world and make a difference. We are also moving to a strengthened vertical House system to accommodate the three pillars of wellbeing – strong identity, strong relationships and feeling part of a community. The strengthened House system will also allow us to permit the increased involvement in service learning for our community. Compassion and respect for others has been a driver for the school for the best part of 100 years and our involvement in multiple local, national and international activities teaches young people that they can make a difference.

All this is on top of the provision of what we believe is a well-balanced, relevant and highly academic program that continues to see our students achieve great things at school, in early years, junior and middle years, VCE, at university and beyond. The completion of the PYP Evaluation cemented us as one of the world’s best International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program Schools, an achievement for which we are very proud. Continued focus on and excellence in the STEM and Music areas in particular, are what I believe are areas of notable strength and ones that the girls and boys thoroughly excel both in terms of participation and achievement.

What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?
As Principal, I have continued to work with the Principals Australia Institute, and now the Australian Council for Educational Research to refine the Principal Certification process that certified the first principals in 2018. As a previous President of the Australian College of Educators (Vic) I have also had the honour of supporting new teachers through presentations and individual mentoring on a voluntary basis. I am also currently working on a PhD exploring ways to teach international mindedness. I was chuffed to be noted on the 2018 Educators Hot List. All this however means little unless the community feels supported and challenged to grow both as people and learners. I think we are blessed that our community is small enough to all know each other and big enough to allow individuals to chart their own course. As one of the oldest schools in Australia, we have a responsibility to honour the past and look to the future so that all with whom we are connected can flourish.

In summary, at St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar we aim every day to live our Vision of being the best people we can be for all humanity and the planet.

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