Principally Speaking: ELTHAM College

Simon Le Plastrier, Principal at ELTHAM College, speaks to WhichSchool? Magazine about how the school fosters creativity to allow student learn without fear of failure.

What is the School’s philosophy and how does it guide you and your staff?

At ELTHAM, we are committed to providing experiences that respond to the intellectual and personal diversity of our students while creating spaces and opportunities for collaborative learning. Our young people are encouraged to see life as a chance for unlimited learning, while we have the privilege of helping to grow the hearts and minds of the next generation.

How does the School differ from other schools?

School should be seen as a daring adventure where children learn to think for themselves in preparation for a future of exciting possibilities. We foster creativity and risk – to allow young people to learn without fear of failure. We also develop problem-solving skills to build confidence and encourage positive actions and a ‘can do’ attitude. All of this combines to ensure that each ELTHAM graduate leaves the College with the skills, knowledge and determination to succeed in the changing world.

What is the history of the school?

ELTHAM was conceived in 1973 as a new concept in independent, coeducational schooling. It was founded by a dynamic group of community members who were seeking schooling for their children that would look beyond average educational practice to education that fostered the talents, confidence, initiative and passion for learning in every individual.

Our location in the Nillumbik Shire, northeast of Melbourne, is no accident. Historically, this district has inspired free thought and innovation. For years, artists, writers and intellectuals have been drawn to Nillumbik as a centre for inspiration. The notion of ELTHAM as one of Australia’s few truly independent schools was founded within this creative culture.

In what ways has the school evolved since it was established?

ELTHAM College has evolved into a school that celebrates authentic learning experiences. This is facilitated by facilities such as the Junior School Bush Discovery program, Year 3/4 History Centre, Hospitality Centre program, Year 9 City Experience, the Analytical Chemistry suite, our Deep Space Observatory, Screen film making course and the newly developed Amplify program.

How do you provide support and leadership to your staff?

The ELTHAM staff are supported by a leadership team that focuses on enhancing their professional learning, building their capacity to operate in a contemporary learning environment and ensuring a supportive, positive and warm collegial learning community.

How do you encourage wellbeing among your staff and students?

ELTHAM has reviewed its pastoral care model for students and has developed a Social and Emotional model which is reflective of the evolving demands on young people and adults. This model is reinforced by the Director of People and Culture who is working with our staff to ensure their wellbeing is being further supported.

What role do you play in the day-to-day activities of your students?

At ELTHAM we feel it is important the Principal teaches. I currently teach an introduction to philosophy as an elective. I meet with the College student leaders on a weekly basis and attend, where possible, all student functions such as sporting events, productions, camps etc.  This allows me to get to know the students on a personal basis.

What has been your most memorable moment either as a teacher or specifically in the role of principal?

The most significant moment for me as a Principal occurs at the Valedictory Dinner each year as we see our young people graduate as confident and empowered. It confirms the support we have provided students in their time at the school.

What are your feelings about NAPLAN and its effectiveness?

NAPLAN has its place in the school environment as a good diagnostic tool for teachers, although the emphasis placed on it as a way of measuring a school is unrealistic and does not take into consideration the other aspects of student growth.

What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?

The world has changed a great deal over recent years, not only as a result of COVID. The complex contemporary work place, the 24/7 news cycle and over simplification of social issues means an effective and successful educational leader needs to develop a school which builds capacity in students to adapt to the world they will enter. An ability to be agile, understand the fluid nature of the 21st century learner and a capacity to communicate strong and consistent values is essential in an educational leader.

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