Changing the game: a school at the beginning of its high expectations-relationship journey

After completing the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program, I obtained a grant to implement SSLP work within a new school structure at Wanniassa School, Tuggeranong, ACT – a school with 11% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, one of the largest populations in Canberra schools.

This work, based on high expectations with high support, was linked with the Big Picture Education design principles (personalised, relevant, real-world learning with a career-ready focus) and Accelerated Literacy (best practice literacy support in Aboriginal education). I implemented this framework across English and HASS and “homegroup” classes within the Year 8 cohort.

Within one semester, the percentage of students achieving at C standard or above in English moved from 67% to 88% and in HASS from 63% up to 80%. In addition, the percentage of students attending at least 90% of the time (the recommended target in the research) rose from 65% to 83%. Significantly, the Aboriginal students within the cohort showed the most marked improvement, with one boy in particular improving attendance from a 74% average in 2015 (his worst term was 63%) to a 91% average in 2016 (his best term was 100%). Another girl had moved from 34%-89% attendance in 2015 when we piloted this program in one class. She maintained the attendance of 80-90% in 2016.

Our Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander students can achieve outstanding results

Moving to a new school in 2017, my principal, Kerrie Heath and I, were alarmed at the number of Aboriginal students disengaged from classes. Within the context of a school restructure commencing in Semester 2, I assumed two complementary roles – coaching across the school on differentiation to meet all students’ needs and setting up a Centre for Excellence for our Aboriginal students. Drawing upon the previous recipe of SSLP, Big Picture-inspired programs and Accelerated Literacy, Kerrie and I brought 8 ways pedagogy into the mix and are in the process of implementing a new education model incorporating these frameworks and pedagogies. Two beginning teachers of Aboriginal heritage have been recruited for the centre.

We hope to demonstrate to staff across Campbell High School (a 7-10 school), and more broadly across the Education Directorate, that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can achieve outstanding results with a culturally responsive, relevant, engaging and appropriately scaffolded curriculum. Our main goal is to challenge and extend our students so that they graduate Year 10 with a clear career pathway in mind and, ideally, with some work experience and industry mentors already under their belts. We hope to empower staff to learn strategies and alternative teaching methods from observations in the centre that they can implement in their classrooms. Ultimately, we dream of a day when such a Centre is no longer necessary because all teachers are supported to meet all students’ needs in all classrooms across the school.