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May 1, 2008
Vol. 65
No. 8

Special Topic / Australian Snapshots

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Educators around the world may use different terminology and work within different systems, but we share many common goals and concerns. ASCD and the Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) are two organizations that promote communication among educators from different countries, thereby creating a worldwide community of learners. In October 2007, a team of ASCD board and staff members attended the ACEL Conference in Sydney, Australia, to see what we could learn from each other.
Peter Senge, one of the keynote speakers, challenged us to think about the process of change in education. Can the impetus for change come from within schools, or does it require external pressure from the public or politicians? Members of the ASCD team had an opportunity to explore that question when we visited several schools in Queensland and New South Wales.

Djarragun College

Expressions of pride and confidence were evident on the faces of students at Djarragun College, from kindergarten children to students in the upper grades. Also evident was the trust that students and faculty had in one another.
Djarragun College is an independent Christian coeducational boarding and day school in Gordonvale, Queensland.Founded in 2001 and largely funded by federal government grants, the school began as a vocational school for middle grade students. The student body now includes about 470 students from preschool through grade 12. The school's mission is to serve indigenous Australians, and about 95 percent of the students are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
We were told that many come from difficult home environments that suffer from the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, which are endemic to many indigenous communities. Joblessness and high incarceration rates in these communities have also contributed to the deterioration of family life. Although few parents are involved in school activities, families are required to make some minimal financial contribution.
Djarragun College welcomes visitors from around Australia and the world and provides students with opportunities for interaction with non-indigenous people. The faculty is intentionally diverse, both ethnically and culturally, and committed to giving students a multicultural perspective. The needs of students continually guide the school's actions, from developing an effective antibullying program, to establishing small student-run businesses, to expanding vocational programs in response to student interests.
Our conversations with teachers revealed their belief that continual reinvention is essential. Faculty members assume responsibility for developing the whole child—intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, and ethically. They are active and persistent in their focus on developing trusting relationships with each student.

Loreto Normanhurst

We were struck by the lively self-assurance, interest, and openness of Loreto Normanhurst students. As final-year students displayed their community-service projects and described their research and results, they eagerly asked others for their opinions and reactions to their work.
Loreto Normanhurst is a Catholic day and boarding school for girls located on a large campus in a suburb of Sydney. It serves 900 students, including 180 boarders, in grades 7–12. Both the student body and the faculty are fairly homogeneous. The school is largely funded by school fees and fund-raising, although it receives some federal funds. It was established in 1897 and has a long-standing reputation for excellence in student achievement.
The students' obvious sense of ownership of their learning may be partly a result of the student-centered approach articulated by staff members, who commented that they "teach what the girls want, not what we think they want."
The school's holistic approach is built around the FACE curriculum (Faith, Academics, Community, and Extracurricular). Since 2004, students and parents have worked with school staff to develop Student Growth Plans for each student, encompassing spiritual, academic, emotional, and social growth. The plans are monitored through regular and frequent one-on-one meetings with an advisor and further enhanced by assigning students to academic teams of eight teachers who work with the advisor to incorporate the individual student's goals into academic studies.
Loreto Normanhurst operates with a shared leadership model and has embraced a process for ongoing reinvention, not an easy accomplishment in a setting that has well-established traditions. The staff told us that although they seek input from parents and alumni, the change process is driven from within. In 2006, Loreto Normanhurst was recognized as one of the top 10 innovative schools in Australia.

Belmore South Public Primary School

At Belmore South, teachers use interactive whiteboard technology to involve students in language and to enable the diverse student body to interact effectively. The staff's mantra for students is "Do it! Talk it! Write it! Read it!"
Located in Sydney, Belmore is one of Australia's most ethnically diverse suburbs. The school reflects that diversity: Almost 93 percent of the students are from non-English-speaking backgrounds. The school is public and coeducational, serving about 420 students in grades K–6.
As in the other two schools, ongoing reinvention is a commitment among the faculty and staff. In 1998, the school won the National Literacy Award for its balanced, innovative, and creative literacy program, which has significantly improved student outcomes. It has been recognized as a National Quality School and most recently won an Australian Quality Teaching Program Grant to continue to develop uses of technology.
During our visit, we observed learning, teaching, and technology consistently and fluently interwoven in classrooms, enabling groups of students to work together effectively and efficiently. Students have designed and developed their own games, and the school is a pilot site for the New South Wales Department of Education's Game2Learn project. Class blogs are regularly updated, incorporating writing and photography. Group work is a central strategy of the school, helping students develop tolerance, responsibility, and respect. Experienced teachers conduct regular professional development experiences, and mentors help new teachers learn the technology and group learning processes that the school uses. The principal is an active advocate, providing the time, training, and tools that teachers need.
The approach to learning at Belmore South is broad and varied and recognizes the challenges of creating relevance for a diverse group of students. The approach also focuses on the literacy imperative for these particular students and is organized to support their needs.

Learning Communities

Our brief experience in these three Australian schools suggested that the change process depends less on external factors from the public or politics than on the quality of shared leadership within the school community. Each school has made a commitment to ongoing reinvention and has established a learning community to support that change process.
In a world brought closer by travel, technology, and shared information, educators have much to learn from one another. The ASCD board and staff were fortunate to spend time in three extra-ordinary schools that are responding actively and positively to different sets of challenges.
End Notes

1 About 33 percent of Australian students attend nongovernmental schools: 20 percent attend Catholic schools, and 13 percent attend other independent schools. The federal government provides some funding that follows those students. Government schools, serving about 67 percent of students, are funded by each state or territory with some additional support from the federal government.

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