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Communication is secret weapon for this agent of change

Principal Stacey Quince is revolutionising learning in a bid to ensure her students leave school ready for the real world.

Stacey Quince

No simple task: Stacey Quince is working to make every one of her 1,100 students known, valued and cared for.

When a 2017 survey of Stage 4 students at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School revealed a significant number could not name a teacher who knew them well, both as a young person and as learner, principal Stacey Quince knew that something had to change.

Fast forward 18 months after some revolutionary changes in classroom structure and the feedback was dramatically different.

“Every single student [interviewed] indicated at least three teachers who knew them as a young person and a learner,” Ms Quince said.

The turnaround was the result of changes instituted at the start of the 2018 school year that cast aside the traditional class-based approach and instead grouped Year 7 students in “villages” of 60-odd students, each supported by three teachers.

Central to the change was a focus on welfare with each student having a daily meeting with a learning advisor who supported their wellbeing, helped them set personalised learning goals and guided them through their studies.

Ms Quince, described as having a “reputation as a real change agent” by Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott in the latest Every Student Podcast, said the new system was the result of extensive consultation and research.

“We are deeply invested in rethinking the very purpose of education and the changes we have made have really been based on research we’re engaged in at a global level and also research we have undertaken at the school over years in partnership with Western Sydney University,” she said.

“We know to thrive beyond school [students] will need different skills – they are going to need to collaborate really effectively, they are going to need to be critical thinkers and they are going to need to be ethical in their decision making … so we’ve really thought about what are the key principles that makes students deeply engaged with learning that matters to them and is connected to the world beyond school.”

Ms Quince said the new approach was not just change for change’s sake: “We had to understand our school context really well, identify what the challenges are and develop a case for change.”

She said the success of the initiatives was founded on extensive consultation.

While this meant trusting teachers and allowing them to have a voice in what reform would look like, “the other key players for us have been students and the community”.

Students had been part of focus groups and surveys and were invited to critique ideas, while parents were given a voice through discussion groups.

“We don’t just run an information session and say this is what we’ve done; we bring parents into the process,” she said.

By example the school recently hosted 250 community members in the hall and broke into 30 discussion groups, each facilitated by a teacher, and asked each group for their feedback.

Ms Quince said it was important any feedback they received was treated with integrity and that the school community knew how that feedback was incorporated into plans and used. “Ownership [of change] is critical,” she said.

Ms Quince said it was important change was managed in a way that ensured everyone on staff felt valued.

This meant the school had three levels of engagement with change:

  • A community of practice – those deeply involved testing prototypes, gathering evidence and reshaping approaches.
  • A community of engagement – those interested in the work, willing to give feedback, but wary of implementing change.
  • A community of interest – the rest of the staff, who are kept updated about what is happening, are also invited to have a voice in the process.

She said some staff oscillated between the different tiers, but the approach ensured “everyone is entering at a point they are comfortable in ... but everyone will have a chance to buy in”.

Ms Quince said once new practices had been proven successful and were ready to be implemented across the school they were adopted by all staff through “a supportive, incremental model”.

Listen to the full podcast:

Read the transcript of Every Student Podcast: Stacey Quince.

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