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Every Student Podcast: Peter Skinner and Lisa Stipanovic
Two principals discuss a new online platform to help ensure every student is known, valued and cared for in our schools.
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Hi, I’m Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education. Welcome to Every Student, the podcast where I get to introduce you to some of our great leaders in education. Today I am talking with Lisa Stipanovic and Peter Skinner, two of our Principals-in-Residence who have been doing some great work on our priority of ensuring that every student is known, valued and cared for. That is a phrase we talk about a lot in NSW Education every student known, valued and cared for. Lisa we will start with you what exactly is a Principal-in-Residence? Can you explain what is going on with that particular work?
The Principal-in-Residence role was pioneered by school performance and has been in place since 2018 and it has really been an opportunity to bring field experience as a credible educational leader into the centre, coupled with on the ground knowledge of school operations and performance from a range of school contexts and to provide a range of strategic advice and support on key reform agendas. Peter and I, our specific brief is to lead the strategic direction as you said of every student being known, valued and cared for.
This role has involved unearthing best practice by visiting a range of diverse schools and speaking with students and school leaders to identify evidence based practices and initiatives that have had the greatest impact on student wellbeing outcomes.
The professional benefits have been significant. Firstly, being able to contribute to the development of policy initiatives and support materials that have enabled school improvement across the entire NSW public education system. To be able to represent School Performance and to provide contextual advice and feedback to key stakeholders has been great and that has been across the education cluster.
This role has enabled us as principal to gather our learnings from our colleagues and develop and scale solutions across our system. This has resulted in rich collegial and insightful approaches to influencing a system wide improvement led by us as Principals-in-Residence.
You were previously principal at Milperra Public School. Why did you respond to this opportunity when you saw it advertised?
I saw this as a great opportunity because of the diverse schools that I have been privileged to serve. This has been something that I thought I could add value to the broader system, bring my experience of classroom practice, leadership and ensure that I have that school-based voice to support and really be one of the champions of supporting the collective input of making a big difference to our system.
I saw the strategic direction of every student being known, valued and cared for as something that is close to my heart and my educational philosophy so I felt that I could contribute broadly, learn lots from my colleagues around me but ultimately have the biggest difference to our students that we all serve.
Peter you are the foundational principal at George Bass School, I remember coming and visiting you pretty soon after I started at the department and spent a great morning there. It is a school for children with an intellectual disability, it is a K-12 school. You came onboard also as a Principal-in-Residence. Tell us a little bit about the work that you have been doing to try and develop almost our understanding and to provide tools for principals to ensure that every student is known, valued and cared for.
Known, valued and cared for it is a really exciting field of work and I think it is one of those things that really speaks to everybody. As Lisa said, the opportunity to work around this field of work that is just so inspiring around known, valued and cared for is one that neither of us felt that we could give up.
We were lucky enough to follow Principals-in-Residence who worked before us and “ploughed the ground” as it were in terms of known, valued and cared for and explored what that meant and what that meant for schools. They separated it out into nine domains, each underneath known, valued and cared for. They separated it out into around the known, around relationships and how important relationships are for all of us in the work that we do and how that deep knowledge of students and having that link is so important. Around attendance and how knowing your student and students in your context really can be enhanced by your deep knowledge of students can enhance attendance.
Targeted professional learning and in that sense not targeted professional learning around curricular perse, but around how we can learn more about the students that we serve. Valued, we see student decision-making as being a big part of that and how students feel valued in the settings they enter in each day and how students having an impact and being able to make a decision really gives them that sense of feeling valued.
That sense of vulnerable students and both Lisa and I are really interested around vulnerable students and who is seen as vulnerable because we know there is that sense of traditional sense of vulnerable students and who that can be but I look at my own children sometimes and I look at their education and I think when you get a report sometimes that is a little bit consistent or you can’t see a real difference you think well that student sitting in the corner sometimes they can be a little bit more vulnerable if we are not listening to their voice.
Personalised learning and there is a really intense sense of personalised learning in some settings and you talked about the setting you visited with me at George Bass and how personalised learning is so intense in a setting like that. Personalised learning is important for everybody and that sense of how do we personalise based on everybody’s strengths, weaknesses and learning styles and how we can do that better for each and all of our students.
Cared for is that last area. Student health is a big part of that and we know that. A little bit similarly there is intense levels of student health that we address each and every day but how do we do that for each and all of our students, how do we address student health and enhance that.
Transitions again we know there are key points of transitions for each and all of our students through their school life and throughout their journey but there are smaller transitions throughout our educational journey as well. Even moving our high school students from one class to the next is a significant transition and for some of our students it is particularly significant. Coming off a playground into a classroom is a significant transition as well as moving between primary school, high school, coming into school and even as you know that post-school life that we all have to transition into.
Then there is that sense of school environment and we are really interested in that and being able to visit different schools across the state and see how schools have been able to contextualise their sites and make their students feel like they are really part of that school community by enhancing the school environment has been really interesting.
A story that I think of quite often around this whole field is we went out to do some visits near Tamworth and we visited Moonbi Public School, a small school out that way and we talked to some students around what known, valued and cared for meant for them. We met a young Indigenous boy, I think he was in Year 2 or Year 3 and he said to us “I really like my goals, I like talking about my goals with my teacher because I get one, I smash it and then I get another one”. We had a big discussion about that as we were late for the airport after that meeting because it was hard to leave and we said there has got to be examples of that across our system, things that just work for kids and that people talk about. That led us to really want to collect those examples and develop the platform that we are going to talk a bit later about.
We will talk about the platform in a minute. It has been interesting I remember the history of this, it came out known, valued and cared for as a phrase came out of a discussion that we were having with the then DELs [Director, Educational Leadership] about what do parents look for in education and what do parents most want for their children. I think there is no doubt that parents want their kids to be improving and to be learning but at its very, very core was there this sense that their child would not be lost at school but would be known as an individual, known as a young person and valued and looked after, loved and just nurtured like known, valued and cared for and that is what every parent would want and the trust that we have as a parent to hand that child over to the school just wanting for that commitment to the child to be as strong and engaged as we would want at home. As we say, we stand in those footsteps of those parents when we take over that responsibility.
One of the really interesting things because it is a phrase that rolls off the tongue well known, valued and cared for; we all talk about it a lot. One of the things that I learnt from particularly the TeachMeets that ran in the department and you guys were involved in running for us, was a sense that you don’t get to known, valued and cared for incidentally. You are not going to create an environment where every student is known, valued and cared for by accident. You are going to need a strategy because schools are big, complex places.
One of the things that I could see is that you could create an environment almost instinctively or naturally where many of the kids were known, valued and cared for but not that every child is known, valued and cared for and I think that is part of it as well that no-one is lost, no-one goes missing in our system.
Lisa, part of the work you have done is to go and create this kind of platform which provides case studies and advice for schools so that they can have their own strategy so that they can know every student is known, valued and cared for. Tell us a little bit about how the platform works and how schools can use it effectively.
You are spot on with that. How do we know that every student is being known, valued and cared for and the word ‘every’ is significant in that space.
Peter and I had a really true reflection, we wanted to see and put together a resource for school leaders and school teachers etc to see what it is that makes the biggest difference. The Every student is known, valued and cared for platform that goes live in Week 9 is a hub of resources that is separated into the nine themes that Peter went through earlier.
We wanted to have significant programs and practices that were peer reviewed, they are initiatives that support wellbeing outcomes to students and schools tell us that these work for every student.
The guide is structured using the nine domains that is referenced in the Every student is known, valued and cared for toolkit and it has the following structure. It has a suite of programs and practices and strategies. Schools have told us that these work, these make a difference to every student from primary school all the way up to high school.
There are links to the departmental policies and resources. We have clearly written student outcomes that classroom teachers can utilise when they are engaging with these programs and practices.
We have identified targets, we know that schools are going through the process of having and writing their targets and these will enable schools to identify elements of growth and achievement in the areas of known, valued and cared for. The targets are written there.
This also supports schools as we know who are embarking upon the School Excellence in Action journey, the idea is that it ties in where schools are at with the school planning process and complements it. It is the bridge between the situational analysis and the strategic improvement plan.
We feel schools will be able to embed these programs and practices, the language is all in the one-stop-shop in this one place for schools to be able to utilise in their school planning process as I said, through their external validation process as well, the language is all in there and also the school reporting process that takes place annually. We have put the language in there that supports the outcomes for students, the targets and the programs initiatives. We really feel this will nicely support schools in their school planning efforts.
That is a big focus of the system over the first couple of terms of next year. Schools have already done significant preparatory work for that school improvement planning that they have been doing and one of the ways that I have always thought about this is really when it comes to hierarchy of needs a child feeling known, valued and cared for that is very foundational to their learning. We have just got to get this right.
Peter you have been to lots of schools, you have referenced that. Lots of schools will have programs and strategies. You go to schools there is strong collective efficacy, evidence in schools from time to time and you see a focus around a program they have developed. How did you go about looking at what schools were doing in this area and then working out where the evidence was that was really making an improvement and making a difference, enough to make the cut of what it is that you now going to put up online for this end product that schools will now use? How did you work out what was really working best out there?
There was a careful process around that. Our initial visits to schools were pretty broad. We visited just in excess of 50 schools when we went out and that was by executive director suggestion. We made that pretty clear in the first instance. We wanted to get a good spread of schools as well, as Lisa covered earlier, we wanted to make sure we covered primary schools, SSPs [School for Specific Purposes] and high schools in those visits to schools. We collected that range of resources based on those visits.
We thought that wasn’t enough to just say that yes these resources are out there. We looked at some consistencies between settings where a resource or an example or a program existed in a number of settings we thought that would be really useful so we used that as a validation of those programs. Then we worked with groups of principals and groups of school leaders. We invited a number of consortiums of principals and school leaders here to Parramatta to work with us over the last 18 months. We worked with SSP principals, a group of primary and a group of high school to work on those programs and validate and see if these programs also worked in their settings, whether they suited their students and whether they could be contextualised across. Once we had met with each of those three groups we thought there is again some further validation of the programs and practices that were in place. We started the development, the writing of the program based on that selection. We then thought, who are our people that we are really speaking to the most? We recognised that is the students. If you are talking about every student being known, valued and cared for we have got to get their views in on this field of work as well and we know as we said earlier student voice and student participation is a large part of students being known, valued and cared for.
We put a briefing out there to schools and we asked for schools to come in and to meet with us and bring groups of students in. We had a group here at Parramatta who unpacked the resources, who either gave a tick or a flick to the resources that we were talking about in terms of what they liked and what they didn’t. In that way we created a triangulation of ideas. The ones that we really liked and the ones that were consistently approved are the ones that then featured on the resource that we have created.
Peter given your background is in our Schools for Specific Purposes, schools that cater for young people with intellectual disability or other additional learning needs, you will have been focused of course on making this kit, this material very applicable in all the settings we have in NSW schools and for all the students that we have in our schools.
That has been a big focus. As you will recognise Mark in your visit to George Bass a couple of years ago we have our students within our system who require an intense level of support. Similarly we have some students within all of our settings that will require an intense level of support. Over my, in excess of 20 years, in an SSP we hear a constant voice from my colleagues around the development of resources and things that come out.
The leadership within schools in my type of context constantly talk about wanting to be built in and not bolted on and wanting to be part of the process of the development of every strategy that exists within the department.
I am really proud of the language that is coming out of our department at the moment around the inclusion is a practice it is not a place and that inclusion can be anywhere. Inclusion can be in every classroom across our system and I am really proud of that language. I am really proud of the way the groups that we formed together that I talked about a little bit earlier really tried to think of each and every student that could be in our classrooms in the development of these resources. I think you will see as Lisa alluded to earlier there are a number of targets within the platform itself, I believe there is 90 targets. In the writing of these targets we have tried to make sure they are general enough for each and every school within our system whether it be an SSP, hospital school, juvenile justice centre, high school, primary school, we know we have a number of school types. Each of these school types can pick up a target and say yes that suits my context and yes that works for us.
My experience of working in an SSP has helped in that regard, it has helped me to be able to at least get our colleagues together and have this discussion but it has also helped be able to contextualise that so that it is meaningful to each of our settings because we know our schools will do different things but our targets are the same particularly around known, valued and cared for.
Of all the language in our strategic plan this is the phrase that gets quoted back at me more than any other. We want to ensure that every young person in our care is known, valued and cared for. It goes to the intrinsic work of staff in the department drives them and this is where we start to create that environment where a child is confident and a child is secure and a child can flourish and that all the other growth can come on the top of that fabulous foundation.
The kit is done, it is finished and ready to go. It will be for the final weeks of term but I suppose you are expecting that early in Term 1 as schools do their planning and thinking through around their improvement strategy that the project work that you have created will be a central part of the planning of schools.
Yes and we think that this tool is the how to getting there. When Peter and I have reflected we feel that this resource has a nice link to the ‘What works best’ document in terms of having high expectations for our students. The collaboration that has been a part of making this document but also that will be as schools implement this the strong sense of high expectations and collaboration between our school leaders and educators we feel that this will be the resource that schools have to support them with that.
Mark you say we support those who teach and those who support us who teach we feel this document can be for all of our educational colleagues throughout the department. This document too also goes to the heart of why are we doing this important work and how are we going to see the biggest impact for our students and ultimately every single student primary, high school, SSP, hospital school, juvenile justice centre being known, valued and cared for.
Thanks for your great work and your passion around this. It is clear the intellectual and emotional commitment that you have brought to it, a real passion that this is so important for every young person in our care and this needs to be the hallmark of a truly world class public education system.
As I have said we have talked about it a lot, we have tapped into the expertise of schools that are doing a great job. It has been wonderful to see some of the forums that have been pulled together where we have been able to learn from great case studies in different schools but now you have brought it altogether in one-stop-shopping on the department’s website where our staff will be able to access that material and be able to think it through most appropriately in their context.
I want to be able to stand up there confidently, in fact I think this is the context that it all originally came from when I asked the question, could I stand up and tell the parents of NSW that every student in our school was known, valued and cared for, could I say that? Then how would we know that was true so that is what your work is all about to make sure that every school is engaged in this and that our visibility is on every student and hand on heart we can make that commitment to the parents of NSW.
Thanks for your leadership, thanks for being Principal-in-Residence with us Peter and Lisa and thanks for joining us today on the Every Student Podcast.
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Thanks again and I will catch you next time.
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