SLI London experience participant videos

In November 2019 the SLI sponsored 20 of our most experienced principals to visit schools in London and other parts of the UK, as part of the ‘London experience’ program. The program was intended to help school principals in NSW and the UK learn from each other about what works to lift student engagement and achievement in different school contexts.

The NSW principals gained new insights into the importance of system leadership and how working across the school system, as well as within individual schools ,helps improve teaching and learning.

They also examined the importance of identifying future leaders, and of offering all staff within a school professional learning and development.

Finally, the overarching moral purpose of public education was an ongoing theme during their UK visit – that is, the imperative to provide every student with the opportunity to access a great education and to grow into informed and engaged citizens.

Here, the principals share their learnings from the London experience.

In this video principals share what they learned about the importance of system leadership and sharing knowledge across schools.

System leadership: insights from the London experience

Meaghan Wilson, Principal, Yagoona Public School:

How can we move from a system of competition to a system of cooperation? And what did we see in London?

So in my experience in my local schools, we tend to do a lot of work within our school, but we don't tend to share that information across our region. And that's something that I would like to explore within the next 12 to 18 months with my Chullora network of schools.

Jason Corcoran, Principal, Governor Phillip King Public School:

I think, yeah, I think you're right. We don't do enough sharing outside of our own schools. And I guess the learning that we brought back from London was we need to kind of step out of our own environments and share, rather than being in competition with each other, make sure that we're sharing good practice, and the high expectations and quality learning.

Meaghan Wilson:

And it can be as simple as just identifying talented staff within our schools and sharing that talent across our network of schools, and hopefully extend that to our regional and remote leaders as well.

Mechel Pikoulas, Principal, Cumberland High School:

So having come back, I have a very strong community of schools with nine primary schools that we've worked together very strongly for six years. And we've already created challenge partner hubs, if you like, in groups of threes. We're in the process of identifying pain points for our schools, coming together in our hubs, looking at research, implementing, and then evaluating in the theme around supporting and growing our schools across our system. So that was another really exciting takeaway from the London experience.

Jason Corcoran:

I think we do a good job of within our own schools identifying the quality leaders that we have, definitely agree. It’s sending that leadership skill out into the wider community and sharing it rather than just keeping it confined to the fence line of our own schools.

Meaghan Wilson:

And coming back from London that is something that we want to do as the 20 principals in this study. We would like to share within each other's schools and then once again, push that into our network of schools.

Sharon Tollis, Principal, Caringbah North Public School:

Can you describe peer review and how it might be an effective strategy for school improvement?

One of the things I observed when I was on the London scholarship was a system, put in place called peer review or challenge partners, as some schools call it. So basically it is a principal working with other principals to form a team, to come into their own school around a certain topic or an area they want to get school improvement on. They set parameters together, how the review might occur, the timing of it and what the feedback would be like. And then the team would come into the school, and do a range of activities like observing classrooms or talking to people on staff, including parents and children, or the range of things would have been determined by the principal of the school themselves.

And that peer review feedback would be then given to the principal to use how they want to use it. So it's not an external body coming in to do it. It's led by the principal of their own school to seek school improvement. That principal then can be part of a peer review of another school as well. And so each school is then learning from each other and learning what they need to do to improve their own school and feeding back to each other.

Paul McDermott, Principal, Blue Haven Public School:

One of the key takeaways from London was the importance of collaboration. As leaders it's really important that we work together for the betterment of all of our students, but for the system as well. So good leaders are not just school leaders, they're system leaders. One of the key phrases that came out of our tour was co-opertition. So it's having healthy competition, but a high sense of collaboration and putting those two together to make sure that yeah, we're getting the best results in our own schools, but we're also supporting other schools to get the best results that they can as well and collaborating along the journey as well.

Louise Barnott-Clement, Principal, Ambervale High School:

What different ways of thinking did you see in London?

I think one of the things that really stood out for me was the way principals so clearly articulated a shared responsibility for the success of all schools, neighbouring schools, other schools, schools that they were in alliances with, but also schools that were perhaps geographically nearby. And they knew that those schools hadn't achieved as well as they had. And there was that shared responsibility to go in there and make the difference.

I think in our system, there's definitely a shared sense of loyalty to our system. And if any of us were, as principals, requested to support our colleagues, of course we'd be in there straight away. But in London there was this sense of absolute moral and professional obligation to be alert to the successes and otherwise of other schools and to then go in and provide support.

So for example, if you'd heard that a school down the road hadn't got writing results that were as strong as yours, you wouldn't wait to be asked. You would take it upon yourself as your professional responsibility to go into that school and share the expertise in your school, to make sure that they had that opportunity to grow in the area of writing as well. And that was just repeatedly articulated in many different schools, that this was just part of being a principal. Not only were you responsible for the success of your students, you had a shared responsibility for the success of all students.

Principals share what they learned about the importance of identifying and supporting future leaders among teaching staff.

Supporting future leaders: insights from the London experience

Paul McDermott, Principal, Blue Haven Public School:

What is something that resonated with you that aligns with current practices in your school?

One of the key initiatives that we witnessed that was very effective over in London was the importance of building leaders of the future, particularly around middle leadership. It's something that we've worked hard on at our school at Blue Haven. But it's something that we continue to look for new and innovative ways to increase the capacity of our staff so that we're preparing leaders for the future.

So over in London, they spent a lot of time on professional development, professional reading, making sure that they were upskilling leaders for the future .But also making sure that they're identifying leaders early in their leadership journey or their teaching journey as well, to give them the experiences that they need to work out whether leaderships’ for them, but also to give them the skills and the confidence to make sure that if leadership opportunities do arise, they're prepared to step up and take them on.

Leah Wooley, Principal, Sutherland Public School:

How did the schools engage in quality professional learning?

I think we saw so many varieties of professional learning, and it was really wonderful to see that. The head teachers, the principals on those schools, really got down to what were the needs of the kids in that school, they looked at data, they looked at trends, they looked at the local community and the families coming into their school, they looked at the group of teachers they had. And they then decided what would be best for that school. So it was really contextualised, which was so wonderful.

But there were systems to dip in and out of. So there were programs designed by UCL that were for middle leaders, so a real strong development process of teachers into leaders. There was a lot of emphasis on action research in a lot of the schools. So teachers were on the ground participating and researching and developing strategies in their school, with their class, writing it up in papers, having it published and then sharing that beyond their school. A lot of schools talked about teachers engaging in their Masters of Education and that was of real importance. And then obviously they had a lot of professional learning for headship around that so it was really wonderful.

John Goh, Principal, Merrylands East Public School:

Well, that was a second point that we saw about leadership, about continuing professional learning, how leaders identified teachers to be future leaders and invested the time and invested the resources with teachers that were going to be future leaders. And many of those leaders have gone on to be leaders within their own school, not the school down the road.

Genelle Petruszenko, Principal, Fairfield West Public School:

Sure there were little things that we could bring back to improve the student learning outcomes across the system. And I think we looked at streamlining and really putting some time into teacher leadership, professional learning, especially for our middle leaders and maybe getting some sort of, in schools or whether it's some sort of shared scope and sequence, for want of a better word for that. Really pushing into the Leadership Institute a bit more and looking at the great things that were on offer there. And then also that really strong student voice that we saw in London as well, that could be expanded upon from on what we've got happening in the schools at the moment.

Anthony Pitt, Principal, Fairvale Public School:

What have you learned about yourself from participating in the London scholarship?

I think for myself, I've learned that leadership is really important at all levels, not just for senior leaders. I think it's important that there's a continuum of learning for beginning teachers, so they have a platform to know what they need to aspire to or how they can develop. And I think that we need to work towards putting something like that together. Again, in my own context, I've started to do that this year, where we will focus on our classroom teachers, and our more experienced teachers will have an understanding of what it is to be a leader and perhaps what they need to demonstrate that to move into leadership positions.

Tony Friedrich, Dapto Public School:

There were many lessons to learn from the UK experience, and it was a really wonderful opportunity to walk into schools, a real privilege to see the principals in action, the teachers working with children, and the practices they put in place. I consider myself a very lucky principal to have had the opportunity.

Offering ongoing professional learning to teaching staff is one of the key drivers in improving school and student outcomes. Here, principals discuss the types of professional learning they were exposed to as part of the London experience.

Professional learning: insights from the London experience.

John Goh, Principal, Merrylands East Public School:

One of the biggest focus I noticed about the schools in London was a heavy emphasis on curriculum leadership and curriculum development. And with curriculum leadership and curriculum development, all their professional learning just focused on that. And it wasn't just a one day course, it was a series of professional learning. So the teachers went to the professional learning or identified the professional learning because they saw their students' outcomes weren't good enough in a particular area. So they had this moral purpose where they want to improve themselves, not because of any interest sake, but because of their students’ outcomes.

Mechel Pikoulas, Principal, Cumberland High School:

So in returning from London, I’ve already started thinking or re-thinking, re-imagining professional learning at my school. How I have framed that, how I can re-design that, and how I can engage all of my staff so that the professional learning is driven from a very strong evidence base from our teachers, focusing on their craft, focusing on the practices in the classroom, and leading ultimately to improved learning outcomes for every student in our care.

Leah Woolley, Principal, Sutherland Public School:

One of the beautiful strengths from seeing a system that has been fragmented and they’re kind of rising from the ashes of what’s happened to the system, is that the great leaders have made great improvements in their schools by sticking strong to core beliefs and core values. So moral purpose, an unrelenting focus on what’s best for students, on giving their teachers really structured, important professional learning that’s specific to them and their needs.

And that’s always about every teacher getting better and therefore all the students making the progress and getting better. And that real context approach to knowing their school, knowing their community, and putting things in place that will really benefit them. And that’s really great to see. And it’s also, I guess, allowed us to reflect on our system and seeing some of the wonderful strengths that we have as a system, as one system, one department. And then just how can we tweak that to improve and really make it successful across the board for all of our students in public education.

John Goh:

I like that notion over there where they were planning for and implementing effective teaching and learning. And the emphasis is on that notion of effective, because how often do we have professional learning? It may not be tied up to curriculum and it may not be effective. And yet their professional learning was all about effectiveness. What impact will this particular professional learning have on student outcomes? Not on me, but on the students' outcomes. And so there was a heavy emphasis on that and a heavy reliance on that. And I think that's how some of the schools we saw were growing their own staff, having that moral purpose.

Meaghan Wilson, Principal, Yagoona Public School:

We know for a fact that we want to build the capacity of all of our staff. We consider every single teacher a leader in their craft, and as such we’re looking at a lot of coaching and mentoring, professional learning occurring across our schools, and we want to make sure that we can sustain and keep our staff up-to-date with current research that’s been trialled and had great success in London. We want to bring that back into NSW as well as building the capacity of the staff here within NSW and our schools.

Daryl Ward, Principal, Albury High School:

If every school in NSW focused on one thing to improve learning outcomes across the system, what would it be and why?

It links back to my first answer and that is professional learning. If we can get professional learning in schools, structured, targeted around the context of what kids in each school need to learn, and then we support it system-wide, and we have strong principles around that, around quality education. If it's well-researched, well thought out, consistent across the system and consistent across networks. And like Paul said, it's shared and collaborated. Then I think we can make a huge difference to the learning of students.

Giving every student access to a great education is the moral purpose at the centre of everything we do. This sense of a shared purpose was also a key theme for the principals taking part in the London experience.

Moral purpose: insights from the London experience

John Goh, Principal, Merrylands East Public School:

What does moral purpose mean for you?

Catherine Davis, Principal, Homebush Public School:

Moral purpose is essentially what I think all good Australian schools have already, but it is focusing on the child and focusing on the student outwards. And it is knowing that the child within your school or your class doesn't just belong to you, it belongs to the school. And then it actually belongs to the network, which belongs to the bigger system.

So moral purpose is always making sure that the decisions that are made within the school are our responsibility to look after the kids first, and make sure they're getting what they need in their education to improve all student outcomes across the system.

David Jenkins, Principal, Westmead Public School:

One of the strengths of the system we visited in the London challenge was the strong belief in moral purpose. That stemmed right from government into classrooms and everywhere in between. You could see that there was a moral purpose in every classroom and every school we visited, the belief that every child could improve their educational outcomes.

And the fact that the system had put a lot of resourcing into improving the outcomes of all students to improve the quality of life of all students. That strong moral purpose resonated in every classroom visit, listening to academics, on our whole fortnight moral purpose was a driving factor in the improvement of education for students throughout the London challenge.

Leah Wooley, Principal, Sutherland Public School:

Discuss what we learned about the moral imperative in London.

I guess, for me, that really came across in all of the schools and all of the presenters that we heard and saw. Everybody talked about their moral imperative, their moral purpose of why they're doing it, but not just for the kids in their classroom, for the kids in the classroom next door, for the kids in the whole school, for the kids in the school down the road, in the borough, whatever it might be.

And they really did believe it. They talked about it. It was evident in what they did. So I thought that was really interesting. It was part of the teacher learning process. It was part of teacher training. It's part of becoming a head teacher that, that you talk about the moral imperative that you learn about it, that you put it into practice.

So it was really to see that, and I think we have that here in New South Wales, but I don't know if we talk about it explicitly. I don't know if we teach our teachers about it. I don't know if we extend it beyond our classroom or our school. So that would be really something to take back and think about, and already is starting to change the way that I interact with my neighbouring schools, and support the system in my area.

Genelle Petruszenko, Principal, Fairfield West Public School:

That real sense of moral purpose was an accountability to the degree that every person in every school was responsible for every student in every school across London. Not just in their school, the school they led or as a DEL the schools they were leading, but across the system as a whole.

Matthew Gray, Principal, Red Hill Public School:

And I think one of the key messages that came out, particularly from a couple of the head teachers was that, you know, do you really understand the vision of your school? Is it really clear? Can people like, can you articulate it as the principal? Can your staff articulate it? What about your school community?

And so already I’ve come back to my school and, you know, we looked at a simple exercise of saying, well, what is our school vision? Can anyone actually articulate it? And it was, unfortunately it was sort of quite a challenging process where, you know, it was too wordy. It wasn't clear, we couldn't articulate it. So we we've spent some time really bringing it back. So then again, in London, everything was you know, does it fit the focus? Does it fit the vision? If it doesn't, why are we doing that? And already we've begun that process in my reflection, in where the schools’ headed in the last year of our school plan and the evaluations that will take place over the year.

Peta Hanson, Principal, Beacon Hill Public School:

I think the, the key takeaways for me during that time were that shared moral purpose. And not only were we as NSW principals connected through that shared moral purpose of really wanting to do the best thing for our kids and kids in NSW, everywhere you went in London, that key message came through, whether it was from academics, whether it was from educators. Everywhere you went, it was very clear that they shared the same moral purpose and that relentless focus on learning.

So I think for me coming back home, ensuring that learning is always my priority and that I think personally, the kids are always my priority, but it's beyond just my school. It's the kids in your school and, and all NSW public school students as well.

Meaghan Wilson, Principal, Yagoona Public School:

I think that we were privileged enough to be chosen to go on this experience. And as a collective group we saw some great things happening in London schools. We also saw some things that made our system stand out as one of the best in the world, and they’re the things that we will bring back and share with our colleagues.

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