Principal Update – Enhancing Academic Learning

Over recent weeks, we have unveiled a development of the academic models for Year 10 and 11 students for next year. The inclusion of one Independent Learning Tutorial (ILT) for each subject reflects the positive experiences and aspects of the Learn@Home program from this year and provides an opportunity to raise student agency through empowering girls with choice, flexibility and independence.

Over the past few years there has been much debate in educational circles about how to better utilise technology for teaching and learning, in addition to improving the quality of teaching and learning. Suggestions have often been made about adopting what is now called a ‘flipped classroom’ model where students access materials online prior to a lesson. Fast forward to 2020, and when the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier this year, educators across the globe had little choice but to move to conducting classes online.

At St Catherine’s, the most significant learning from 2020 has been the direct feedback from students, parents and staff with regard to their experiences of online learning and teaching. We have observed the impact of COVID-19 as being a catalyst for education reform across the globe. Indeed, St Catherine’s teachers and students are proving to be remarkably adept at adjusting quickly to this new learning space. Our successful implementation of the Learn@Home program has been significant in its impact on our thinking for the development of future learning models at St Catherine’s.

We have noted from the student feedback this year:

  • A strong desire expressed by students for greater ownership and flexibility applied to their learning with regard to: pace, delivery mode and independence;
  • Students have repeatedly provided feedback that highlights the value of the opportunity to revisit recorded lessons asynchronously and it was seen as an effective revision tool; this was particularly noticeable for the middle and lower ranged students;
  • Our students have presented with learning that has given them greater autonomy, voice and agency in their learning and wellbeing. This has been widely welcomed and points the way forward to necessary and ongoing change in practice at St Catherine’s.
  • A clearly articulated sense of loss for peer and staff interaction normally enjoyed at school with every lesson being taught online and ultimately, schools are first and foremost about strong relationships and that must not be compromised. This points to the need to maintain continuity in this respect between our past, our present, and our future.

With this in mind, the evolution of our learning model and educational platform must achieve a balance of learning models, so as to draw on the best of the digital platforms, enabling a growing independence and flexibility for Senior Students, while securing the relationality and educational benefits of learning face-to-face with teachers and peers.

In 2021, we are excited to draw on the very best aspects of our transformation to remote learning this year and augment this with learnings from the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors more broadly. We will take advantage of all of the advances in technology that are being presented to us to enable our students to take greater control of their learning in a way that is supported by greater flexibility on our part in terms of the time, place and space of learning for Senior Students.

As such, the implementation of an enhanced learning model in our Senior Years, targeting our Year 10 and Year 11 cohorts in 2021. Our educational platform in the Senior Years will embrace in a small way the benefits of a hybrid teaching and learning model. Courses will be delivered as a combination of 10 synchronous face-to-face lessons in the classroom that will be complemented by a designed program of ILTs offering significant flexibility. For each subject, the ILTs will include a combination of an optional Study Hall Flexi-Tutes enabling subject specific support with teachers, an Asynchronous Online Tutorial designed to provide instructional videos to support study and homework, in addition to a series of lectures in the form of a Masterclass. Students will be timetabled with one lesson per subject per fortnight to engage and participate in the ILTs.

The ILTs, specifically the Masterclass, will aim to capitalise on the optimal learnings of 2020 with the sophisticated use of digital skills and expertise of our teachers to engage with students. The Masterclasses have opportunity to:

  • Capture the consolidation/revision of syllabus and course material;
  • Pre-load new content/material to cover in class;
  • Invite creativity in delivery; for example, the Masterclass could be a teacher conducting an online interview with an ‘external or industry expert’ or a Masterclass delivered by a university lecturer or teacher from another school or country, thus bringing an authenticity to the content;
  • Provide opportunities to shift the pedagogy within face-to-face lessons led in a more Socratic style, designed to ‘discuss’ the content of the Masterclass;
  • Strengthen the development of a School-wide Schema that embraces our Thinking Agenda that is designed to deepen the students learning by providing time to think, ponder and research further prior to the Tutorial; as well as reducing class time spent on necessary but one-way delivery of slide show content;
  • Specific students would be assigned tasks within the Masterclass; thus, providing reflection time for the girls to think about their response, research further as required;
  • Require students to respond to key questions in preparedness for their face-to-face lessons;
  • Give flexibility and independence for students to view the Masterclass, both designed to be watched asynchronously;
  • To create time in each student’s timetable to undertake music lessons, career, pastoral and academic advisory counselling, physical activity;
  • Reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed about which students have often spoken to us by enabling girls’ opportunities to revisit challenging content by re-watching Masterclass content before attending Tutorials.

The most important reason, therefore, for advancing to the ILTs, comprising the Masterclass & Asynchronous Online Tutorials is to best equip and prepare students for what comes next in their lives. Andreas Schleicher once more provides great insight here. He argues strongly that: “You’re going to have a lot of young people who have experienced different forms of learning in this crisis, learning that was more fun, more empowering.” And finally: “They will go back to their teachers and say: can we do things differently?”

I invite interested parents to view my 10 minute video presented to our Year 9 and 10 parents last week.

Staffing 2021

The School is finalising the staffing matrix for next year and in the coming weeks, we will farewell the following staff:

Mr Chris Zuccala – Languages and French Teacher;

Mr Aidan Debernardi – Cross Country and Athletics Coordinator and HPE Teacher;

Ms Alyssa Flint – Barbreck STEM Teacher;

Ms Yu-Chun Wang – Year 2 Teacher.

Also completing contracts are: Ms Horoko Hunt (Japanese), Mr Mark Fernandez, (Commerce) and Ms Charlotte O’Malley (Psychology) and we wish Ms Liz Dewhurst the very best as she commences her maternity leave in January.

On behalf of the School, I extend my appreciation to these particular staff members and acknowledge their contribution both to the education of many St Catherine’s students and to their engagement in professional dialogue as staff members. In the coming year, we look forward to the return from maternity leave Ms Kanako Yokouchi (Japanese and Humanities), Sally Wilkinson (Commerce) and Lloyd Knight (Cross Country and Athletics Coordinator) and Ms Fiona Ganino-Day in a new role of Barbreck Psychologist.

School Events

Owing to the COVID-19 Safe restrictions that currently remain in place at School, we will miss this year the much-enjoyed annual Christmas Fair hosted by PFA, our Christmas Services held at St John’s Church and the presence of many parents at the exquisite annual Barbreck Christmas Concert and fun-filled House Arts performances. These events, in addition to Year 6 Graduation and Senior School Speech Day will be live-streamed and recorded for families. Such events, without the presence of parents in the audience, have sadly become a reality for 2020, yet we look forward to re-creating a vibrant community again with parents welcome on campus in the New Year.

We look forward to presenting families with the opportunity to view the following events either live or as a recording to share in their child’s celebration:

  • Wednesday 2 December Year 6 Graduation – A special time where our students reflect on their time in Barbreck and begin to imagine their future in Senior School in 2021.
  • Friday 4 December Senior School Speech Day – This year, we celebrate our Senior School students who have found the courage to deal with change and the capacity to become more independent, resilient and motivated than ever before.
  • Friday 4 December House Arts – Our annual House Arts event celebrates the collaboration of creative skills, discipline, perseverance, confidence and leadership.
Mrs Michelle Carroll, Principal