Jacqui: What makes a good school?
James: (Laughs) Great start. A good school is a school where a student can achieve their optimum; where they can get everything they need to be the best they can. So a school that supports students’ needs, recognises their skills and attributes and encourages and extend them; a school that gives them every opportunity to deliver on their potential.
That’s the short answer, but what makes that is high quality teaching and the way members of the school community engage with each other and how the students connect. Pride and ownership of the school all contribute to that.
It’s a partnership between parents, students and teachers all working together with a common understand of what’s important. It’s about those three voices being powerful and having an input into how the school runs.
So students being responsible for their learning as they move up into the higher grades, and being self-directed and curious. Learning is fun and it’s natural and we are born inquisitive and often school squashes that out of us. My role – supported by the teachers and the community – is to ensure kids want to come to school and that they see a value in it and thrive.
Jacqui: I know you’ve only been here a very short time, but what are your priorities for Term 1?
I have two priorities. The first is to assimilate myself into the school and learn as much as I can about the school and the community. I’m a big believer in not changing things just for the sake of it, but I subscribe to the continuous improvement process and believe we can always get better. I want to learn as much about the school and see where we want to go.
I also want to focus on developing different techniques and strategies for different students; that might mean a different learning style,or a different scope for a learning task. And I think it’s really important to get some consistencies across classes from the very beginning so kids in different classes in the same grade are learning the same things. Easier said than done, but that’s my focus.
Jacqui: What’s your favourite book?
James: (Laughs) Great question. I’m an avid reader, but finding time to read is hard. I’m in the middle of a book by the historian Paul Ham about Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War which follows a book I read last holidays about Kokoda. I like books about war history. Fiction? I think the last fiction I read was Ice Station by Matthew Reilly.
Jacqui: Communication has been an issue for the school in the past. What do you think you can do to create effective communication in the school?
Have processes in place where people know what’s expected and what sort of communication needs to go out when and why. Giving people feedback about the decisions I make via the newsletter, blog or assemblies and by having conversations with people – getting my message out as many different ways as I can. I’m a great believer in conversations with parents and the ripple effect that has.
Jacqui: Yes, the playground is very good for that ripple effect! Are there any good initiatives or practices from your old school that you’d like to bring to KPS?
James: (Laughs. Again.) There’s a stack. The personal development program was a big one for staff and the community. We called it Yarrambat kids are gold and we had a value of the week and a focus topic and we did a lesson and provided material for families as well. For example, standing up for yourself, or thanking people, or smiling. I see that as educating the whole child I think that’s an important part of learning. We have a good CARE program here and I’d like to see that extended and used really effectively.
Teaching protocols are really important so, for example, a teacher knows what a good maths lesson looks like: the content, the language used, the outcomes for students.
An expectation of teachers using data about our students so they plan around the students’ specific needs using the results of testing and devising programs for particular groups of students.
I’m pretty passionate about teacher professional growth so teachers observing each other and getting honest and critical feedback.
Jacqui: My daughter (Scout, Grade 3) wanted me to ask you this: What would you be if you weren’t a teacher?
James: Growing up I really wanted to be a vet because my father is a vet, but I probably didn’t work quite hard enough in school and then maybe a musician. I have a music degree and that naturally led into teaching. I studied piano right through university and used to play at a restaurant.
Jacqui: That’s very cool! I think the PTA might be interested in that!
James: Having said that I love being a teacher and I know I’m the Principal but I don’t see myself as a principal who’s detached from teaching. I’ll be looking to have an active teaching role, something that’s structured and in the timetable so it’s regular and keeps me in touch.
Jacqui: That would be great for the kids; they’d love that. I’ll declare my own bias here; I was a teacher a long time ago and I think our teachers are our most important and valuable asset. How do you plan to support the teaching staff?
Working on their professional growth is the first thing; targeting some key improvement areas as a whole staff and as individuals and thinking about where we want to go as a school. I want to offer a really rich and relevant professional learning series for them and value their professional input.
For me what’s important is to trust their judgement and build that level of trust and positivity and optimism. To value their work and trust them to work hard and do their very best and support their students and I will support them in any way I can.
Jacqui: What is the most important thing we can do as a parent community to support you and the school?
James: Be really, really positive about everything. Talk with students as they come home every day and say: Tell me three great things that happened today. Don’t get bogged down in some of the negative things. There might be a really small thing that happened during the day and the student talks about that and then the helicopter moves in and it turns into a massive big thing and mum and dad come up to school to solve it for them when the student needs to fight their own battles a little bit. Obviously the parents are there to support, but trust us too.
Be involved and come in and have a chat. Come forward with any ideas or suggestions and be solutions focussed. Be as positive as you can and if you are unsure about things ask questions so you don’t fill in the blanks with an incorrect answer. Go to the source and get the information you need.
Jacqui: We have 31 nationalities in the schools. What’s your favourite country?
James: That’s fantastic. Great question. Probably Belgium. Belgium and Ireland would be my two. I travelled for 12 months my first year out of uni mainly in Western Europe and had a great time in Ireland; the atmosphere, the countryside and the people. I had a ball. And I loved the history in Belgium, stepping into buildings that were a thousand years old, and the European dining culture and the pubs.
And if I won some money I’d go and watch the Tour de France, get a white van and follow the teams. I watch the tour religiously. I just think it’s fantastic coverage of a sporting event, the commentary and the logistics. That’s a big goal of mine.
This one is for you, James.
Jacqui: How do you know if you’ve had a successful day?
I guess the main pointer is listening to the voice of the students so if you see them walking out at the end of the day and they’re keen to tell mum and dad something that’s happened or you can see a smile on their face, I think that’s a successful day. And mostly they are.
I can’t think of a bad day at work. Even though I might have had some bad moments, I don’t think I’ve ever had a day that I thought was a bad day. We have a great job. It’s hard, and it’s challenging, but jeez it’s rewarding.
Jacqui: What are you looking forward to most in your new role?
James: There’s so much. My last years at Yarrambat were really successful and I look at Kew and there’s so many things…(long pause).
Jacqui: It’s okay. We know there are a few things that need attention so you won’t get into trouble for saying that!
James: I’m looking forward to the opportunity to shape a school and deliver some key educational outcomes and some key success measures over a period of time. That’s a real priority.
Jacqui: So you think we can do that?
James: I do. Absolutely. I see huge potential in this school. Massive potential. I got a sense of that on my first day and even before I started. The general culture, and the level of commitment from everyone in the school is fantastic.
Jacqui: So there are things you can implement that will put us in a different place in two years’ or five years’ time?
James: Yes. I’m confident of that. (Laughs.) It takes time, but yes.
Jacqui: So what might a different KPS look like in 5 years? Better grades? Happier teachers? Higher enrolments?
Student outcomes definitely are massive. You’ll see a lot more value add. I don’t think we push our students enough so I’m looking for a far higher academic standard, more structures around curiosity and learning, a greater student voice, more student controlled learning and more student connectedness.I think we can make the curriculum far more rigorous, engaging and challenging – and more modern and relevant.
Jacqui: I’m sure lots of parents will be happy to hear that.
James: I think if you have a positive and trustworthy relationship between the groups you have optimum learning conditions. I know trust comes with communication and that’s built up over time and part of my role is to build that trust and you do that by following through with your actions and being true to your word and being honest and transparent and that’s what I intend to do.
I guess it’s about being really clear about where I want to see the school and where the community wants to see the school. I want to outline the vision I have to parents, communicate that effectively and bring them on board, shaping it as we go.
Jacqui: Thanks James. I think I can safely safe that your arrival has generated a good deal of excitement and optimism in the playground and that we’re really glad to have you.