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  • Our Principals in Canada and Rome 

    During May, a number of our primary and secondary principals, accompanied by some Catholic Education Office staff, experienced the privilege of a study tour to Canada and Rome.

    In Rome, the group was joined by our Bishop Christopher, and it is obvious why they were there. Rome is at the heart of our Catholic church. The places the group visited, the things they experienced were designed to put them fully in touch with themselves as truly Catholic leaders. The reports that have come back clearly indicate that this goal was well and truly achieved!

    The reason that Canada, and in particular, Toronto, Ontario was chosen as a site for this study tour is quite simply that this province has been identified as one of the highest performing school systems in the world. We wanted to learn from them.

    The Toronto system is guided by Michael Fullan, one of the world’s leading educational reformers, with a strong record of success behind him. Our group was privileged indeed to spend significant time with Professor Fullan and his staff and to visit a number of schools and the Catholic Education Office equivalent in the province. It is very apparent that the learning among the group has been rich indeed. Continued school improvement, measured by ongoing improvement in student learning outcomes, is a key goal for us in Catholic schools in the diocese of Sale.

    Professor Fullan’s research and experience shows that this desired improvement is best achieved when schools work as part of a whole system, when in our context, we can think of improving learning for every child and young person in our State, not just in our own school (though that is important, too.) This means that maximum improvement can only be achieved by introducing and sustaining change at whole-of-system level, as has happened in Ontario and in other high performing systems throughout the world.

    We do not have such a mechanism in Australia, spread as we are. We do not even have it in Victoria or in Catholic Education. However, we do have such potential in our own diocese. It incumbent on all of us to make the most of what opportunity we have.

    Some of the strategies used in Ontario, then, are not fully available to us – but some are. We need to take full advantage of those we can impact upon.

    Fullan argues that, in order to truly improve our schools, systems need to:

    • Develop the entire teaching profession
    • Focus on a small number of very ambitious priorities
    • Ensure that teaching and assessment are properly linked
    • Develop leadership of all levels of the system
    • Focus on non-punitive, comprehensive, relentless intervention strategies where schools seem not to be doing as well as they might and
    • Concentrate the use of funds into these five areas, rather than continually thinking up new ideas that do not relate to these focus areas.

    Clearly, as I said above, some of these we can influence only indirectly, if at all. But some we can control and we should.

    It is important to note, though that Michael Fullan challenges some of the more populist approaches to school improvement which seem to be beloved of our various politicians. He suggests for example, that his research and experience shows that the continuous drive to external accountability, performance pay for teachers and the provision of technology as though that will cause improvement, not only do not work, but actually, in the long run, make things worse!

    Our grouped learned and observed that here in our diocese we are doing many things well, indeed very well. We still have much to learn and look forward to that. If the excitement and enthusiasm I have seen in the group on its return is any indication, our schools can certainly look forward to a very bright future.