Change at Shelford

Principal's news Wednesday, 04 May 2022

To thrive as an independent girls’ school in Melbourne in 2022, you must change. No school can afford to stand still. We must adapt to the world and to the changing requirements of our students and of us as teachers and educators.

Since I returned to Shelford a few years ago, I have spoken to many staff, students and parents, surveyed the community and held focus groups. It was and is clear, that the community supports change. In fact, had we not begun the process of change, we would not have been able to pivot to remote learning as successfully as we did.

The pace of change has at times been challenging for all in the community, as we began change processes and then needed to continue, while also managing a pandemic. A difficult situation but one that we have weathered brilliantly. Thank you to you all for your part in that.

I greatly value our teachers and all our professional services staff at Shelford, as I know you do; their passion for their subject matter, capacity to form relationships with students, cognitive, social and emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, dedication to ongoing professional learning and competent use of digital technology are valued. Being all these things is a complex and difficult thing to be indeed. I am glad they had the opportunity to refresh and recharge over the break.

There are key areas of Shelford that we hold dear and cherish and would not seek to alter:

  • Small girls’ school, Prep–Year 12, with smaller class sizes.
  • A culture of students working hard and aspiring to do well with low levels of students needing behavioural management intervention.
  • A restorative practice model to manage behaviour and interactions which does not take a punitive approach but relies on consequences and repairing damage or harm.
  • A strong community feeling with parents engaged with their daughter’s learning and with each other.
  • Emphasis on academic rigour and high standards of excellence.
  • Staff who care about the students’ academic progress and their social/emotional/spiritual and physical wellbeing.
  • A supportive environment for students who need academic support, including differentiated teaching and programs of intervention both in and outside the classroom.
  • Leadership opportunities for students at various ages and stages.
  • Opportunities for students to raise money for charities and be aware of service learning/volunteering in the community.
  • Individualised care available, such as counselling and careers and course advice.
  • A strong program of extra curricula activities and opportunities for student development.

In some of these areas, we have refined, expanded and made clearer what we do, but generally these have been areas of great strength.

Some of the key areas we have developed:

  • We have increased the use of data. All teaching staff now have access to the Naplan and other testing data for their students and we have an organised, systematic gathering of data at other year levels, along with appropriate analysis and sharing of the VCE data, to ensure that programs are suited to cohorts and individual students and that we learn from data to inform our programs and planning.
  • We now have a management system for pastoral care data for all students.
  • Introduction of Shelly our Learning Management System and an organised approach to technology in the school, including a strong investment in the professional learning of our staff.
  • Enhanced communication with parents through the gradual introduction of continuous online reporting, meaning there is timely, immediate feedback about student academic progress. The newsletter every fortnight allows for communication and information about the whole school to be distributed. Shelly enables tailored news items to be delivered and the Shelford App enables all the communication to be readily available for families in one location.
  • We are currently reviewing the report format which had not been changed for many years and will gradually evolve the reporting process.
  • The Quaerite Wellbeing Program now also runs at Year 11 and 12 and is clearly scoped and sequenced from Prep–Year 12 and adequately addresses the need to equip our students to manage their own mental health.
  • In the Senior School we now have wellbeing mentors that work as a team at each year level, with the coordinator and counsellors, to provide support and mentorship and to deliver the wellbeing programs.
  • We have developed and implemented Integrate, a rich and comprehensive transition program for students moving from Year 6 to Year 7.
  • Our Careers 4sight Program has been expanded and embedded.
  • We have begun the process of partnerships with universities such as Swinburne University to benefit our community.
  • We have a scope and sequenced Service Learning curriculum from Prep–Year 12 which integrates our approach to empowering students to be involved in the community and to be of service.
  • There are clear VCE guidelines and handbooks providing clarity for students, families and staff in relation to our procedures and policies.
  • Policies and procedures required for the VRQA (accreditation) audit have been put in place and we have been audited successfully in 2021.
  • We have worked with our staff to ensure they have a strong knowledge of their role and its requirements, are managed and accountable, supported and developed. 
  • We have set clear guidelines around the use of assessments and student feedback, so that we are operating at a standard of excellence. 
  • Our staff are involved in a strategic, organised, learning program for teachers focusing on evidence-based teaching practice.
  • All teachers meet regularly with their Faculties and in their teaching groups to coordinate their planning, collaborate and share ideas and resources.
  • The role of Head of Faculty has been expanded to be involved in the recruitment, induction and the development of staff.
  • There are also several other administrative, financial and HR systems and programs that have been improved or introduced such as recruitment processes and policies; an induction program and documentation for staff; a probation period and program; processes for conduct and performance management; a new complaints and grievance policy; better budgeting processes, clearer processes around debt recovery and clearer financial systems and reporting. 
  • As you know, the Board and I are reviewing the Junior School fee structure to make it clearer, fairer and more equitable. 
  • In addition, we have a new marketing campaign, new website and a strong, detailed and researched marketing and enrolment strategy.
  • We have worked with the SPA to invigorate our engagement with parents through the parent representatives for each year level and the SPA Committee and are looking forward to the varied activities planned for the year.
  • There has also been a lot of work at Board level to ensure we have the appropriate governance processes, policies and documentation. Board succession planning has meant that we have welcomed many outstanding people to the Board who bring skills and expertise to their role as directors.

Shelford is in a position now where we can move forward confidently, knowing that we are compliant with government requirements, and that we are able to provide outstanding teaching and learning programs for our students. We are united in our moral purpose of helping our students develop and flourish.

This Term at Shelford we are focusing on the following key improvements:

  • Subject selection process – a clearer structure and more individualised attention to students, working with Coordinators case managing student pathways based on experiences and background with the student and knowledge of them as learners.
  • Learning support and enrichment – policies, processes and programs embedded as structures in the school, that can be communicated clearly to current and potential students, families and staff.
  • The Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) group – the important work of developing a reconciliation action plan for Shelford will involve an audit of what we currently do in the school in terms of our procedures, processes, programs and curriculum regarding First Nation peoples. Thank you to Julia Lloyd-Bruin and Madeleine Coulombe, who have volunteered to co-chair this important group.
  • Camps/trips review – Pauline Cutajar is starting work with a group of staff to review our camps, trips, tours and exchanges to ensure that we have a strong progression of skills and experiences, appropriate providers and resources.
  • Timetable structures for 2023 – particularly for VCE classes and teachers. Can we provide some asynchronous time for our senior students, a blended learning approach? Can we deliver a more flexible VCE program?
  • Parent education webinars – we are introducing a series and encourage parents to listen in and be involved. 
  • Policy review – I will work on this with Executive and the staff consultancy group this term to look at the issue of staff email and communication with parents and each other. There needs to be clear and reasonable expectations around return of parent and staff emails. I am hoping that this will support our staff wellbeing, work/life balance and workload issues.
  • Review of the Year 9 and 10 curricula and continual improvement and updating of all our teaching and programs. The Year 9 and 10 review will take us some time. We want to work with our students, with the research, our parents and staff, to ensure that when we make changes, they are done carefully, we have time to work on it, and we can deliver something that is vital, inspiring and worthwhile.

We are currently, as a teaching group, thinking about curriculum innovation; what we teach and assess and pedagogically, how we teach it. What do our students need from their education? How can we support our students to move confidently into a future that is rapidly changing? What aspects will work best at Shelford? How do we implement these? 

It is an exciting but challenging time in schools and education. There is a fast acceleration of change in schools which is inevitable when the world is changing so rapidly. There are challenges that this generation of students will face – environmental, social, political. Technology is impacting and altering the economy and the work force. As educators and people working in schools, we need to ask a lot of questions about what we are doing and why. 

David Price OBE, a UK-based education consultant and culture lead gave a presentation to AHISA entitled ‘Agency & Innovation in Post-COVID Education’. According to David the most important function of education systems over the next three decades is to give students a sense of agency so they can reshape the world. Curriculum or pedagogy that does not empower students to be citizens of change, social entrepreneurs and community builders, he says, is ‘condemning them to a life of learned helplessness’. To me, it seems that David is not only challenging us to rethink what schools do, but to rethink our purpose. An interesting provocation.

I am very proud of where we are and what we have achieved together. I am very excited about the teachers and professional staff that we have with us. I welcome back Ms Bec Wright, who joins us after a period of maternity leave following the birth of her second child, Charlotte. Bec is a wonderful leader, educator and carer and she will be taking up the role of Year 10 Coordinator and Humanities teacher.

I look forward to continuing to work together in a respectful way, to embed a culture of excellence, a spirit of fun and a community of kindness.

Katrina Brennan

This article was originally published in our Shelly Newsletter.