Interview with Anika Blackmore, Principal of Balga Primary School

Anika talks about the Fogarty EDvance program and what she’s currently focused on as school principal at Balga Primary School.

Q1: Name 3 valuable things you gained from being part of the Fogarty EDvance program?

Through my engagement with the program I developed a deeper understanding of the importance of committing the time to establish the pre-conditions for school improvement, prior to implementing improvement initiatives. 

The program is designed for Leadership teams, which meant that we built the capacity of the whole team (not just the Principal). As a result of active participation in the extensive professional learning program everyone had increased role clarity and ownership over designing and implementing the three-year strategic plan.

The program gave me an increased appreciation of the importance of having a sustained focus on both your organisation’s health (school culture) and improved student academic achievement. 

Q2: What is something you wish you had known earlier in your career?

The evidence base around effective change management.

Q3: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a principal?

“It’s better to go slow in the right direction that to go fast in the wrong direction”.

Q4: What is the latest topic on your mind?

I am currently reading Schools that Deliver (Bill Martin and J Edwards) so I would have to say ‘transformative leadership and creating an aligned culture’.

Q5: Would you recommend other principals apply to be part of the Fogarty EDvance program? Why?

Yes! The program is comprehensive and is structured in a way that provides a balance between high levels of support and accountability. Our mentor Su, provided extensive support when developing and monitoring the strategic plan and provided ongoing advice to ensure alignment of our school’s vision with the key themes, objectives, strategies and targets outlined in the plan. The Expert Engagement component allows schools to receive ongoing practical support in professional learning, including in-class modelling and coaching to ensure teachers are fully supported to implement new approaches.  

Through my active involvement in the program I have developed a much wider network of colleagues committed to promoting evidence based school improvement and sharing best practice teaching and learning, with the ultimate aim of improving the life chances of ALL students across our system.

We talk to Peter Jakimowiez, Principal of Warriapendi Primary School,  a Cohort 3 school.

Name 3 valuable things you have gained from the EDvance program (so far)?

The EDvance program has introduced me to strategic, validated frameworks, processes, methodologies and tools that I use for whole school improvement.  All too often we look for programs and processes in isolation to solve our problems.  Fogarty EDvance enables you to orchestrate these and enable clear direction, leading to sustained school improvement.  It allows you to establish clear processes that are based on research, involving the whole school community, enabling you to make quality decisions linked to performance and common understanding.

 What is something you wish you had known earlier in your career?

The placemat documents and formulation of key performance indicators have been invaluable in developing a common professional language amongst my administration team, the staff and our community.  Reporting on the progress of our business plan to the School Board using clear, strategic direction has never been easier.

 What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a principal?

The position of Principal is certainly challenging, rewarding and an honour to hold.  The responsibilities are enormous.  I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work with some inspiring leaders.  One of those has been my former Principal and current Fogarty mentor, Ross Albones, inspired me as a young teacher.  He encouraged me in taking on leadership opportunities that enhanced my teaching and eventually led to my current leadership position.  I particularly liked the way he led cultural change through respect, empowerment and developing teachers’ talents.  My father always taught me to keep a work, life balance and respect other people’s point of view.  I am always mindful that my staff also have family/personal commitments and cultural change occurs when common values are shared.  As a leader I prefer to be a learner rather than a knower, guided by the principles of Adaptive Leadership.

 What is the latest topic on your mind?

Teacher quality and schoolwide pedagogical development are two areas I have focused on to enhance student achievement.  EDvance has enabled me to develop a strong, professional administration team that has the freedom to operate at their optimum through the distributed leadership model.   I want all my staff to develop and build on their professional persona by taking responsibility for self-improvement.  EDvance has introduced us to the concept of using Expert Engagement as a tool for improvement.  This coupled with the Research-Based Framework for Organisational Alignment that uses the Diagnostic Inventory for School Alignment data gathering tool, has been the foundation stone of our success.

Principal interview with Grant Kennedy as he reflects on key learnings from his time in the EDvance program as part of Cohort One. Read his insights and see how the EDvance program continues to support his work as a school leader.

What have been some of the most valuable elements for you from the EDvance program?

The Leading for Learning Framework (Dempster) was central to the work we undertook at North Balga Primary School. With our constant focus on using this Framework and with the ongoing support of EDvance, I believe it was a key strategy to understanding what was most important in our school context and ensuring that these key domains were the drivers of improving student learning. It made it clear that each of the domains has relevance and importance to student success, allowing the ability to identify and prioritise key strategies for improved student learning, linked back to our broader moral purpose.

Secondly, the opportunity to access an experienced and knowledgeable mentor was important, especially as within the EDvance program there is flexibility to use this support as the principal and school seem fit. Rose Moroz was key in challenging me and my leadership team to think of alternatives to problems. It was great to have a mentor that understood the context of the school and was just as invested in the success of the students as my staff and myself are.

Finally, the importance of distributed leadership and this is now the ‘norm’ at North Balga Primary School. This is an area, I truly believe is essential. My staff are willing, competent and have an enormous amount of initiative, and it is my role to activate and facilitate these characteristics to the benefit of improved student learning throughout the school and in preparing pre-school children within the North Balga community.

What are some key ideas from EDvance that you’ve applied in your school?

The importance and necessity of whole school approaches not only in curriculum and teaching but also the conditions for learning. Whole school approaches in curriculum are essential for improved learning which is evident in the school’s NAPLAN data, but whole school approaches to for example, behaviour, student health and classroom environment are just as important to positive progress.

The requirement for professional learning to be targeted and relevant to the school’s Business Plan. It is essential for all staff to be focused on the school’s targets as outlined in the Business Plan, to ensure that professional learning is targeted and well-resourced and leads to desired outcomes in student learning and wellbeing.

The importance of community in creating a culture in the school that is welcoming and vibrant (and the huge amount of energy that this requires in a low socio-economic school) but involving community in the classroom, in decision making and allowing them a voice develops the culture that supports improved student learning.

What is something you wish you had known earlier in your career?

That we should always make the time to keep learning, through professional learning, reading, networking and collegiality, no matter what stage of our career we are at. Education is constantly changing and we need to ensure that as teachers, educational leaders, facilitators or managers we maintain our instructional leadership knowledge and leadership knowledge in general to perform our role effectively.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a principal?

To look after myself! Having recently attended wellbeing professional learning facilitated by Kaya consulting on behalf of the Department of Education, I acknowledged that I had not been consciously looking after my own health and wellbeing. With one or two changes, such as setting an alarm to remind me to get up from my desk and walk around or spending recess and lunchtime in the Staff Room, with these minor changes, I am now making a more conscious effort to ensure I look after myself.

What is the focus of your school improvement journey, two years on from finishing the program?

The Admin team recently engaged with the Fogarty EDvance School Transformation Framework at a half-day workshop presented by Ingrid Sealey, as we had not had opportunity to engage with the Framework in Cohort One. During that workshop, we used the framework to pinpoint our stage of improvement and decided that we were at the top end of Stage 2. We recognised that we had worked through many of the Stage 1 strategies and incorportated them into our practice. We are now doing the same with Stage 2 strategies and many from Stage 3. We used the Dempster model to brainstorm our strategic position and will use this information to drive the development of our new Business Plan that we will be writing to guide us from 2018 to 2020.

What habit or saying from your Mentor has stuck with you?

Challenge yourself to think of an alternative solution. It may not be the solution but it will broaden your thinking and expectations.

Peter Mulcahy was Principal of Westminster Junior Primary School, a school from Cohort 1 of the EDvance Program.

Name 3 valuable things from the EDvance program?

1  Opportunity to network with colleagues around the learnings that we were undertaking in a true action learning model that would make a difference for our schools.

2  The provision of a quality coach/mentor meant that we could really be prepared to “make some bold decisions” in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.  Again, this led to improvements in our school as we reviewed the changes together.

3  The building of long term friendships with leadership teams from across the schools.  As a member of Cohort 1, this built as we progressed through our journey.  I know that it has been an even greater focus for the subsequent cohorts.

What is something from EDvance that you’ve applied in your school?

It is difficult to come up with one thing that I have applied to my new school.  It is really a whole methodology of operation.  I think the biggest impact has come from introducing the Leading for Learning Framework as the base for our Business Plan.  This has provided staff and School Board with that sharp evidence focus around domains.

What is something you wish you had known earlier in your career?

I think it is so important for the Principal to be actively engaged in any professional learning undertaken by staff. In the past, I often opened a session, flitted in and out and then thanked the presenter.  I now realise that if the learning is to be embedded, the Principal’s involvement is critical.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a principal?

As a Principal, we receive lots of advice from a variety of sources. Whilst the buildings/environments and children are similar across schools, the community will drive how you plan.  Get involved with the community, be visible and engage with them!  One of the most important concepts for me is that “you can’t please everyone all of the time”. We need to be true to our moral purpose and apply our beliefs in the context of our school.

What is the latest topic on your mind?

Leadership!!! One of the big changes I made was the creation of “real” leadership opportunities amongst the staff at all levels.  I am constantly looking for ways that I can build this capacity and at the same time provide sustainability to the school site.  Like so many of us in EDvance, as we build our leadership skills in our staff they are often looking to increase their opportunity to apply them.  The unfortunate reality of this for schools is that staff are moving school.  Of course the up side is the increased leadership quality at System level.

How does your current school differ from your previous school – have challenges changed?

My current school is a significantly higher ICSEA.  Staff are similar in that they have the same needs and concerns. Curriculum implementation and the digital world are ongoing issues. The profile of smaller numbers of EALD and Aboriginality is a real difference, reducing some of the communication complexities with the community. There is a greater confidence among parents to come into the school, but their business with work life tends to make them time poor.  These two create an interesting comparison with quality and opportunity of engagement with the school.

What habit or saying from your Mentor has stuck with you?

Perception can so quickly become reality.

Interview with Ros Kay, Principal of Rosalie Primary School  

Name 3 valuable things from the EDvance program?

1. The Edvance Program gave relevant access to current research and best practice. It was delivered by presenters who were already highly successful in the education field or their chosen field and who already had the proven high level leadership skills.

2. Provision of an exceptional mentor was extremely valuable as she was matched well to my needs and the needs of my school. An excellent relationship was formed which consolidated the climate of trust needed to work effectively as partners.

3. The collegiality that was established between the Principals in the cohort was valuable and the realisation that regardless of working in a private school or government school we all faced similar challenges.

What is something from EDvance that you’ve applied in your school?

I established a full understanding of the sound processes required to guide the whole staff through a sustainable cycle of reviewing, planning and implementation of key elements such as moral purpose, vision, policies, curriculum and school plans.

What is something you wish you had known earlier in your career?

The importance of extending your network to include Principal’s from your neighbouring schools. The feeling of isolation as a new Principal was not a healthy one to have. The expectation I had, that as a Principal, ‘you should know everything’ was unrealistic and created unnecessary self-pressures.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a principal?

Keep a constant check on your work and life balance and prioritise well. Accept that change reform is not a quick process but will happen over time. The urgency to get things done in the shortest amount of time at the expense of your family life needs to be constantly questioned.

What is the latest topic on your mind?

Like all schools, the implementation of the new Technologies curriculum presents both challenges and opportunities for Rosalie Primary School. As a community we are currently trying to work our way through the following three questions:

1. How do students learn, and under what conditions do you believe they learn best?

2. What does digital richness now make possible for modern learners, and what are the implications for contemporary teaching and learning?

3. What building blocks are necessary for a modern learning environment that allows our learners to leverage and amplify the opportunities now afforded to them in this digitally rich world?

How does your current school differ from your previous school – have challenges changed?

My current school is in a high socio economic area with exceptionally high academic and non-academic results. Expectations to continually improve are constant and articulated well by a very educated and supportive community. The challenge to meet these expectations is continually reviewed as we seek more innovative and creative ways to do so. The physical presence around the school and the long hours at many school events has increased enormously, resulting in physically being tired all the time. This is compared to the mental and emotional strain of the challenges that I had when in a low socio economic school.

What habit or saying from your Mentor has stuck with you?

As I reached each milestone, no matter how big or small, I received constant but subtle verbal encouragement. This reinforced that I was progressing and achieving the expected levels and ultimately resulted in a growth of personal confidence in my own leadership abilities and a willingness to become more of a risk taker in decision making.

Click here to read the recent article on Ros’ school in The Australian.