Leadership in learning at St Peter’s Primary School
St Peter’s Primary School in Epping, Victoria, has won a number of national awards over the past three years. One of them was given to the principal, Katherine Hudson, who has this year received a National Award for Quality Schooling in the category of ‘Excellence by a Principal Highly Commended’.
Katherine has been the principal at St Peter’s for six years. During this time she has demonstrated her deep commitment to Catholic education, engaging the mind and nurturing the spirit of all members of the St Peter’s community. The strategic direction she has offered, and the high expectations for quality teaching and learning she has set, have made the school a leader in literacy, numeracy, elearning, student wellbeing and teacher professional learning and leadership.
By describing the school and Katherine’s leadership role within it, I hope also to describe some of the elements of good practice at St Peter’s that can be shared with educators elsewhere.
St Peter’s Primary School
St. Peter’s Primary School has a current enrolment of just over 540 students. The school stands on the fringe of Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Semi-rural until recently, there is currently intense housing development in the area. The school has a large number of families of Italian background, some Maltese, and of late, growing numbers of South-East Asian, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Filipino and several South American migrants to complement the Anglo-Celtic population. It is a three stream school from Prep to Year 6.
In 2006 St Peter’s Primary School received a National Award for Quality Schooling for outstanding achievement in school improvement. The school also received a National Achievement award for Literacy in 2006 and 2005 and for Literacy and Numeracy in 2004. Julie Percy, one of the teachers at St Peter’s, received a National Excellence Award in Teaching in 2006.
Approaches to teaching and learning
Some of the school’s recent success can be attributed to the teaching and learning beliefs that have been consolidated under Katherine’s leadership.
We believe in a school where all cultures are valued and respected and children show tolerance towards each other. Teachers and children share responsibility for learning and encourage a home-school partnership to promote learning excellence. Curriculum content is relevant and language is gender inclusive. Resilience is encouraged to help children move forward. We believe that all children can learn given sufficient time and support.
Children are challenged to inquire, practise, consolidate and reflect on their own learning. They are encouraged to pose problems, take risks and identify their own gifts and talents, thereby developing a full range of skills that they can draw on to succeed. Activities are both child centred and teacher directed, providing children with the opportunities to learn both independently and in group situations. Individual needs and learning styles are catered for through the inclusion of developmentally appropriate learning tasks.
Planning is directed by the children’s prior knowledge and is ascertained through pre-assessment activities that identify growth points for learning. Individual learning plans are developed for children with special needs. Appropriate resources are selected for the delivery of relevant content that extends the children’s experiences and understandings. Both children and teachers are involved in reflecting on, representing and reporting on achievable goals and celebrating successes.
Assessment is important as a means of identifying each child’s strengths and weaknesses and then establishing starting points for teaching. Assessment is ongoing through observation, monitoring and recording of children’s progress. It informs and directs teaching and leads to program evaluation. Opportunities for self-assessment and peer appraisal provide additional information. Progress is reported to both children and parents with constructive feedback.
High expectations are set in order to encourage and challenge learners to take risks, and scaffold onto their learning. Learning programs allow for children to work within their zone of proximal development.
The environment is stimulating, motivational and supportive.
Providing leadership for school staff
This atmosphere is also found among teaching staff at St Peter’s. During her tenure Katherine has transformed the school into a professional learning community in which teachers work together to improve outcomes for all students.
Katherine has introduced the staff to the writings and theories of educational experts and theorists such as Peter Hill and Carmel Crevola, Peter Senge, Howard Gardiner, Michael Fullan, Louise Stoll and Neville Johnson.
Katherine has also provided opportunities for early entry into system initiatives such as CLaSS (Children’s Literacy Success Strategy), Building Literacy 3 to 4, Learning to Read, Reading to Learn and SINE P-4 and 5-8. These initiatives, together with participation in the eLearning Schools Research Project (Quality Teaching and Learning project) and the Literacy Assessment Research Project (Catholic Education Office), have brought about a shift in emphasis from teaching to learning.
Katherine has a strong belief that professional learning, reflection on practice, collaboration, high expectations and collective accountability need to exist within the structure of a professional learning team. An example is the Prep to Year 2 CLaSS team, which has been able to transform teaching and learning practices in literacy, with the data collected showing significant gains. Considerable growth in teacher knowledge and skills in literacy has been transferred across all learning areas. There is enthusiasm for exploring and trialling new and effective ways to engage all students.
Technology has been focused on the needs of student learning and has provided ICT resources for staff. St Peter’s was one of eight Catholic primary schools in Melbourne included in the eLearning Schools Research Project. Katherine obtained funding to implement a four-year plan for the upgrade of the technology, including the provision of three Interactive Whiteboards. She encourages teachers to trial new initiatives that engage children in the authentic use of technology, demonstrated through use of the Learning Management System of Myclasses from Myinternet and the Learning Federation learning objects, and by entry into Think.com.
Katherine has worked with parents to improve the school’s physical environment. A new multi-purpose centre, completed at the end of last year, has provided the school community with a much needed gathering space.
By demonstrating her vision of improving learning for all, Katherine has shown that she is able to motivate and inspire her staff and students to come on the learning journey with her.
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Teaching and learning