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Across Australia’s education landscape, teachers are demonstrating their influence in extraordinary ways, ranging from pioneering school–industry partnerships and vast networks of influential educators to helping supercharge students’ STEM education through world-class entrepreneurial learning programs.
The innovative spirit of Australia’s teachers and leaders not only survived the disruption that befell Australia’s schools during the COVID-19 pandemic but also supercharged and upended conventional norms, paving the way for new thinking and practices in classrooms.
"A one-size-fits-all approach to education reform no longer works, and education systems of the future need to take a differentiated approach,” says Seckin Ungur partner at McKinsey & Co. “Successful school transformations have some key similarities. They invest in quality teaching and leadership at all levels and embed collaboration for continuous improvement. The role of the teaching professional evolves, and organisational health is prioritised, rather than just performance.
“It’s important for educators to be open to learning, leveraging new research to inform practice and challenging conventions that stretch possibility in asking the question, ‘How might we prompt people to think beyond the normalised paradigms of teaching and leadership?’”
Liz Foster, Wavell State High School
Hot List 2022 winner Michelle Fitzpatrick, head of technology and enterprise at St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School, is leading a world-class problem-based entrepreneurial learning experience for Year 10s that includes some of the largest businesses in Australia.
“After several students from the ‘Creating Apps’ elective were successful in national and global STEM competitions and met experts from tech giants in Brisbane, Sydney and Silicon Valley, we developed the i3 Program [interdisciplinary intelligence and innovation], introducing STEM role models to all students,” Fitzpatrick tells The Educator.
The program’s success is evident, and it has even seen one pupil become a tech entrepreneur.
“Anecdotally, the number of students that have pursued STEM-based university degrees since the i3 Program launched has increased from 43% to between 59% and 68%. One student secured a five-figure contract to create an app, and by age 17 she established her own company,” explains Fitzpatrick.
Meagan King has been leading innovation at Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC) in Perth for the past three years and is another Hot List winner.
In 2023, King will join award-winning Gold Coast school Canterbury College as its new deputy principal, but her inspirational legacy will be felt at MLC for years to come.
King chairs MLC’s Education Leadership Team and is also co-founder of the Innovation in Education Festival, an initiative sparked largely by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the complex challenges it presented to schools.
It has run in both Brisbane and Perth, with over 200 delegates attending each event.
King says, “We also introduced Student Streams, hosting 100 students from across schools in each state. Our festival has enabled amazing collaborations and partnerships between schools, the university sector and industry. We are really excited to see what comes next.”
“You can’t have a great school without great people. We are struggling to retain our superstars, let alone attract people to the profession, so as a society, we need to increase the respect we hold for the teaching profession”
Steve Francis, Happy School
Happy School CEO Steve Francis, who is also on the Hot List, has been building teacher capacity through his Leadership Sprints initiative, which promotes well-regarded teachers into leadership roles.
“You can’t have a great school without great people. We are struggling to retain our superstars, let alone attract people to the profession, so as a society, we need to increase the respect we hold for the teaching profession,” Francis tells The Educator.
“The School Leadership Sprints are designed as very short, sharp videos, less than 10 minutes, on one specific, important leadership issue. They can be integrated into the leadership team meeting once or twice per term to prompt discussions and decisions that will align the leadership team.”
Francis explains how the Sprints can also be used by individuals and aspiring leaders for on-demand professional development.
“The response from schools has been huge and the feedback extremely positive.”
At Firbank Grammar School, Hot List winner principal Jenny Lee Williams’ 7 Principles program is creating opportunities for students to thrive in a complex, ever-changing world.
“The 7 Principles define how we do things at Firbank. Learning is at the heart of everything we do, so being able to describe the conditions using a common language that can maximise the learning in our classrooms is essential. It’s the how of teaching and learning,” Williams explains.
“A strong belief underpinning the 7 Principles program is that wellbeing is intrinsically interwoven with learning, within all our interactions. Choosing the right mind frame, acting with kindness and being present are all considered integral to the learning process.”
Williams says an ongoing focus in 2023 is to continue the development of the 7 Principles of Practice Series to ensure the program’s success is sustained.
“These are short videos with supporting research and documentation that show what these principles look like in practice. These resources intend to provide a learning library for staff to access at any time,” she adds.
“A strong belief underpinning the 7 Principles program is that wellbeing is intrinsically interwoven with learning, within all our interactions”
Jenny Lee Williams, Firbank Grammar School
Also featuring on the Hot List is Therese Turner-Jones, who currently heads the English Department at Wenona School in NSW. Turner-Jones reveals how her education philosophy is reinforced by her ambition to make a difference and her being in awe of what students bring to their study of English.
“It’s literature that really underpins everything that I do, so it’s a very enriching [and] worthwhile experience,” she says.
“As a teacher in NSW, I hope to build my network even further to support the work being done in schools, and as an influential educator I will ensure that I use the mediums of influence that I have – social media and presenting to groups of staff and students – so that these areas are discussed and brought to the attention of those in positions of influence and change.”
Wavell State High School executive principal Liz Foster says educators “should be constantly evolving in considering how they create environments that build resourcefulness for all involved, to add value to their school community and to society at large”.
The Hot List winner explains, “It’s important for educators to be open to learning, leveraging new research to inform practice and challenging conventions that stretch possibility in asking the question, ‘How might we prompt people to think beyond the normalised paradigms of teaching and leadership?’”
As a member of the ACEL executive team in Queensland, Foster has also been encouraging educators to stretch the boundaries through conversations, research and practice.
“Clarity on the purpose of school and education serves as a provocation for discussion,” Foster adds.
“We need to challenge thinking that prompts us to consider how we might collectively construct a preferable future of schooling, reimagining and renegotiating learning in a world where access to knowledge is in abundance and knowing what to do with this matters.”
“Anecdotally, the number of students that have pursued STEM-based university degrees since the i3 Program launched has increased from 43% to between 59% and 68%”
Michelle Fitzpatrick, St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ Schooll
The Educator received nominations for the eighth annual Hot List between 22 August and 16 September. The team obtained details of the nominees’ achievements and contributions to the profession.
Nominees were evaluated based on the overall impact of their work in the K-12 education sector over the past 12 months, demonstrating expertise in linking theory and practice, and designing and implementing innovations that provide students with high-quality educational experiences during these unprecedented times.