This year, more than 770,000 students are attending Catholic schools, and on the face of it, this figure is an impressive one, highlighting the sector as a trusted and popular institution for young people across Australia. But just like the public and private school systems,the Catholic school sector is faced with some increasingly complex challenges in the year ahead.
Serious staffing shortages, seismic education policy changes and worsening youth mental health and wellbeing issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic are weighing heavily on the minds of the sector’s school leaders who are tasked with ensuring their staff and students bounce back from a heavily disruptive year and regain their focus and motivation in 2022.
Below, The Educator speaks to Catholic Secondary Principals Australia (CaSPA) president, Ann Rebgetz, about what kind of year 2022 will be for the health and wellbeing of the sector’s leaders, navigating duty of care in a Covid world, improving staff professional development and maintaining effective leadership.
TE: What kind of year is 2022 shaping up to be for the health and wellbeing of Australia’s Catholic secondary school principals?
Catholic Secondary Principals Australia believe 2022 is full of challenges for principals being in a context of hybrid learning models, Covid restrictions around school classes and events, amidst growing compliance requirements, the tightropes of legislation and interpretation, and student educational aspirations and attainments. Nonetheless, our recent survey data would show a high role satisfaction as would the data from the Professor Riley Well Being Survey. However, the data also shows the extensive hours worked by principals, so amidst this a good understanding of protective factors is imperative. As Catholic Secondary Principals an understanding of spirituality and general wellbeing is a constant reminder to all - this can also be challenging as the bridging of equity gaps is at the heart of our ethos.
TE: Duty of care is a crucial aspect of leading a school. Are there any serious challenges you foresee for Australian Catholic secondary schools navigating this important responsibility in 2022?
The greatest challenge will be to provide the best holistic education in a context where there is still uncertainty. As Covid has increased equity gaps, then the pathway to best learning outcomes has become more complex. There is a clouding with requirements in workplaces being more stringent, along with increased mental health issues associated with isolation. Students thrive on the building of confidence, and having opportunities to 'wet their feet' in the waters of experiences of learning. Our duty of care will be tested in ensuring we do this to the best of our ability.
TE: Have professional development priorities for Catholic secondary school staff changed since 2021?
Key PD priorities will vary from school to school, but will most likely incorporate online learning delivery modes. Other priorities will include understanding diverse needs and wellbeing, cultural learnings and competency, effective pedagogical practice with high impact, aligning of student outcomes with future oriented transferrable skills, innovative approaches with an emphasis on STEAM learning and competency.
TE: What will be the most pressing leadership priorities for Catholic secondary school principals in 2022?
A high ranked leadership priority will be ensuring there is strong leadership at the helm- this means investing in developing the leadership capital of the Senior Leadership Team of the School, and ensuring that all are leading strategically and as a team. Again, in being strategic, developing capacity of Middle Leaders and Teachers will have far reaching effects. The blueprint and vision of the school needs to be clear to facilitate all being on the one page. Commitment to the ethos and culture of the school inclusive of the faith of the community will provide impetus, collaboration and focus to achieve the local, national, and global goals for schools, taking into account their specific contexts. Understanding culturally diverse learners to create a more equitable society enabling potential to be maximized underpins all that we do. Leading well in resourcing is again crucial to outcomes.