Leading a multicultural school of 850 students, principal Matt Lewis believes in celebrating, not just tolerating, diversity.
Through successful project-based learning ventures, a renewed focus on phonics, and a diverse range of extracurricular activities, Lewis and his executive team at Lidcombe Public School have ensured that students thrive from receiving a well-rounded education.
“We're focused on developing the whole child – that's what's really important here,” Lewis told The Educator.
“I've been in education for 33 years now, and 18 years as a principal. What I've learned, particularly after Covid, is that you just need to make your children happy.”
Lewis highlighted the importance of leaders being visible and engaged with students, saying he greets the school’s children when they arrive in the morning and when they leave in the afternoon.
“When students walk through the school gate, it feels like they get a big warm hug.”
“I always thought as a teacher, I don't want to go up any further because I'll miss the contact with the kids, but as a principal, I've probably got more contact with kids and more than just one class.”
Lewis said one of the most noticeable changes after the Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 was the ability to connect.
“This was tremendously tough on kids, and not enough people were talking about that with kids. So, we've now making sure our children are happy, that they feel comforted, connected and supported so that there's a growth in confidence.”
Turbocharging student potential
Lewis and his team recently developed a program called Lidcombe Learner following consultation with key groups within the school’s teaching and learning community.
“We've come up with 12 skills or traits that we see in our kids, that we're going to continue to make sure we bring out,” Lewis said. “This means that when they become adults, they’re equipped with the skills to become CEOs and managers, as well as being a happy person.”
A key component of the program, says Lewis, is empowering student voice, which he found to be lacking when he first joined the school.
“I feel as though we need to give children their voice, because they've got plenty to say,” he said. “From 2011 to right now, we’ve been empowering student voice and now they really look forward to our public speaking competitions within their classes.”
Lewis said the school has district and regional champions in public speaking competitions, and has even had one participate at a state level.
“Our kids really respond to those challenges, and they love doing it.”
Fostering good sportsmanship – beyond winning titles
In addition to his extensive experience in education leadership, Lewis is also a seasoned sportsman who played in the 2020 Over 50’s Cricket World Cup, clinched the 2019 CrossFit Masters League National Championship (50-54 age division), and boasts an illustrious coaching career with wins for U18's Southern Districts Rugby, U17's Bankstown cricket, and multiple NSWPSSA U12’s Rugby Union titles.
So, it’s no surprise that Lewis has taken a proactive approach to helping the school’s students become more engaged in sporting activities.
“The kids only did a few sports before I joined the school, and so we got right involved in every sport that we possibly could,” he said.
Between 2012 and 2019, the school’s students won championships in swimming, cross country and athletics, Lewis noted.
“That comes from being just happy at school and wanting to represent,” he said, adding that while there is joy in winning a competition, this doesn’t mean success.
“It doesn't mean being first. It means having a go and doing your absolute best and being recognised for being brave enough to be out there on your own, or being part of that team and exhibiting good sportsmanship, good play, all those sorts of things.”
Be the role model students need
Another successful initiative that Lewis spearheaded was "The Principal’s Office" YouTube series, in which he discusses school insights for Pre-Service and Early Career Teachers. The ‘vodcasts’ cover school culture, focus areas, student achievement, and topics like high expectations and effective feedback.
When asked what he believes is needed to bring positive change to education right now, Lewis emphasised the importance of educators embodying positivity and becoming "the" role model for students.
By doing so, says Lewis, teachers can inspire students, potentially motivating them to become educators themselves.
“What we really need to do as teachers is find the love for the students, so no matter if we're in a difficult situation or an easy situation, we find that love and let them know they're being loved,” he said.
“Principals need to take away all the extraneous stuff from teachers and let them do their core job. Let them focus on that. Celebrate your school community. Be visible and be visibly happy.”
In conclusion, Lewis highlighted the importance of showcasing and recognise the positive and impactful work that schools, teachers and leaders are doing, which in turn can boost the morale of the profession, which has been experiencing exceptionally tough times in recent years.
“There are so many positive things happening within schools,” he said. “If we do that as one school, one community together, then the wins for everybody will be tremendous.”