Fostering a culture of trust and belonging

Fostering a culture of trust and belonging

Nick Johnstone, the principal of Bishop Druitt College in Coffs Harbour, NSW, emphasises the value of trust and inclusiveness in his leadership philosophy. Recognised as one of The Educator’s Most Influential Educators in 2022, Johnstone shares in this interview the best practices that have transformed his school’s culture over the past four years. 

Johnstone describes his management style as non-traditional, saying that he applies “blue sky thinking” to create an atmosphere of positivity where effective teams can thrive.

“No idea is a bad idea. And then we’ve got an opportunity to refine skills and bring innovative practice forward,” Johnstone tells The Educator. “We’ve got plenty of examples where, what seemed to be at face value a bit of a crazy idea has turned into one of our bread-and-butter programs, so it’s pretty exciting to be able to do that.”

When it comes to best management practices, one of Johnstone’s major accomplishments is a strategic plan made in consultation with the school community, including staff members and parents. The College’s strategic plan consists of two main components: first is “the vision for how to teach and learn in the school and what kind of citizens [the school wanted] to make” and second is an assessment of how the school is “going to feel like and look like from the built environment side”. To achieve these goals, Johnstone and his team oversaw investments in classroom renovations, which have created a flexible, 21st-century learning environment.

Another priority is strengthening the College’s wellness hub by appointing a director of student wellbeing in addition to the current psychologist, family counsellor, and chaplains. Furthermore, arts and sport programs are being enhanced to contribute towards “holistic education, building high-capacity citizens, and [educating] children that are well prepared [to go] into society”.

Having paid attention to the growing political awareness among the youth, Johnstone is also opening up a greater space for students’ voices at Bishop Druitt College.

“Student voice is vital in everything from your co-curricular through to your curricula, [and] it actually helps build culture in a school,” he says. “If [students] feel heard, they don’t feel powerless. And that’s one of the issues around mental health – because a lot of students don’t feel as though what they do matters and has an impact on the world.”

Johnstone believes that encouraging young people to express their views and get involved in key issues – such as formulating a climate policy for the school and a reconciliation action plan with Aboriginal communities – enables them to be more attuned to their environment. This in turn brings a stronger sense of belonging, which makes students feel happy and safe.

Another inspiring development at the College is the cooperation between faculty heads and student focus groups in generating ideas for the World Options elective course, which gives students a more diverse program of study that was not available to older generations. Through such activities, “student voice can be the heart of the school, the curriculum in the classroom,” Johnstone says.

Watch the full interview here