How to transform your school...for free

Stephanie McConnell, Turramurra High School principal, told The Educator how she made her school’s dream learning space a reality through a shared vision and community involvement.

“I went out and talked to people about our school’s dream. Our students also made a video about the vision we had for the learning space,” McConnell said, adding that parent groups’ word of mouth also helped push the project along.

Turramurra High School’s Inside Out project, and how it was accomplished, has profound lessons for principals elsewhere. The first step, McConnell said, is for principals to be proactive about what they want and how they’re going to achieve it.

What’s your vision?
McConnell, who is currently leading a reference group of secondary principals on behalf of the Secondary Principals’ Council (SPC), said there is an increased focus within schools to develop new learning spaces.

“Principals are very interested in finding ways to change how teaching and learning is happening in their schools - The conversation is around how learning spaces can be the lever to bring about that kind of change,” McConnell explained.

“I work closely with a number of schools in our area and they see the benefit of what we’ve done here and how something like this can be applied within their schools.”

Tight budget? Get the community involved
To help bring her school’s project to fruition, McConnell was able to get the support of the community bank in Turramurra as well as the Australian Men’s Sheds Association (AMSA), which built the seating for the outdoor space.

While principals may write off ambitious ideas they might have for their schools because of a lack of Government funding, it should not stop them from turning to their community for help, McConnell said.

“There are principals who will say that these changes are impossible, because public schools are not given the money for these things – but it is possible,” McConnell said, adding that budgeting was unnecessary thanks to the school’s fundraising efforts.

“I paid nothing for this incredible space,” McConnell said, adding that the success of the project has now allowed the school to offer its staff three $5,000 learning space scholarships.

“Our staff can now apply for these grants so they can transform another space within the school.

“It’s not about saying ‘we can’t do it because we’re limited’, it’s about having the attitude ‘we have to do it because we are limited’.”