School leverages the latest in neuroscience for impact

School leverages the latest in neuroscience for impact

Earlier this month, The Educator’s fifth annual Innovative Schools list revealed the schools at the cutting edge of change and innovation in Australia.

Ranked among the list of 44 outstanding schools was Genazzano FCJ College, a Roman Catholic, day and boarding school for girls, located in Kew, an eastern suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

The College was recognised for the work that its Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences is doing to promote an understanding of brain function and health for improved learning and living, and in doing so, lift student outcomes across the campus.

At the College, teachers use their expertise to translate and apply specific neuroscientific principles to different contexts for enhanced learning outcomes.

Below, The Educator speaks to Genazzano FCJ College principal, Karen Jebb, to find out more about the impact this is having across Genazzano’s teaching and learning community.

TE: Can you tell us about the programs that have contributed to the Institute’s success?

KJ: Three years ago, Genazzano committed to a whole-school approach to professional learning, that embraced the Science of Learning, to promote the principles of Psychology, Education and Neuroscience (PEN principles) for improved learning and teaching across our P-12 campus. These principles have afforded our College a shared understanding of the way the brain embraces learning and underpins the teaching practices across the College. Perhaps, most powerfully, our teachers have become researchers within their own classrooms. They have collaborated, collected data and synthesised results, with the sole purpose of improving the learning experience that takes place in each and every classroom, every day. It is not about our teachers becoming brain-researchers, the key is in the ‘translation’. Above all, our teachers have translated the scientific principles of learning and applied these creatively and innovatively to their own class and context. And we haven’t stopped there. Our Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences is sharing our research and discoveries about learning on both a national and international level. For example, in August 2019, in collaboration with the Australian College of Educators, our Institute hosted our inaugural conference entitled: ‘The Science of Learning: Education with the Brain in Mind’. The excitement was palpable in the air, as Genazzano teachers together with numerous local and interstate delegates heard from our teachers, alongside world experts in psychology, education and neuroscience. Our staff and their research are now in demand and requested to speak at both future, national and international conferences. We certainly are on an exciting trajectory at Genazzano with learning and the brain at the forefront.

TE: In your view, how does one drive true innovation at a school’s leadership level?

KJ: I believe that leaders in education have a thirst for innovation and this drives – and improves – student-learning outcomes on so many levels. At Genazzano, we aim to constantly improve; where what we do well, becomes better, and what we do better than others, becomes the best. One of the most satisfying aspects about being in education, is that the job is never complete; the learning journey is never over – we grow, we change, we move forward and we are challenged to become better than we were yesterday. In order to do this, we need to take calculated risks and try something new. We need to be consciously open to and look for innovation. As leaders, we need to be alert to what is being discussed and explored in the local, national and international arena and question, critique, imagine and dream about what the educational landscape can become. In addition, leadership in schools must take action to move from the theoretical realm, to make a more tangible and meaningful difference in schools. Making time and providing resources for innovation is vital in schools. It needs to be a high priority in a school’s schedule, with enthusiastic and optimistic leaders driving it, resourcing it, and embracing it, at all levels. Of upmost importance for leadership in schools is the aptitude and perception to recognise and support the talented innovators in schools and empower them to teach and lead change and promote evolution.

TE: What are the most exciting and impactful developments you have observed at the school as a result of the programs you offer?

KJ: At the conclusion of each of our Science of Learning Professional Learning Modules, our teachers present the findings of their Micro-projects (classroom research) in a gala showcase. The projects involve pre-testing, applying a learning intervention based on one or more of the PEN Principles, and post-testing, to determine the impact of the chosen intervention. The presentations by individual and/or small groups of teachers, have occasioned a profound impact on learning in the classrooms and beyond. Teachers have shared evidence in the form of improved results in many key areas, endorsed by positive student feedback. The evidence gained from students is equally as powerful as, for example, their assessment results. Our students can eloquently explain how a change in teaching practice has engaged them in their learning and enhanced their understanding of how the brain works, when learning takes place. Furthermore, through our Student Brain Club, our students have conducted their own research, are harnessing their own voice and sharing their experience to improve their learning for both school and life. At Genazzano, we know how important the Science of Learning is and we have taken our passion for learning to the broader community by providing a range of opportunities for them to learn about the brain, through events such as free community seminars, national student competitions, regular newsletters and our inaugural conference. 2020 is already shaping up with several innovative developments underway.

TE: I understand that in 2020, the Institute will launch campaign to promote neurodiversity in education and to develop individual student learning profiles. Can you tell us more about this?

KJ: We have exciting plans for 2020 that include a research project to acknowledge and celebrate the strengths of diverse learners, alongside the opening of a new brain, technology and learning hub at the College. In addition, we are thrilled to announce a student led symposium for Neurodiversity Week (Mar 16-20). Our aim here is to reach out and to engage with other schools and institutions, to promote better understanding, support and appreciation for the strengths that lie within all learners. At Genazzano, we want all our learners to excel in their own way, to feel supported by their teachers and peers, and confident about themselves as individuals with unique strengths, who are valued and known by their school community. We are continuing to develop our individual student learning profiles, incorporating a holistic framework, underpinned by the tenets of Ignatian pedagogy. The launch, later this month, of our 2020 Profile will once again highlight Genazzano as an innovative school, a leader in girl’s education and at the forefront of educational debate and innovation.