In my case as deputy principal of Student Wellbeing at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College, the attraction of working with a diverse group of students and families is just that. Enhanced by the vision of the principal, Marco DiCesare and the leadership team, there is a commitment to the complete development of each student.
The college embraces a triangle of communication and participation where the school, family and students contribute to the life of the college.
It’s a long drive from the family home in Tecoma to Melbourne’s inner-western suburb of Braybrook and the three campus, 1500 student, 70 nationality community I serve, but the chance to create a connected and engaged community makes the three to four hours spent commuting each day worthwhile.
I am an unexpected leader or even learning in a disciplined, academic manner. I love to sculpt, construct, write and share ideas and that delight in building, shaping and moulding form to achieve an outcome through a logical application of observed and explicit understanding is what encouraged my ambition.
It is evident to me, for each of us to fulfil the college’s mantra ‘To be the best we are called to be’, we must seek to nurture a purposeful environment where students can identify their character strengths, be mindful of others and recognise their preferred learning styles.
We need to adopt a goal setting and review process as the keys to establishing successful strategies where students learn to function as an individual and to work in harmony with others.
As a wellbeing leader in a Catholic school setting, my focus is to facilitate a sense of belonging and connection with our students, their families and our staff that permeates beyond the taking of rolls and the ticking of ‘duty of care’ boxes.
My energy is focused on building a community which supports a personalised and growth based approach to achieving excellence, in so much as the outcomes reflect student potential in forming positive relationships, making good decisions and identifying pathway opportunities.
Beyond a ‘score’, at VCE, the journey is ongoing and the school plays a significant role in preparing global citizens with a foundation of values, a faith grounded in hope and a belief in our capacity to transcend the ordinary in our search for meaning in life.
This focus is crucial in the culturally diverse area where the college is located. Our Family Schools Partnership Program helps to bridge cultural gaps and create a sense of belonging and fulfilment by offering services that range from swimming classes, breakfast clubs, English classes for parents and homework help workshops where families can sit in and learn with the children.
A key initiative I am implementing is to further the relationship between student and home group teacher by keeping the same consistent teacher throughout the first three junior years of high school so the teacher and families can best help students achieve their goals.
This personal understanding of a complete education is probably a result of my own journey as a learner; one which married an inquisitive nature and a kinaesthetic learning style to the task of acquiring knowledge and understanding.
Following several years at Monash University, ostensibly working (and I use the word loosely) through an arts degree, I resolved to ‘learn by doing’ and spent the next 10 or so years working in industries as diverse as commercial flower farming, real estate, transport, disability and building.
After jumping from job to job, I went back to tertiary study to become a teacher, realising it is the only profession that can hold me down.
My thirst for learning has evolved into a passion for coaching and leading staff and students in discovery of themselves as learners.
Nearly 20 years on as an educator, I’ve worked as deputy principal and campus director at Lavalla Catholic College in Traralgon where I promoted my mantra of life, the four R’s of personal development - Relationship, Responsibility, Rehearsal and Reflection and a classroom teacher at St Joseph’s College in Ferntree Gully where I realised that I loved to teach and importantly, that I was able to establish a connection with students, particularly those who were not comfortable in the industrial style classroom setting.
The values that underpin my approach to learning is something I also try to instil in my own three sons.
We bought a rundown home in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges where we grew-up and proceeded to renovate it ourselves, one step at a time, including our three older boys in the work of creating our spaces.
Construction of a sprung floor wrestling ring, quarter pipe, cricket pitch and soccer goals kept the boys interested in the work, but the message was that anything is possible if you are prepared to plan and problem solve your way through the challenge of making your vision a reality. Thankfully, that is what they are doing in their own lives now.
I hope that the skills in personal development, goal setting and understanding one’s own strengths is something that will continue with the students of Caroline Chisholm Catholic College long after the last time they leave the front gates.
I truly believe all students have learning gifts and unique qualities which when encouraged and recognised allow them to flourish.
It’s a role worth travelling for.