Turfing out old ways of doing, weeding out engrained assumptions and hauling NT school communities back on track are just a few of the educator’s finer specialities.
So upon seizing principalship at Berry Springs Primary School back in 2011, Crockford got stuck into doing what she does best; driving positive change.
The school, as she puts it, was in a bleakly “alarming” state.
“The evidence when I first got there was quite compelling,” Crockford recalls.
“The early data reflected a really strong lack of cohesion between school and home and I think the student results were definitely alarming. For instance, there were zero five and six-year-olds who were actually reading, and that’s not normal if you have a look at any cohort.”
“There has always got to be a bit of a bell curve – there wasn’t any. The thing I saw was that the majority of students across all the year levels were basically working well below the expected benchmark, and our NAPLAN results at the time showed 15 per cent accuracy in spelling.”
Six years later the schools’ own bell curve is telling a very different story.
Rising from the dregs of student performance, NAPLAN results named Berry Park as one of the top three performing schools in the NT. It was, as Crockford remembers, a moment of “absolute elation” shared by all staff.
“…we went from not just achieving, but achieving above the expected trajectories nationally,” she recalls.
Today Crockford still struggles to put the milestone into words.
“‘Acknowledgement’ doesn’t actually fit the feeling.
“It’s total affirmation that every day you get up and you walk into the school with every intention to do your best, it actually says ‘you know what? We’ve done our best!’”
There was more to Crockford’s transformation than simply turning around school data; connecting staff to their deeper purpose in the classroom, and to their own development, loomed high on her agenda.
“I think the big focus was creating a culture of high expectations. Providing the clarity to teachers about what they needed to teach and who they were teaching – you’re not teaching year levels, [you’re] teaching children,” she shares.
Thus professional learning communities were hatched, ‘data walls’ framed every classroom, and teachers became wholly accountable for their efforts.
Yet enacting any sort of whole school change, as the Territorian will tell you, is no easy ride.
“At the end of the day, it was very, stressful. The stress points were strong, it did feel uncomfortable and it did feel chaotic.
“But I suppose I just had that strong and consistent story for people: ‘this is about us being able to demonstrate our dedication- how to we show our commitment? How do we deliver?’
“So yes, it didn’t feel comfortable, but change doesn’t feel comfortable...” Crockford says.
It’s probably no surprise that Crockford’s leadership has been hailed as “transformational”.
Starting out as a preschool teacher at Berry Springs, the same school she would return to as principal years later, Crockford is quick to mention she had leadership aspirations early on.
“I was drawn to leading pedagogy, I really had a passion for ‘let’s look at the ingrown assumptions that permeate throughout classrooms and move away from that worksheet-based to more inquiry-based learning,” she says.
Having taken up the reins at Leanyer Primary School this year, Crockford is once again setting the foundations for change in place.
Working with the school’s existing catchcry “Building brighter futures” the educator indeed has bright plans to forge a curriculum rich in the creative arts.
“It’s about saying ‘what is our culture?’... I’m not here to try and create a set of values for us all, but I am interested in ‘what is our purpose?’, what is our moral purpose in the school?’”