Building A Culture Of Learning – Jennifer Oaten

When we survey our new parents and ask them the main reasons, they chose Santa Maria College, the quality of our teachers is usually the number one response. Without great teachers, Santa Maria would not be consistently achieving strong academic results and many other great outcomes for our students. Our teachers are the backbone of this success. I believe Santa Maria College is fortunate to have some of the best teachers in the state.

How do we ensure our teachers have the knowledge and skills to maximise the learning and engagement of all students?

It is evident to me that at Santa Maria, we have a culture of learning, and we actively invest in professional development. To ensure this continues to be a focus, we included in our Learning for Life pillar in our strategic plan, the goal to empower our staff to grow, innovate, and lead, to deliver excellence in teaching and learning. Our teachers actively embrace growth opportunities, have a true sense of pride in being the best teacher they can be and are really passionate about their vocation.

How do we empower staff to deliver excellence in teaching and learning?

Our teachers are committed to their ongoing development and willingly participate in professional learning opportunities to further develop their unique and powerful skillset, often in their own time.

Teachers engage in professional learning to stimulate their thinking and professional knowledge and ensure that current research critically informs their practice. This enables our teachers to inspire their students and provide high-quality teaching and learning experiences, allowing the learners to achieve their best.

Types of professional learning at Santa Maria

Professional learning takes place through conferences, courses, workshops, and research. Still, our model focusses on a school-wide approach with opportunities that cater to individual staff needs and those in different career stages.

Choice and relevance to individuals and context are key to improvement, so many of our opportunities are tailor-made for our staff.

We are also fortunate to have a Head of Professional Learning who works very closely with our Deputy Principal – Teaching and Learning to lead the growth of our teachers.

Each year the College has a whole school focus on teaching and learning. In recent years the focus has been:

  • 2018   GRIT
  • 2019   Connecting Learning to Life
  • 2020   Effective Feedback
  • 2021   3Cs (Creativity, Collaboration and Critical Thinking)
  • 2022   Partnerships for Learning

While there is a new focus each year, we continue to review and reflect on past focus areas as they all contribute to improved learning.

Partnerships for Learning encompasses not only student partnerships but also staff partnerships. We encourage staff to learn from each other and with each other.

Examples of professional learning opportunities at Santa Maria

Cognitive Load Theory Workshops

Our teachers partnered with Dr Tim McDonald to understand the transfer of information in learners’ working (short term) memory to their long-term memory. It is based on neuroscience and research conducted at UNSW. The research (Cognitive Load Theory) provided seven strategies to reduce cognitive overload. These strategies are now being implemented across the College to determine their impact on more effective learning.

High Impact Practices (HIPs)

This 6-month program about high impact teaching enables the teachers to engage in professional conversations to unpack theory and evidence, observe practice, self-reflect on current practice, provide support for one another, and translate new, refreshed learnings in the classroom.

Purposeful Pedagogies

An interdisciplinary experience focussing on Project-Based Learning. Teachers from different Learning Areas have explored real-world issues together, documenting their teaching and learning journey. As a result, Year 6 students have participated in an Eco-warriors project, ‘How might we help living things thrive in our local environment?’ producing a digital resource pitching their evidence-based perspective on a global issue.

Learning Blue Print

Led by neuroscientist, educator and author Jared Cooney-Horvath, this opportunity explores the latest, powerful research about learning. Over six months, staff have explored foundations of thinking, principles of learning, from surface to deep learning and transfer, assessment and feedback for deep learning, and leading learning for impact. Participants have created their own micro-projects to amplify learning at the College.

Deans Leadership Program

Our Deans of Students have been engaged in professional learning with Jenny Cole from Positively Beaming, focussing on the leadership of wellbeing and change. The sessions focussed on coaching, listening, and the drama triangle and developing high-level skills in these areas of leadership.

Head of Learning Leadership Series

This four-part series designed and facilitated by an external presenter specifically for Santa Maria Heads of Learning focussed on being clear about what matters, understanding your people and yourself as a leader, and maximising their impact as a leader.

Current and Aspiring Leaders

This two-day program involved reflective and strengths-based conversations that help identify and articulate a shared vision and purpose for their team and their roles—understanding human interactions and fundamental frameworks that will help them successfully navigate different perspectives in their role as leaders.

ICT Workshops

Staff have presented to colleagues in ICT workshops to develop skills in data analytics, effective use of TEAMs and OneNote, including feedback for learning, remote teaching on a Surface Pro, a coding challenge, and sharing innovative online tools.

Plenary Council Workshops

A reflective study group led by Sister Breda through four workshops in which an understanding of the role of the Plenary Council in shaping the future of the Australian Catholic Church

All of these opportunities are vital for the growth of our staff and support staff retention while also ensuring we have a succession plan when our staff take up promotional or other opportunities.

I am proud of all the staff, their dedication and their ability to be ‘a shining lamp giving light to all around us’ (Catherine McAuley). Thank you for helping build this incredible culture of learning at Santa Maria College for both the students and staff.

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