Victorian Education Excellence Awards
In 2016, I had been the principal at Woori Yallock PS for 6 years. I had just been nominated for Principal Of The Year, and as a school we had been nominated for the Outstanding School Advancement Award at the Victorian Education Excellence Awards.
The awards venue was like a scene out of Hogwarts, which added to the surreal nature of the evening, far removed from the day-to-day realities of school life.
The night itself remains in the top 10 moments of my life. I put this down to the satisfaction I received from the six years of blood, sweat and tears that culminated in that awards night. I take pride in looking back and seeing my staff so happy, enjoying the acknowledgement and recognition. Turning around a school changes the lives not only of the students, but also the staff.
In the background in the lead up to the awards, I had been looking for a change, a new challenge, an opportunity that allowed me to have a wider impact than my immediate school community. Around this time an opportunity arose for me to be able to work for myself independently as a consultant alongside my long-time mentors.
In my heart I knew that I wanted to pursue consulting, but I didn’t want to make any decisions/announcements that would spoil/jeopardise the awards evening. If one or both of the nominations was to prove successful, I felt I would be obliged to do at least one more year for the Department of Education. Quitting after winning wouldn’t be a good look.
In the end any decision was taken out of my hands with neither nomination resulting in a win.
Less than a week later I shared with my staff that I would be taking 12 months leave without pay to work for myself as a consultant. It was an emotional time. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back.
At Woori Yallock PS there were a lot of things that I was proud of that were to hold me in good stead in my work as a consultant. Including:
Whole school approaches
Collaborative learning culture
Use of formative assessment to guide teaching practice
Relentless pursuit of excellence
The reason I went into consultancy was to have as much impact as possible across the system. I was looking to replicate what had been achieved at Woori Yallock with as many schools as possible.
One of the first schools who engaged me to work with them was Cobram PS. In the subsequent 5 years they have been the main school that I have worked with. Each year I spent around 15 days in the school, and Matt Knight, the principal, was present for all the professional learning I delivered. This ensured that there was both accountability and support for staff.
Cobram followed Woori Yallock’s path by going from one of the worst performing schools in the state to one of the strongest. It didn’t take nearly as long though, with the turnaround happening in a whirlwind two years.
Both schools managed to achieve their success despite significant levels of disadvantage. Woori Yallock being in the top 1/3 in the state for disadvantage and Cobram in the top 20%. The improvement literally changing lives.
In 2019 Cobram PS was nominated for the Outstanding School Advancement Award at the Victorian Education Excellence Awards. In less than two years the school had surpassed all the lofty targets they had set in their 4-year plan. To acknowledge my role in their improvement, the school kindly provided me with a ticket to join them on the awards night.
The 2019 awards night was a different experience to 2016, but still a fantastic night. All care, but no responsibility is the best way that I can sum it up. I’m heavily invested in the schools I work with, but ultimately, I don’t have responsibility for the outcomes of the school.
Cobram’s success has reinforced that I made the right choice to work as a consultant, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with such a great team.
Unfortunately, the Cobram team weren’t successful in 2019, but that didn’t stop them from re-applying. They won the Outstanding School Advancement award in 2020, which they received online due to the pandemic. I cheered them on through my computer screen.
Tonight the 2021 Victorian Education Excellence Awards are being held virtually. I’m sure there will be many memories that will come back and bring a smile to my face.
My connection this year is via Erin Beissel who is the Learning Specialist at Clarinda PS and has been nominated for Teacher Of The Year.
Erin and I have worked closely together since 2017 when I began engaging with Clarinda as a consultant.
Erin is not only an excellent classroom teacher, but her enthusiasm for learning has been a driver for the excellent culture at Clarinda and has led to whole school approaches in literacy. Good luck tonight Erin!
There is no doubt in my mind that all the individuals and schools who are nominated for the Victorian Education Excellence Awards deserve the recognition and acknowledgement they receive. It would be even better if they were more options within the system to celebrate wider success.
What can we learn from those who are nominated for the VEEA?
That developing a culture of learning, having whole school approaches, and instructional leadership leads to sustained improvement in student outcomes. The reason we are all in this game.
I often get asked if I miss having my own school.
I miss all of the students, but it is a small price to pay to be able to have a wider influence across the system.