Greg Miller is the newly appointed Principal Leader of the new St Luke’s Catholic College in Sydney’s Marsden Park.
The new school will open its doors in 2017. While the opening of a new school doesn’t sound all that remarkable, St Luke’s will incorporate a complete, or whole school, approach to innovation.
It will also commit to continually working out how to move forward in an increasingly complex world.
Greg Miller spoke to me on the Learning Capacity Podcast and shared how he sees this unfolding.
Listen to the podcast.
- Education for the future
- Establishing a new school
- Looking for a new way of learning
- The needs of students into the future
- Multiple curriculum pathways
- School leadership
People & organisations mentioned
- St Luke’s Catholic College
- Catholic Education Office Paramatta
- Greg Whitby
- Foundation For Young Australians
- New South Wales Board of Studies
- Peter Hutton, Templestowe College
- Professor John Hattie
Previous podcast episodes on SoundCloud
If you would like to read the complete podcast transcript, here it is:
Episode 65 of The Learning Capacity Podcast
Principal Leader Greg Miller shares St Luke’s Catholic College Vision for Innovation.
Colin Klupiec: Greg Miller, thanks very much for joining us.
Greg Miller: Thank you, Colin. Pleasure to be with you.
Colin: I'd like to begin with how you became involved. And just to set the scene here for those listening, part of the new model for St. Luke's is that the leader of the school is not necessarily going to be someone who had moved through the normal progression for promotion and that even CEOs from other industries might be considered.
How do you fit in with this? Can you give us a little bit of your story?
Greg: I can, most definitely. Look, the job was first brought to my attention actually by a colleague on Twitter who flagged the, I suppose the inspiration and aspiration of a very exciting promotional video that had been produced by Catholic Education Paramatta about St. Luke's.
And in relation to my own history, I actually am from an extensive educational background. I put forward my expression of interest, which was either in digital or written format, I took the option of providing and creating my own 5-minute video as an expression of interest with a one-page abbreviated CV.
There was no letter of application. There was no extensive amount of phone calling around for referees to fill in an exorbitant amount of forms. It was just an expression of interest that really applied...or I expressed my interest about four or five generic statements about what the principal or principal leader, was a new term as well, what principal leader they were looking for to lead a new concept known as St. Luke's at Marsden Park. So it was very different.
Then I was required to make a presentation to 20 representatives made up of priests, principals, system personnel, prospective parents, current and ex-students, current teachers in Paramatta CEO schools. So it was a very different process. Then followed up with a discussion with a team of five, a group of five. And that was the first time that I actually met Greg Whitby, who's the executive director of Catholic Education Paramatta.
And lo and behold, I was offered the position. And gratefully...you know, in a very humble way, accepted the post a few weeks back.
Colin: There must have been something very particular though about this role that sparked your interest. I mean, it sounds like a very unusual way to go about things. Normally when you apply to schools, there's...as you say, there's myriad of forms to fill in and there seems to be this very long process. But you...it sounds to me like you've just kind of...not thrown something together but it's been relatively quick if I could put it that way. What sparked it?
Greg: I'd say the advertisement produced by Catholic Education, diocese of Paramatta. It was a 3-minute video which really I suppose hooked me, and I would suspect the number of applicants or those that expressed an interest, around the aspirations of what might be for education into the future.
And the excitement that comes with doing that differently and better for, in our case, the students and the young people of Marsden Park into the future. There was...it wasn't just glib words or phrases, but a concerted effort to bring what I would call, or what a recent report by the Foundation For Young Australians produced, of bringing enterprise skills within the requirements of New South Wales Board of Studies curriculum and syllabus requirements. But doing it in a way that was to very, very different.
And framed it with a number of questions rather than direct answers. It was very exciting. It was, as I said, aspirational. It certainly excited me and that's why... I wasn't looking for work. I wasn't looking for a position. But it's what I've described, certainly for myself and I suppose anyone else who comes along to St Luke's in the future.
For me, it was a once in a career opportunity for a blank canvas, start a new school that looked forward and attempted to ask the difficult and hard questions about preparing students for the world that awaits them, with a different way of learning which did not recount or retract back to, I suppose the model that we currently service as...which is 19th century. And it was built for purpose then and we're looking at a new way of designing learning and providing learning and supporting students to learn that's more future-focused.
Colin: You say you weren't particularly looking for work, but what I'm hearing here is that there might have been just this underlying feeling of, well, we've been doing this for a long time now. And suddenly this opportunity comes up. Do you think there might have been something lurking in the background there suggesting, "I just wish something might come up, despite the fact that I'm not looking for work?"
I mean, is there really this resurgence in education happening? There seems to be so few people doing it but you've now launched yourself in. So was it always kind of there?
Greg: Oh, for sure. Yeah, most definitely. Yeah, look, I've worked with a lot of good people, and I have served previously as a principal in another setting where, along with some like-minded people, we attempted to do something differently in an established school. There are a number of teachers who are looking for a new way of learning that will better support students, and engage them more, engage them more, engage them more around their interests and learning which is relevant to their real world.
So there are a number of people, certainly a number of teachers, a number of younger teachers, and even experienced teachers, who are searching for a more transparent way of learning, which honors the curriculum with which we work, but also, more importantly, honors the needs of students into the future.
And there is a lot of talk around certainly at leadership level. And that's the promise of St. Luke's...that's why the promise of St. Luke's is so exciting.
Colin: It's all very new. Are you being then inundated by applications from teachers wanting to get into this?
Over 600 expressions of interest from teachers wanting to join St Lukes
Greg: Yes. To be quite direct about it, absolutely. I found out that there was an expressions of interest that went out, or there were expressions of interest called before my appointment at around enrollments and teaching appointments for next year, just a general expression of interest. Over 600 expressions of interest were received from teachers to teach at St. Luke's. Of which, over 90 of them followed up with supporting material in the form of a letter or a CV or links to some of their social media or online presence.
So as I've said before, there's more than interest. There is some real commitment by an increasing number of teachers to engage in a new way of learning that might not be traditional, therefore might be messy, but will be fun and will be engaging and will be rigorous in challenging students, not just around what are called the old basics, but the new basics which are emerging and quite necessary for our young people, even today but certainly into the future.
Colin: I get the impression from talking with people that there is this underlying interest from teachers, and as you say you were inundated. I was talking with Peter Hutton who is the principal of Templestowe College, down in Victoria. I had him on the program a few weeks back.
And they're doing some incredibly innovative things. And he says he regularly gets letters from people who say things like, "I feel like I've been teaching with a foot in the back of my neck for the last 10 or 20 years. Can you help me? I want in." How are you going to handle those sorts of approaches when people come to you and say, "I just so desperately want to do this," but that you've only got limited places?
Greg: The maths will be such that we might have 600 expressions of interest and 90 applications but we may be only employing only 6 or 7 or 8 teachers for the amount of students that we have for next year. So ultimately...and in one sense, I suppose myself and the other leaders yet to be appointed are going to be sitting in a very pleasant position of being able to hand-pick teachers.
Ultimately that doesn't help those who miss out. It does depend on the context within which they currently work. But there are some ways that teachers, within their own setting, can still pursue the options and the possibilities of what might be for learning. Because generally, my experience with fellow principals, and certainly with other system leaders is that they are open to it.
But we as leaders need to be far more supportive in a way that accepts risks, challenges the norm, and actually has some pretty tough conversations also with the leaders that might be, and challenge the intensification of mandated testing and bring forward some other options that will be real and relevant for students into the future.
Colin: Let's go down this path for a minute. Some people listening to this might be thinking...and I'm just sort of pushing the boat out here a little bit. They might be thinking, "Okay, come on guys, we've heard all this kind of thing before." Because when we think about a project like this, it's easy to think about words like transformation and new models for education. Those words have been used with reference to St Luke's.
Can you describe for our listeners what the new model is the way you see it?
The curriculum content is about 1 billionth of 1% of all the information that's out there
Greg: Well I suppose in one sense I need to talk about what it won't be. It won't be a same way of learning that involves new bells and whistles and new open learning spaces. I will come at it from the point of view of asking questions about the alignment of St. Luke's aspirations and what we can do to address that. For example, does an age-based approach to learning allow for multiple curriculum pathways?
Well, ultimately it restricts it and constrains it. And therefore, Templestowe as an example, where they have opened up offerings to students where they can pursue their interest and come from a strengths-based approach to develop skills in an area where they can serve a purpose. So do 50-minute lessons actually allow for deep learning? Do we have the same, similar start time for 5-year-old students as compared to 13 and 14 and 15-year-old students?
These are the things that I will be exploring because St. Luke's absolutely will be committed to doing things not only differently but better. Different and better. And we'll be addressing more broader outcomes in a traditional learning gain of literacy and numeracy. You'll never hear me criticize the need for students to be literate and numerate. They need to be able to read, write, spell, add up, and engage in those pursuits because ultimately they are the strong foundational bedrocks that will set them up for success to pursue and answer questions of relevance and to pursue challenges in areas of interest.
There's no use in having genius hours in schools unless students bring a certain skill-set as a starting point or a launch pad for that. So for example, on my blog I've written about this. Why do we for example, in New South Wales, have indicative hours for English, Math, Science, and the humanities subjects, of 400 hours over 4 years.
Yet there would very few schools who teach to it. They would teach substantially over it. In fact, I'm aware of some schools that actually deliver 560 hours. I ask the question, where is the learning going between the 400 and first hour and the 560th hour? And no one can give me a definitive answer.
So my question is, instead of delivering content what else can we do with those students because ultimately the content that we deliver in a curriculum at the moment is about 1 billionth of 1% of all the information that's out there. And can we...and yes we can, prepare students better to be more discerning around what information can be best sourced and who the experts are that can best assist them to problem solve and inquire into areas of interest or areas of challenge.
Discovering the future - a next generation school
Colin: I guess it's more helpful in one sense to look back and say this new model won't be that and to look into the past and say we're not going to define it by that or that. Because to look forward and say well, it's going to be new and it's going to be like this, well we're kind of still inventing that as we go. Or perhaps not inventing but discovering. Is that what I'm hearing?
Greg: Yeah, most definitely. Look, I've certainly not gone into this because I'm a part of a system-based approach to the next iteration of learning. St. Luke's is only one of about 80-odd schools here in Paramatta Catholic Education system. So this can't be Greg Miller's school. And it won't be Greg Miller's school. I'm here to honor the intent of St. Luke's of being a next generation school and an iteration of that as a part of a wider system.
And to be quite honest, and I've shared this with a number of people, I've actually got far more questions than I do answers. Because at this point in time, I don't even understand the local context of St. Luke's Marsden Park. And I need to get to know that community sooner rather than later. I need to start engaging with our prospective students from as early as next year. Well as early as next month for next year. And I need to build a team around me that will start answering those questions.
Time is the most under utilised resource in education
Because to be quite honest, St. Luke's won't have this right from day one. We won't have it right, and what does right mean is a whole other question. But certainly we're exploring ways of how teachers work. One passion of mine is that the most underutilized resource that we look at in education is time. We keep filling it with the conveniences, maybe around the agrarian model, of having students, children supervised for suitable times.
I'm not being harsh on the current education system because a lot of great things are happening in schools. But what could be the possibilities if teachers could have less time to directly deliver face-to-face learning and more time to learn from each other about how that learning can be prepared, delivered, and evaluated in a way where the output of their team is greater than the sum of its parts?
And the most important resource along with teachers is creating their time because it's those teachers who will make the biggest difference to student learning at St. Luke's as they do in every other school across Australia.
The vision for St Lukes
Colin: Let's talk a little bit about the teachers. Maintaining a vision for a project this large I would imagine would take a fair bit of energy. What are you going to do to initially sell this to your staff and then continue to sell it as you go on the path?
Greg: First of all, become a little, well a lot sharper and more succinct and more appropriate for St. Luke's. And there'll be some visioning workshops in the not too distant future with people at the office, with prospective parents, with other key stakeholders, local community about what that vision will look like so that it will be relevant and contextual to St. Luke's.
So that needs to be co-constructed with the prospective parents and the prospective students of Marsden Park and surrounds. And then that will be my responsibility with the leadership team to bring that vision to reality. And that will require what I call...I'm not so much unpacking it but establishing some key benchmarks that will be indicators of success along our pathway toward the aspirational vision, which will essentially be around preparing students for the world that awaits them.
And to develop a skill-set, to develop the mindset, and to develop the dispositions of well-being that will serve them well for the future.
Colin: Something I was talking about with Greg Whitby was the fact that schools need to embrace flatter management structures to give people better access to colleagues. My question in that context is what kind of access will ordinary classroom teacher staff have to you?
St Lukes to grow to over 2000 students in the next 8-10 years
Greg: Well, I'll be adopting what I've always done in leadership. And that's an open door policy. And the other thing that I'll be communicating is great visibility outside of whatever my office looks like. They're the two things that will be essential to my style of leadership, will be accessibility, especially for staff. But ultimately as St. Luke's grows into the two, two and a half thousand student population over the next eight to ten years is that it won't just be myself that teachers will need accessibility to, it will be each other, and also other, I suppose, senior leaders who will be leading teams of people so that we're consistently aspiring to the vision through a coherent, consistent language which builds a coherent narrative around that vision.
So, I mean the accessibility to me, those who have worked with me in the past would know that the open door policy is true and real, and presence is a key characteristic that I pride myself on. And that means being out and about and learning from those teachers as they go about their work, and certainly being available for them to ask questions and raise ideas.
Because it will be through the raising of ideas, the imagination that will turn into creative thinking which ultimately translates into an interactive environment where learning will be different. And that will be through the contribution of teachers, in a team-based approach to learning, and working with each other with some clear direction around vision from not only from myself but the leadership team.
Colin: Looking forward the next few years, what are your hopes for the students?
Greg: Firstly that they feel a real sense of belonging to the community. That will be promoted and encouraged and nurtured. You know, students can't learn until they're cared for. So there will still be high levels of energy towards ensuring that students feel a sense of belonging and that they feel safe and secure when they come to St. Luke's. So that's the starting point.
And my hope is that over...through that safe environment...and I'm talking about safety as in safety for themselves, not operating in a safe way around learning, but that they feel safe and secure, that they establish a sense of belonging. And ultimately through the input of teachers, through their development as self-directed learners that they leave prepared for the world that awaits them.
And I feel if...and I'm talking about a world that we don't quite yet understand. I'm talking about a world that is already calling for increased levels of understanding of how to collaborate, how to communicate, how to critically think. And bringing a conscience to that, bringing a Catholic conscience of how do we as Catholics, in this secular world, bring a little bit of the kingdom of God to this earth? And that's coming from a faith-based perspective I know.
But it's also coming from the perspective of those students contributing to solving real, relevant, localised problems and also being globally responsible citizens. And that won't be easy. That will definitely be a challenge but it's a huge opportunity to harness and leverage the power of technology and connections across a very flat world to do that.
Involving students in the learning innovations
Colin: Something I'd like to think about with all these new, innovative environments being developed around the place. I guess, having just said that, there aren't too many of them. Again, it's the adults who are having ideas about what might be innovative and interesting for the children. Should we assume that the children, students, will actually like what we give them? Why do you think that they're going to like this new environment?
Greg: Well, first of all, to answer the first part of your question, we shouldn't assume anything....that they will like it. And that probably leads on to the next point. One of the commitments that will be strong from my perspective will be that we use...that we adopt a user-centered approach to designing learning, even future spaces, so that we value the input of students as early as we can for them to be engaged in the co-construction of their learning environment, to be engaged in the co-construction of how the learning environment unfolds on a daily basis.
To get their input around simple things, around the furniture set-up of the new space, but more importantly to get their input around what do they really want to learn about? What are the options out there that we as teachers and facilitators...we don't own their learning. We're trying to promote an environment where students adopt a lot of responsibility to self-direct their learning.
That doesn't mean that they operate as a learner in isolation but they become more engaged in generating and developing questions that will inspire them to learn more. And ultimately, we can't assume that the students will be engaged in this unless we engage with them and have them engage with us.
One year of progress for one year of input?
Colin: Professor John Hattie said to me in a discussion a few episodes ago that in Australia, we have an obsession with high standards and achievement. And of course, there's nothing wrong with having a high standard or achieving well. But that often we fail to take into account where the kids start. And this was said in the context of a year of input equaling one year of progress.
Now the St. Luke's model is going to be challenging a lot of things that we've done in the past, there's now going to be a certain element of flexibility. And we've talked a little bit about that. How will the St. Luke's model help to foster concepts like one year of input equaling one year of progress?
Greg: Well as you mentioned before, John Hattie knows...the interesting thing about school at the moment is that there will be 30 children turn up to a kindergarten class next year. And they'll do so because of their age. And they will also turn up with various levels of learning. And at the moment, that's the start of their learning pathway. What I'm keen to explore, and there's various continuums. There's a K to 10 writing continuum that we have. There's a social and emotional learning continuum that exists in Australia, part of the national curriculum.
So one of the intent will be that...and we almost limit the growth to one year based on the age that students progress, and almost hold back the lead learners, the high flyers, as they might be known whilst we concentrate on pulling up the strugglers. So St. Luke's will challenge that insofar as there may be students who are aged at say year three who may be given the option, through their interest and ability, to progress further than one year of learning in particular subject areas or certainly in particular skill-sets around collaboration, critical thinking, and others.
So we will be exploring ways where we can I suppose break down those barriers that limit students to one year, one learning. But also are aware of students who are not progressing at that rate as well.
Colin: I guess that relates to what we're talking about before because people often like to think about what the new thing is. But it's sometimes more helpful to say well what was the old thing and do we want that? And if we're willing to challenge those notions and look forward with an open mind, I guess being able to explore these ways of getting one year of progress, or perhaps even more, even more than one year of progress in a year, I guess those things become more possible. Is that what I'm hearing from you?
Multiple learning pathways
Greg: Yes, absolutely. I mean, in a certain way we do it already insofar as early commencement of HSC subjects in New South Wales or pathways where it extends the learning for students who may be highly committed sportsmen and women, the back-end of their schooling. There's early commencement of vocational education training that might start in year 9, with students achieving certificate two or certificate three level at the end of 10 or year 11 so that there might be early commencement of work and not necessarily having to wait until the end of the HSC.
Most definitely, and I suppose because of my extensive secondary background, and I know a commitment of the system of Paramatta is to explore multiple learning pathways which will lead to various post-school pathways. And almost bringing them into the school so that we can connect students to organisations and businesses and even tertiary institutions that may allow for all sorts of possibilities.
And maybe, muddying the water around the necessity of an ATAR and maybe graying or blurring the boundaries of when school actually finished for a child or a young person, an adult. Because there are numerous students who could leave school earlier and move on to a more meaningful contribution to the world that awaits them at an earlier stage.
There could be others that actually engage through pathways that might involve a gap and a more formalized way, or it might be a gap year that actually serves purpose of contributing towards a global challenge or engaged with making partnerships with local workplaces and local businesses.
So that will also be something that as the St. Luke's story unfolds, how authentically are we pursuing and achieving a pathways for every child that's known and introduced to them as they leave school, which might not always be at the end of year 12?
Messages to students and other principals
Colin: I'd like to finish with two final questions. Your message to the students...
Greg: Well, come to St. Luke's if you want to dream big.
Colin: I like that.
Greg: That's the message. We have an education system which is known for squashing curiosity and squashing creativity. I hope that St. Luke's can stand against that and that we don't limit students to the possibilities of what might be for them when they progress their way through school. Because not every kindergarten student's going to be coming to school thinking about what they're going to be when they grow up, because it's not going to be a question that I ask.
My question will be, "What problem do you want to solve? Or what challenge do you want to confront?" And to do that, you need to dream big. They'll be encouraged to find the big questions, they'll be encouraged to make a real difference to the world. And it will be through asking those questions about what problems they want to solve and what challenges do they wish to confront, it will be done in a way where...the dreamers can dream big.
And we hope to build and contribute in a way which will build their capability and capacity to turn their dreams into realities and to make a meaningful contribution to the world that awaits them.
Colin: And what's your message to other principals?
Greg: Look, I suppose everything is contextual. But my message to principals really would be look forward. Let's not hark back. Let's adopt the attitude of how can we rather than how can't we? And I think the more of us that are asking those questions, the more pressure we can build on the relevant authorities to ask themselves do we really want to be known for where we're placed in PISA tests, or do we really want to be known for how well we are nurturing with parents as the primary educators.
How are we supporting parents and supporting young people to become responsible adults of the future who will make a significant and meaningful contribution? That's a lot harder to measure than the PISA test, it's a lot harder to measure than the learning gain of NAPLAN. But it's worth and it's value is far greater than just mandated tests.
Colin: Greg, it's been great to speak with you this afternoon. Thanks so much for your time.
Greg: Thank you very much. And best wishes Colin and thank you very much for your time.