Berala Public School is a primary school in the south west of Sydney with an enrolment of 820 students and an ICSEA score of 968. The school supports students and families from a diverse array of more than 35 cultural backgrounds with approximately 95% of students learning English as an additional language.
Berala PS has a dynamic and caring learning community staffed by enthusiastic and supportive teachers who deliver highly effective teaching and learning programs with an emphasis on information technologies and challenge-based learning. Positive behaviour for learning (PBL) is embedded into school culture with a focus on learner dispositions (Curious, Proactive, Resilient). There is a strong focus on extracurricular activities and the school has a proud tradition of excellence in sport. The school is characterised by a supportive community with high student and school expectations. It places emphasis on parent involvement, fostering student voice and agency and taking pride in school culture.
Berala has a vision for their school which includes empowering students to direct their own learning based on their curiosity and passion. School leaders identified a need to refocus teacher pedagogy to address contemporary learning needs. This would entail building the capacity of teachers to ensure they have the skills, knowledge and understanding to enable students to be curious learners. They also needed to begin to change parental mindsets around traditional expectations and views of education. To create this shift, they began to consider and explore how to embed curiosity within teaching and learning for their teachers, students and community through the use of the general capabilities.
What happened during the project?
Berala PS restructured timetables to prioritise high-quality professional learning (HQPL) to upskill staff on the general capabilities and how teams could embed them within existing teaching and learning programs. Within these sessions, teams started looking deeper into data collected from students and have professional conversations and share expertise around how to identify and respond to student needs. This approach ensured outcomes across the stage were consistent and that all teachers were clear on next steps and what would support students experiencing difficulties with their learning.
Agile Sprints were used to support teachers to identify areas for development, focus on student needs and ultimately improve practice. Extra staff were used to support and work shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers, and mentoring programs were established for beginning teachers – this ensured they would have a point of contact to engage in professional dialogue centred on good practice.
Staff also engaged in HQPL around the design thinking process, PBL and how to incorporate student voice. Over time, staff began to take more risks, pedagogy began to move more into inquiry rather than content which afforded students more opportunity to have ownership over their learning. Some of these opportunities included: establishing a Learning Hub where throughout the year students could choose their learning irrespective of grade/age, building leadership capacity, for example through enrichment programs with local high schools, being involved in the ANSTO Problem Solving Competition and participating in a number of university–led programs.
Parents, meanwhile, were given opportunities to develop a shared understanding of how learning happens at the school and have input into teaching and learning and student behaviour. Learning conversations were introduced twice a year to give students the opportunity to articulate their learning to a parent/carer, discuss where they could improve and how this extends to at home learning. To support a shift in parent mindset, Berala PS also employed a community liaison officer. The school held a variety of workshops to help parents better understand programs within the school, and parents were invited to participate in professional learning offered to staff on topics such as cyber bullying.
What changed for the students?
The work undertaken over the past three years means the whole school community now shares a common vision for Berala PS. Students are learning skills to equip them for the future and there is a caring and supportive environment which encourages a growth mindset. As a result, students at Berala PS are more empowered to direct their own learning based on passion and curiosity and are more willing to take educational risks. Students are embracing the school’s learner qualities of: Being Proactive, Being Curious and Being Resilient. They are becoming more independent thinkers, willing and able to use their learning to contribute in a globalised world.
Through the links formed with external agencies, students are networking with students from other schools, being afforded leadership opportunities and being exposed to possible career paths.
There has also been a degree of change in parent mindset away from the traditional view of learning as they begin to understand the necessary skills to secure the future of today’s students. As a result, interaction between school and the community has increased. Parents are more willing to be involved in school-wide activities during the year and more relaxed to enter the classroom, ask questions and support their child’s learning.
“Through participating in Jigsaw Groups I’ve learnt how to make better friends.” – Student
“In the playground kids in my Jigsaw Group come up and say hi and that makes me happy.” – Student
“Being a part of Tournament of Minds has helped me understand how to collaborate with others and I’ve learnt how to generate new ideas.”
Where to next?
To further embed and sustain teaching practice and continue moving in the right direction, Berala PS plans to continue to build the capacity of teachers to engage in quality dialogue around continuous improvement and opportunities for career growth. This will be supported by a whole school mentoring framework for staff and students and designated coaching and mentoring roles.
To continue to support students to be curious, independent thinkers and learners, leadership will explore opportunities to develop curiosity and creativity through play, community connections and careers education. The school has made a positive start around increasing student voice and will continue to look for leadership opportunities and points at which students can provide feedback on what is and what isn’t working for them in their learning and how they are taught.
To build on the foundations of parent and community relationships, Berala PS will also prioritise increasing parent involvement in school through various initiatives coordinated by the community engagement officer and establishing connections with outside agencies. This ensures that teachers and students access a variety of learning opportunities from a variety of experts within the local and wider community.
Berala PS learned the following were important to success:
Educational risk-taking – Some teachers, like parents, have traditional views on teaching and have to be more prepared to ‘let go’ of these views. They need to understand the skills students need to be successful today and that it’s OK to take risks with their teaching.
Professional learning – High quality teacher professional learning is paramount to understanding the evidence around critical thinking which supports teachers to develop their practice and encourage curious and critical thinkers in their classrooms.
Inspiring curiosity – Students need to understand how curiosity and critical thinking can impact on their learning and that this can be exciting and challenging. It’s about getting students to want to know more, to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding rather than wider.
Shift in mindset – Parents thinking around education and teaching is typically based on their past experiences. They need to recognise there is a wider view of learning in the 21st century. Parents need to be involved and they matter in the whole process of improvement.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
Support and visits from SVA staff have been vital to keep our work on track and receive feedback on the direction of the project.
The keynote speakers at the Thought Leadership Gatherings (TLGs) have been very thought provoking. You hear about things that you may not act on straight away (for example, the Berry Street Education Model, Pivot surveys etc.), but you can refer back to them to help solve problems of practice. Further information can be gathered from groups at a later date.
Hub Days have helped us recognise the value of collaborating. We have become more proactive about setting up opportunities in the local area for our students to access. We’re now more collaborative with other local schools and have been able to build connections and observe practice in like schools.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
Atlassian has come to work with some of our students. We heard about this opportunity through SVA and it’s something that wouldn’t have happened if we were not part of The Connection.
We also heard about Canberra University’s Spatial Awareness program at one of the Thought Leadership Gatherings. This is still ongoing and we’re evaluating at present.
Contribution of another school to your journey
Berala PS has been proactive in engaging schools in our local area because SVA has shown us the value of collaborating. We’ve now worked with schools on initiatives including:
Being 10 Program – Berala saw the work that had been done at East Hills Girls Technology High School at a TLG. East Hills girls provided leadership training to Berala girls who then became co-leaders and facilitators, presenting the Being 10 program to other schools.
Leadership – We worked with Granville East Primary School to empower our school leaders through Leaders Link. This is now a continuing program.
Adventure Day – Berala now conducts an ‘Adventure Day’ with Auburn West Primary School and Granville East Primary School.