Blairmount Public School on the western side of Campbelltown, has a strong culture of being proudly public and a vital part of the wider community. Blairmount Public School with an ICSEA of 924, and of approximately 520 students, 47 % have a language background other than English.
The school is a Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) and Early Action for Success (EAFS) school and successful student welfare practices promote a sense of well-being, happiness and responsibility in students. Blairmount Public School enjoys a high profile within the wider community through sport and the performing arts, which are important parts of the school culture.
Teachers at Blairmount Public School range in experience from early career teachers to teachers with over 30 years of expertise. To embed new practices consistently the school would need to create differentiated professional learning opportunities to ensure meaningful, relevant and personalised professional growth and reflection for teachers at all career stages.
What happened during the project?
The school’s change journey was heavily influenced by connections with schools in South Australia and their work around student voice and leadership. These schools supported Blairmount Public School to use the Teaching for Effective Learning (TfEL) framework which identified, through student perception data, areas of focus for teacher professional learning.
At the start of the project, the school implemented fortnightly professional learning on literacy, numeracy and Learning Intentions and Success Criteria (LISC). Teachers met fortnightly discuss student work samples, identify evidence of learning, develop LISC and propose learning targets.
In 2018, Blairmount Public School worked with Elderslie Public School and Currans Hill Public School to engage Corwin Australia to deliver professional learning around Visible Learning. The Visible Learning School Matrix evidence collection process identified that the highest priority was developing a learner identity through the creation of learner qualities. This process involved high levels of student voice by inviting students to collaborate with staff on possible learner qualities and where these sit on a learning pit. These learner qualities were refined to seven: curious, challenged, risk-taker, problem-solver, collaborative, determined and reflective. A student focus group then worked with a graphic designer to develop visual representations for these learner qualities. They then brainstormed how these learner qualities should be rolled out.
In 2019, Blairmount Public School continued to engage with Corwin on whole-school Visible Learning professional learning, which resulted in a sustainable shift of pedagogy and school culture. A set of protocols for the implementation of LISC were refined to ensure consistency across the school. This year also saw the roll out of the learner qualities across K-6, led by student voice group ￼the “Fully Charged” team.
Throughout the project, the school also utilised Learning Conversations and Seesaw to engage parents and carers in talk about their child’s learning. Both initiatives saw engagement rise and, as a result of Learning Conversations, parents/carers commented they had a better understanding of their child’s learning and what they needed to work on to improve. By 2019, many students planned and hosted their own Learning Conversations, with teachers taking the role of facilitator.
What changed for the students?
Student voice has increased significantly through driving the design, conceptualisation and launch of learner qualities. As a result, there is strong ownership and enactment of these qualities supporting an embedded learner identity. Learner quality language is being used consistently by staff and students in all facets of school life. Now, when students are asked about being a learner, instead of talking about behaviour, they talk about the seven learner qualities and can articulate what they are learning and next steps, demonstrating a more future-focused attitude to learning.
Other opportunities for student voice include presentations at internal and external conferences, running Learning Conversations and the launch of the￼ “Fully Charged” team, which played an instrumental role in rolling out the learner qualities, embedding student voice in decision making and empowering students to teach others, including PD sessions in staff meetings. Student Voice Hour has also been positively received, with 94% of students saying it’s enjoyable and helps them to develop their communication and teamwork skills.
‘I use the learner qualities a lot when I am working. Our teachers use the language of the learner qualities in the classroom and that reminds me to focus on my work and not give up when things are challenging.’ – Olivia, year 5 student
I think the learner qualities help me a lot because they go in a way that you can improve. So, they follow the learning pit. First, we are curious and taking risks, then we are in the pit and are problem solvers and challenged and we need to collaborate and be determined and then we are reflective on our learning at the end to improve. To be a good learner means to use all of the learner qualities.
Fawwaz, year 6 student
Where to next?
Blairmount Public School plans to focus on sustainability of visible learning practices. This includes maintaining and refining existing practices, applying LISC protocols to other key learning areas and making LISC more visible across all classrooms.
The school will continue with student voice groups and are also keen to take the professional dialogue around student voice and leadership to the next level.
Lastly, leadership will look to further engage the community in learning, including using the learner qualities to support parents/carers to talk about learning both with the school and their children.
Blairmount Public School learned the following were important to success:
- Evidence-based research – In order to plan a consistent approach to visible learning, it’s necessary to collect evidence from all stakeholders to identify needs and the most ideal entry point.
- Time investment – Providing time for staff to engage in reflective practice and professional learning to embed a consistent message and shared language across the school will lead to buy in and sustainability.
- Student voice – This is imperative for creating sustainable whole school change – it shifts culture! To empower students, they need to be provided with a variety of opportunities for voice and choice. Start small by focusing on their interests and on the “Why” student voice is important with staff and students.
- Engaging community – Providing clear communication and an easy way for parents to see the learning happening in classrooms will help to increase parent/carer engagement and their understanding and support around students’ learning.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Greg Turnbull
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
The partnership with SVA has provided insights into leadership that I would never have considered before. It has provided me with access to resources, connections and most importantly, student voice.
Our engagement in Thought Leadership Gatherings (TLGs) led to a shift in my mindset around building trust with our students, particularly around the use of learning spaces. It is important that we develop collective responsibility over all students, not just the students in one class. This has led to the use of flexible learning spaces across the school.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
The most productive partnership has been the connections in South Australia and ongoing dialogue with schools and representatives of the Leadership Development, Leading Learning and Learning and Improvement division. This partnership has been collaborative, through sharing of ideas about student voice and leadership philosophies. This representative posed questions to challenge my thinking, reflect and encourage shifts in my beliefs and practices. Student voice is now a huge driving factor in my leadership.
Contribution of another school to your journey
Another great shift for us as a school was around reporting to parents and this was inspired and supported by Granville East Public School. They assisted us to redesign the format of reports and developed the process of three-way Learning Conversations with parents, teachers and students working collaboratively to discuss student achievement, growth and future learning goals. This aligned nicely with our visible learning journey.
Our Learning Conversations are held in Terms 1 and 3 and in some classes, these are being planned and hosted by the students. They include:
- Showcasing learning in reading, writing and numeracy.
- Celebrating achievements of learning goals.
- Collaboratively developing learning goals
- Suggesting how parents/carers can support their child’s learning at home.