Every Student Podcast: Stacey Quince
Campbelltown Performing Arts High principal Stacey Quince talks about how her school ensures every student is known, valued and cared for.
Campbelltown Performing Arts High principal Stacey Quince talks about how her school ensures every student is known, valued and cared for.
Hi, I’m Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education. Welcome to Every Student, the podcast where I get to introduce you to some of our great leaders in education. It is great to be in conversation with Stacey Quince. Stacey is the principal of Campbelltown Performing Arts High School which is a public school in south-western Sydney, 1,100 students at that school and 40% of them enter the school through audition and 60% come from the local area. Speak a wide range of languages at home and it is a very interesting mix of students at the school and a third of those students gain early entry to university before they have sat their first HSC exam. Stacey has a reputation in NSW Education as being a real change agent and someone who thinks pretty deeply about the model of schooling and what it means to educate students for a modern world. Stacey let’s start with what you are trying to change at Campbelltown and your model of reform there.
We are really deeply invested in rethinking the very purpose of education and so the changes that we have made at Campbelltown have really been based on research that we have engaged in both at a global level, what are we hearing about the sort of dynamic and changing future that our young people will be entering and also research that we have undertaken at the school over a number of years in partnership with Western Sydney University. We are drawing from a really strong evidence base but we are also paving new ground in lots of areas.
What was it about traditional schooling or traditional approaches to secondary education that made you think we need to find different pathways here?
I think the old model of students being filled with content knowledge and then regurgitating that in a really traditional assessment model we know isn’t good enough for our students anymore. We know that for them to thrive beyond school that they are going to need different skills, they are going to need to be able to collaborate really effectively and they are going to need to be able to be critical thinkers, they are going to need to be ethical in their decision making and the old model wasn’t really allowing us to do that at a deep level so we have really thought about what are the key principals that make students deeply engaged in learning that matters to them and that is connected to the world beyond school.
Let's look at what might be different in how you have structured things and the way students are learning and teachers are teaching but I am interested in how you bring about a big change program with your leadership team and with your staff. There would be plenty of staff at any school who would say I have been teaching for a long period of time we all know what a school is don’t over think it. How do you start that change journey with your team?
Part of it is around really identifying what the challenges are not just at a global or local level but in our own school context and understanding our school context really well. So we collectively have developed a case for change. We have looked at the future that our students are entering and we started to think about the sorts of learning that we think will support students in that process. So rather than it being a top-down approach where the principal says this is the model that we are going to implement it has really been around taking some calculated risks, gathering evidence as we prototype rapidly some new approaches, using that evidence with our teachers and with our students and with our community to ensure that everyone can see the sorts of change that we want to make but also capturing their voice. Getting teachers on board is really critical and I would say that leaders trusting teachers and providing support for them to reshape curriculum and learning experiences is really critical. Also allowing them to have a voice in what that new reform looks like but the other key players for us have been students and community so it hasn’t just been the educators in our school who have reshaped a really fundamentally different curriculum our students have played a role in that. We have run focus groups and surveys and we are constantly seeking feedback and critique from our students about what we are doing but also we have engaged our community in that process.
Let's work through those in stages. Tell me a little bit about bringing teachers along with you and I think in any change model there will be some who get it and who are very excited and very enthused but not everyone will be. The extent to which you need to make it very clear the change is happening or the extent to which you just go with the early enthusiasts and they trail blaze for you.
I think there is a middle ground. We use a model called a “nested communities model”. We have a community of practice – they are the people who in any change that we are making that is fundamentally different, are the people who are in there, boots and all, really giving a good go, testing new approaches in the classroom, working in teams, everything we do is collaborative, gathering evidence of impact. We then have a community of engagement and those people have indicated that they are interested in this work and they are willing to give us feedback on what that looks like but they are not ready to make a commitment to really prototyping and testing something and the rest of our staff we consider the community of interest. We keep them updated about what we are doing, we make sure they have a voice in the sorts of changes that we are making but we don’t expect everyone to jump in when we are doing really innovative and transformative work straight away and I know from past experience that it doesn’t work. We are really making sure that everyone is entering at a point that they are comfortable with when it’s something quite radical and different, with a view that eventually it will impact on all of us. And all of us have had the opportunity to buy in at a point that is most comfortable at any given point in time, people can oscillate between, they can move from the community of engagement into the community of practice but we are constantly broadening the pool of people who are involved. This integrated curriculum that we are running in Year 7 at the moment we ran an expression of interest for teachers to be involved, we needed twenty teachers which is a lot we had more than twenty applicants and we are scaling it up next year and we need forty teachers so those new teachers who are on board might not have been involved in the first generation but they have been critical friends in the process and they have given us feedback, they are aware of what is happening and so when we sent it out to a second round a year down the track they are ready to take that leap of faith because they are aware of what that involves.
Let's talk about the voice of the student. At times you would hear some say students are there in the classroom and they are there learning but really will they have great insight into what their needs are going to be in the workforce or Australia in the second half of the century and there would also be others that would say really we shouldn’t pay too much attention to their contribution and to their voice. How do you tap into the student voice and what insights are they giving you that you are not picking up elsewhere?
I think we underestimate what young people bring to the table actually. I think this generation of young people are incredibly socially aware and they are connected to the world through social media and other mechanisms in a way that previous generations never were, they are going to have to solve some pretty tricky problems in the future and they are already invested in those problems and potential solutions. In terms of them understanding the workforce, we are really explicit with them about this is what the research is saying that you need to succeed and flourish beyond school, we are really explicit with them about them being invested in their own well-being, about strategies that they will need to be resilient beyond school. And the thing that they probably have the strongest voice in is the things that they are passionate about, so part of what we are trying to do is harness student passion so that we can run projects in our schools where students care deeply about the issues that they are addressing. Whether they be environmental issues or issues around homelessness or issues around refugees, students who care deeply about the work that they are doing are far more likely to be engaged and far more likely to succeed academically and are far more likely to feel empowered and know as agents of change that they can make a difference because they have had the opportunity to do that while they are at school. In terms of harnessing their ideas, we are getting them at the front end in the planning process so we are talking to them about the sorts of projects we want to do and we are giving them opportunities and forums to provide feedback on those ideas. We are getting constant feedback from them throughout the implementation of projects and just last week we had a group of students in a planning session with our teachers who are refining projects we ran this year to tell us what worked and what the pain points were and why they didn’t like particular elements of the project and if we are really here to serve the students and if we are really here to power them and we want to empower them and we want to engage them then they have to play a role in that process. There are still subject outcomes that need to be met and educators are still ultimately the experts in the field. It doesn’t mean that we silence student voice but it means that we capture that voice and use it in collaboration with teacher expertise.
Part of the challenge of expertise in education is that everybody went to school so there are a lot of dogmatic opinions out there and they’ll exist with parents in the community as well who will have as a frame of reference often their own schooling and their own schooling experience, often pretty traditional. How do you get to bring parents along with the journey that things may have to change a little bit if we were to equip young people for a changing world?
Again we bring them inside the process rather than do this work to them or implement it and expect them to just accept it. They are really deeply invested in the education of their own children so we see them as really powerful partners in the process. This integrated model that I mentioned we run a community consultation process around that we don’t just tell them that this is what we are going to do. We run an information session where we say “this is what the research says about what young people will need to be able to do and know to thrive in the future and these are the sorts of things that we have done in our school that we know work and here is the evidence-base to indicate that it works, this is our proposal for what we want that model of learning to look like” and then instead of just asking them to accept that we actually allow them to have a say. Last week we ran that consultation for next years Year 7 parents, we had 250 community members in our hall. We had 30 teachers running 30 facilitated discussions and we presented the information but then we asked for feedback. The voices of our community members are captured through recommendations at facilitated table groups, no-one in that space didn’t have a voice, and we synthesize that feedback and those recommendations and build it back into the model and explain to our community that this is how we have taken that feedback on board. But then we keep them as partners in the process. We run exhibitions for our projects for our Year 7 projects every term, we run an exhibition at the end of the project and we are getting about 400 community members in to have a look at the work that our students are doing so we are getting them in at the front end so they know what we are doing and why we are genuinely harnessing their voice and using their feedback and then we are being really transparent about how we are travelling with that work.
One of the articles I like about change management is by John Kotter and he talks about why change efforts fail and he says most change efforts are under-communicated by a factor of 10. It sounds like you really put a great emphasis on communicating very intently with all your stakeholders around these changes.
Absolutely and the communication has to be a two way process it can’t be me as a leader telling teachers what I think they should do or us telling community or students. It has to be around opportunities for those people to develop a trust in us for them to be able to trust that we have their best interests at heart and we are being transparent and to trust that if they give us feedback that we will use that with integrity but we also need to make sure that they feel like they are having a voice as well. Sometimes we provide an opportunity to capture voices and we don’t harness it or use it effectively so that trust is really important. And the ownership piece is critical. I have done things in the past where I haven’t really invested in ensuring people have ownership of that work and those things haven’t succeeded in the way that what we do now has succeeded. It is that really deep communication and that really deep ownership I think that makes a difference.
If we go to your school what looks different in what students are learning and how they are learning?
The most radical example is this integrated model that we are currently running in Stage 4, so for us students in an integrated model, where we identified that we wanted to not compromise the integrity of subjects but we wanted learning to no longer occur in the silo of ten different subjects for students as they transitioned to high school. Students are in a subject called STEM, typically they are in a village of about 60 students, there are three teachers attached to each of the three villages one science, one TAS and one maths teacher in each of those spaces. Students are undertaking projects over an extended period of time in STEM and in humanities which is English, HSIE and PDHPE. Those projects really allow students to create a product or a service that addresses either a challenge or an opportunity in the local or global community and the audience is no longer just their teacher and the purpose is no longer just for an assessment mark. We are empowering students to create products and services that address issues and within those projects, project-based learning underpins this work. But within those projects it is not just a student centred approach although that it is at the heart of it, you still walk into classrooms and see explicit teacher instruction, there is still assessment of and as learning embedded into that process literacy and numeracy is fundamentally important so that is embedded into the work that students do. But they are working collaboratively in crew to develop their projects they're being both supported and assessed against a skills framework that we’ve developed that enhances the work that they do and is still aligned to syllabus outcomes. You see them oscillate sometimes in that village there will be a plenary session where a subject matter expert is developing a lesson or is delivering information to sixty students, other times you will see them working in tribes of twenty and there is one teacher attached to each of those tribes throughout the year. Other times they will be in learning advisory where they are engaged in a wellbeing curriculum and they are setting learning goals and other times you will see them working in small groups on projects.
Just as far as assessment is concerned, one of the challenges that we have as a system, we have in Australia, is you have got an education system that is set up to test basic skills literacy and numeracy progression and knowledge. The HSC is still very strongly knowledge-based some of these skills and capabilities that you are trying to develop in students critical thinking, creativity, communication skills, collaboration skills – the assessment’s further behind in its development in those areas. How do you assess progress in student improvement in those areas of the curriculum that you are focusing on?
We have been working in that space for a few years now. We identified that students needed those skills and our pedagogical approach has changed but when it came to assessment we found that people were powering down and in some subjects reverting to traditional approaches and when we use some design thinking to really dig deep into that issue we found that there was no really shared understanding about what those skills entail. We had to go back to the drawing board and we have developed a framework that unpacks what each of those skills are, what the sub-strands of each of those skills are, we have developed a rubric so students can move if they are at an emerging level through to mastery of those skills. We provide scaffolded and prompting and independent opportunities for students to demonstrate those skills. We have mapped them back against syllabus outcomes and it is a model that now gets used across our school. We did lots of testing both at our school and across other schools so that we could make sure that there was consistency of teacher judgement and that it was a robust model. And now that framework is part of the assessment for the work that our students undertake. When our students are doing a collaborative project or whether they are completing an individual piece of work both in terms of formative assessment and summative assessment that framework is the framework that we draw on to be able to assess where students are at but it is actually about more than assessment. It is about identifying where a student is at and really supporting them and nurturing them and providing opportunities to develop that skill further.
Talking of nurturing I am interested in the well-being opportunities that exist with this approach that you have at Stage 4. We have as you know in the strategic plan this commitment that Every student is known, valued and cared for. I think there is an argument that primary schools are more structured to deliver that with the classroom teacher and then all of a sudden in Year 7 we toss them over the fence into the high school lots of subjects, lots of teachers, can be pretty disorientating. Do you find that the way you are structuring these villages that they provide almost more buttressing and support in a wellbeing sense for students at Stage 4?
Yes absolutely that is the case and we have the same concern that you have just articulated that students move from primary school into high school and we were worried that students were falling through the gaps. We actually have as part of this model something called learning advisory and learning advisory sees students in groups of 15 to 20 with a dedicated learning advisor and learning advisory is about ensuring every single student is both known and supported as both a learner and as a young person. We are about to scale that up to Year 9 so it is our third year that we are moving into but in learning advisory our students are in small groups, they meet with their learning advisor every day and they engage in a wellbeing curriculum, they set personalised learning goals for themselves, they curate an e-portfolio of work throughout the year and they evaluate how effectively they have met their personalised learning goals using that evidence base, they are developing their metacognitive skills in doing that. Then they prepare for student-led conferences where they use the work samples they have got which they have looked at through the lens of those skills and that are aligned to outcomes to lead a conversation with their parents and their carer with the support of their learning advisor and they articulate what they have done well, what they think they need to do better at and what goals they are going to set to get there. That focus has fundamentally changed the way we know our students. Before we started it we ran surveys with students and asked them to indicate whether there were teachers in the school who knew them and supported them as both young people and as learners and I am embarrassed to say there were students who didn’t indicate anyone. We recently ran focus groups and in every focus group that we ran for that cohort of students, every single student indicated that there were at least three teachers who knew them both as a young person and as a learner and supported them as a young person and as a learner.
It is a great story. You are being innovative and really shaking things up in Stage 4 and Stage 5 and you get to Stage 6 in NSW anyway your HSC is waiting for us and the HSC has been around since 1967. We are doing a curriculum review now. If we ask you how the HSC needs to change given the innovations that you are driving at earlier stages, what do you want to change in the HSC?
I think the old model of students preparing for a test that as you say primarily really asks them to recall knowledge is fundamentally the wrong way to identify whether or not students are ready for university or for the world beyond school. Around the world, there are so many ways that that’s being done in innovative and more appropriate ways. We can see that there are universities now for instance who are granting access to students through early entry and that requires students to be able to demonstrate that they have a particular skill set to provide evidence around the skills that they bring to a particular course and our students are well positioned to do that. Providing students with an opportunity through portfolio entry where they have worked on a sustained piece over an extended period of time that might be aligned to a course that they are interested in we think is really powerful. There is also opportunities for students to engage in a different kind of curriculum I think in Stage 6 so the opportunity for students for instance to undertake internships that lead them into either university or employment opportunities beyond school I think is one of the things that we need to explore.
You talk about your partnership with Western Sydney University and academics there have worked with you about your approach to change what is interesting about your student base about half of your students come from the bottom SES quartile, this is the part of our community that is least likely to have had opportunities of higher education in the past. How important has your work been about creating high expectations for all students and seeing schooling and education as a real way of overcoming socioeconomic disadvantage?
It is critical. The equity piece around education is the most fundamentally important issue that we could be addressing today and given that our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds it means that at times particularly traditional means of assessment might not be the most appropriate for them. So ensuring that we have high expectations but more than ensuring that we genuinely provide them with opportunities to engage deeply in their learning and to demonstrate what they know and can do in a vast array of ways not just through recall of content in an exam but through being leaders where they’re collaborating and leading a particular initiative or giving the opportunity as our students often do to pitch a concept to an expert in the field. So our students are regularly at Campbelltown City Council pitching ideas that can be included in plans of management for rejuvenation of local areas and a number of those products and services have been embedded into our local community. It’s where they see the worth of what students from our school and our community have done that they understand that actually, they have got the capacity to do this work. It just requires not just high expectations but really clear processes for support for students to be able to really step up in a way that perhaps in the past they haven’t been able to.
You place a great emphasis on student engagement and a belief that engaged students are students who are going to be learning you also talk a bit about happiness and being mindful of students being happy in their engagement. Talk a bit more about how you bring that about in the learning environment.
We talk frequently and it is a phrase that is used throughout our school about preparing students for success and happiness at school and beyond school. I think there is a kind of misnomer around happiness that happiness is something that everyone should strive to maintain at all times. I think happiness is more about a contentment and a sense of being purposeful, so creating opportunities for students to do work that is purposeful I think leads to a sense of happiness. But also the information that I talked about before in terms of student well-being providing them with strategies so that they can resilient when they face adversity which is bound to happen, ensuring that they have got really strong connections with their peers and with their teachers and they feel a genuine sense of belonging not just at school but also in their local community I think contributes to that.
One of the interesting things I find listening to you and thinking about ambitious leaders like you is the challenge that must exist about operating on a dual track – you are trying to reshape the nature of secondary education, reshape what is taught and how it is taught and in order to do that you are looking at a long way into the future and be quite ambitious but you run a very complex and demanding ecosystem. 1,100 students, a demanding professional staff, high community expectations it is a seething mass of humanity. And we know from the research that we have done at the department the operational demands on a principal every day just in being drawn back into the complexity of management can be demanding. How do you keep both things going – being the far-sighted, ambitious, reforming leader at the same time as just managing that complex operation every day?
My passion is absolutely for education and learning so there are some administrative things that I don’t do as well as I might if I sank all of my time and energy into that work, sometimes I delegate that and sometimes I do minimal requirements around that, but in terms of continuing to be ambitious in what we do it’s a collective effort. I work with phenomenal professionals inside my school but I am also lucky enough to be really connected outside of my school both at a systems level but with leaders right around the globe who are driving phenomenal change in the education sector and having the opportunity to be connected to other systems and other leaders both in NSW and beyond really I guess feeds into the work that we do at Campbelltown. Seeing schools that are further down the track than us feeds into our sense about what is possible but you are right there are days that I don’t get to the teaching and learning as much as I want because it is a really demanding and challenging position in so many ways, as you say it is a kind of seething mass of humanity and all the complexity that brings but it is when I get to go into the classroom and see students doing work that they are really passionate about, it is when I run community consultation and there is 250 members there, it is when we have a planning day like we did yesterday with ten teachers and we really nut out a fantastic project that students will be undertaking next year that is what feeds back into my sense of what matters and gives me the energy to continue to do that work.
Brilliant thanks for all the work you are doing, thanks for your vision and thanks for the tremendous commitment you show to the students and the teachers and your broader community.
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Thanks again and I will catch you next time.