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  What Works - The Work Program

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St Teresa's College, Abergowrie, North Queensland

From boys to men

Context | Beginning What Works | Planning and targets | Boys to men




St Teresa's College is at Abergowrie, west of Ingham in the Herbert River valley of North Queensland. It was set up in 1933 by the Christian Brothers as an agricultural college for boys. At that time, students would have come mostly from surrounding areas, but over time the school has attracted boarders from Papua Niugini, the Torres Strait and Cape York, as well as further afield. In 2010, the school has about 220 students, of whom over 85% are Indigenous, and many are sons of former students at the school.

For most boys, English is a second or third language. The school has a Learning Enhancement Centre and tutors support those who need extra assistance in learning Standard Australian English. Although not discussed below, the school is implementing personalised learning plans for each student and  focusing on assisting students to develop pathways to post-school life.

Beginning What Works

Assistant Principal Angus Galletly and Libby Knight (Catholic Education Office, Townsville) discuss the process of change that began in 2009.



Angus Galletly and Libby Knight

Libby has been our consultant for many years. We were looking at different curriculum ideas and what we could tap into and then Libby mentioned Mayrah and What Works.


At the time I was working with the school on a literacy project. But we realized that there were wider implications and that the school needed to develop a good planning process which incorporates literacy into a broader overall plan.

I knew Mayrah [Dreise, What Works facilitator] from previous work. I was also familiar with the What Works processes because I'd been part of strategic planning when I worked with Education Queensland. It seemed to me that it would fit well with what Abergowrie was looking for. Also, there was the fact that many people in the school knew Mayrah and she was familiar with the school. I suppose a really significant thing was that there had been a change of Principal at that time and the Principal was looking for ways in which he could set priorities.


At the initial meetings we just talked about our goals for the next five years. But we realised that we needed to map out all the responsibilities and roles. I guess as schools develop, people come and go and things fall by the way, so without blaming anyone you can lose focus.

Everyone from the admin team was in on the discussions and had their own view points. We didn't always agree but at least it was out in the open and we could see that there were a lot of things that were working but there were other elements that weren't. For instance, we needed to get communication lines between the boarding and the day school out in the open, so that we could work on how we hand over responsibility as the boys move between them.

The bottom line, though, was that whatever we do has to benefit the students and their education up to Year 12. We've had a pretty good retention rate and we figured that doesn't just happen by chance, so lets build on those strengths.

There were a lot of ideas bouncing around and that's where Mayrah came in, to help us get them in order, set some clear goals from an admin team perspective and work with staff. We went to them and collected their ideas and then came back and managed to incorporate most of those ideas. The starting model was to break down our own role descriptions.


I was often here as well when Mayrah visited and I saw my role as supporting her, so I'd take notes or try to identify things that needed to be followed up from the Catholic Education Office [CEO] perspective. So where there were curriculum implications or implications for professional development that we could deal with at a CEO level I made sure that I took note of that because we were conscious of the fact that the parameters of What Works are about planning.

I suppose the most memorable day was where we got the staff all together in the dining room, and the question was really 'how can we move on from here?' Bernard [Principal, Bernard Durie] talked to the staff but then Mayrah also spoke to them, and she said very directly that we're doing this so that the boys can achieve their potential, and about how important that is for them and their communities. She was very challenging and quite a lot of controversial questions came up.


The beauty of it was that there were no grey areas. People couldn't just say we do something because that's how it's been done for the last 40 years. Mayrah would bring it straight back to why, and what were the effects. She constantly made people sit back and think 'well why is this happening?' so there was an immediate reaction.


I remember one comment after the staff had worked in their groups to identify what was working now and what wasn't working. Mayrah had been saying that teachers need to use the Queensland Essential Learnings as their guide in planning and we had had a preliminary look at the data. Then one of the staff tentatively said 'well you know what really worries me is dumbing down of the curriculum, dumbing down what's happening'. It was a misunderstanding, but I think Mayrah took a deep breath and she really talked passionately about the whole question of not dumbing down and how the students need a high quality, high standard curriculum. Her passion about educating Indigenous kids really came out very strongly, but she manages to hit home but then draw everyone back in again.


There were misunderstandings and questions all over the place, but it's good to get them out in the open. We put unanswered questions on a whiteboard and as the day went on some of the misconceptions were cleared up. Others took more time.


Mayrah structured the whole thing but she made sure she worked with the whole staff first, and then just the teaching staff and the Indigenous staff (teachers and teacher aides) separately. She used feedback from the Indigenous staff to incorporate their perspective.


The feedback from outside critical friends was important. There were times early on when some people struggled with some of the issues brought up, but as the year went on they realised that change was coming, the conversation was happening, and it was better to be on the bus than not. But ultimately, people know that we're here to provide the best education we possibly can, and that's what we were talking about. Once we got going there was no going back.

'Traffic lights': Planning and targets

Angus talks about action planning and particular targets.



We developed action plans in term or semester chunks, trying to achieve targets each time, then reassess, reevaluate and move on. We don't dwell too much on the negatives, we just keep looking at what has worked and if something isn't working, then let's address it, let's take  action.

In terms of engagement and achievement, we set targets around the numbers of senior students who were on track to pass, and we came up with a visual 'traffic light' system so that the boys could see where they are up to. It's a chart that has each boy's name on it, and will be green if he is on track to pass six or seven subjects, orange if he is on track to pass five and red otherwise. But there's a real literary and numeracy focus as well because you can't be on green unless you're passing in English and Maths.

The way we've supported the process is to provide each Year 12 student with a mentor, who is one of the teaching staff who takes time outside of school hours to act as a concerned adult. They talk with the boys about where they're up to, why and what can be done if there are problems. Parents can be involved as well, where possible.

Our target this year for the Year 12s is for 85% to be in green at the end of the year and get a QCE [Queensland Certificate of Education]. Last year we got 73%. We weren't happy with that and we thought we could get at least 85%. At the moment [October 2010] we're ahead of our target, but in the first semester there was a lot of red. The boys like to focus on the chart in the classroom and it gives them a really good reminder of where they're sitting. All their subjects are QSA [Queensland Studies Authority] registered but at the moment not all are OP [Overall Position], which is the most common way to go to university. Some boys do the QCS [Queensland Core Skills] as well.

Initially we wondered whether putting the chart up in public like that would lead to some boys disengaging rather than engaging but we took them through it with their Year Level Coordinator and they wanted it like that. Usually the boys want to be challenged, and they are constantly monitoring the chart. There's a little bit of competition but there's also a team aspect, where we encourage them to think it's not about only individuals but about what 'we' can do as a team. We say we're trying to colour this whole field green.

This system has also definitely opened up the dialogue with parents. Even mothers or aunties will ask about the green lights and that's been a great conversation starter. It gives them a general idea of progress and then we can move on to more detail.

'Boys to Men': Pastoral care

Wayne Wood is Deputy Principal (Pastoral). Here he discusses an approach to student morale, self-esteem and boys growing up.


Wayne Wood

With pastoral work there's obviously a discipline component and I see that as having a big impact on the culture of the school. Staff morale is also a responsibility of mine.

But student morale is a big part of it, just making sure we've got happy students and the learning environments is what we want it to be. So I started this year looking at our pastoral care policy and our behaviour management policy. We were looking for change so we're developing a program called 'Boys to Men' which has been in draft form all year and we're still working on it.

At the start of the year we looked at what we wanted to achieve with our kids. We were losing a number of students because of confrontations with teachers that just escalated and we thought that  if it was approached differently that didn't need to happen. So that was a concern of ours. I also think we didn't have clear enough lines of responsibility in terms of the discipline policy. It's a lot clearer this year, and staff have commented that now they know exactly this is the first step, this is the second step, third step and so on. As a senior person, people know that I'm responsible, rather than the idea of 'pastoral responsibility' belonging with Religious Education or Boarding.

We looked at other models, some of them from primary schools, but we wanted to have something more specific to Abergowrie and more tailored to the secondary school with our particular clientele of boys. We're looking at something specific to our boys because they're a very particular group. I know there are things similar to boys anywhere, but here having a little bit of knowledge of our boys' home cultures is an advantage for me. Read more about connection with community...

Then we talked with staff about the fact that we are in the business of getting these boys in at 12 years of age and then they leave at 17 or 18 and that by that time we hope they're men. The boys often refer to themselves as men anyway, so we looked at what it involves to actually become a man. We identified 10 qualities and we've worked on those, and it came to be called 'Boys to Men'.

We put it into a sort of puzzle format, so when we're dealing with students we can get them to identify those qualities that we look for in a good husband, good father or good leader in the community. It's all there. If there is a behavioural incident then I can get the kids to identify what qualities they're basically taken out of the puzzle and how we're going to put that quality back in.

We've been working more through this stuff in pastoral assemblies and then in a whole school assembly. We're small enough to do that, and it meant that I could take a lead. I didn't want to increase other staff workload at the start, but we thought that if I did a fair bit of the work first, the staff could then take it on.

So we're looking at getting a similar language across the whole school. Before we were finding that when there was a  problem between students and staff it was becoming very emotional, so we wanted to find a way to take some of the emotion out of it. Now, we can refer to 'Boys to men', which takes some of the emotion out of it, and helps stop people getting upset. It saves face for the student as well as the teacher and you could say that certain incidents can be dealt with 'down there', as they happen rather than bringing it 'up' to the admin level. We've got more PD to do with staff but they see it as assisting them.

In the years before I left on exchange in 2008 I was noticing that our retention rates were good and the kids were quite happy but when I came back I thought we needed to step things up a bit. We needed to lift our expectations of what the boys could and would achieve. Read more about lifting expectations...


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