Principal’s Blog

It’s Holidays Parents – Now What?

Summer is one of the seasons that many Australians particularly look forward to, as they have the opportunity to experience and enjoy things like the sun, the surf, catching up with friends and the wonderfully long summer of Cricket… well each to their own.

I know for some parents, it does also provide some challenges, as they juggle a range of commitments while their children are not at school.

Well here is a list of some ideas that you may like to suggest to your child so that they get the most out of the break ahead. So sit them down and suggest:

1. Rest, relax and recuperate
It is important to be able to be able to de-stress from the year gone by and recharge for the year ahead. Catching up with friends, doing things you enjoy that you may not had much time to do, or taking up a new adventure are some things that may help.

2. Volunteer
There is a great opportunity to consider and actively pursue ways to support and help out your community in some way. At the very least, helping at home is a great start.

3. Take up a holiday job
This not only builds a range of skills, develops networks and improves your CV, it also provides a little more independence and choice with your finances.

4. Catch up on studies
Depending on your year level, a little preparation and organisation for the year ahead can help you ‘hit the ground running’.

5. Clean your room!!
Do I need to say anymore?

You may also like to hear me discussing what children can do over the Summer Holidays in my latest Pow Wow with Mel Dzelde on PowerFM by clicking here:
http://www.powerfmsa.com.au/shows/power-pow-wow/63986-educating-our-kids-on-holidays

Have a blessed and safe Christmas!

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Learning for the 21st Century

There continues to be many words, thoughts and debates around the focus, scope and sequence of education and learning into and for the 21st Century. For me, at the heart of the why and how sits these five words and a quote from Nelson Mandela:

Purpose, Meaning, Contribution, Influence, Legacy

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

If you’d like to hear more about Learning for the 21st Century at Cornerstone, listen to my latest POW WOW with Mel Dee from PowerFm by clicking here.

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Happy or Healthy Minds

One area of significantly increased focus within learning communities over recent times has been the psychological wellbeing of their students and staff. Decisions around resourcing, curriculum, special programs, whole school models and the like, have been made to provide a means to support and guide people to a better understanding and empowerment of their own and community wellbeing. An often embedded element is the ‘happiness’ or ‘positive emotions’ state. Over time, through reflection and experience, and encounters with the thoughts and works of a number of educators and psychologists, it has become increasing apparent that attention to a broader and deeper application of the mind in wellbeing is required. Understanding how the mind works and developing habits and skills to healthily engage with the wide and varied experience of life is an important key to overall wellbeing.

This year, Cornerstone College has been fortunate to begin working with Dr Tom Nehmy, with a focus on healthy minds. There has been an intentional emphasis on recognising and practicing the habits that will better enable students, as Tom stresses, to:

  • Be resilient in the face of stress
  • Demonstrate flexibility in the way they think and respond to change
  • Have balance in their view of the world: a combination of being positive in attitude but also realistic in their thinking
  • Make helpful decisions consistently
  • Manage emotional impulses
  • View messages from the media (including social media) with a critical eye
  • Cultivate self-compassion, not just self-esteem

Having positive emotions and being happy are important, but there is so much more that contributes to a healthy mind.

If you would like to learn a little more about The Healthy Minds Program, click on the link below to hear Dr Tom Nehmy and Cornerstone College Middle School Learning Leader, Matthew Pearce, chat to Mel Dee on PowerFM.

Healthy Minds Program, PowerFM

You may also like to visit The Healthy Minds website:

Healthy Minds website

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Service Learning

One way Cornerstone actively facilitates service learning is through involvement in Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) programs.

A recent example involved Cornerstone Science Teacher, Mr Andrew Weiss, who joined eight other teachers from Lutheran schools across Australia to take part in an ALWS Teacher Study Tour. These teachers visited refugee camps in the small African country of Djibouti. Djibouti is one of the poorest and least developed places on the Earth. Lutheran World Federation (LWF) works in two refugee camps in Djibouti: Ali Addeh and Hol Hol, both of which the teachers visited as part of the tour. When visiting these camps the teachers were involved in shared learning and teaching experiences.

In September, 3 students and a staff member from Cornerstone  will be joining with other Lutheran Colleges around Australia, travelling to Cambodia with ALWS’ Student Christian Learning and Service Tour. They will be working with ‘Life With Dignity’,  which is an autonomous Cambodian Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that ALWS have partnered with in Cambodia for over 20 years. The focus of their work is rural integrated development and empowerment programs, so the students spend quality time in rural villages learning about the joys and challenges of rural life in Cambodia and the need for justice action.

Last year Cornerstone students and teachers joined Habitat for Humanity in Cambodia. They worked alongside families to lend muscle to help build homes. Habitat for Humanity believes a decent home provides much more than bricks and mortar. It’s the foundation for the future, giving families the opportunity to be more secure, healthy and content,  and leads to stronger communities that can grow and sustain themselves.

There are a growing number of ways that schools can engage students and teachers with the opportunity to develop the core value of ‘service’ through service learning experiences.

If you’d like to hear more about service learning at Cornerstone, listen to Andrew’s interview with PowerFm on the link here.

 

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Growth Mindsets

One aspect of quality education is the ability to critically consider the latest research and ideas that support and enhance the learning and wellbeing of students. While original ideas can provide wonderful inspiration and energy for transformation, often, the ability to refine and redefine previous thoughts also provide significant opportunities for progress. Carol Dweck is perhaps the most recognisable voice to the ‘Mindset Movement’, someone who has given an effective and meaningful language, and a tangible set of tools and strategies for learners to understand the why, what and how of improvement in learning. In simple terms, recognising brain power can grow and understanding how this will occur, provides learners with a sustainable ‘growth mindset’, realistic strategies and learning for life. Like Cornerstone College, many schools now intentionally teach and embed the thoughts and practices of growth mindsets.

If you have not had any experience in mindsets, perhaps a good place to start is with the following Ted Talk:  The power of believing that you can improve.

You may also like to hear me discussing growth mindsets in my latest Pow Wow with Mel Dzelde on PowerFM by clicking here.

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New School Speak

Last year, Cornerstone College celebrated its 25th Anniversary. At times like this, reflecting on the past and contemplating the future are natural. It is interesting and significant to note the changes and background to the educational priorities and foci over these years. The mission and purpose of a school, broader educational philosophy, government policy and ‘megatrends’ all form part of the vision and planning, now and into the future, of any educational community.  Education is also packed with terms and acronyms that can distance and confuse the very people that are an integral part of student learning; the parents and caregivers. Part of our role as educators is being able to share and explain, in constructive ways ‘what and why we are doing things’, often in new and creative ways. In my most recent conversation with Mel Dee at PowerFM, I reflect and discuss some of the current ‘states of play’.

Click here to listen to my interview with Mel Dee on PowerFM discussing new school speak.

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Serenity Now! – Coping with those Year 12 Exams

For many Year 12 students, their first experience of significant external examinations is just around the corner. So how can you be prepared and calm throughout this journey? Here are a few of my tips, gained from investigation, discussion and personal experience.

Leading up to the exams:

  • Be planned, organised and disciplined with your study. Use your strengths of how you learn best in revising the year’s work and remember to refer to previous exam papers and examiner reflections.
  • Ensure your dedicated study space is set up to optimise your time and focus.
  • Eat well and exercise.This helps maintain health, alertness and overall wellbeing.
  • Your brain will work best when it’s well rested, so it is vital to continue getting those 8 – 10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Engage in activities that enable you to have a sense of relaxation, calmness and serenity. This will vary for each person. Reading, walking, cooking, gardening, spending time with family or friends are some examples.
  • Continue to maintain a consistency, normality and balance in your daily life.

On the exam day:

  • Set the alarm to wake a little earlier so that you have plenty of time to eat breakfast (yes, do eat breakfast) and organise yourself.
  • Double check you have everything required for the examination and that it is in working order.
  • Head to the exam with plenty of time.
  • Take some brain food (fruit and nuts) and a bottle of water to the exam.
  • Go to the toilet before the exam starts.
  • Read all the questions carefully before starting to help you plan your answer order.
  • Unless there is a set sequence to which you must adhere, start answering the questions that you feel most confident about.
  • Keep to the planned time on a particular section/question so you can have an opportunity to answer all questions in the exam. And, leave any questions that you are unsure about for the end.
  • Try to leave time to review your answers.

And some advice you can gently give to your parents, is that it is important to provide as much support for the above to occur in a calm, encouraging and caring manner. Their words and actions will make a difference to your mindset and preparation for the examinations. This is one time in your life where reducing or minimising other commitments may be valuable.

Finally, remember that the results of the examination may have an influence on your short term goals and aspirations, but they do not define who you are, the dreams you have or the opportunities you can take into the future.

Click here to listen to my interview with Mel Dee on PowerFM discussing coping with exams.

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Let’s talk about homework

One topic that produces a wide range and varied views amongst students, parents and teachers alike is that of homework.  From my perspective, it does make a difference to students’ learning, but ‘the devil is in the detail.’ Signifcant bodies of research have produced a range of conclusions, with some quite opposing views. There are, however, some common threads that are worth consideration.

Homework must be much more that rote learning, and at its heart should build essential skills, deepen a student’s understanding and extend their learning. For younger students homework should spread beyond academic focus, also emphasise the habits and mindsets of learning and must include reading at its heart. Older students need homework that is purposeful and meaningful and gets the ‘best bang for its buck’. Students will gain much more from homework when they feel a strong sense of ownership to their homework, with a blend of review, practice and ‘stretch’.

The quality, targeted focus and the optimal quantity of homework (I suggest around 10 minutes per year level as a guide), does make a difference in both the attitude towards learning and the level of success a student experiences. It is too simplistic to say “Do more of the same stuff you did today in the same way.” The strategies employed to enrich homework, when associated with the understanding related to a student’s learning styles and the context and purpose of a learning experience, can have a profound and ongoing effect on the depth, width and length of the learning.

There are many and varied competing demands in the lives of our students that were perhaps not as complex a generation ago. This means that the planning and organisation of homework around other weekly demand needs to be carefully considered.

Within the home, consideration of place, space and time are essential. Limiting distractions, especially of the technological kind, is important. Parents also need to be mindful to provide enough controlled freedom, with minimal ‘over the shoulder’ supervision, to enable a reasonable balance of support, guidance and self-determination.

Homework still has a place to build essential skills and attitudes and complement the learning that occurs within the school. The challenge and opportunity is to ensure that homework does make a tangible difference to the experience and quality of learning for each student.

Click here to listen to my interview with Mel Dee on PowerFM discussing homework.

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Co-ed or Single Sex School? Confused? Here’s the pros and cons……

While there exists co-ed and single sex schools, there will always be debate of their value, worth and benefits and, as an extension, which is the better? It can be an enormously emotive and divisive issue.

While gender composition of a school may be vital for some, I believe it can distract from the deeper consideration and declaration of the heart of good teaching, learning and education. If the structure of either coed or single sex schools was the defining factor of what makes THE difference, then it would be a debate very worth having. From my experience and learning, there are more central elements to consider and ensure are embedded within a school language, culture and practice. That is not to say that we should be mindful, that at times, there will be differing needs and structuring of the learning environment which will benefit girls or boys.

Significantly, the research by educational researchers such as John Hattie have consistently demonstrated a range of gender neutral factors that make a substantial difference in student learning. From his extensive research, Hattie makes the key point that the “biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers.”

For the time being, there will still exist the option of coed or single sex schools, and for some, this remains an important distinction. How we ensure there is great quality and care in the learning, development and wellbeing of all students is always at the forefront of my thinking. I suggest that it is critical to look beyond the gender composition, and at the heart of what makes for excellent teaching and learning, regardless of the background, capacity, ability or gender of the students.

For me, what matters most is not whether a school contains co-ed or single sex students, but how we put into practice what best, supports, engages, inspires and empowers them.

Click here to listen to my interview with Mel Dee on PowerFM discussing the pros and cons of co-ed and single sex schools.

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The hopes and dreams of NAPLAN

It has now been 8 years since the introduction of NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy And Numeracy) in Australia, with related expenses now costing the Government around $100m a year. It is fair to say, there have been varied views and levels of reaction to its purpose and value. As we look into the future, there is also intent to enhance and extend the systemic testing of students’ ‘learning’, in and beyond NAPLAN.

So what have we gained and learned due to NAPLAN?  From my perspective, the test itself is a tool that can support the improvement of individuals and cohorts numeracy and literacy skills. Perhaps an unintended consequence of NAPLAN is the broader discussion on what is at the heart of great and sustainable learning, and what is important to teach? I believe there has also been an enhanced collaboration of educators and a sharpened focus on using authentic and valid data to measure learning and improvement.

On the flip side, the development of and focus on various forms and reporting of ‘league tables’ lacks authenticity, value or clarity of purpose, especially when they are often generalised to system or ‘philosophy’ comparisons. Factors such as differing approaches schools have to preparation and access for students and the complex nature of school demographics add to the futility of such comparisons. NAPLAN is also an extremely narrow measure of learning. The real opportunity for schools is how to maintain focus and reliably quantify the learning and development in areas that are critical for living and thriving in the 21st Century. Empathy, creativity, grit, collaboration, kindness, critical thinking and problem identification (not just solving) are just a few of the areas that need equal or perhaps greater attention, and ones that will transform and empower well beyond what NAPLAN could ever hope and dream to achieve.

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Do Year 7s belong in High School?

It’s fair to say, given the fact Year 7 is still predominantly undertaken within a Primary School in SA, families have an important and sometimes challenging choice about when to make the transition from Primary School.

In 2014, Cornerstone College extended its educational offering to Year 7 and expanded its Middle School as part of this transition. This year we welcomed our second year of Year 7s into our community. Over the last 12 months, families have embraced this new opportunity and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. So I thought it was worth sharing the reasons why we, and our Year 7 parents, see the value in commencing High School in Year 7.

Obviously, I am a strong advocate for Year 7 moving to a High School environment, and here’s why – at the heart of my support is their readiness and the opportunities; be they social, emotional or learning, which match the developmental stage of the Year 7 student. Other reasons also include:

  • The ability to combine specialist Middle School teachers with the expertise of teachers in key learning areas.
  • Access to a wide range of dedicated facilities such as Design and Technology, Music, Drama, Art and Science.
  • The readiness, and often strong desire for Year 7 students to be stretched as learners and to be connected with older students.
  • The aspirational and inspirational environment senior school students can provide.
  • Greater capacity to effectively implement the Australian Curriculum.
  • Aligning with all other mainland Australian state educational systems, where Year 7 students are in a High School setting.

While I understand there can be great emotional, structural and financial challenges in moving all Year 7 students to a High School setting, I believe the opportunities are so much greater and a better match for today’s adolescent.

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