Quirindi, pop. 2580, is the regional centre for the North West Slopes area of the Liverpool Plains, NSW, where the paddocks are green again after years of drought.
Co-ed Quirindi High School has 420 students this year and 37 teaching staff. The schools’ ICSEA value at 892 and 61% in the bottom SEA quarter might suggest NAPLAN scores would be on the low side. Not so. The 2019 Year 7 and 9 results across the five areas are comfortably above students with a similar background [two are ‘Close’].
For Principal Ian Worley, the NAPLAN numbers are good to have but “We’re focused on the individual student’s progress,” he said.
“We focus on the pathway that the individual student wants. If a child wants to go to university or decides on a TAFE course or apprenticeship our mentorship program will match him or her with a mentor who will meet with the student weekly to make sure that they can get to where they want to be.
“The socio-economics are no barrier to learning. All students can achieve. We are very much focused on the student’s progress as a whole and try to create a bespoke pathway for each.”
Worley was appointed principal in July of 2016 and an early decision after he had settled in was to implement a three-year Visible Learning School Improvement Process focused on the principles of Visible Learning, as the follow-on the school’s success with Assessment for Learning.
“I attended a presentation by John Hattie on Educational Leadership and thought that it would complement and follow on what the school had been doing for several years.
“For those staff who hadn’t been involved in Assessment for Learning, Visible Learning was a new way of teaching and learning in the classroom and it was somewhat confronting for some. But staff who had done the groundwork were very open to the idea.”
Being able to evidence progress in learning is something that Impact Coaches Andrew Harries and Peter Roberts have explored with staff over the three years of the Visible Learning improvement process.
“‘How do you know what they have learned?’” is part of every conversation with new staff, Harries said. “Equipping teachers to answer that question of impact lies at the heart of the Quirindi journey.”
In the spirit of ‘no hiding’, teachers are encouraged to be honest in their professional self-appraisal. Head Teacher Wellbeing, Liz Saunders said she regrets that her students of the past 30 years didn’t have the benefit of her newfound knowledge.
“I get really upset when I look back at the students I was teaching 10, 12 years ago and I think how basic my teaching was and how much better I could have approached things with the knowledge I have now.”
Her self-analysis is symptomatic of a culture that puts a high price on professional growth and on pedagogy that demonstrably results in student learning.
The change for Saunders has been liberating: “The kids are very good now because they understand how to learn but it’s also my understanding about how much they’re learning and how effective my teaching is with their learning, and then both sides being able to articulate that. It’s not just the what you’re teaching, it’s the how you’re teaching and why you’re teaching it.”
Luke, a Year 11 student said: “The overall way a teacher has come to teach a student has changed because it’s not about the teacher just teaching you the content. It’s more about them knowing where you’re at with the content and how you understand it.”
At the conclusion of the three-year Visible Learning professional development process, where to next for the school?
Principal Worley: “The school is ready to ‘drive from within’. We will be continuing with a sustainable path and with everything we have learned from Corwin and adding to it.
“Head Teacher of Instructional Leadership, Jennifer Lees, will be the driver, she has a very deep understanding of Visible Learning and she will be working across the staff as a whole.
“We will continue to learn and we’ll be maintaining our relationship with Corwin.”
Read the Quirindi Case Study here.