Back to school essentials for Catholic school leaders

28 January 2020
Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta Executive Director Greg Whitby speaks during the System Leadership Day. Image: Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.


As students across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains enjoyed the last days of their Summer break, more than 500 leaders from Catholic schools across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains gathered in Rosehill to prepare for the 2020 school year.

The Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) annual System Leaders’ Day began with a powerful Acknowledgement of Country and dancing from students led by Jarara Indigenous Education Unit Aboriginal Education Assistant Josh Sly. The National Anthem was sung in English and in Dharug.

Diocese of Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long gave an inspirational reflection on the importance of equity and fostering the values of the Gospel. As always, Bishop Vincent challenged and inspired school leaders to do things differently.

“Schools should be an academy for courageous, informed and decisive leadership,’’ Bishop Vincent said.

“We must continue to reach out to the marginalised, teaching our young people the importance of what really matters by ensuring that this is central to our planning as educators,” he added.

Executive Director Greg Whitby addressed the school leaders on transforming learning and teaching, as well as leadership.

“We can always be better and we are always in a state of becoming. We must continue on our transformational agenda. While it may at times be difficult, we are all on this frontier journey together,’’ Greg said.

Greg also reflected on the bicentenary of Catholic education in Australia, reminding the crowd that Australia’s first parish school began in Parramatta in 1820. There was also excitement about the new religious education curriculum to be launched across the Diocese in 2020.

The program for the day had a strong focus on equity with a high-impact keynote address from educator and advocate Dorothy Hoddinott AO. Dorothy is the former Principal of Holroyd High School and currently serves as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney.

Dorothy shared her experience of advocating for students who were refugees and asylum seekers in the Holroyd High School community. Her passion about the power of schools to provide disadvantaged students with a really great start in life is an inspiration. There were particular insights about connecting students with great post-school learning opportunities.

“Education is both an individual and a social good, however, positive outcomes don’t flow automatically. This is where equity comes in. We must make this good happen,” Dorothy said.

International presenter Dr Michael McDowell, who regularly shares his expertise with local schools, delivered an inspirational presentation focused on learning owned by learners. A copy of Michael’s book, The Lead Learner, was shared with each of the schools to inspire learning and teaching at a school level in 2020.

School leaders responded enthusiastically to Michael’s energy and focus on the need for learners to own their own learning. “It’s about keeping the main thing, the main thing and that is learning. It is so important to enable our students to get one years’ worth of growth in one years’ time,’’ Dr McDowell said.

Dr McDowell challenged teachers to think about what are their key questions around surface and deep learning. Teachers were prompted to reflect on the specific things they are looking for in the classroom right now when it comes to transfer learning.

A new report from Professor Christopher Day and Dr Christine Grice was also launched as part of the day. The report, Change Leadership: A System Level Case Study charts change leadership at Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, identifying strengths and further opportunities for transformation.

New Director Learning Maura Manning found the day inspirational. Several new principals were also welcomed in their new roles.

There is so much to look forward to in 2020 as CEDP continues to transform the learning and the lives of students and staff by redefining what schools can be.

With thanks to Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.


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