Following on from Adam Voigt’s highly engaging and inspiring segment on Leading School Culture, he returned to the stage as Host for the Panel session, joined by esteemed leaders in the education field: David Price, Glenn Savage, Lee Musumeci and Deborah Netolicky.

Adam opened the discussion by asking the panel, in their own experiences, what (strategy, process or practice) they felt had had the biggest return? Responses included valuing connections with families, understanding your own context and what matters most for your community, as well as being objective about ‘evidence’ and making balanced and considered decisions based on contextual values.

Overwhelmingly, the message was to spend time learning about, and understanding, the community you are in before making any decisions.

Adam then queried what the panel felt schools could do, or what opportunities they could take, that they currently aren’t? David responded by highlighting the tremendous amount of time and effort schools invest into ‘performance’ and ‘improvement’: two words he would like to be removed from schools. David argued that the focus should be redirected to the practices occurring inside classrooms rather than focusing on measuring teacher performance; a practice which, he believes, is having a detrimental impact and is leading to the exhaustion of both teachers and leaders.

Lee was asked about the types of Professional Learning staff had recently appreciated. She responded that the ‘Big Rock’ of every child learning to read was a high priority but, most importantly, that valuing the knowledge, expertise and time of staff was crucial in determining their individual professional development needs, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Lee communicated that staff have demonstrated a strong desire to continue focusing on improvement for students rather than themselves.

She believes in reducing the cognitive load for teachers by providing examples of ‘What a Good One Looks Like’ and getting out of teachers’ way to let them teach!

Adam then posed the question to Glenn ‘When we do too much, and can’t see the value, how do we make a decision about what to do next? Glenn encouraged us to consider a broader understanding about what actually constitutes ‘improvement’ and what is important for the community. He believes that we should all be getting angry about the continued inequalities surrounding funding for public and private schools, as outlined in the Gonski report.

Media type
Media type
Media type
Media type

Deborah continued the thread by highlighting the current challenge for leaders; which is the temptation to ease back from expecting growth and improvement because staff are tired. She stated that providing time relief both energises people and provides purpose in work commitments.

Deborah urged us to focus on communicating, connecting and belonging – coming back together and reminding ourselves of the ‘why’.

Adam then challenged the panel to identify the current ‘elephant’ in education. Glenn referenced the work of Jenny Donovan of the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) who highlights the lack of follow-through by Australia. Glenn referenced the new National School Reform Agreement which will be written next year and questioned what we should be prioritising on a national level. He suggested that, maybe, we should do less but follow through and make it more meaningful; backing initiatives up with strategies to ensure that they actually work.

Questions and comments were then taken from the floor, with one school leader commenting that the joy of education is being siphoned away by the pressure to perform. The panel concurred and referenced unrealistic timelines combined with political promises made on behalf of schools.

Lee encouraged us to focus on prioritising children feeling safe, connected and happy, and teachers demonstrating warmth and care.

A second school leader referenced the considerable complexity of supporting (and triaging) the needs of students with ‘challenges’, highlighting that teachers buckets are running empty. Adam responded by suggesting that schools need tools that are ‘fit for purpose’ for meeting the needs of children with challenges. Deborah believes that the Principal has the capacity to filter expectations as well as to provide a consistent and clear message to the community about what can and cannot be provided. David also believes that Principals should keep their eye on the ball and manage expectations for their staff.

Adam wrapped up the Panel discussion by asking the participants to comment on what little things have made the biggest difference for each of them?

David: It doesn’t matter how good your motives are if you haven’t given people permission, or motive, to understand.

Deborah: We can’t have student wellbeing without teacher wellbeing. Focus on micro-actions and moments of gratitude.

Glenn: When Principals draw upon the skill-set of parents and the community, advantages can be made for students and the school. See parents as an opportunity to help, not as a threat.

Lee: Despite the title, Principals are not the most important people in schools. Teachers need to be given the time, supports and resources to do their job. Invest time in people and they will want to come to work!