“When you have quality teachers, you achieve quality results”

This is how Rhonda Robson, Head of the Junior School at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, explains their outstanding 2016 NAPLAN results.

Half of the year 3 class achieved top bands in all subjects and the year 5’s did so well that they outperformed the averages of every other independent school in the country.

Congratulations are in order for students and teachers alike, but how did they do it?

On the teaching side, Ms Robson says that consistency and continuous improvement have made a significant contribution to the school’s success.

“We’ve been very targeted in our efforts to lift results; introducing systematic programs throughout the school so that we’re all emphasising the same things,” Ms Robson says.

“There’s a great deal of time and resources devoted to professional development and supporting teachers to be their best. For example, most of our teachers have advanced training in the teaching of spelling and literacy and all of my staff have completed a three-month course in critical and creative “visible” thinking at Harvard University. Such commitment to professional development is expensive but pays great dividends.”

Evidence of the program’s efficacy can already be seen in the school’s classrooms, Ms Robson says, where students’ natural curiosity is stimulated by thinking routines such as see, think, wonder, that form the core of visible thinking theory.  

“Students are taught to consider what they see in a stimulus, what it makes them think about and then what it makes them wonder about — the students are actively engaged in thinking much of the time,” Ms Robson explains.

The school’s focus on music also works to promote excellent results.

“The benefits of music to education are well-researched,” says Ms Robson. “We attract a lot of talented musicians into our school and there is a high correlation between proficient musical ability and high academic ability. When you have a lot of bright children, it lifts the teaching and learning for everyone.”

The school’s gifted and talented program complements students’ talents and nurtures their intellect, Ms Robson says, while streaming in years 3 to 6 helps to ensure that the learning needs of all students are met.

“We’re not selective at all, we take all students.” she says. “We have a belief that all children can learn. Some will take longer and need a bit of support to get there but we don’t give up.”

Another good news story is Gawura: the K-6 school for indigenous children within the Junior School.

At Gawura, special classes allow students to enjoy their own space and cultural identity. The school’s 22 students study an Aboriginal language while the school’s very high teacher to student ratio of 1:4 to 1:5 helps to quickly close the literacy and numeracy gap with other students. Other than these core subjects, Gawura students are fully integrated into the Junior School.

All Gawura students receive a full scholarship and, on completion of year 6, are offered a fully-funded scholarship place in St Andrew’s Secondary School.

Gawura, meaning “the whale”, is a totem of Sydney’s Eora people representing strength, courage and endurance. Reflecting those ideals, the school is an unqualified success, says Ms Robson, with its first graduates gaining acceptance into university courses this year.

Students have achieved excellence in non-academic fields as well, she says. “One of our senior students has been selected to train with an opera singer while another Gawura student has been nominated to represent the state in rugby, AFL and touch footy!”

Gawura is a product of St Andrew’s ethos of inclusivity and heartfelt Christian values, Ms Robson says. Its motto of Heart, Mind, Life is a “golden thread” informing every aspect of daily life at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, she says.

“The school walks the walk, not just talks the talk. People feel that they want to be here and that leads to a stable, thriving student body and staff and the results reflect that. It is a dynamic and vibrant, yet incredibly happy and loving school.”

Read more:

Project Zero: Visible Thinking – Harvard Graduate School of Education

Gawura website

“When you have quality teachers, you achieve quality results”
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Author: Mindy Laube

Mindy Laube is a creative content specialist with a strong background in digital and print journalism gained over a 14-year career at the Sydney Morning Herald. You can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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