At the end of 2014, Waverley College completed the first four-year phase of its strategy for improvement, growth and transformation as a Catholic School for Boys in the Edmund Rice tradition. The successful fulfilment of their Phase 1 mission has seen both the Junior and Senior Schools thrive – and the increase in confidence both within and beyond the school has been impressive. 2015 marked the beginning of the second four-year phase of the strategy that will build on the accomplishments of the first.
Our new strategy has come out and we have taken some significant steps in Phase 1. We’ve got a really strong trajectory to the future with the notion that some of the goals from the original strategy have been ramped up – that’s one of the things I’m really happy about, we have the same framework in a sense, but we are lifting the stakes for our community.
You’re not resting on your laurels.
You can’t rest on your laurels. When you’re moving from one phase to another, you have to move up with one strategy. You don’t have a bell curve that goes down, you move up. You might parallel for a little while before moving up again.
I’m happy that the whole notion of a liberated life – the mission side of the strategy – is moving our students into the belief that they have a liberated way of living. Not just contributing to a Catholic culture, but a following liberated way of life. When I say a liberated life, it’s the characteristic of a Waverley student that he is challenged to a liberated way of living. It signals a new way of describing our deepest hope for each student. The hope that he’ll be freed by his learning journey, he’ll be unconstrained by fear, energized by courage and hope – so that he can achieve liberation for himself and others.
A lot of the focus is on the individual.
Yes. It’s about the boy becoming a freer person because of his learning. And as a result of that, is an agent of liberation for himself and others – out in society as well.
To me [becoming an agent of liberation] means ramping up the advocacy aspect of our strategic plan. It’s really elevating it to the level of pushing boundaries, taking risks. In a Catholic school often we play it safe because we are walking the line with our Church authorities and all sorts of people. And often our Social Justice offerings and the activities they get involved in are about being with people – spending time with the disabled or the elderly, or with people on the street. But we need to take our students to a point where they are actually going to move and start advocating on their behalf.
It’s all aligned with the fact that we want our students in a class to move from ‘recall and understanding’ to ‘analysis and evaluation’. If they truly evaluate their experiences with people on the margins, they’re actually going to speak up for them. They’re going to take risks and fight for their right to be heard.
It’s more than an education. It’s redefining what an education means.
Well I think so. Education should be about being agents of change. So if students aren’t challenged to analyse and evaluate information, they’re never going to be advocates.
There are lots of schools that do this, but I was quite conscious last year when Bethlehem College – in Ashfield – condemned Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by bandaging their mouths in the playground to make a statement. At the time someone said to me ‘Will you be happy if we do this tomorrow?’ and I said, ‘Not this year’. That was the right decision at the time. But, in a sense, it spurred me to think that strategically we’ve got to move in this direction. Say upfront as a community ‘We’re going to do this’. It may cause debate and division – and angst for some – we may never go to those lengths. But we’ve got a plan to become more active in our advocacy, and we have now started that conversation.
I was looking at some research from the parent reviews, and there was some focus on the need to increase the emphasis on transitioning the students from school life to after school life. I think this is a fresh approach – whether other schools are doing it right or not, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s not about creating the strategic document, it’s about implementing it.
The strategic document is our life here – it’s what we do – it’s the education and what people do everyday. When you look at the Liberate Paradigm, if you’re an evaluator, then you can understand the forces that contribute to social division and marginalisation in the learning process. So therefore the Liberate Paradigm is assisting your advocacy skills. It’s all connected. And I’ve got to continually draw the connections for people. So it’s a huge thing. I’m very happy with this plan.
It’s the teachers that are going to do it [implement the strategy], not me. There’s a lot of modelling that needs to take place.
The staff are the ones at the coal face.
That’s right. They’re moving kids from ‘recall to understanding’ to ‘analysis to evaluation’. In every subject.
They’ve got to buy into it.
That’s right. All it is, is implementing what the HSC asks of the students. In HSC questions, Band 6 responses ask them to ‘evaluate and analyse’. They don’t ask you to recall information. So everything that we do is integrated and that’s why we have to always draw the connections.
A staff member, in their day-to-day lives, is busy. They have 6 periods a day. I don’t teach at all, so I have more time to consider the broader connections between all the things we do. And sometimes staff have to be reminded and challenged to make these connections in the best way they can in the classroom – and use the right language about education.
There are things at Waverley that we don’t want to change and there are things that we do want to change. One thing that hasn’t changed is that we have every type of student. We see that as a strength. We’re not appealing to one particular level of society, our fee structure allows a much broader range of people to be part of that community. That is a unique thing I believe. We don’t want that to change.
But what we are doing currently is creating an innovative environment where our students can form strong relationships with each other and with staff, and really address their learning in a much more holistic way through the Liberate Program. What’s changing here is that the language is much more hopeful about the education process, the language outside the community is more positive about what we do, and the vibe about the school is very strong.
In this part of Sydney Waverley College is a unique school. It is not trying to be like anybody – except perhaps other Edmund Rice schools. It is a part of that network – with a charism, a founder, and an understanding of its place in the Church – that is similar to 41 schools around Australia and 7 schools in Sydney. And really the chief difference between Waverley and other schools is its mission.
So who is a Waverley Student? He shows inclusivity, is a resilient learner and achieves success with learning. He builds relationships and is challenged to a liberated way of living. So if you put all that together then, hopefully, he is a boy that is able to transform all of his experiences at the college into a way of life – a way of being that fosters learning, builds relationships within the community, and that is always inclusive of other people. He is never someone who marginalises others. Ultimately, he is someone who exhibits concern for those who are always on the margins. But beyond that, teaches them how to assert their rights.