Ms Gabrielle Smith joined us as Director of Junior School in 2018, bringing with her a National Excellence in School Leadership Institute (NESLI) scholarship and considerable expertise in the delivery of innovative and challenging pedagogy. We caught up with Gabby to reflect on her first two years in post and find out what’s next for the Junior School.
My career journey has been diverse. I’ve taught every year group from K to 6, I’ve been the Religious Education Coordinator, the Head of Curriculum and the Assistant and Acting Head of Junior School. Teaching has also taken me from Australia to the UK and back again. I worked at Stonar School, which is near Bath in England. Before I joined Waverley, I was at Loreto Kirribilli.
Outside of school, I’m married with two daughters. We’re a busy household with a labrador, a rabbit and a fish! My husband and I are both from the country, so as a family, we enjoy escaping to the country whenever we can. We value our country upbringings, so we want our children to have a balance between city and country life.
Girls seem to be able to sit still for longer when they’re in the classroom. Boys need to move. This is an asset that we’re cultivating. We’re creating environments to support this by investing in ottomans and chairs that allow movement. They’re specifically designed to allow for rocking. It’s all in the science; the male brain secretes a lot less serotonin than the female brain, which makes boys more impulsive and fidgety.
We also design programs that allow the boys to choose topics and projects that appeal to them. This kind of strategy benefits every student because it gives them a sense of autonomy over their education and that leads to deeper learning.
For me, it’s our values and our community – diversity. Waverley families come from diverse backgrounds with different beliefs. Every child comes to the College with different perspectives and experiences. Waverley truly embraces, accepts and respects the uniqueness of every family – and our community is very supportive of one another. That’s our magic.
Where do I start?! Launching our new Learning Hub was a real highlight, but we’ve also developed a Lunchtime Talks initiative, where we invite an inspirational adult in to share their career journey with our younger students. There’s been STEM Club, Innovation Club, Sustainability Club…
At one point we had ducklings in the Junior School. That was an experience! We’ve been able to offer Hip Hop and specialist art classes, and we’ve seen some real talent in debating as well. One team was undefeated, which was impressive. A lot of exciting things have been going on down here. There’s never a dull moment.
I’d say it’s the opportunity to make friends, to become familiar with the school and to develop confidence in the basic operations of a high school at the same time as being in a nurturing primary school environment.
It’s the best of both worlds at the Junior School because you still have your base teacher to care for you, but your transition to Year 7 will definitely be less daunting. It’s a seamless transition really, that’s how I’d describe it. Your place at the Senior School is guaranteed and you’re also in a learning environment that’s specially designed for boys in Years 5 and 6, so you’re more likely to stay engaged and be challenged.
Very. We have a very strong ‘one school’ ethos running through our two campuses. The Junior School follows a timetable that mirrors the Senior School timetable, and we also share facilities like the pool. Art, Science and TAS teachers from the Senior School take junior classes too, so our younger students also have access to the same specialist teachers as our high school students, which is a real advantage.
Our wellbeing program is another example of our ‘one school’ approach in action. We encourage students to develop supportive relationships across the whole student body through initiatives like the Big Brother Little Brother Program, where a junior student is paired with a senior student mentor. We want our Year 5s and 6s to be engaging with all senior year groups, from Year 7 right up to Year 12.
Wingara! 5000m2 of bushland that we’re beginning to work with to create an area for the boys to explore freely. We’re going to utilise the space so they can engage in critical and creative thinking opportunities, and learn to take responsible risks with adventure equipment and through simply being outdoors. It’s a project we’re all excited about, so watch this space…
Thanks for your time, Gabby!