Be Brave, Be Brilliant

by on Nov, Tue, 2009 in Articles, Stronger Smarter Stories | 0 comments

Lisa O'Malley

Lisa O’Malley. Acting Head of Campus
School, Western Cape College, Mapoon Campus, QLD

When Lisa O’Malley was educated at Weipa in far north Queensland in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Indigenous class mates came and went and “it appeared to be accepted”.

When she assumed the position of Head of Campus at Western Cape College’s Mapoon Campus in 2006, she would recognise some of her students to be the children of these former ‘sometimes’ classmates.

“Attending school every day is vital for students, no matter who or where they are” says Lisa

“When I started at Mapoon, attendance and behaviour standards were already high thanks to strong previous leadership and engaged parents”.

Western Cape College had already taken on the challenge of improving educational outcomes for Indigenous students in the region. As a result, Mapoon Campus began to emerge as a ‘flagship’ for Indigenous Education reform.

“Attendance rates already exceeded targets for Indigenous schools, but we were not interested in ‘like school’ targets and averages. We were determined to achieve or exceed ‘state’ targets and averages.

“In 2007, students achieved an attendance average of 91%

These high expectations applied to all key performance indicators, as staff “were not prepared to ‘racially adjust’ our standards for teaching and learning.”

The high standards in attendance and behavior meant that there was a school environment which was very conducive to quality and learning.

“We set ourselves the goals of raising learning and achievement standards by:

  • Improving standards of teacher expertise
  • Creating strong partnerships with the wider community to access expertise and knowledge
  • Employing a consistent ‘Model for Teaching a Learning’ that applied in every classroom
  • Ensuring a consistent model for curriculum delivery based on integrated learning
  • Providing a consistent approach to Guided Reading and the explicit teaching of reading strategies.
  • Having a consistent approach to teaching spelling and handwriting
  • Improving student identity (school philosophy)
  • Embedding Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum
  • Having students recognise their responsibility for their own learning and behaviour
  • Having students recognise that they were responsible for doing ‘high quality work’
  • Valuing Indigenous Perspectives and Home Language
  • Providing strong role models for Standard Australian English
  • Establishing a 3-year Transition Program to assist students’ smooth transition into secondary school.

“In 2002 all our year 2 students required additional support in reading, writing and numeracy to reach required performance indicators. By 2007 more than two thirds of year 2 students had reached the levels in reading and numeracy and 83 per cent had reached it in writing.

“In 2002, no students reached the Year 5 numeracy benchmarks. In 2007, 100 per cent of year fives achieved the benchmark.

“An Indigenous student has an equal learning capacity to any non-Indigenous student. It is the provision of a high standard of education that allows this potential to be realised – as for any student!

“Excuses which generally deflect accountability from schools are often offered for low outcomes among Indigenous students. There has been a tendency to blame factors such as low socio-economic status, geographical isolation, and even a student’s ‘Indigenous status.

“As far as I am concerned, if we believe that a child is facing challenges outside of the school environment, it just reinforces how important it is for us to do our jobs well.

“It was up to teachers to ensure that they taught in a way that engaged students, and focused on their individual learning needs.

“These teachers demonstrated every day that they were not willing to drop their standards or expectations just because their students were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, why would they?

“The Stronger Smarter Leadership Program enforced that I needed to ensure my high expectations were transparent and evident in all aspect of the school”.

Following the program, a school philosophy was developed by the students, teachers and the Parents and Citizens Association (P&C) to represent our capacity for high achievement. Students were asked to identify what they would need inside their hearts, and inside their minds, to be successful in education, and in life. They recognised that achieving their true potential would require them to be brave and brilliant’.

“We have very high expectations of our students, and our ‘Be Brave, Be Brilliant’ school philosophy helped students to adopt these same expectations for themselves.

We want our kids to feel confident to aim high, because their capacity to achieve is as high as any non-Indigenous child’s. We also wanted students to be confident to demand that others have high expectations of them also.”

The campus plays a pivotal role in Old Mapoon – a well established peaceful community on the traditional lands of the Tjungundji people.

The community has a population of just under 300.

When Lisa arrived at the school there were only 2 Indigenous employees and raising this was a huge priority for several reasons including:

  • positive role models
  • community engagement in the education process
  • recognition that the school valued community input and involvement and
  • most importantly, the school did not belong to the principal or any of the teachers; it belongs to the students and community.

As Lisa said “I will not pack it up and take it with me when I leave, so it would be up to the members of this community to sustain the reform. They could only do this if the knowledge and skills had been enabled, and remained within the community.”

Through partnerships with local employment agencies, Lisa secured additional contracts to employ more individuals. By 2007, there were 7 Indigenous employees at the campus.

“The degree of ownership and general pride in the school is evident in which parents and community members confidently engaged with staff, and school activities and initiatives. The P&C Association was very active, and influential in school decision-making.

“The local Aboriginal Shire Council, Justice Committee and Health teams also supported the school in various ways. It was clear that the people of Mapoon felt comfortable in their school, and were more than willing to do all they could to improve outcomes for their kids.

“Every member of the Mapoon Campus learning community worked together to prove that small schools, can do big things!

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