Rodney Groves is the Assistant Principal at Morisset Public School across the road from where he attended High School. His background is Kamilaroi. However, his family have lived on Awabakal land for five generations, and he has close ties in the local Hunter area. Rodney has been on the executive committee of the local Itji-Marru AECG in various roles for 10 years and is on the board of the local Biraban land council.
Rodney completed the Stronger Smarter training in 2013 and the Stronger Smarter Specialists Program in 2017. Recently, Rodney has been co-facilitating programs for the Institute in the Hunter region.
Rodney talked to us about how the impact of the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program at Morisset Public School, and in supporting local school and community networks.
Rodney Groves, the Assistant Principal at Morisset Public School in the Lake Macquarie region of NSW, says the Stronger Smarter Approach has played a part in supporting collaboration and high-expectations relationships across schools, with the local community and between staff. The results are principals who are comfortable to work together with the community, a staff room full of laughter and positive conversations, and parents who stop in the street to thank Rodney for building the relationships with their child.
Morisset Public School is part of a cluster of six schools where many of the staff have undertaken the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program (SSLP). Rodney says it has been important to have community members attend the SSLP together with principals and teachers to help build the connections.
From his position on the local Itji-Marru AECG, Rodney says he can see the difference. Whereas ten years ago, the AECG was struggling to engage with schools, now they meet regularly with the Aboriginal Education team from the six schools. The AECG and community members, principals and teachers work together to coordinate events throughout the year. “Through that strong push for getting the leaders to be part of Stronger Smarter, every principal comes to our meetings and gives a report that goes into detail about the attendance data or their academic data. They’re comfortable now to present all those things. They want to be the change,” Rodney says.
In his role as an AECG member, Rodney says the collaboration has also come from the AECG executive deciding to take on the Stronger Smarter Approach which has influenced how they do business. “We looked at developing high-expectations relationships with principals,” Rodney says. “When we go to these meetings, it’s not one person running the show. We co-facilitate things. We’re always looking at feedback and we’re following those rituals that we’ve created as part of that group. We use it as part of our meta language every day.”
Rodney says that as a result, the engagement at the meetings and the support principals now offer is the best it’s ever been. “We constantly hear them telling their staff to engage with AECG. I know that Stronger Smarter has really supported principals in knowing how to make the difference.”
Bringing staff together for cultural change
At Morisset Public School, most of the staff have undertaken the SSLP. Rodney says he can see the change in attitudes after staff attend the program. “You learn in the program that everyone’s a leader,” he says. “I think people come back knowing the change they can make in students’ lives by just getting to know them a bit better, and by acknowledging that there are different learning styles. That has really changed classrooms and changed that relationship between classroom teacher and student.”
Rodney says that, for him, a big take away from the Leadership Program was about cultural change in the school. He says that after taking on the executive position, he was able to help staff collaborate better. “There were some good relationships, but if you went into the staff room it would be rare to see somebody there,” he says.
He recognised that for change to work, they needed to get staff to work together to create the change. “I really started to pull apart the processes I’d learnt at the leadership program,” Rodney says. “We got the staff to dig into the culture of the school and the core values and beliefs. We did a lot of getting to know each other activities and slowly built up to that. We’ve used structured learning circles to make decisions. It’s all about that equal power relating, it’s all about the emotional bank account and everybody has buy-in because they have all been part of it. So, they believe in it, and we all have the same goals.”
Rodney says that now staff are comfortable to have the conversation with new staff about how positive conversations are fundamental to the school culture at Morisset. “Now when you go into the staffroom everybody’s there, everybody’s laughing. When we leave the staff room, we walk out in a good mood ready to keep working with their students.”
Vision of a deadly school
The school has used the Stronger Smarter vision of a deadly school to describe to community, students, and new staff how the school operates. Rodney says it’s been a good framework to explain how their different programs work together. “The foundation is all the things we do here at Morisset public school, all the things that make this school unique,” he says. “The pillars are our five keys to success which come from the ‘You can do it’ program. That is getting along, resilience, persistence, confidence, and organisation. Our overarching roof is the ultimate outcome, the PBL expectations of respect, safety, and engagement. We teach the pillars consistently. Everybody makes sure that they are implementing that part of the lesson around those things at the same time.”
Community involvement in school planning
When the school was recently looking at a complex issue, they used Stronger Smarter processes to ensure the P&C and community members were an integral part of the process. “Rather than the old traditional approach of sending out a survey and trying to interpret the data, we got genuine data in terms of making change at school. They really appreciated it, they felt like they were part of the school community, not just being asked a couple of questions, but they were there workshopping with each other, and they could then see that that the data collected was being used to make significant change in the school.”
High-Expectations Relationships with students
Rodney says when they need to have a challenging conversation with a parent about their child’s behaviour, there is a different starting point. “I think high-expectations relationships have been a real big winner here,” he says. “Staff say that when they ring parents now, the parents are a lot more open to talk. Staff start the conversation with ‘how’s it going with football’ and they talk about follow-up conversations and if you want to send me an email, here’s my email. It’s that more personal connection with community.”
At the personal level, Rodney says that after attending the SSLP, he completely changed the way he approached his classroom teaching. “The leadership program gives you a taste of different ways of doing things,” he says. “It really mind-shifted me from walking into the classroom everyday not really caring about what the kids were bringing in or what was going on in their home life. I believed the best way for them to get anywhere was education, but I learnt that without that high-expectations relationships there wasn’t going to be any education,” he says.
He has seen the difference in the ongoing relationships after students leave. For the classes after he implemented high-expectations relationships, parents still keep in touch. “I get messages from parents or I have them coming up to me and telling me all about their kids and how that was the best year for them and it really set them up, and thank you for taking an interest in them, and understanding what they were doing outside of school and just teaching them how important it was to get to know people and have high expectations relationships with their peers.”
Find out more about the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program