Leading by example

by on Nov, Tue, 2009 in Articles, Stronger Smarter Stories | 1 comment

Siobhan Jackson

Siobhan Jackson. Principal, Murray Upper State School, Qld

At Murray Upper State School, “a culture of respect, and zero tolerance for low expectations”, has nurtured the growth of a supportive learning environment for all students.

Principal, Siobhan Jackson believes that, “Schools are responsible for providing all Australian children with equal opportunities to learn and gain employment.”


United & Strong

Murray Upper is a Primary School shared by children from the cane farming town of Tully, and the nearby Indigenous Community of Jumbun in Far North Queensland.

By celebrating diversity, and “advocating genuine respect for culture and lifestyle”, Siobhan and her staff are uniting this learning community through a shared vision for inclusive education.

Previously, Siobhan felt that the Indigenous students lacked a sense of ownership in their school, and lower academic and attendance outcomes were indicative of a general disengagement with this past approach to education.

Experience has taught Siobhan that, “letting students know that you value them, their culture, and who they are, enables them to believe in themselves and learn.”

She was also aware however, that in order to turn this philosophy into practice, she would need all staff members, students and parents to adopt the same beliefs system.

Attending the Stronger Smarter Principals Program in 2008, gave Siobhan the “tools to encourage others to think the same way, and the confidence to demand that all school community members demonstrate high expectations, and respect for all learners.”

In addition to being the Principal, Siobhan is one of 3 teachers at this small rural school. She realised that this gave her the unique opportunity to lead by example, both in the classroom, and in leadership.


Embracing Change

Ensuring the Indigenous culture was well-represented within the school was the first priority for Siobhan.

There was only 1 Indigenous Teacher Aide on staff, and their scope for influence was limited by a shortage of targeted initiatives.

She employed 2 young Aboriginal women as Aides, to support the development and implementing of focused strategies such as a ‘Homework Program’.

Siobhan says that “these girls have provided excellent role models for all students, and are valuable members of the teaching team.”

They are empowering students by demonstrating the equal intellectual capacity of Indigenous people through their commitment to teaching, and their own pursuit of higher education.

The women have become students themselves, and are currently studying to obtain a Certificate 3 in ‘Education Tutoring’ through Tafe.

By modelling a value for, and success in education, they are assisting students to embrace both their cultural identity, and their identity as capable learners.

Siobhan says that, “students are now more confident, and they have greater aspirations for their own learning.”

The next challenge for this Indigenous Education Leader was to ensure that Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members were supporting this reform process.


Education for All

Siobhan consulted with each community “to share the new vision and directions for the school. Through this process, she enabled all stakeholders to recognise their role in supporting change.

She created meaningful opportunities for parents and wider community members to make positive contributions to education, and the school climate.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Elders are invited to run monthly ‘Storytelling Sessions’ where they are able to share their cultural and historical knowledge in an engaging way.

By creating a place for both cultures in education, each community recognises that they share equal ownership of this school.

In addition to utilising the expertise of individuals, the school sought assistance from Government agencies to support specific programs and strategies. Partnerships with Health teams have strengthened their ‘Healthy Schools Program’, and helped to provide a more well-rounded education to students.

Through other partnerships, the school support also extends beyond the formal years of schooling. Murray Upper offers a monthly Playgroup for young mothers, where they develop skills to prepare their child for learning.

Not only are these parents receiving vital support and information, “they now feel comfortable at the school.” This ensures that parents have the confidence to access the school for support, even before their child begins Prep.


In the Right Hands

An environment conducive to learning now existed, and Siobhan was determined to ensure that “there was a productive focus on students in the classroom, and a conscious inclusion of Indigenous Perspectives within curriculum.

“Teachers are responsible for finding ways to engage children and have them respond to learning.”

An emphasis on teacher accountability created a climate in which all members of the teaching team were responsible for the educational outcomes of their students.

By taking a supportive and pro-active approach, staff have also been able to work with families to overcome attendance or learning challenges faced by their children.

In 2006, the overall attendance percentage for Indigenous students at Murray Upper was 84%. By the end of 2008, it had risen to 88%.

According to Siobhan, “there are many more positive outcomes in sight for the students at Murray Upper State School”, and her inclusive leadership approach has ensured that the future of education is now in the safe hands of the people it belongs to.

One Comment

  1. Dear Belmore South,Wow Northern Territory is quite far, but I hope when they do visit us they will never neglect the day they went and veitsid our beautiful school!From Diala

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