Principal Claudine Dank, says the ideas that Stronger Smarter teaches are important to St Kieran’s Catholic School  with a 17% Indigenous student population and situated on the traditional lands of the Kalkadoon people at Mt Isa. Claudine says the Stronger Smarter Approach fits well with the school’s focus on embedding Indigenous culture. “We have already embedded lots of aspects of Indigenous culture and education in the school. Stronger Smarter is really the icing on top of the cake that cements everything else together,” Claudine says. “The timing of the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program was good in terms of helping us move the school forward to making sure the whole school community is happy with what we’re doing.”

“It’s important we push the kids, we can give them high expectations, we can make those relationships with them. If you don’t build relationships with kids whether they are Indigenous or non-Indigenous you won’t get anywhere” Claudine Dank, Principal

Collaborative Leadership

Claudine says the Leadership Program made her think about her own leadership style.  “I am now more open to having lots of people on my leadership team and being more inclusive, rather than doing things on my own,” she says.  “I  converse a lot more with people regarding changes and have more people I source information from.  So making decisions now can take a while.  If there are major things happening, I will talk to all the staff, I will talk to the school office, I will talk to the board, so everybody has a say in what happens in the school.”

Claudine introduced Yarning Circles into staff meetings, which she says has been empowering.  “I love the circle and we use that a fair bit,” she says. ”It’s empowering for the staff to be able to have their say or choose to pass depending on what they feel.” Creating this space has allowed staff to have tough conversations and be more open with one another.”

Claudine also introduced some other activities from the Leadership Program with her staff and says there is more trust now with improved relationships. “I have noticed changes with the staff because now they are more aware of everybody.  It’s important from a leadership perspective to recognise different personalities and different identities and understand how we can work together as a group.  We are now understanding each other’s identities and we know how our colleagues work. I think that’s how it all comes together”.

Embedding Indigenous culture in the school

The school has always held a high focus on the inclusion of Indigenous perspectives and Claudine says that Stronger Smarter fits right in. “We have an Indigenous Parent Liaison Group, who come in and help with the RAP report and we try to keep them involved as much as possible throughout the year.  We have just established a reconciliation garden.  Half of it is beautiful green grass with gardens around it, and we can have assemblies or a mass or in the grassed area.  Then there is a dry river bed in the middle and you go across the river and into a big Indigenous yarning circle.  So when we invite elders and other people we can go out to the yarning circle side.”

They use the Pedagogy of Difference framework developed at James Cook University in Townsville, which Claudine says also blends well with the Stronger Smarter Approach.  “Every year the teachers do the survey and they have a look at ‘how can I change part of my teaching to fit with the kids’, so that pedagogical framework fits in beautifully with stronger smarter, she says.  Claudine says that every term the teachers have a day with the Indigenous education consultant and the Indigenous teacher to look at how to blend Indigenous content into the teaching across the whole curriculum rather than having specific units.  “ A lot of units have some sort of Indigenous content,” she says., “So it’s more blended in rather than separate.”

High-expectations relationships

Claudine says building relationships is an important as part of building high expectations for students. “I always talk to the teachers especially at the beginning of the year about building relationships.  If you don’t build those relationships with those kids, both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, you won’t get nowhere.”  They introduced a daily check-in and check-out process in the classrooms. “The kids love it, they love to check in, they love to check out and if some teachers forget the kids will remind them,”  she says.  She says the staff find the check-ins useful to know what’s happening for the students, and if someone is not having a good day to be able to allow for that in the classroom.  “It’s a great way for us to see where the kids are at and where they are up to,  what’s happening or if ‘we are not having a good day today okay I’ll tread lightly.”

Claudine says her goal is to create an ongoing high expectations culture for the school community.  She recognises it will take time, particularly when there are new staff in the school each year. “ When you get a lot of beginning teachers who have never been in Mount Isa before, making sure they understand all those things is very important.  We have been looking at ways to provide good feedback.  If you give the students good feedback and you’ve already set the high standard of ‘this is where I want you to get to’, then the students understand a bit more about how to get there. I don’t want teachers to keep expecting mediocre results from students.  So it’s important that we can push the kids, we can give them high expectations. With new staff each year, we start all over again and I talk about my expectations and their expectations and this is what I expect for the kids and we just keep aiming for those high expectations.”