Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

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

Tony Whybird

Tony Whybird

Atherton State High School

“Every child can succeed, and we must ensure that every child has a real life-pathway…” says Mr. Tony Whybird – Principal, Atherton State High School.

These words define the inclusive education practices at Atherton State High School, and they are words which resonate with Indigenous students at this school.

Situated on the Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland, Atherton State High School (ASHS) caters for students from Years 8 to 12. It is currently recognised as one of the highest achieving secondary schools in the Northern region.

With Tony Whybird’s leadership, this learning community is taking a Strong & Smart approach to ensuring that high standard education continues and is available to every one of its 960 students.

Mr. Whybird is a well-known school leader who has significantly contributed to improving learning outcomes for students in the Cape and Torres Strait regions: successes generated by a high expectations approach to pedagogical reform and driven by inclusive education philosophies.

Applying a no excuses approach when appointed to Atherton State High, Mr. Whybird worked with staff to identify teaching and learning priorities.

An all too familiar pattern became evident. Despite great academic success for most students, Indigenous students generally achieved lower learning and employment outcomes than those of their non-Indigenous peers.

With Indigenous students representing 12% of the student population, the challenge of reform would belong to every member of the school community.

“It’s about all of us, and all of us can do a lot better!”


Making a Strong Start

Prior to starting as principal at ASHS Tony participated in the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program.

He credits the program for equipping him with the tools and confidence necessary to recognise and challenge pedagogical practices which exclude certain students and accepts their failure. “The Stronger Smarter Leadership Program gave me clarity about the strategic elements I needed to focus on.

“A Strong & Smart philosophy was adopted by ASHS prior to Tony’s arrival and the words embedded in the school’s vernacular.

His challenge was to grow the philosophy into a marker for high expectations and creating sustainable change in school culture.

Attaining a Strong & Smart reality would require high expectations leadership that inspires engagement and ownership, models inclusive practices and retains a focus on teaching and learning.

Tony’s leadership goal is to build on the school’s established systems and structures that deliver success to most students and ensure that Indigenous students are afforded the same outcomes.

Mr Whybird applies a dynamic approach to ensuring all members of the learning community recognise their accountabilities and feel a shared sense of responsibility.

Through the evolution of a network of strategic teams, staff were provided with pathways for genuine engagement in the reform process.

The teams identified a number of priorities for change – focused on removing systemic barriers that were preventing Indigenous students from achieving academic success.


Targeting Success

A targeted strategies approach for addressing the priorities is generating exciting and tangible changes for students.

New attendance strategies are founded on a supportive approach to working with students, families and staff to improve standards.

This approach has yielded some of the most powerful outcomes achieved to date.

Mr Whybird takes great pride in discussing the success of a new program “which immediately saw the numbers of truant students reduce significantly.” He says that some Indigenous students who were previously disengaged have now re-enrolled and are re-engaging in education.

The school boasts a well-established transition program, supporting students into secondary education.

The provision of a new Senior Academic Service Guarantee means that students meeting their educational responsibilities will be assured of a meaningful pathway to employment. This is a very real outcome which has a significant impact on quality of life.

An emphasis on school-accountability is further recognised in the pedagogical strategies.

The quality of education offered in a classroom has a direct impact, not only on learning but also on student engagement and attendance. “Kids just won’t turn up if your teaching lacks relevance and rigor.”

Leading by example, Mr Whybird expects all educators to examine their practices to ensure integrity and rigor exists. This means challenging traditional approaches to teaching and learning, which may have self-fulfilling prophecies of failure due to the way in which they create exclusion. Dismantling any such practices is paramount to the success of this reform.

Engaging with the Qld Curriculum and Reporting Framework (QCARF) as a model for best-practice is a key strategy for improving teaching and learning.

These initiatives are highlighted by the school’s Strong & Smart team, which leads the targeted strategies which are data driven and focus on improving student outcomes.


It Takes a Community

Tony’s experience in remote communities taught him to work with the whole community to ensure he didn’t “miss the mark.”

Tony believes responsibility rests with him and staff to create meaningful opportunities for parents, families and community members to engage with the school.

Clear lines of communication exist between school and community and regular newsletters and a Strong & Smart survey demonstrates a value for community input.

Working with other government agencies and community Elders has also been critical in enabling everyone to own the improvement process.

The recent establishment of a Stronger Smarter Learning Community with ASHS and neighbouring schools will capitalise on the capacity to create reform through community engagement.

While this journey is just beginning, the high expectations approach to education has given all students and most notably Indigenous students, at Atherton State High School a strong and smart focus.

“Kids know that they are part of the Atherton High family regardless of where they come from” says Mr Whybird.

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