The business of being Principal is the business of people
Toorak College is located on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It offers a co-educational environment from ELC to Year 4, with a girls-only approach from Year 5 onwards. It has a proud 142-year history, creating a unique blend of upholding the traditions of the past while looking towards the future of education. Education Matters spoke with Principal Kristy Kendall about her views on current trends, as well as her own brand of leadership and support.
Can you share with us some insights into your own career as an educator?
I started my career at Haileybury 15 years ago as a graduate teacher. In my first year I was given the psychology department to run, as well as coaching aerobics – these were big responsibilities for a teacher in her first year out of university.
Over time, Haileybury began to consider the possibility of introducing girls to the school, and so I eventually came to be Head of the girls’ senior school. That was an exciting opportunity; to establish a girls school within what was traditionally a boys-only institution.
I went on to have my own children and this made me consider early years teaching, so I moved on to lead Haileybury’s Berwick campus, which is an ELC-8 school. But after 15 years in the same role you naturally begin to wonder if there’s a better fit elsewhere. With Haileybury being so large I looked at Toorak College with its 750-odd students as an opportunity to really get to know every one of my students.
My first priority is always to get to know people, and at a smaller school like Toorak College I’ve had the opportunity to not only become familiar with all the students and teachers, but after just a year or so I’ve managed to get to know many of the parents and wider community associated with the school as well.
Could you tell us a bit about Toorak College?
Toorak College is located on the Mornington Peninsula. It is a thriving co-educational environment from ELC to Year 4, with a girls’ only approach from Year 5 onwards. It has a proud 142 year history and has a perfect blend of upholding the traditions of our past while looking towards the future of education.
How is the primary section of the school incorporated into the school as a whole? Is it a separate campus?
Toorak College’s Junior School, Wardle House, caters for students from 3 year old kindergarten to Year 6. The ELC and Junior School share the 11.5 hectare grounds with the Senior School. This means the Junior students can utilise the facilities of the Senior School such as the science labs, state-of-the-art music centre, aquatic centre and gymnasium. They also access specialty staff in science and technology, languages, sport and the arts.
How do you provide support and leadership to your primary school staff?
I encourage all of my staff to consider themselves as experts in their fields. Teaching is a profession that it seems everyone has an opinion on. I encourage my staff to remember that they are brilliant at reading and regulating children’s emotions, building their confidence, guiding their thinking, inspiring their questions and doing this in 20 different ways at once! Teaching is one of the most difficult professions there is and it is important for teachers themselves to regard it as such.
What role do you play in the day-to-day activities of the primary students?
A firm belief I hold in running an ELC – Yr 12 school is that no year level is more important than any other. The early primary years are vital in not just building the fundamental building blocks of learning but also in developing a child’s own perception of self. I enjoy spending as much time as I can reading to the students, involving myself in whatever extra curricula pursuits they chose and observing their successes and struggles in the classroom. I even enjoy morning duty at that crowded drop off zone!
What has been your most memorable moment, either as a teacher or specifically in the role of Principal?
As a new Principal at Toorak College I know my first year will be a memorable one. It is the community that have made this year with their support and encouragement. The students at Toorak College have the most beautiful spirit; they laugh at themselves, they truly support one another and they love to give anything a try. This spirit is one I wholeheartedly embrace, and represent, and the community has put a smile on my face each and every day.
What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?
I am in the business of people. That was the business I entered as a graduate teacher over 15 years ago and it is that same business I am in as Principal. Remembering to keep students at the centre of all of your decisions is key. I believe successful leadership involves constantly changing, inventing and reinventing yourself and always learning. Educators have an enormous moral obligation and responsibility to be the absolute best they can be. As a leader my job is to continually inspire those educators to do this each and every day.
What are some of the critical issues you notice that often appear in the media?
I get exhausted at the blame game that goes on with schools. The view that the education of children is quite heavily or solely the responsibility of the school seems to be the standard line in current reportage. Of course, I’m relentless when it comes to ensuring my teachers are the best they can be, but the development of the child’s mental, social any physical development is a three-way partnership between parents, teachers and, yes, the students. It’s part of a young person’s journey to make mistakes, but it’s then the responsibility of the parents to work with the teachers to help direct them. Ultimately it’s the student that has to decide on the path they take, but that will only be successful if it’s arrived at through that partnership approach.
What are your feelings about NAPLAN and its effectiveness?
I absolutely believe NAPLAN is an important tool for teachers for benchmarking, both internally and against the broader trend. Such a system can act as a trigger for reflection within a school and it’s based around core skills that every school has a responsibility to ensure it’s delivering on.
Can you discuss any obvious examples of digital disruption you’ve encountered in education?
I’ve actually been very involved with a company called Edrolo, having been invited to teach the entire Year 12 psychology course online. The idea is to level the playing field for students across the state, providing access to an expert teacher to help them perform at the highest level. The early years working with Edrolo saw us question many things regarding the role of digital technology in the classroom. For example, why do we need a textbook? Perhaps we can replace that antiquated notion with online resources. What makes for great teaching? Maybe we could inspire teachers to teach in a different way if they had access to the best technology can offer them. I’ve been very active in the space for looking at how we can make teachers act less as simply deliverers of content. If we can supply the content then we can allow teachers the time to make connections, organise their thinking and push or extend the boundaries of what’s possible.
I sometimes think back to those days when I was in school. If you really wanted to buy the latest hit single, you’d have to go to Brashs to by the CD. Now, all students have to do is press a button and the song downloads. I feel like in many ways the education system is still caught in the Brashs era and we need to shift that. I’ve been very lucky to get to work with Edrolo in a bid to begin changing the paradigm.
How is Toorak College placed regarding the new focus on STEM learning?
This is one area that Toorak College is an absolute leader in a number of ways. Students as young as ELC and receive STEM-inspired material and we teach prep students to code. It’s not a standalone thing, either. We’ve incorporated elements of STEM into every subject we teach, encouraging students to consider how they solve problems or invent solutions. We’ve a number of staff members that have led various conferences, even internationally, on the subject of STEM teaching. It’s something that’s not only important for students in general, but something that’s doubly important to teach young girls.
In furthering our commitment to STEM learning, Toorak College is embarking on a new project to create a whole new building designed around the concepts of imagination, creation and implementation, and so it ties together ideas of strategic thinking, with marketing and even entrepreneurship. This is not just about STEM knowledge but also about incorporated STEM thinking into everything we do.