EdutweetOz meets @chriscawsey

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Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

As a young woman of my generation the availability of scholarships for study at university was very attractive and, like many young teachers, I thought I would only teach for a short time. I thought I would work in the city. I thought I would seek a career change after my scholarship requirements were met.

It was not to be. I worked in secondary schools in western Sydney as a teacher in special education and social sciences. After 6 years as Leading Teacher at St Marys Senior HS I moved to Rooty Hill High School as principal in 1997.

From the start of my career I loved the fact that every day was different – teaching is never boring. I loved the fact that I was learning every day and I was creating opportunities for students to learn and transition to their adult lives with skills, capabilities and dispositions that enabled them to pursue their own passions and dreams. This is the heart of my work, work I do each day with the wonderful team of professional colleagues at Rooty Hill HS. The school was recognised in 2017 with its second Educator Magazine Most Innovative Schools award.

I have been privileged as a principal and systems leader to work in the school, the community, the professional community and  across the education sector. As the 6th largest industry in the country, education provides many opportunities for engagement, leadership and influence.

In addition to being principal of Rooty Hill High School I was president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council from 2010-2012 and I still continue to work with the Council on projects and advocacy.

I am also a non-executive director on the following boards:

  • Australian Council of Educational Leaders (ACEL)
  • The Smith Family – Australia’s largest educational charity supporting disadvantaged children
  • Western Sydney Giants AFL Club

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

Australian children have the right to education in a first world country. As a secondary school teacher and principal I believe our profession has a moral contract with every student and their families to ensure each student does his or her best. The complexity of this work is not well understood outside the profession and one critical role of the principal is to work with teachers and students to create learning that is creative, relevant and challenging.

John Hattie has said that average student learning improves 9 months per annum without much intervention. I have an expert interest in finding ways to improve student learning trajectories and developing a culture of learning that values the “whole” person, a culture that is personalised and recognises the wide range of talents and potential in each student. Our task is to design  universal, targeted and intensive learning that ensures success in curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular learning.

Our current projects at Rooty Hill HS include:

  • Embedding a capability driven curriculum
  • Student self-assessment of the ACARA capabilities using an online portfolio
  • High quality professional practice and learning design
  • Entrepreneurial learning
  • Strategic Partnerships including working with Social Ventures Australia as a “Powerhouse School”

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

It is a privilege to be a teacher and principal and some of the  biggest rewards are intrinsic – knowing you are making a difference in the lives of young people. Every day we prepare students to live in their present so they will shape their own futures.

The challenges are very real. The include:

  • Workload
  • Disruption
  • Inequity
  • Assumptions and bias confirmation

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

As I have said on Twitter and in presentations there are some recurring themes. Educators are in the critical business of #stupidityprevention.

I could list many issues that concern me for the future of our school sector in this country so I will just list 5 moral issues that need to be addressed:

  • The acceptance of growing inequality between our schools that is now having a major impact on our overall PISA and international performance. We have to fund for need across sectors, not just within them.
  • Assessment of learning and progress – not well understood, not well developed – resulting in over-reliance on external, high stakes testing that is somewhat reliable but may have little validity. Students only get one chance; we have to do better.
  • Vocational Education and multiple pathways. The over-reliance on university entry as a measure of student and school success is a long term disaster for many of our students and, in the longer term, our economy.
  • The pressure to move the control of teachers and teaching away from the profession into the control of government bodies-there are unspoken gender dimensions to the constant “teacher bashing” that accompanies any debate about education in this country.
  • The responsibility of the whole community for providing funding and opportunities for every child – especially our most disadvantaged children and our sickest children.
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