Tiny Clue#3 “Thats not a Driver: These are Drivers!”

One of major influences over the years has been our partnership with Ruth Deakin-Crick, Bristol University with The Effective Life-Long Learning Inventory” (ELLI) and more recently with University of Technology Sydney and CLARA still with Ruth. The notion of learners having a range of Learning Powers which are able to be measured and more importantly able to be grown was a major clue for us about the nature of how people learn. The correlation of these Learning Powers with a measure of Learner Resilience  ranging from complete autonomy to learnt       dependence consolidated our understanding further.

We have data reaching back 10 years now on the learning of our students and teachers which provide a wonderful longitudinal narrative as our learning is shaped by various influences. Clearly there is a close connection between the Learning Powers and the General Capabilities.

The other exciting outcome is that working with Ruth Deakin Crick and her team from UTS our staff came to identify the Drivers for educational change to meet  the needs of our students acting as resident agents of their own learning. We have to understand clearly the which actions are Drivers and other actions which are not.

Tiny Clue #2 Positive Education at Holy Family is “in the fabric”

Several years ago Holy Family was invited to participate in an inquiry by a group of government schools in Northern Adelaide into the viability of adopting the principles of Positive Education in our schools. To cut a very long story short, we played a significant role in drawing in lots of schools and hundreds of teachers into large scale professional learning around  Martin Seligman’s work at Penn State. Geelong Grammar’s Positive Education Institute facilitated four-day workshops training staff members in the principles and practices of positive psychology in education. A senior leader in the Education Department asked me to describe the process we followed to get positive education going in our school. I answered by saying that “its in the fabric”. I immediately conceded that might sound somewhat trite. The person immediately commented that she understood completely what I was saying and that she felt that this was the ultimate strategy and outcome. Each staff member in the school has participated over time in four days personal training in Positive Education.This commitment of resources involved some risk and not a lot of certainty regarding what would flow from this investment. The clues and insights I gained from the roll-out of this program include:

  • Our faith is a hopeful tradition. I saw the commonality of Seligman’s psychological principles and practices with the Christian ethos. I saw it as a contemporary vehicle for inculcating the very values and practices that we embrace as Christians
  • I didn’t go into this project with a pre-ordained strategy or fixed mind-set of how the learning of the teachers would flow through to the children and the families. The agency I  extended to the staff paid dividends in un-choreographed ways. The staff intuitively used the language of positivity, growth mindsets, character strengths and gratitude with the children, In turn, the children shared this language with their families and caregivers
  • People ask me why I place so much emphasis on positivity as a starting point. My reflection is that the principles and insights of positive education has the effect of opening people’s hearts and minds to change. This work is a pre-cursor to introducing new insights, challenges and practices. When people have the “language” of growth mindset embedded in their psyche they seem to self monitor and regulate their own fixed mindsets about change.



An outstanding example of positive education “in the fabric” at Holy Family is the structure of the “Welcome Circle” in which we “shout out” into the circle the pillars and values of our school that we hold so dear. Another favourite is “Whats  Going Well!” when we go around the circle sharing our “specks of gold” from the day. Personally I find these insights inspirational and humbling.

Im sure others from inside and outside the school can add further to these insights…


Tiny Clues

One inspirational aspect of our work with Pasi Sahlberg is hearing his provocation to educators reminding us that we are all action researchers who have marvellous insights into learning from the data we collect every day. He calls this “small data”. He urges us to use this data for the common good and to complement the “big data” which is collected by others.

Small Data: Tiny clues found in schools that can uncover important relationships between teaching and learning” Pasi Sahlberg

We are in search of these clues about the factors which are influential on pedagogy and in turn on the learning of staff and students in our schools.

Tiny Clue#1: Nobody works alone at Holy Family

Small Data: Tiny clues found in schools that can uncover important relationships between teaching and learning” Pasi Sahlberg

It is an established practice at Holy Family that teachers and classes are grouped together in double learning spaces. This practice has led to some amazing insights into the teaching/learning interaction. This also applies to the NIT program in which teachers of Music, Spanish and P.E. are encouraged to work together. The School Librarian and library staff work hand in hand with teachers. Exciting new examples of co-creation with teachers and students emerging in the school include The Fish Farm, The Multi-Disciplinary Learning Area (MUDLA) and the Exploration Centre (Multi-Sensory Space).

The genesis of this way of working emanated from a period of rapid increase in enrolment which necessitated acquisition of additional learning spaces in transportable forms. We took the opportunity to design the new classrooms as double learning spaces providing maximum flexibility. One aspect of this flexibility was an awareness regarding the use of learning technologies. We came to learn how spaces needed to change to enable effective use of technology. Moreover, this awareness led to realizations about the role of technology in facilitating pedagogical change. These outcomes seem to flow more quickly in groups than with individuals. These spaces and the working relationships which evolved from them prompted a re-think and re-design of existing learning spaces in the school.

An example of a “double” learning space at Holy Family

This experience gave us some insights into the nature of the change process in education: educators notice what their peers are doing and this “noticing” is a significant force. The other component of change is that the educators need to have “agency” to respond to their observations by making changes. Within a short space of time the school was transformed by a joint process of refurbishment and new construction. A major “kick-on” in the building program was the Rudd Building Revolution. As the school had already built a beautiful hall with a stage area, we decided to use the $3million to construct 14 new learning areas. These learning areas were based on the learning experiences we had in the temporary learning areas we had constructed to meet short-term needs for students. The new learning areas are grouped in “doubles” and in some cases in “fours” to enable a “Village” approach to learning.

Some spectacular outcomes of this practice of team-teaching as a policy initiative include:

  • Teachers working in teams of two or three led to openness to working in other more radical grouping such as three vertically grouped R-7 houses of learning across the school
  • Teachers working together to “action research” aspects of their teaching. e.g., “can you watch how I do this and give me feedback?
  • Teachers re-imagining childhood and how children learn most effectively and specifically notions such as the learning space as the third teacher and radically changing the way they set up their learning areas. Grouping teachers and students together in larger cohorts caused people to see learning differently
  • These changes dismantled “the privacy of the classroom” mindset and discouraged teachers from “putting down their roots” and getting too fixed in

I’m sure that staff and Finland Tour participants have additional insights…


We are on a learning journey to Finland in April 2019



Pasi Salberg has been influential on our thinking at Holy Family for a number of years. It’s hard to know which came first. Is it that his thoughts were new? Or is that we liked what he was saying and that it correlated with our major influences and resonated with our experience? It’s probably a bit of both as Pasi provided new insights which were congruent with our major themes.

We have always been high on trust. It’s almost strategic in that we believe that children are intelligent, capable citizens from birth and that they each possess “100 Languages”. Hence, we want our teachers to trust in the children and give them agency. Accordingly, we must do the same for teachers. As we deal with increasingly complex issues we loosen the grip because we know that under pressure people panic and don’t give of their best. We know that everything begins and continues with relationship so we reserve judgement and do not burn bridges with anyone. There is a pervading sense of fun and delight in learning which people find palpable. However, the search for new ideas goes on. We are relentless in our quest for new understandings and new relationships.

Last year Adam and I re-connected with Pasi in Sydney at the ACEL Conference. Subsequently, a large group of our staff worked with Pasi in Adelaide for the day. Consequently, we are curious to learn more about Finland’s social support of families and their education system. We expressed an interest in visiting to see first-hand how things are done in Finland. Pasi introduced us to his colleague  Mikko Salonen and now we are on the road to Helsinki.