Creating change

June 26, 2017

Dr Mary Jean Gallagher chats with Mooroopna Park Primary School Year 3 student Alara Zammit.

Principal of Mooroopna North Primary School Les Walsh, Dr Mary Jean Gallagher, Mooroopna Park Primary School principal Hayden Beaton and Mooroopna Secondary College principal Stephen Bolton discuss the Shepparton Education Plan.

Greater Shepparton’s primary and secondary school principals relished the chance to work closely with Canadian educator Mary Jean Gallagher during a series of meetings on Thursday.

Dr Gallagher is working as an adviser for the Victoria Department of Education and Training.

DET is considered a global thought leader in transformational education practices and is providing advice for the Shepparton Education Plan.

In her native Ontario province, in Canada, Dr Gallagher led an eight-year reform process of the education system that is now the highest achieving in literacy and numeracy in an English-speaking jurisdiction, worldwide.

‘‘We had considerable success in Ontario, however if I’m going to give good advice in Victoria and Shepparton I need to understand all the dimensions of education in Victoria, it has to be in context of the Australian system,’’ Dr Gallagher said.

‘‘You can’t take what works in one place and just place it somewhere else and expect it to work; improvement has to be contextual.

‘‘The plan is the community’s, that’s why this deep consultation is under way.’’

Dr Gallagher has worked as a consultant to a number of education systems in six different continents in the past 18 months and has 30 years’ experience as a teacher or principal in Windsor, Canada.

She has done considerable work in Denmark and Peru and will be heading to Colombia in August.

Dr Gallagher said challenges could be found in smaller rural towns or areas where some of the major industries no longer existed.

‘‘Communities where there is significant economic change or pressures end up with a whole host of challenges and makes it more difficult to be on the leading edge of change and education,’’ she said.

‘‘Schools are a reflection of their community; the students come to school with the reality of their homes.

‘‘Shepparton has a marvellous opportunity here for an entire community to ask, ‘What do we want for our children and our community? What are our strengths, what are our needs to address?’.’’

Dr Gallagher saw similarities between Australia and Canada, and the best kind of change took time to achieve.

‘‘In order to improve Grade 3 results you also have to move Grades 1 and 2 — you can start to see change earlier though in other indicators through the students’ connection to their work and teacher assessments,’’ Dr Gallagher said.

Dr Gallagher said in the past 20 years there had been more precise knowledge of what good teaching looked like.

‘‘The fundamental building blocks are now being moved into place, DET has brought in principals in the past two weeks for planning sessions and framework and seen lots of change even since March to now, there’s an accelerated focus,’’ she said.

Dr Gallagher said literacy and numeracy were important in any education system.

‘‘If literacy and numeracy skills are high, students perform better in other areas because they are more capable with their thinking and can articulate more,’’ she said.

‘‘Having creative thinking and problem-solving skills earlier better prepares students for success.’’

Mooroopna Secondary College principal Stephen Bolton said it was great to speak to someone who was a leader in their field.

‘‘Schools are never still, however the education plan will add to what schools are doing now,’’ he said.

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