Interview with FED Alumni – Peter Mulcahy

Peter Mulcahy was Principal of Westminster Junior Primary School, a school from Cohort 1 of the EDvance Program.

Name 3 valuable things from the EDvance program?

1  Opportunity to network with colleagues around the learnings that we were undertaking in a true action learning model that would make a difference for our schools.

2  The provision of a quality coach/mentor meant that we could really be prepared to “make some bold decisions” in a supportive and non-judgemental environment.  Again, this led to improvements in our school as we reviewed the changes together.

3  The building of long term friendships with leadership teams from across the schools.  As a member of Cohort 1, this built as we progressed through our journey.  I know that it has been an even greater focus for the subsequent cohorts.

What is something from EDvance that you’ve applied in your school?

It is difficult to come up with one thing that I have applied to my new school.  It is really a whole methodology of operation.  I think the biggest impact has come from introducing the Leading for Learning Framework as the base for our Business Plan.  This has provided staff and School Board with that sharp evidence focus around domains.

What is something you wish you had known earlier in your career?

I think it is so important for the Principal to be actively engaged in any professional learning undertaken by staff. In the past, I often opened a session, flitted in and out and then thanked the presenter.  I now realise that if the learning is to be embedded, the Principal’s involvement is critical.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received about being a principal?

As a Principal, we receive lots of advice from a variety of sources. Whilst the buildings/environments and children are similar across schools, the community will drive how you plan.  Get involved with the community, be visible and engage with them!  One of the most important concepts for me is that “you can’t please everyone all of the time”. We need to be true to our moral purpose and apply our beliefs in the context of our school.

What is the latest topic on your mind?

Leadership!!! One of the big changes I made was the creation of “real” leadership opportunities amongst the staff at all levels.  I am constantly looking for ways that I can build this capacity and at the same time provide sustainability to the school site.  Like so many of us in EDvance, as we build our leadership skills in our staff they are often looking to increase their opportunity to apply them.  The unfortunate reality of this for schools is that staff are moving school.  Of course the up side is the increased leadership quality at System level.

How does your current school differ from your previous school – have challenges changed?

My current school is a significantly higher ICSEA.  Staff are similar in that they have the same needs and concerns. Curriculum implementation and the digital world are ongoing issues. The profile of smaller numbers of EALD and Aboriginality is a real difference, reducing some of the communication complexities with the community. There is a greater confidence among parents to come into the school, but their business with work life tends to make them time poor.  These two create an interesting comparison with quality and opportunity of engagement with the school.

What habit or saying from your Mentor has stuck with you?

Perception can so quickly become reality.

On Tuesday 6th of September, the FED Team, members of the FED Collective and a senior representative of the Macquarie Foundation, visited Phoenix Primary School as part of the school engagement offered to supporters of the EDvance program.

Margaret Pretty, Principal of Phoenix Primary, shared her experiences and growth as part of the FED program. There was also the chance to see one of Phoenix’s major improvement initiatives in action, with a visit to the early childhood centre to see the Kindergarten children developing early literacy skills.

Phoenix is a small primary school, with over 40% of students with English a second language. One of Phoenix’s key focuses as part of their 3-year school improvement has been to improve student literacy. To improve student achievement Phoenix has implemented a whole-school literacy approach, including a formal, game-based synthetic phonetics program in the Kindergarten classes, Cracking the Code.

The FED Collective and supporters were fortunate to meet Chrissy Kelly, co-author of the Cracking the Code program, who shared some insights into the significant improvements seen with the program in early years language development. Phoenix have already seen excellent improvements in the readiness of their Kindergarten children and they expect an improvement in on-entry assessments from next year. Through the broader whole-school approaches to literacy and numeracy, Phoenix are setting the conditions for improvements in all areas of NAPLAN in future years.

Research confirms synthetic phonics is an essential element of early primary literacy programs. The synthetic phonics approach has children practice ‘synthesising’ the sounds, identifying sounds and blending them together and breaking words down into their sounds. In pre-primary through to year 3, Phoenix Primary students’ continue their synthetic phonics approach through the program ‘Letters and Sounds’.

The FED Collective and supporters school visit is always a highlight in the FED calendar. The team and schools appreciate the opportunity to show supporters the impact the Fogarty EDvance Program and the improved student outcomes that the program drives towards. Our congratulations to Margaret and the team at Phoenix Primary School.