46. Andrew

Andrew has been in my close circle of mates for as long as I can remember. We’ve shared a lot over the years- a post code, a love of live music and boardgames, countless costume parties / pub dinners/ Eddie Gardens Picnics and one too many bottles of red wine. But, it wasn’t until we shared a workplace (RMIT) that I came to recognise his genuine passion for innovation in education. Andrew is incredibly determined, fiercely loyal, endearingly playful and always up for a new adventure- I feel incredibly lucky to call him a good friend. It was a pleasure sitting down over a virtual cocktail during Melbourne’s second lockdown to learn more about his personal and professional journey. I can’t wait to see his continued impact on the face of education in Australia for years to come.

“I never had a concrete idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

My mum was a teacher her whole career and imparted the value of an education to us kids. Dad, on the other hand, was a jack of all trades. He worked as a draftsman, started his own picture framing and maintenance companies, and then finished his career as a Grounds Manager for Xavier College. 

The combined experiences of our parents meant they always encouraged us to do what made us happy.

I went to a little Catholic Primary School where my Mum worked and had a really enjoyable school experience. As a family we were very connected to the school community. At high school I got really involved in the performing arts, sport and music. I embraced everything that was on offer and made some lifelong friends. 

I ended up doing an Arts degree and decided pretty quickly that I didn’t want to get into academia, so I thought it would be a good idea to get a trade. This led me to a Diploma of Education. 

My first experience in the classroom was at a very low socio-economic school in Hoppers Crossing. I was teaching Italian, which isn’t my forte, and the kids were totally disinterested. Trying to make someone learn is a really tough gig so I always tried to show an interest in them beyond the academic.  

After six months, I packed my bags and headed to Europe for three years. I spent the first few months in a Community College in a small, bleak town outside London. It was another tough experience, trying to teach Romeo and Juliet to students who were either struggling with English or entirely disinterested. But getting involved in the school community and having the kids see me in a context outside the classroom helped. By the time I left they were telling me I was their favorite teacher. 

After some time out to travel, I found a job teaching English to Czech soldiers just outside of Prague. The students were engineers, doctors, military, police – even the personal bodyguard of the president was in my classroom. The vibe was the polar opposite to the schools I’d previously been in – the students went above and beyond to learn. I relished the challenge of not just teaching them English but helping them to converse, improvise and be creative.

Missing family and friends, I moved back to Melbourne after about two and a half years and continued a somewhat zig-zag trajectory through the education sector.

I spent a couple of years consulting for Apple, driving around Victoria from school to school presenting to staff and setting up technology environments in the classroom. With all the connections I had made I realised I could go out on my own, so that’s what did. I continued to do teacher training on using technology in the classroom, but alongside that I was also producing digital books for the Australian Teachers of Media in collaboration with Disney.

It was great work, but quite isolating. I yearned to be part of a team and soon found myself at RMIT. I worked with academics to produce content for their students that was both engaging and worked to achieve learning outcomes. I loved being surrounded by so many incredibly smart colleagues who were tuned into a similar level of political and social awareness. There were so many amazing things happening across campus and I got to be involved in some great projects, such as co-creating a micro-credential and travelling to China, Singapore and Indonesia to train academics on a new Learning Management System. 

The courses I worked on were delivered to 12,000 students by 15 different academics across four different time zones. It was quite surreal. It also meant it took a lot to change one small thing so while the size and scale of this work was initially exciting, it ultimately became the biggest hurdle to delivering the impact I wanted. 

After two years, I decided to move back into the school environment and landed a new role as Head of Design Thinking and Innovation at a Catholic girls high school in North Melbourne. It’s a small school with big ambitions and the principal brought me onboard to embed design thinking across all levels of the curriculum. 

We’ve embedded projects for years seven to ten and I’ve trained staff, provided resources, and organised professional learning sessions. We’re also physically redesigning the library to become the Design Thinking Innovation Center. To me, innovation is simply a change that adds value and we’ve done so much of that change in the past twelve months – remote learning, remote parent teacher interviews and a rebuilt website.  

I’m wearing a few different hats now. I’m teaching History and Legal Studies and managing eight teachers in my role as Head of Humanities.

It’s interesting being back in the classroom after such a long break. When I was last teaching students didn’t have access to laptops and while I had helped schools introduce technology, I had never taught with it. Now, every kid has a laptop and the impact of this shift is hotly debated. 

I think Covid has shown us there’s also a lot to be explored in terms of the physical vs online school environment. For example, I made bitesize pieces of content which I assigned to the kids – I could then see exactly who had done what, which allowed me to tailor my support based on where they were up to or what they were struggling with. 

In future, content could be delivered via technology, with school becoming a place for that content to be explored and applied. This model would allow students to work through online content at their own pace and spend more time on what they need to. This puts trust back to the student and allows them to learn in a way that’s best for them. 

Mixing age groups could also be really interesting rather than automatically lumping students together based on age. We’ve recently started learning about Switzerland’s Universal Learning Program which provides every student with a personalised learning program that includes a passion project that gives back to the community in some way. This is a great way to build self-expression into the curriculum. We already build mindfulness practice and personal development into our school day through meditation and a program of guest speakers. 

We often get so wrapped up in our own expectations of kids, that we forget to consider the expectations they have on themselves. I’ve never fallen into the trap of underestimating kids. They’re bright, they’re curious, they retain information – and sometimes there’s just a veneer of teenage angst over the top.

To me education is a conversation. So much of it is about people and the exchange of ideas. That’s why I like it. 

Eventually, I would like to do my masters and move into a senior leadership role at a school.  The school environment is where I would like to stay. If you care about the students, you’re guaranteed to make an impact. The buzz comes from the small moments –  lifting a student up and helping them to find the answers.”

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