Unlocking Potential: Principal Preparation
Principal, Whittlesea Secondary College
Avid beekeeper and Whittlesea Secondary College Principal, Lian Davies, laughs at the suggestion that the social structure of bee colonies could bear some similarity to those in a school.
"I think, if you want to draw this analogy, rather than focusing on the roles of different bees within the hive, we should look at the hive (the school) as a whole. It's that old saying, 'It takes a village to raise a child'. Everyone within a school community has an impact on each young person. Not just the staff, but also the students, as they are constantly learning from their peers… It is an entire community all supporting one another to thrive and survive."
Supporting and learning from others is central to Lian's views on leadership. As a 2018 graduate of Bastow's Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation, Lian speaks highly of the supportive relationships she developed with her peers.
"I learnt so much in the UP program... [for example] it was reassuring to hear other leaders talk about their moments of doubt, of 'imposter syndrome'... I now see quite a few of them in network meetings and we all make a point of keeping in touch and checking in with one another via email or over a coffee."
Not long after completing the UP course, Lian went on to secure a principal position at Whittlesea Secondary College. In this role, she is focused on implementing a vertical learning model which will allow students greater flexibility in subject selection and remove the restrictions typically associated with a traditional year level model.
"Why are we pigeonholing students and their abilities based on the year they were born?" Lian asks.
"I've had students complete their VCE, receive their ATAR and be accepted into university at the age of 15… other students were able to complete their VCE over three years in order to achieve their goals."
Seeking inspiration from Sir Ken Robinson's TedTalks, Lian has also implemented other innovations as an Assistant Principal at Templestowe College and Bundoora Secondary College between 2015 and 2017, including Individualised Learning and Plans and an Alternative Tertiary Entry Program with Swinburne University. The latter provided opportunities for students to transition to tertiary studies without the stress and pressure to perform in exams.
"I had a student who was not strong in an exam setting, but was a very intelligent and capable young man. He was worried about how he was going to get into university. I supported him to create a university-level project where he was able to share and confidently present his phenomenal skills to university lecturers and professors. He received a High Distinction for the subject and went on to be accepted into the IT course he wanted to get into. This was one of those stand-out moments where I thought, 'Fantastic, we've made a difference - he's got to where he wants to go'."
Lian's passion for innovation in education was recently recognised at the Australian Education Awards, where she received the 2018 Rising Star Award. When asked about her guiding philosophy as a teacher and principal, she talks about the importance of fostering self-reflection, agency and respect in students and staff alike.
"A student has to be an active participant in their own learning," Lian says. "It is my philosophy that we need to support young people to make good decisions as they transition into adulthood. And that only happens if we let them practice and make mistakes."