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  • Gavin King

    Tropic Now editor

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    New vision of world-class learning by the Cairns Catholic Diocese

    There’s a steady, seismic shift underway in the hallways and classrooms of Cairns Catholic Education’s network of TNQ schools. The organisation is aiming high.

    Increasingly, principals are given opportunities to travel and explore world-best practises in education and learning and urged to view their role as strategic rather than just procedural. They are supported to take staff, students and parents on a journey of continual school improvement.

    In short, Cairns Catholic Education principals are encouraged to be leaders in their field, globally.

    “What we’re looking at here in the Cairns Diocese is ensuring that our system of schools is world class,” executive director of Catholic Education Services, Bill Dixon, explains.

    “We’re working together to determine what is going to provide the best learning environment for our students and going about ways in which to develop that.”

    It is no easy feat, requiring significant investment and determination. The Cairns Diocese contains 29 Catholic schools from Tully to the Torres Strait, all of which count nearly 11,200 students among their cohort. When you consider that parents and staff must be brought along for the journey just as much as the students, the scale of the vision is momentous.

    Several steps along this journey are already underway, including international study trips by principals, infrastructure projects to modernise learning environments and the utilisation of technology and data. 


    Catholic Education recently sent five of its senior leaders and principals on a professional development “Benchmark Tour” to Los Angeles and Ontario.

    The tour was facilitated by the Executive Development for Education Leaders professional learning programme, run by Queensland Education Leadership Institute (QELi) and Brisbane Catholic Education.

    The trip allowed local educators to experience a variety of Catholic school types and systems, and the differing impacts each framework had on the schools.

    “The Catholic schools the group visited in Ontario are world class. They’re up there in the OECD rankings,” Bill says.

    “So, we looked at what it is that Ontario is doing that is so successful and how can we bring those concepts back to our schools here in Cairns.

    “That QELi professional learning programme over the last three years has been a game-changer for us in the way we do things.

    “It has informed our Strategic Directions going forward, with a strong focus on empowering our leaders to develop optimal learning and wellbeing for all students.”


    In addition to learning what the world’s best are doing, schools both old and new are being redeveloped and redesigned with 21st Century learning in mind.

    In the case of the Diocese’s newest school in Cairns, the MacKillop Catholic College at Mount Peter, the future of education is embedded from the ground up.

    “One of the advantages of a new school is, as it’s being designed, the best thinking and research is being transferred into its physical facilities,” Mackillop Catholic College principal Luke Reed says.

    Over at St Joseph’s School in Parramatta Park, there’s a different roll-out of infrastructure works is taking place. With the school celebrating its 90th birthday this year, work is nearly complete on “future-proofing” the facility, with particular focus on Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs).

    Led by years of research across more than 20 countries, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found ILEs improve student outcomes and allow them to better meet the challenges of a modern world.

    ILEs are more than just a philosophy or concept on paper. St Joseph’s, for example, embedded the principles of ILEs in its extensive redevelopment. Stage 1 of the project incorporates a series of ILEs in a multi-storey building for Years 1 to 6 and a separate ground floor building for Prep, while Stage 2 involves moving the library to the ground floor beside the multi-storey learning building. The new Prep ILEs will be situated in E Block, adjacent to the office and administration area.

    Practical examples of ILE design at St Joseph’s include the shape of the external wall structure, the inclusion of break out spaces and the selection and placement of carefully chosen furniture, all of which contribute to the creation of discrete learning zones within the larger space.


    Across town on the northern beaches, Holy Cross principal Sarah Hamilton is leading a data-driven revolution at the Trinity Park primary school.

    “Within our culture to promote learning, we’re focusing on the use of technology to enhance student learning, so we’ve appointed an e-learning coordinator to look at how we can do that,” Ms Hamilton says.

    “We’ve also appointed a leader of teaching and learning. She’s set up professional learning communities who meet a few times every term to look at data surrounding student reading levels and how to help students grow.”

    Amidst the pivot to technology, new infrastructure developments and cutting-edge approaches to modern learning patterns, there remains an over-arching, simple philosophy driving the Cairns Diocese’s approach to education.

    “Our mantra is every student, every class, every day,” Mr Dixon says.

    “That’s what we believe will provide learning outcomes for each and every student.”

    MORE: cns.catholic.edu.au