Approaching education as an opportunity to empower students to answer their own questions is something Mark Smith is passionate about.
Leading the way as a Head of Program & International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) Coordinator at Calamvale Community College, Mark’s ardour for inquiry-based learning has led to his being nominated for this year’s QCT Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning award by Junior School Principal, Jackie Welch.
Over the past four years, Mark’s drive to engage both the P-6 and 7-12 teaching teams at the college has seen him engage in a range of professional dialogue and development as he implemented the college’s vision for the future.
Shifting the school towards this inquiry-based learning approach, Mark has consulted with fellow leaders and teachers engaging them in processes to map the Australian curriculum and establish year-long transdisciplinary programs of inquiry, collaboratively reviewed at the end of each year. Mark has also worked with year level teaching teams to implement a backward design approach to planning which has enabled the Junior School to engage in the QCAA standard elaborations. The alignment to QCAA standard elaborations and the fore fronting of cognitive skills has resulted in consistency across the P-12 college.
Inquiry-based learning places each student at the centre of their own individual learning experience, encouraging them to be active participants in their education as they investigate, think, discuss and approach their own learning from a collaborative standpoint.
Leading by example, Mark undertakes professional reading and research to ensure that the knowledge he is sharing with his staff is research-based and rigorous. Through Mark’s leading and broadening of the knowledge of his staff, they feel enabled yet supported, part of a group and fully equipped to manage their own needs and learning experiences. Mark has worked over the past 4 years to facilitate weekly year level collaborative planning meetings to support the implementation of this work and build the capacity of staff to plan units of inquiry.
As a way of connecting with the staff he leads, Mark offers co-teaching sessions to further guide and support his fellow educators, allowing him to put into practice the pedagogy he is so enthusiastic about. This makes him an authentic leader, willing to scaffold staff through their learning journeys to achieve a positive outcome for all. Due to the development of greater capacity across staff, there are now a number of aspirant teachers who are being supported by Mark to undertake a year level coordination role, enabling them to play a great role in leading within their teams.
The four-year long process of candidacy and authorisation for the junior school to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) school is a task Mark has taken on with fervour. As a result of the recent authorisation visit, the college has now become only the second state primary school in Queensland to achieve this accreditation. In order to achieve this, Mark has had to consult with all involved stakeholders, research current educational trends, and gather feedback from all administration and teaching staff, students, and the parent and community body to ensure his delivery of this agenda reflects the needs of all stakeholders. The authorisation process itself has involved a visiting team of IB representatives coming to the college and assessing the implementation of the PYP against IB standards and practices. This also involved the team meeting not only with college staff but students, parents and the broader community.
Through being mindful of the work that has gone before him, Mark is attuned to the processes and journeys of the staff and has responded accordingly in a supportive and respectful manner, whilst still meeting timelines needed prior to authorisation.
Mark identified a need to develop a greater inquiry culture in the Junior School with staff and proposed a model to enable staff to collaboratively inquire into aspects of their pedagogy. Fellow staff members have responded positively to Mark’s initiative, stating: “Collaborative inquiry has provided time in a busy profession to allocate professional research”, “I need to resist the urge to ‘jump into’ learning experience before backing things up with research” and “Collaborative inquiry enables us to think deeper about our practice”.
Executive Principal Lisa Starmer endorses Mark’s nomination, stating that his demonstrated passion for student learning and for leadership has led to the development of a skilled group of practitioners who are enthusiastic and engaged in their practice.
“His supportive leadership has provided staff with a structured approach, ensuring success, and his move to a distributed model is enabling other staff to have ownership of the inquiry pedagogy, alongside the college’s agenda. The program has a high level of support and recognition from the community. Mark’s work is outstanding,” Lisa says.
Congratulations Mark on your QCT Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning Award nomination.