Faced with losing one-quarter of his students, Michael Senior led his community through a transformation that will see Year 12 boys graduate for the first time this year, from what is now a thriving college.
Ambrose Treacy College (ATC) has become a much-loved and highly respected Catholic school for Years 4 to 12 boys in Brisbane’s western suburbs, with parents and teachers saying it’s Mr Senior’s extraordinary care for and valuing of his students that makes ATC so special.
Mr Senior, who is set to retire this year after about 40 years of working in Catholic education, is a finalist in the Queensland College of Teachers Outstanding Contribution to Teaching TEACHX Award.
ATC was once Nudgee Junior College, but when the state government announced Year 7 would be moving into secondary, the Years 4 to 7 school faced losing one-quarter of its pupils.
“It was a chance of saying, ‘Do you want to try and survive or do you want to try and thrive?’ – and in everything in life you should always be trying to thrive,” Mr Senior said.
ATC parents and staff have praised Mr Senior’s expertise in working with and understanding boys and how they best learn, including by allowing learning to happen outside when feasible.
“You have got to work with the energy of boys and not against the energy of boys,” Mr Senior said. “It’s a simple law of physics: there is energy, and if you don’t allow it to come out it will come out when you don’t want it to. Boys like to be challenged in a productive way … and if boys are interested in something they will work. Boys do like to learn by doing, so wherever you can, you need to ask, ‘What are the practical applications that we can allow boys to learn with?’. They like doing things in groups—there’s a number of very simple areas that I think work with the energy of boys.”
Mr Senior is known for the interest he shows in all of his students. His kindness, compassion and passion to make a difference through service is inspiring.
“Here at Ambrose Treacy we have had a big call on wanting to make sure that we are an inclusive school. Being inclusive is a lot harder than being exclusive, because we are obviously taking on boys who sometimes find the learning process, or just coping in the community, more challenging,” he said.
“I’m proud that we are probably being more overt than other schools in what we want our graduate to be, and we just want our graduate to be a good young man. Obviously, as all schools will do, we want a good education, we want university pathways, we want vocational pathways for students, but in the end we have just determined that we are not going to be a school that is defined by the number of OPs or the number of ATARs that we get,” Mr Senior said.
“I have a mantra that the world just needs better people; we don’t need better doctors, or better carpenters or better salespeople, we actually just need better people in the world, so we have had a really strong direction and push towards that.
“We have got this little acronym where we talk about trying to form men of courage, where our courage is about people having the courage to make a difference. Our ‘courage’ is an acronym: Caring, Optimistic, Upstanding, Respectful, Accountable, Grateful and Empowering, so we work on those values.”
The school’s students logged 25,000 hours of community service last year. There are bursaries for Indigenous students, with Mr Senior setting an aspirational target of having 3.5 to 4 per cent of students who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander at the college. He is particularly proud of the community ATC has developed, and he has loved teaching.
“It is just in the daily difference and the yearly difference you can make to a young child—that is the reward. It’s a profession that just keeps on giving. It is such an important part of the world,” he said.