Dr Jim Watterston

News, views and ideas in educational leadership

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Those who Disappear: The Australian education problem nobody wants to talk about

In November 2019, the Melbourne Graduate School of Education released its most recent industry report, Those who Disappear. This report focuses on the more than 50 000 young people across Australia of compulsory school age who, for multiple reasons, are not participating in a school or an education program of any type. They are not absent from school: they simply aren’t in one. Young people of all ages have been able to detach themselves from formal education and we don’t know who they are, where they are, how this has happened and why they remain largely hidden.

Read the full report here.

Opinion: Want better NAPLAN results? Try adding another PE class to the timetable

Australian Teacher Magazine recently published an opinion piece outlining the effect of physical play and activity on student performance and results. Professor Dick Telford points to the ever-decreasing natural daily occurrences of physical exercise and its implications for children’s physical and mental health (and the long term consequences for our healthcare system). This raises an important question: is the delivery of additional Physical Education classes in public schools a practical and sustainable strategy to make a difference?

View the full article here.

2017 Principals’ Conference: Great Principals are Great Coaches

I recently presented to principals and leaders at our biennial Principals’ Conference.  At this event were afforded a chance to network in order to reinforce our common purpose, develop collegial and collaborative relationships between schools across the state and importantly, to welcome our recently appointed principals and those representing our newest schools.

An excerpt from my foreword:
“A great school has a great school down the road. That school down the road (or indeed in another corner of the state) is working as you are towards sustainable school improvement. As a team, our focus is to collectively effect consistent and positive change in all public schools. By sharing and exploring our data, triumphs and strategies as a team we can achieve greater outcomes – allowing every student in every school to succeed.

Just as every school has a leader, every team has a coach. The role of a great coach is to guide, inspire and empower a team to achieve their full potential. However the skills required to develop capability, build culture and employ data driven strategies are not unique to sporting coaches. They are the mark of great leaders everywhere – heads of political parties, ballet directors, film producers, principals of schools. Developing this skill set is vital as you grow your team and implement your school’s game plan for the future.”

My presentation was based on the following framework for team building. I interviewed three high-profile coaches including Roselee Jencke (Queensland Firebirds), Paul Green (North Queensland Cowboys) and Rodney Eade (Gold Coast Suns). Their unique perspectives on motivating, developing and leading teams provided a basis for a framework that can be applied to many teams across many contexts.

View my presentation slides here

Great Principals are Great Coaches graphic

Queensland – A State of Learning

Presenting the first report by our School Improvement Unit. This report seeks to identify the common elements that have determined Queensland’s highest performing schools, allowing us to strengthen processes and improve practices with Queensland answers to Queensland challenges. This fantastic resource assists and guides schools on their school improvement journey, whilst encouraging valuable collaboration between school communities.

Behaviour Team Captain’s Table

In a department as large and geographically dispersed as ours, it can be easy to forget that we are all linked in so many ways — in the work we do, the goals we aspire to and the values that drive us

In a similar vein, from my position it can be difficult to fully understand what life is like for staff in the many unique environments that make up this department.

One tool that I have used for many years to connect with staff is the ‘Captain’s Table’, an off-the-record discussion that I have with a small group of randomly-selected employees from throughout the department. The name derives from an experience I had as a young trainee teacher when going on my first ever cruise ship holiday. One day late in the cruise, a note slipped under my cabin door invited me to dine at the Captain’s Table — an offer I accepted with some reluctance, thinking I may have done something wrong! When I arrived at the Captain’s Table, I discovered that he had invited a random selection of cruise passengers in a genuine attempt to hear about every storm and celebration we had encountered on the trip.

That’s why, for many years, I have recreated this experience with staff — people from all walks of life and different areas of the department who can share their experiences, for better or worse. As much as we work in different teams, we are all on the same journey and hearing diverse perspectives from throughout the department helps me to grasp the ‘big picture’ necessary to make decisions that affect us all.

As Term 4 can be a particularly challenging time for all in our school communities, last week I met with a small group from our State Schools division to discuss a range of topics including Behaviour Management; Student Wellbeing; Inclusion, Access and Participation; and the Positive Behaviour for Learning framework.

I would like to thank Jean, Beth, Kitty, Warren, Lorna, Melissa, Mel, Tim and Jean for sharing with me the challenges and successes of their great work, while challenging my perceptions and exploring new ideas together – such valuable conversation with some passionate and talented staff!

Group photo

Meeting with Tim, Jean, Jean, Mel, Kitty, Melissa, Beth, Lorna and Warren

Metropolitan leadership symposium


Jim Watterston presenting at Symposium

Discussing Queensland NAPLAN performance at the Symposium

Last week over 700 principals and school leadership team members from the Metropolitan region participated in a symposium to develop leadership and further drive outcomes, performance and staff development.

Being such a complex region and home to some incredibly talented educators, this was a great opportunity for sharing ideas, strategies and success stories. The attendees willingness to actively participate and collaborate ensured a lot of fresh ideas were taken back to schools by the leadership teams.

For anybody interested in further reading, I have uploaded my slides from the day.



School Sport: What’s in it for me?

Recently I had the pleasure of opening an event hosted by the Metropolitan East School Sport Board, aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of regular interschool sport for students, teachers and parents. I was joined onstage by Duncan Free, Olympian, who talked us through his journey to Olympic gold. Other guest speakers included the King, Wally Lewis and his wife Jackie, who spoke about their involvement as parents in the school sport program, Richard Barker, The CEO of the Qld Reds who spoke as a business leader and Andrew Peach, Executive Principal from Marsden SHS who gave a school principal perspective.

Attended by 170 principals and sport coordinators, this was a valuable conversation with a very strong message. Beyond the benefits of physical exercise, interschool sport plays a great part in building partnerships between schools and helping students to develop some very important life skills.

School sport breakfast conversations and presentations

Discussing the importance and benefits of regular interschool sport


Building a high performing Executive Team

Queensland’s school improvement story has been overwhelmingly positive in recent years, thanks to quality initiatives and strategies implemented by talented educators and supported by central and regional office staff. However, as in the case of many high performing teams, the best always look to improve.

This commitment to continuous improvement is at the very heart of our potential to reach more targets, lift expectations and achieve greater outcomes for all young Queenslanders. From classrooms to boardrooms, we all have a role to play in our improvement agenda – and high performing leaders help to build high performing teams.

This week our executive leadership team participated in a forum facilitated by Dr Simon Breakspear, a leading thinker on education reform and learning innovation. Simon is known internationally for helping educational leaders navigate disruptive change, develop innovation capabilities and drive continuous improvement for better learning.

The focus of our work on the day was on our continued drive to become an elite Executive Team. The full commitment of those present and the quality of the dialogue makes me very confident that we are well down the path to our objective.

Photo from forum

Department of Education and Training Leadership team at the forum

Australian Council of Education Leaders (ACEL) Conference

On Wednesday 28 September I had the pleasure of presenting at the Australian Council of Education Leaders (ACEL) Conference – my last presentation as President after serving 6 years in the role.

With over 1200 delegates in attendance, this was an opportunity to shine the light on some key learnings from the progress we have made in Queensland over the last few years.

When we talk about investing in education, a common myth perpetuated by many in the public domain is that education funding is not making a difference. What is true here in Queensland however is that when funding for schools is distributed transparently and is complemented by evidence, empowerment and accountability, money makes a big difference to improving student performance.

Investing for Success has made additional resources available to Queensland state schools, with a focus on increased autonomy and increased accountability.  These resources give Principals and schools the power to create learning environments that meet the needs of every student. This means real innovation and excellence occurring every day, and workable accountability to measure school improvement.

Outcomes for Queensland students are changing, standards are lifting, and schools are making a difference. We have seen talented staff in complex schools driving positive changes thanks to additional targeted resourcing. These outcomes are multi-faceted, and include attendance, performance and health and wellbeing. This funding has delivered additional teachers, guidance officers, and support programs for at-risk students.

While we still have a long way to go and much more improvement required, quite simply, money makes a difference. Delivering a quality education system is a necessary investment.

Dr Jim Watterston presenting at the ACEL Conference

Dr Jim Watterston presenting at the ACEL Conference

ACEL CEO Aasha Murthy, Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham, Dr Jim Watterston

ACEL CEO Aasha Murthy, Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham, Dr Jim Watterston

Recent Reading

Queensland Review of Teacher Education and School Induction


Evolutionary Tinkering in revolutionary Times by Dean Ashenden

In recent times I have found the debate around Initial Teacher Education particularly stimulating. Institutional, academic and media contributions equally add to the vibrant nature of the discussion. Opinions may differ as to what the best way to prepare a teacher is, but the general consensus is that there is a need to raise the profile of the teaching profession in order to both attract the best candidates and to produce the best teachers. The 2010 Queensland Review of Teacher Education and School Induction provides a very useful overview of national and international Initial Teacher Education (ITE) best practice. One of the eighteen benchmarks proposed to evaluate ITE courses is that “a minimum of five years of pre-service education at university level is a requirement for entry to the profession”. A shift towards teaching becoming a graduate profession may contribute to the raising of its profile. There is however a range of other recommendations that may contribute to improved outcomes of graduate teachers and their future students. Some of the more interesting ones are:

  • High academic standards and successful completion of attitudinal tests/interviews are a pre-requisite to entry in education programs
  • Universities that offer pre-service teacher education establish (drawing on the model of the medical profession) clinical partnerships with schools. These should establish an understanding of good common practice, provide professional development for all staff, place specially-trained exemplary teachers in partner schools, and provide student teachers with experience of highly effective practice and a range of behavioural issues
  • The practicum is modelled on an induction process which starts with the commencement of the pre-service program and includes in-school mentoring for one year after graduation
  • Evidence based literacy training is provided to all student teachers who will be involved in literacy teaching

Dean Ashenden’s recent piece on Inside Story seems to intentionally want to “rough the feathers” and stir the debate. The article raises points in relation to this issue that are worth mentioning here. Ashenden compares learning to teach to learning to act and to play a musical instrument. He says that to become a teacher “takes time, practice and help” and goes on to explain that it is crucial to provide feedback in a cycle of “try–review–think–try again”. He goes on to say that “musicians need both theory and practice” and that “they learn them in interaction”.

These comments, when juxtaposed with the clinical model proposed in the Queensland review, are not revolutionary, but help when trying to visualise the kind of nurturing support needed to produce the best possible teachers. I am eager to see how pre-service education course providers implement the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership reforms and rise to the challenge of providing Australian students with the best possible education.

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