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Pursuing educational excellence: what defines the best?

Written by BGS Executive Director Educational Innovation Jacqui Zervos.

Our vision to be the best school for boys in Australia is the major driver of our ambitious educational innovation and improvement agenda. In order to determine how BGS stands out from other educational institutions, we must have agreed and shared understandings of what is meant by best.

The School has a long and proud record of high academic achievements for its graduating students, supported by outstanding wellbeing and cocurricular provisions. While it would be easy to stick with a ‘proven formula’ of existing programs, procedures and policies, we continually challenge ourselves to question our practices in our effort to be even better.

There are two important questions we return to in this pursuit of excellence.

  • What does a BGS education add to a boy’s life?
  • How do BGS boys derive value from their educational journey to serve them well while they are with us and beyond the school gates?

These are challenging questions with complex responses.

One of the major enablers of an outstanding education, and a significant point of distinction, is the ability to focus on optimising student’s capabilities to think and learn in a supportive environment. In recent years, we have relentlessly pursued developing a learning culture in which every boy is supported and challenged to practice and develop independent and strategic thinking. This approach to thinking and learning is known internally as Effective Thinking Cultures (ETC); a whole-school project that, regardless of which classroom, subject or year level a boy is in, seeks to give each boy the opportunity to optimise his learning.

Rather than implementing an off-the-shelf educational product, we have spent the past four years immersed in strategic planning and activity, informed by research literature and consultations with colleagues beyond BGS in an effort to create and grow our own culture and infrastructure for supporting holistic learner development. This whole-of-school improvement engages deeply with the complexity of the learning process and the multiple variables that impact learner development.    

Collaboratively developed strategic plans at both the whole-school and departmental level map out the ETC implementation process, and are supported by a rigorous monitoring and evaluation program to ensure we are on track and our sense of progress is validated. In 2021, we have undertaken our third major round of evaluation to determine the extent to which our strategic efforts are materialising into desired outcomes for teachers and students. With previous reports presented in 2017 and 2019, we now have a clear and credible understanding of the nature and extent of our improvement over time.

Over the course of the past 12 months, data has been collected to examine the impact of a range of innovations in five specific areas:

  • pedagogical leadership (the role of our academic leaders in helping discipline teams to develop classroom practice)
  • collaborative inquiry (teachers’ collective and collaborative efforts to develop student thinking and learning)
  • professional learning (formalised support for teachers’ learning to develop critical reflection and their use of evidence)
  • the new Applied Thinking subject in Years 7 and 8
  • the impact of the introduction of timetabled Consolidation and Preparation time across all year levels.

It was exciting to receive the 2021 Educational Innovation at BGS Monitoring and Evaluation Report last week. The report discusses each of those interventions and their context in the broader project of innovation at BGS.

Our intense effort will now turn to unpack the findings and recommendations to guide our next steps. As we unpack, we will share the findings and recommendations with stakeholder groups in our community and begin to engage in the process of setting our goals for the future.

I would like to acknowledge our Director of Organisational Learning Dr Hannah Campos-Remon, who has engaged in a year of intense research (across all academic departments) to produce an extraordinary body of work. Her research will be invaluable in guiding efforts to ensure a BGS education stands apart from others, and the experience of learning situates our students uniquely for life. Dr Campos-Remon’s efforts are supported by the critical lens of Professor Peter Taylor who, as the School’s Special Advisor – Educational Innovation, prompts and provokes us to challenge our thinking and continue in our relentless pursuit of excellence.

BGS is investing in our development as a learning organisation. Dr Campos-Remon's work is supported by a small group of staff we refer to as our Learning Organisation Team. Her report affirms the value of this investment – an investment that is increasingly central to our ambition to be the best school for boys in Australia.

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