Most of the people live by the motto, ‘if it is not broken, don’t fix it’ however, that is not what great leaders or influencers (of any industry or sector) believe. They know that the path to exceptional growth, change, and performance requires upending existing or innovative ideas to choose a new path. It means every leader has to challenge the status quo to create greatness that they have envisioned. Jason Smith, the Principal of Tamborine Mountain State School is one such influential educational leader who attributes his growth to this belief.
“My inspiration to be the type of educator and leader I became came from my sense of wanting to make a difference in young people’s lives by providing them a space to have their voice heard and inspire them to become curious, creative thinkers and dreamers who shape their own destinies by becoming well-rounded citizens,” comments Smith.
But, change is not an easy sell and despite knowing that what motivated him to achieve greatness. “I was motivated to become an educator by both positive and negative experiences that I faced as a student during my own schooling,” says Smith.
Smith’s journey was shaped by his own student life. He recalls his journey saying, “I was inspired by my Isleworth Primary School teacher, Mr. Samuels, who encouraged me to be the best version of myself I could be, to challenge the ‘norm’ and reach for the stars. My secondary schooling was notably different. I felt my voice had been silenced and I was relegated back to the norm, with more of a focus on conformity rather than individuality. I was encouraged by my mum to pursue my love of teaching, which I did, training via correspondence.” Coming a long way from finding inspiration from those around him even today, Smith has not only grown to become an educator but also an influencer.
Evolving as an Influencer
Smith’s educational leadership journey began in 1989 right after he got qualified as the youngest professional swimming coach in New Zealand at the age of 17. Soon he immigrated to Australia in 1994 and was appointed as Head Swim Coach at Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre. He had coached swimmers at both state and national levels and in 1996 was also entitled as New South Wales SunRice State Coach.
Though Smith was influencing the young generation and bringing out the true potential he wanted to do something more. His love for teaching was unfathomable and so he deiced to take up new roles and hence moved to Queensland and commenced teaching at Coombabah State High School in 1997. After working here or a few years taking roles including that of Year Coordinator ( 2000) Head of Department, English at Elanora State High School( 2005), smith relocated to Queensland.
The progression of his educational leadership journey took a new turn soon. He was appointed as the Head of Curriculum in Barcaldine State School P-12 in 2009 and later was appointed as the Principal of Tamborine Mountain State School in 2012.
Challenging the Status Quo
Having established Smith’s journey from being a swim team coach to being a principal does not really explain how Smith’s contribution has changed both the education sector and the lives of the students. To understand it we have to look into the problem he was addressing. According to Smith one of the biggest complexities faced by the schools is a cluttered and congested curriculum.
He further comments, “My research over the years led me to believe that reshaping our curriculum to suit the needs and interests of our students as well as the experience and skillset of my teachers would be a more positive approach to improve student learning outcomes and increase student engagement; rather than to follow a prescribed, narrow-focused curriculum, that in all cases left students stressed, frustrated and disinterested and teachers struggling to ‘fit’ everything in.”
“I challenged my curriculum leaders to inspire a shared vision of an open, guaranteed and viable curriculum that not only aligned to the Australian Curriculum standards but also broadened the scope of topics, localized teaching, and learning experiences and gave student advocacy and voice through a collaboratively planned student-centered learning approach. Collaborators included teachers, teacher aides, education and school community partners, specialists, and most importantly students.”
Smith believed that students should be lifelong learners and the subject matter that is being taught to them should prepare them for college and career readiness. And hence to remind every student that they are decedents of greatness, Smith challenged the norm and designed a curriculum that taps the greatness students have within themselves while also allowing them to take control of their own learning. This way he ensures that his students are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and leaders who can take over the world.
A Platform for Holistic Growth
We established how Smith influenced the board to design a new curriculum, however; here arises the question, what entitles Tamborine Mountain State School (TMSS) in achieving Smith’s goal of supreme quality education.
Tamborine Mountain State School is a fully inclusive and diverse school that is dedicated to the holistic and personalized education of each student. This focus is underpinned by multiple layers of community support and local business partnerships. Its primary school uses innovative and
creative teaching pedagogies to engage students with the curriculum by linking its teachings to the real-world context. TMSS embraces STEAM-based learning opportunities such as; Digital Technologies, Robotics, Coding, Specialist Science, Maths, Dance, Drama, Music, Choirs, Concert Bands, and Multi-media.
Additionally, the school’s redesigned guaranteed and viable curriculum designed under the guidance of Smith provided teachers with not only the time to teach subject matter but most importantly time for students and teachers together to explore curiosities, experiment with theories, challenge the intent and respond through a variety of mediums. The school’s academic performance across all subjects, effort, and behavior bell curves shifted from the ‘norm’ (‘C’ high) to ‘B’ high.
To check the response of this new curriculum the students are asked to give regular feedback to teachers, whether about their lesson or the unit of work they were studying, to contribute to the reflection phase or curriculum planning. Student and staff efficacy soared, and the school survey responses from students, staff, and parents reflected this positive change.
Adding Value to Education
Smith has been passionate about education and his passion is clearly visible in his actions and even words. He says that when he thinks of an educator he thinks of someone who can build positive relationships, is caring, compassionate, empathetic, a life-long learner, and collaborator, as curious as students are about learning. And thus, his continuous effort has been to grow as an educator who supported children to exceed their potential and inspire a shared positive vision of the future.
To achieve the same he went beyond and above the call of duty. He established a unilateral partnership Tamborine Mountain Learning Academy (TMLA) with Tamborine Mountain State High School, Griffith University and Swinburne University. He also created a Young Scholars Program (YSP) which provides a platform for each student’s learning to be enriched alongside other high performing students beyond their chronological age. Queensland’s Director General of Education Dr. Jim Watterston said the program was a ‘Game Changer’ for TMSS students, which was the collaborative effort of Smith, executive leadership team, and Mrs. Tracey Brose, Principal of TMSHS.
From One Educator to Another
Smith’s journey until now and ahead can be foreseen as one where both educators and students are on a voyage of continuous growth. While TMSS only has a small percentage of Indigenous students who attend the school, Smith is passionate about providing opportunities for all of his students to deeply understand local Indigenous culture, heritage and traditions. Over many years Smith and his staff have developed rich partnerships with Wangerriburra Elders from the community who are actively involved in embedding and extending Indigenous perspectives in their school and community.
Smith feels blessed to be gifted with the talents and support of his family, friends, executive leadership teams, staff, students, parents and community partners over the years, who have all played a significant role in his development as an educational leader and positive role model.
His mantra of being an exceptional educator is by being true to oneself, never missing an opportunity to learn, and learning from own mistake. His advice for aspiring change leaders is also the same. “Be yourself; the one who is blessed with talents and has minor imperfections. Be prepared to fail, make mistakes, and learn from them by asking others for help. Share those precious moments with your students and ask your students what they do when they fail or make mistakes,” shares Smith.
Smith has dedicated his life to student development and enhancing educational opportunities by characteristically challenging conventional methods, like banning primary school homework sheets, in favour of inviting students to be kids after school by playing, exploring nature, participating in sports and hobbies as well as engaging in community events.His advice for aspiring educators is the same too. He asks them to know the lives of students; listen to them, learn from them, and grow together.
“Accept there is a difference between listening and hearing, and be conscious to listen to your students with attention and interest. Encourage your students to be risk-takers, to be curious and be a visionary. Demonstrate the difference between knowledge and understanding by using real-world examples and personal experiences. In essence – model the way, but do it in a way that allows students the opportunity to grow, celebrate successes and equally reflect on disappointments when they come, and forge their own pathway forward by taking stock of the footprints they’ve left behind,” concludes Smith.