The course of mankind’s evolution and the norms and methodologies of education have evidently been treading on the same roads, hand in hand, leveraging the opportunities provided by technology. This correlational evolution has birthed a certain sect of people, who uphold the prominence of contemporary education and the resultant profundity of its acknowledgment, and who can be safely assumed to be designated as educational leaders. To simply exhibit an example, while not stereotyping, of how and what an educational leader should be, we wish to place the spotlight on Kelly Gervasoni, the Year 9 Coordinator at St Andrews Lutheran College.
Kelly’s teaching career began in 2012 when she was granted ‘special provision’ with the Victorian Institute of Teaching to start teaching in her 4th year of university study for Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences/Bachelor of Education. During her first few years, she developed mentor relationships with the Head of Mathematics and School Principal and admired their strong leadership characteristics. These relationships enabled her growth as an educational leader through their support and encouragement of reflective practices. Kelly remembers her Principal saying, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” She made the conscious effort to say yes to all opportunities within reason and made multi-level action goals with these mentors. Kelly strongly believes that self-awareness is a crucial element of an effective leader (Goleman, 2013) and thus, regularly reviewed her strengths and weaknesses and incorporated these into her action goals.
Kelly began working at St Andrews Lutheran College as a Middle/Senior School teacher and made the conscious effort to develop authentic relationships with her colleagues, which were based on trust and authenticity. During this process, she developed a new Mentor – the Deputy Principal, Mrs. Virginia Warner, and admired her passion, dedication and having relationships at the core of her practice. Kelly longed to have those excellent relational skills and patience with colleagues and thus knew Mrs. Warner was the next mentor who could enhance her leadership skills.
In 2019, Kelly was offered further opportunities at St Andrews, including the role of Year 9 Coordinator. She was excited to lead and empower another team in the area of Student Wellbeing, where she could use her knowledge and skills learnt from her postgraduate studies. Her career aspirations as an educational leader are to become an effective leader in the area of student wellbeing, where she hopes to initiate productive collaboration amongst staff and students to facilitate quality practices that are reflective and model life-long learning amongst staff and students.
At the Helm of Innovation
On a local level, Kelly collaboratively undertook an Action Research project with the School Psychologist, Mrs. Robyn Rudd on their interest area – enhancing engagement of middle-school female students. They utilized current resources and existing research to modify pre-existing programs and mesh them to address their desired outcomes for students at St Andrews. While there were limitations in the research project including a small sample size and a short timeframe, the duo has added insight into previous research on the impact of facilitator training for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs, specifically the role of the teacher compared to a trained psychologist.
Pertaining to the St Andrews motto in 2019, ‘Learners leading learning,’ Kelly has been leading the learning way while also encouraging students and staff to be the leaders in their education. In other words, students understand the teacher’s role of being a learning facilitator, rather than the expert. As within the 21st century, students have access to a multitude of educational resources and Kelly encourages them to embrace learning from differing platforms. Furthermore, she emphasizes that positive self-efficacy beliefs, motivation and effort are the key indicators for future success.
Kelly states that St Andrews Lutheran College’s mission statement: ‘Celebrating the Gospel, Nurturing the Individual, Empowering Lifelong Learners’ stands as a firm statement about what St Andrews is, and has been at the heart of the College since its inception. The school strives to provide a high quality education in a Christian context. “We value a holistic approach, and encourage students to develop values that enrich the intellect, nurture the spirit, develop social responsibility and create healthy lifestyles,” Kelly expresses.
St Andrews is widely regarded as a caring school and places a high priority on pastoral care. The school has adopted Positive Psychology as their wellbeing focus with the aim of proactively building wellbeing and resilience of students. The staff works hard at developing nurturing relationships with students because encouraging and affirming relationships lie at the heart of effective learning. A strong sense of community and belonging can be found at St Andrews. The staff enjoys strong parental support and involvement, and seeks to work in partnership with their local community.
The school is at the forefront of innovation regarding technology and classroom design in Australia. All staff and students use Microsoft OneNote for their teaching and learning, as well as the professional development of staff. Furthermore, it has updated its classroom design in line with current research. As a result, the teaching methods are moving away from ‘traditional’ teaching with no central front of room, rather an integrated learning environment that is ‘learner centered.’ Wherever a student sits in the classroom, they should feel at the center of their learning experience and the classroom setup is similar to future collaborative workplace environments. All students and staff can access classroom resources and lesson plans at school or externally, which are displayed via interactive whiteboards and multiple television screens in each classroom.
Competing with the one in the Mirror
Juggling the work-life balance has been an ongoing challenge for Kelly since the beginning of her teaching career. “I have high expectations for myself and I am passionate about education, so sometimes this love for teaching can intertwine with my personal life,” says Kelly. Since she advocates healthy wellbeing with her students and staff, she feels it is important that she role-models such wellbeing. Thus, teacher wellbeing has been an area of focus for her over the last few years, especially with the increased workload and innovation of technology which enables people to work from home.
Kelly has set rules in place to ensure she maintains a healthy work-life balance and this includes turning off emails from 6pm-6am, avoiding work on weekends if possible and scheduling her fitness routine a week ahead. While reflective practice has significantly enhanced her leadership skills, it was challenging for Kelly to allow herself to be analyzed by others in her initial years of teaching. “Once I got ‘comfortable being uncomfortable,’ as my Principal says, I began to seek and embrace the feedback I received and used it to further develop my leadership skills. Reflective practice has been a key element to my success as a leader,” Kelly expresses.
The Light of Inspiration
When asked about how she manages to both, stay inspired and also inspire others around her, Kelly says, “It all boils down to passion. I absolutely love teaching! It is my dream career and I enjoy having a positive impact on my students daily. Teaching is such a rewarding career and it gives me butterflies every time a student has the “AH-HUH, I get it!” moment.’ That, for Kelly, is the light bulb moment for a student who understands a new skill or knowledge. Kelly describes herself as one of those overly excited math teachers. Sometimes her students laugh about how excited she gets, explaining new concepts, especially when she teaches mathematical proofs like the Pythagoras theorem. To inspire her students, she uses her passion for teaching and her high expectations. Through setting high expectations, she is providing courage to her students by saying “yes, I believe in you! I’ve set the bar high because I know you can master these skills.”
Beholding New Horizons
At 28 years of age with seven years teaching experience, Kelly believes she still has much more to learn and offer to the world of education. Within the next 5 years, she aims to further enhance her leadership skills within her passion area – Student Wellbeing. Eventually, she would like to be in a role of greater influence on student wellbeing, such as Head of School or Head of Wellbeing, where she could have a greater impact and influence on the students of the college. All the while, Kelly firmly emphasizes on the fact that it takes a team to educate a child.
“St Andrews Lutheran College is one of the leading Positive Education Schools in Queensland, embedding restorative practices within its culture,” Kelly asserts. “We are leaders in innovation and technology, with new classroom designs in line with current research and all students and staff use Microsoft OneNote for all teaching purposes,” she adds. The school’s aim is to further research and enhance its practices to ensure it remains at the forefront of positive education, innovation and technology.