An observatory of the world’s best practice in teaching and learning … A laboratory of innovation … A conservatory of what is tried, tested and true …
This was Dr Helen Drennen’s vision for the Wesley College Institute for Innovation in Education when she returned to Wesley College as principal in 2003.
“The institute was established to find a new way to enable teachers to shape learning and teaching for the world we are preparing students for,” says Helen who was awarded an AM for services to education in the Australian Day honours.
3 things I have learned
1. The quality of a school begins and ends with the quality of its teachers.
2. Parents and family are critically important in the primary and secondary years.
3. Every decision a school makes should be determined on the basis of what is in the best interests of students as individuals and collectively.
A recent tangible benefit of the research arm of the institute has been the significant emphasis on using data to inform practice in the classroom. Teachers have many more tools to guide them in enhancing student performance and growth.
“Similarly, when we want to start a new program or to explore new areas in digital learning, the institute shapes proposals and begins the planning,” says Helen.
Helen spent some years at Wesley before moving to the UK as academic director for the International Baccalaureate and then director of the Asia Pacific Region. She is the first female principal at Wesley in its 150 years.
“The strong focus on serving its community attracted me back to Wesley,” she explains.
“I also recognised the college’s potential not only to do wonderful things in its own community, but to leverage change for education in Australia and internationally.”
An example of Helen’s commitment to learning and community is the success of the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School in the Kimberley in north Western Australia. Today the school at Leopold Downs Station near Fitzroy Crossing has 60 Aboriginal students from the top end of Australia across years 10, 11 and 12.
“Above all, a good school provides a genuinely holistic education to support the social, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual growth of all of its students.”
The unique partnership began in 2004, when the college teamed with the Aboriginal people of the Fitzroy Valley Community in the Kimberley. The focus was for the two communities to learn together, to develop greater cultural understanding, and to expand horizons and opportunities for children at Wesley and in the Kimberley.
“When I returned to Australia from overseas in 2003, I was surprised how little attention schools gave to developing an understanding of Aboriginal culture and language,” says Helen.
“So one of the first things I did was to explore opportunities to see how we could help in the preservation of Aboriginal language and have real opportunities for learning about culture on a reciprocal basis.”
Students at Wesley learn Bunuba and Walmajarri, elders visit the college and year 10 students travel to the Kimberley to learn on country.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Wesley and there are further initiatives. These include the re-introduction of boarding in a new contemporary model called “learning in residence” for national and international students at a 136-bed facility at the Glen Waverley campus.
Wesley’s focus on innovation and best practice is complemented by its history and tradition, the cornerstones of the college.
“This school has great pride in its traditions, but it is always ready to respond to change.”
About Wesley College
Wesley College was founded in 1866 with the aim “to give a liberal and Christian education”. The college’s reputation has been built on a commitment to being an innovative and leading educational institution that encourages students to be prepared for the challenges and opportunities of life after school.
Wesley’s principles of learning are: To Know, To Do, To Live With and To Be with innovation and wisdom.