Posted by Julia Goonan
on 17 September 2019
Interview with Stephen Pooley, Principal, St James College East Bentleigh.
What school did you go to? Were you educated by the Brothers?
I grew up in Mt Waverley in Melbourne and I was educated by the Presentation Sisters and by the Salesians, and at Salesian College. Through our ACC sporting competition, I had good contact with other schools. I particularly remember the soccer games against St Bede's College that were full of rivalry but played in such good spirit and with great fun. I always had a thought that St Bede's was a great school. I was fortunate to teach at St Bede's during my degree as a teacher and then started my career there.
Is there a particular Brother that inspired you?
During my teaching at St Bede's College, Br Matthew Bell was a wonderful mentor and supervisor both during my teaching and in my early years.
What made you want to be a teacher?
Well I did a science degree and there was a bit of a demand for science teachers at that time so I thought I'd give it a go. I did a Diploma of Education and didn't really like it until it came to working in the school on practicals when I thought it was fantastic and loved it ever since.
Do you have kids? How important is it to you for them to get a Catholic Education?
I have two children my son is at St Bede's College and my daughter at Kilbreda College.
I highly value the education of the whole person that Catholic Education presents within our Catholic faith context and the opportunities that each are able to access at their respective schools.
How has Catholic education changed over the past 5 years?
The regard for Catholic education and how we have addressed this. Unfortunately, there have been challenges due to external factors, but holding true to our values has resulted in demand and good indications of growth for the future.
The demands on priests and chaplains have increased, and the governance of diocesan schools is under consideration.
The way we have kept up with the multitude of demands placed upon us curriculum, welfare, compliance, specialist services for students and families
What changes would you like to see in Catholic education?
I think Catholic education is addressing the needs of our students as well as we can. Our schools are places of safety and care where students can learn, can be involved, and can flourish. This is due to the work of staff in schools using their resources as well as they can. Obviously, more can be achieved through better resourcing which is linked to funding. There are good people involved in this political and financial landscape who work to achieve the best for our sector. Maybe as a nation and as a society, how we value education, and its resourcing could be better prioritised.
Are there any specific changes you'd like to see over the next 5 years?
On a school level, Staff formation and development are critical to have our staff well placed to deliver the best outcomes for students. This can take the form of whole-school approaches and individual learnings. Professional Learning for staff must continue to be an area of high input.
We recognise that Catholic Schools are the church for many in our communities. We need to continue to strengthen the connections between parish and schools so that we can provide the authentic faith experiences for our students and families that give life and expression to our work.
What are the challenges facing students at your school today? How do you help them overcome them?
Wellbeing and Mental Health issues including anxiety and difficulties due to social demands: especially around the use of technology. To address this, we run wellbeing programs, guest speakers, information forums for parents and have a counsellor and psychologists on site. Perhaps the best resource we have is the example and work of our staff, especially how they work with our students and our parents.
Another challenge would be growing up in an increasingly secular world. What is presented at our school can be at odds with what their experiences can be, especially around religion, faith and expectations - We appreciate that our young people have a strong sense of spirituality and social justice awareness/involvement. We actively promote our Catholic faith and to be understanding of the needs of those around us.
What are the challenges facing teachers at your school today? How do you help them overcome them?
I suppose presenting a Catholic education that is in many ways is countercultural to our society we have a great leadership team who lead our response to this challenge through their actions and example, through the use of language and expression - this is our school, this is who we are, and articulation of our mission.
Keeping up with technology is another challenge . We are using the Microsoft tune-up service for schools and are leading all of our staff (teaching and ancillary) through a number of modular learning programs to assist them with the use of technology in teaching, in learning, administration and through means of collaboration.
Keeping up with the compliance requirements, documentation and reporting, policies, NCCD etc. probably this is the more difficult one to address it requires the input from staff and the provision for time to meet the requirements. In a small school, staff are stretched, and this can be problematic at times.
What are the 3 greatest achievements you have achieved in your career so far?
The greatest achievement is seeing students and their families on Graduation Night knowing that they are supported and prepared for the next chapter in their journey.
Working in two Melbourne Lasallian Colleges and with such wonderful colleagues. The recent Melbourne Staff Formation day brought together over 500 Lasallian staff and there was a sense of great energy within the group as we considered our shared mission of the human and Christian education of the young.
Being fortunate to be in a position where I can encourage and mentor younger staff members to look for new challenges and positions. Many have taken on further study and gained positions of leadership in our school and in other schools.
What does being a Lasallian mean to you?
My whole teaching career has been within the Lasallian Tradition. We have something special in our schools a sense of community, support and care. We are connected through our faith and through our Lasallian heritage. My sense of this was further strengthened when I was fortunate to be on pilgrimage with a number of our Australian Brothers as we travelled in the footsteps of De La Salle visiting schools and works in France, and then the Generalate in Rome. Even 300 years later, we can, and are still learning of what it means to be Lasallian, further exploring the vision of St John Baptist de La Salle, and how we can reach out to those in need - often needs that are just evolving through the impact and progress of our world, and the demands of our current society.
If you could give a piece of advice to our younger self what would it be?
Always have faith in yourself, and that results will come with the work.
Who has your mentor been and why?
I have had the opportunity to work for some incredible Principals all Brothers. I have learnt so much from them and observing how they dealt with others staff, students, parents and the wider community. Each had their own ways of operating and I often find myself thinking of examples of how they worked through the issues that came their way always placing the student at the centre and prioritising what would be the best outcome for them. I see them all as my mentors, but I would possibly single out Br Quentin as the one who demonstrated that quality of building and maintaining relationships with all he met, and who goes out of his way to support those in his community.
Favourite inspirational quote?
Attributed to St Benilde 'Do the little things well - as well as you can'