Writing Their Own Futures

Tintern Schools

Tintern Schools was established in 1877 when founding Principal Emma Cook wanted to start “an excellent school” for her many children, as she deemed established schools in her area to be unsuitable. Soon, other families wanted to enrol their children as well. Principal Cook wished to stress the importance of family and being a part of a community and those values are something the school has carried through to the present day. “These are the foundation stones of our school,” says the ninth Principal of Tintern Schools, Jenny Collins.

Whereas many of the independent schools in Melbourne have two thousand plus students, Tintern has only 1100 at the maximum. Mrs Collins believes this is to the school’s advantage. “We like to keep it in smaller sections so there is more one on one [interaction] and we really know every student.”

She discusses how Dr Andrew Fuller, a psychologist who works with Tintern, helps staff to understand how boys and girls learn differently. “For boys, fewer words and more action is better and in the morning they will have exercise so they can settle and focus more clearly when they go into the classroom. Girls, on the other hand, quite like to work in collaboration in structured quieter environments. For the boys, we have a programme called ‘Rock and Water’ so instead of getting angry when something happens, you’ve got to be Rock to stand up for it or sometimes if you do get angry, you’ve got to be Water and just go around the problem. For the girls, we have what is called ‘Kilometre Club’ which is a program targeted particularly for them. It’s about educating everyone and finding out what works well for boys and what works well for girls.”

Tintern consistently remains one of the top performing International Baccalaureate schools in Australia. “While reaching out to our heads of departments and programme managers, we actually analyse results and what we are going to target,” Mrs Collins explains. “It is the constant reviewing of our practice.” The school also surveys its students and monitors and analyses the data. Improvement targets are then set and an action plan put into place to achieve them.

The school also uses the interpretation of hard data when it comes to policy changes. On the widely known subject of bullying, Tintern has done something quite powerful. Along with staff supervision, the students actually wrote their own ‘Anti-Bullying Policy’ as they deal with this subject firsthand. Families sign off and return a copy to the school. The administration has found that students are enforcing this policy even more as they have had a hand in creating it.

“We have what is called Vocational Education Training Programmes as well and that is more learning by doing,” Mrs Collins explains. “We offer training programmes in hospitality which can give students the skills they will need if they are going to work in the hospitality industry and this will yield certifications that will get some students jobs all the way through university.”

Mrs Collins has a passion for music and the arts and is quite proud of the gorgeous display of works in the school’s Visual and Performing Arts departments. “We want to give our students lots of opportunity to try things on so that they can find out what their passion is and have a life they fall in love with.”

Despite the importance of musical education for brain development and literacy preparation, music programmes are being phased out in some schools. Tintern has, however, just built a brand new Music Centre for its Junior students, which opened in April this year. “The performing arts are absolutely fantastic here, with generous scholarships being given to hard working qualifying individuals. We have an amazing Director of Music and we get to experience what we call ‘Friends of Music’ themed nights where we have students performing with professional musicians and we get dressed up to reflect the era of music. It is a big community function to celebrate the arts in the school.”

Parents of Tintern students, who are quite involved in their child’s learning, rave about the language and exchange programmes Tintern has to offer. “We offer the opportunity to go to Germany or France and some students visit China, students have visited Vietnam and Cambodia to complete social service projects, as well as participating in our ‘Indigenous Trek’ to the heart of Australia.” The school also has fantastic community fairs and treks into the wilderness for educational experiences.

When Mrs Collins arrived in 2006, Tintern was in need of some restructuring. What had once been a girls’ school had added a boys’ school in the mid nineties, though some learning was shared. “When I got here, there were boys travelling from the boys’ campus across to the girls’ campus to do some subjects. We made the decision in 2009 to create a combined Senior College campus at Tintern, to allow for greater subject choice for our students.” This strategic decision allowed a consolidation of resources for the long term future of the school. The school then had to figure out a strategy for how to move forward.

“We like to act on information and have consulted with the community so they have a voice in the development of Tintern Schools,” Mrs Collins says. As a result, in 2011, Tintern surveyed all of its staff and the families of students as well as consulting focus groups on the future of the school. “The board listened carefully to what the community said and they wanted ‘Parallel Learning’ where years Prep to 9 are single sex and Years 10 to 12 are combined and we announced we would be committed to this learning model on the one site.

“The challenges are very significant. I’ve been talking to the board extensively about the fact that in just over two years we will achieve something that would have normally taken some schools ten years to do.”

She adds, “We decided to co-locate our school onto the one campus and to then sell the other campus and use the funds to reinvest in the school.” This reinvestment has put the school in a very strong financial and educational position for the future. Being on one campus has other advantages as parents, “don’t want to have to drive to two different campuses and drop the boys at one site and the girls at another”.

Mrs Collins quips of the reorganisation that, “It’s much like conducting an orchestra. Although this is a change to the school, everyone has an understanding of what that change has given us – the ability to embark on a huge building programme across many dimensions of the school.” The girls’ junior school is already open and running and developments on the horizon for Tintern include rebuilding the boys’ junior school. Its construction is right on track and it is scheduled to be open in 2014. “Our Junior Schools have their own teaching spaces for the boys and their own spaces for the girls,” she says.

The school is also building brand new middle schools to house the boys and girls on the Tintern campus. This is a state of the art building, designed to provide the best in educational opportunities for students.

“For me, it is the great joy of sharing the journey with the families who trust us to do the very best for their children. As Principal, my job is not hard, but I do have to go to bed every night knowing that I’ve done the best I can for every boy and every girl in my care.” Mrs Collins adds that, “when you see their accomplishments, you realise that’s what it’s all about”.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 6:42 AM AEDT