Bright Futures

The Geelong College

Andrew Barr, National Chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) and Principal of The Geelong College, has been actively involved in lobbying for school funding in his position with the AHISA, whilst demonstrating his aspirations in his position as Principal at The Geelong College.

“I certainly have been involved in the lobbying of government as regards all of the Gonski funding debates,” he stated in a recent interview with Business in Focus. “In that role, my point essentially is that we need as a society to value education incredibly highly and we need as a society to be investing more in education and not get into the fights of sector against sector within education. That’s what the most successful countries in terms of education in the world do – they value it highly; they value teachers highly, and they provide appropriate public and private investment to support that.”

The Geelong College, which has been helping its students “find their way to the stars” for more than a century and a half is a co-educational day and boarding school offering diverse and dynamic programming to students from Early Learning through to Year Twelve. Its programs, grounded in Christian principles, encourage students to strive for individual achievement and self-fulfilment while also developing a deep-rooted respect for the well-being of others.

Principal Andrew Barr came to The Geelong College in 2013 after spending ten years as Principal of Scotch Oakburn College, prior to which he held senior positions at Caulfield Grammar School and Scotch College in Melbourne, Victoria. Already, in the half year since Mr Barr was appointed Principal of The Geelong College, he has become integral to the rich tapestry of the school and its community.

“It’s a very close working community,” he shares. “I’ve been here just a few months now since January and I’ve seen strong relationships between students, parents, and staff in regards to best meeting the needs of our young people, of their futures – which are different than ours of an older age. They are growing up in a vastly changing world, so that’s very much at the forefront when we look at the development of educational programs of those young people and the young people to come, and that will continue to evolve.”

The school’s emphasis, says Principal Barr, far exceeds merely providing an education as a platform from which students can achieve high scores university admissions.

“It must be way beyond that. It’s about developing [in students] the ability to make good decisions; it’s about creating problem-solvers and great communicators – because these young people will have serious career changes, more so than you or I; they will live and work in many countries.”

The young people of today are certainly faced with a new and dynamic future – one which may require an extraordinary number of career changes and will exist within both the physical and the digital world. To navigate such a future, The Geelong College prepares its students by assisting them in developing the flexibility, understanding, and confidence required to adapt to such changing pressures and demands.

“They won’t just react to change, they’ll help lead change. We want them to be able to do that. We certainly want them engaging with the community and assisting and serving the community and that’s happening in various ways.”

For example, all of The Geelong College’s Year Tens engage in service projects either overseas or locally within the curriculum and over holiday breaks; when they return they are encouraged to continue their involvement through local community service projects.

“Our Year Six expo [this term]… was very much about the students themselves leading the learning, exhibiting their progress and their learning across a range of ways – whether it be in writing or speech, in producing animations or creativity – in all sorts of ways,” explains Principal Barr. “The way of the future is really about students developing greater responsibility for their own learning and we, as adults, facilitating and encouraging that rather than just being there as a provider.”

This approach to life-long learning is greatly emphasised at The Geelong College – not just for students, but also for staff to continue to meet the ever-evolving needs of students. All staff are encouraged to participate in continuous learning opportunities throughout the school term as well as outside of the school environment.

To encourage student participation in the development of school culture, Principal Barr sat down with all of the year twelves – in groups of ten – over lunch to discuss their experiences, their insights and their futures. These sessions, he explains, have not only helped to foster an inclusive and mutually respectful relationship within the College, but have also served to inform him in his continual development of school programs and culture. Two crucial questions are raised during these sessions: “‘If you come back from your five year reunion, what do you want to see that hasn’t changed and that is still important to the place?’ and, ‘What do you want to see improved?’ They’re two great discussions that go on for quite a long time. It’s part of their learning, but also they’re the ones directly at the coal face; their thoughts are extremely important and they should help drive continual change.”

Ultimately, says Principal Barr, students continue to express their love for the deep-rooted traditions of The Geelong College, the heritage from which they have arisen. “They love the stories that have been built up by the students from generations beforehand, and they love being involved – as they should be – in the thoughts about the future. They have a feeling that it’s their school not just now while they’re here, but also after they leave and they’re interested to see how it develops.”

Indeed, many Geelong College alumni do return to visit their childhood college and beloved staff for holiday visits and also at organised reunions. On such opportunities, Principal Barr has been eager to urge the students to challenge him in five years to see what has improved along the way.

“Every school should seek that sort of improvement,” he asserts, “but it is our rich tradition and high expectations that I think have been great driving forces at this school, and it’s that feeling of belonging such that we see large numbers coming back for reunions and at parent meetings and the like; they’re interested and they want to help this school through.”

In support of this attitude, The Geelong College has been engaged over the past few years in a ten million dollar campus revitalisation project, which is currently in Phase Two of development. This phase will see the creation of new facilities to support the middle school – Years Four to Eight. “It’s really about creating spaces that best meet the learning needs of our students,” explains Principal Barr. “We give prominence to the learner rather than just a teacher providing information; education has gone way beyond that to have our students be curious, to investigate and to really seek deep answers to deep questions – that’s really what learning should be about.

“Traditional old classrooms of the 19th century which haven’t changed for a long time are beginning to change, they are becoming more open. We want kids to dream, we want them to imagine. All of the great changes in history have been brought about by great vision, great dreaming, and then working collaboratively with others – that’s what drives good change, not just for a school but way beyond for these students to be able to do this in business and in the community. It’s crucially important that the learning spaces support that.”

The school has also been developing a variety of accessibility strategies in the wake of the recent economic downturn in order to assist students in achieving appropriate school and home life balance. Central to this has been the school’s commitment to increasing its focus on student boarding – an option which has long provided students with increased accessibility to both regular academic programming as well as the college’s broad offering of extra-curricular activities. In particular, new boarding opportunities are being explored wherein students are welcomed into boarding at a younger age (now open to year seven and eight students in addition to the senior grades previously included), or on a part-time basis, in the case where a family might be temporarily in need of a more convenient accommodation for their child.

Explains Principal Barr, “We have a number of students from families who may be away for some time or they may be travelling – particularly from the south coast, or country areas – who may spend a lot of time on the bus in order to do so. There exists a vast array of activities at school they may be involved in whether it be music sport or various after school activities, and in order to reduce that travelling time a number of students are choosing to have their children in boarding in order to cut down what otherwise might be an hour or hour and a half travel each way, which adds more pressure on the family.”

These measures have been greatly appreciated by the students and staff, who benefit from not only the convenience of the boarding program, but also from the increased accessibility to students of The Geelong College’s breadth of activities. Indeed, it is through this balanced approach to learning that the school has been able to produce such vibrant and well-rounded individuals – the likes of which have included respected international politicians, artists and entertainers, historians, athletes, academics and businesspeople.

With each year, The Geelong College continues to assist young people in achieving their own place “within the stars”, making the Victorian skylines all that much brighter.

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 19, 2018, 9:22 AM AEDT