Fostering a Lifetime of Learning

Flinders Christian Community College

In many of today’s schools, traditional learning methods are rapidly changing as educators and students embrace the latest teaching methods and tools. To keep pace with the needs of children – many of them embracing technology at a very young age – schools need to provide education which is diverse and prepares today’s youngsters not only academically, but socially.

This commitment to future learners is especially evident at Flinders Christian Community College, which has grown to become the largest independent Christian school in all of Australia.

Classroom chalkboards, pens, pencils and note paper are giving way to technologically sophisticated Smart Boards and hand-held tablets. In mere seconds, students and teachers can record notes, email images, converse, connect to reference materials online, display charts and more.

“At Flinders, we want to create a learner who is creative in the way he or she goes about his problem-solving, research and engagement with the world, so we are building people who are innovative – who are entrepreneurs – and individuals not just able to hold down a job, but contribute well to society,” explains Glenn Kruithoff. A chartered accountant with years of experience in the corporate management of not-for-profit organisations and charities, Director of Corporate Services, Mr Kruithoff, joined Flinders earlier this year.

Founded in 1983, Flinders Christian Community College is an independent, coeducational, interdenominational Christian school for students from Prep to Year 12. Growing over the years to encompass three campuses at Carrum Downs, Latrobe City (Traralgon) and Tyabb, the school’s inclusive Christian educational philosophy serves as the solid foundation for Flinders’ curricular and extra-curricular programs. Students are able to engage in a range of activities from drama and music to sports, debating, public speaking, community service and mission programs.

At Flinders, teachers, students and parents alike realise education is much more than a teacher standing at the front of a classroom lecturing to row upon row of students. Acknowledging that teaching is a collaborative effort aimed at creating well-rounded and creative learners, recent years have seen the emergence of a self-directed learning style. Instead of facing students from the front of a regimented room, teachers work with them – like coaches – in small groups, within open plan areas.

Students are encouraged to engage their peers to help each another understand, unlike the old days of students at individual desks working in isolation on a specific task. “People learn more through helping others learn than just being lectured to, or having to read something,” comments Mr Kruithoff. “Often kids who are excelling will help students who aren’t, through peer networks.”

Underpinning the school’s Christian educational philosophy is the move towards developing a high degree of technology in the classroom through hand-held computers and other devices. As many of today’s children are especially adept with iPads they tend to collaborate more using the devices, which has produced a far more holistic learning environment. One of the goals at Flinders is to contribute towards children who not only know a lot of things, but who can become self-taught learners and develop into well-rounded individuals.

“At Flinders, students are taught the importance of self-learning,” says Mr Kruithoff. “They are able to say to themselves, ‘If I don’t know something, I know how to go and learn it, understand the theory and apply it in real life.’”

The school’s self-directed learning style uses a ‘schooling by design’ framework, “understanding what the end product of that student, and that learner, looks like,” says Mr Kruithoff. “It’s not just about what information they can retain, but what skills have they developed as a learner, and working backwards from there.”

While Flinders students still undergo traditional examinations to test their knowledge and appreciation of a particular subject, there is a growing emphasis on collaborative learning styles. Students will compare notes with one another and work alongside one another through multiple levels of communication.

“The difference comes about through pedagogy, which is a word used to describe the education methodology, and that methodology is moving toward self-directed learning,” comments Mr Kruithoff of the school’s focus on developing the learner as a complete person. These techniques serve to foster the natural inclination children have to engage others in their learning process, where they are free to embrace their creativity with others, not stifle it or work in isolation.

“At Flinders we are committed to plan, implement and evaluate a dynamic and responsive curriculum that is developmentally challenging and engaging, and which seeks to use digital technologies to enable each learner to extend their capacity intellectually, emotionally, socially, morally and spiritually,” states Executive Principal Jill Healey. As Principal of the college for the past eighteen years, Ms Healey has overseen significant growth at all three campuses of the school as it continues to expand.

Receiving the bulk of its funding through government educational grants, Flinders was part of the nation’s $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution economic stimulus package. Receiving two different phases of funding, the school was able to secure a new music building, along with a one-to-one parity of students to machines, furthering Flinders’ focus on technology’s fundamental role in today’s curriculum.

While the campuses are not yet up to capacity, Flinders is working towards that as it develops the future of education in Victoria. The school is embarking on a number of capital works programs over next five years which aim to see the construction of fifteen brand new buildings, across all three locations. In addition to classrooms, the new buildings will feature a creative arts centre, gymnasiums and multi-use structures.

For the past thirty years, Flinders Christian Community College has established a reputation for its educational philosophy. With the vision of providing excellent Christian education to as many young people as possible, Flinders teachers and staff focus on fostering an environment which stimulates a lifetime of learning, preparing all students to become purposeful, contributing members of society.

Students at Flinders strive to meet a number of goals, and are encouraged to achieve the highest possible academic outcomes, along with personal and spiritual growth. A professional and caring learning environment enables the formation of students who are informed, critical and constructive thinkers, and provides quality educators who are able to identify and respond to the particular learning styles and rate of development of every student.

In addition to a commitment to academic excellence, students are taught respect for themselves and for others, and unity in the Christian faith and school community. It is imperative then that College attracts, develops and retains quality Christian personnel. The school’s Philosophy of Education seeks to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as its first priority in all aspects of school life. It therefore, attempts to create and sustain an innovative learning environment that deals with the educational, relational, spiritual and physical needs of students from a Biblical perspective.

With more and more students living in a digital world, teachers must not only be highly-skilled and dedicated, but willing and able to embrace technology and emerging educational methodology. “Much more data is being produced today than ever before, and the ability to process it quickly is necessary,” says Mr Kruithoff. “Students are doing it naturally, before they learn to do a lot of other stuff at school.”

Part of the challenge with emerging technologies is that Australia’s universities have not kept pace with modern methods when it comes to teaching teachers. With staggering amounts of data being produced every second around the world, today’s children need to be able to not only filter that, but be able to use new and emerging technologies to research subjects.

“Our number one business risk is that universities don’t teach this, and it doesn’t matter what age the teachers are. They teach traditional education models. Once we have the teachers we have to re-teach them how to teach.” At the present time, the school is examining its professional development theories, with an eye on compulsory internal inductions to keep pace with Flinders’ own pedagogy. While the focus is on a self-directed learning style, adults are still integral to the process to guide and mentor students, and serve as hands-on coaches.

When it comes to kids connecting, recent research suggests that using iPads, tablets and social media actually increases interaction. In the past, children would gather in front of the television at home or in the classroom. Today, many screen movies and documentaries directly through hand-held computers; research subjects on Google and other websites; and virtually chat to one another – all at the same time.

“TV is becoming redundant,” comments Mr Kruithoff, of iPads replacing television as an education and connectivity tool. “It is a huge revolution, and over the next ten years is going to get bigger and bigger. There is no going backwards from this point.” Indeed, the school introduced a number of technological initiatives soon after Apple released its now-ubiquitous iPad in 2010 and the school is investigating a further roll-out from primary school to Year 10 in the next year.

To ensure high-speed, reliable and secure Internet connections at the school’s three locations, Flinders re-negotiated its contract with Telstra, Australia’s leading telecommunications and information services company. “The provision of Internet is a huge factor in our organisation, and is about much more than just connecting the school,” says Mr Kruithoff. “You’re talking about 3,000 separate users of video-based Internet services, active all day, all at the same time.” Telstra is able to provide students and teachers with sufficient bandwidth to virtually take them to other locations immediately across the web, from Parliament House all the way to space flight at NASA.

“The ability to learn anything from anywhere is going to be the teaching methodology of the future. Just because a student goes to one school doesn’t mean he’ll only ever learn from one school – he will probably pick and choose an educational package from a number of schools at the same time.”

It is all part of the school’s strategy to combine superior-quality education at all levels with excellence, integrity and faith, self-respect and respect for others, in an environment which is safe and nurturing, fosters strong relationships between staff, students, families and community, unites in the Christian faith, and truly inspires a lifelong love of learning.

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December 19, 2018, 9:24 AM AEDT