Dickson College ACT
Dickson College is a senior college in Canberra catering for 865 students in Years 11–12. This diverse student body represents more than 50 countries. The college works very closely with schools in the northern Gungahlin cluster and has played a significant leadership role in the establishment of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) for the Asian language teachers to develop Asia capability and teacher capacity across all schools. Dickson College offers Japanese, Mandarin and, more recently, Indonesian, as well as French and Latin.
While Asia capability has long been a priority at Dickson College, it was working alone for the benefit of its students. This initiative was an attempt to broaden the college's influence across all schools and expand the learning opportunities for all language teachers in this established cluster. The languages staff at Dickson College had achieved significant success in the teaching of Asian languages but there was a sense that teachers were working in silos within the college and not necessarily as a professional learning team. The project leaders, including the principal, Kerrie Heath, and Japanese language teacher Nelle Horsington, were keen to establish a platform within the college where collaborative planning, delivery and assessment of student learning could take place. Central to the work in the cluster, it was imperative that a platform be established across schools where collaborative professional learning could occur.
The school reports that this professional dialogue is now a feature of the 'within' school interactions as well as the 'across cluster' interactions. Following the advice received through Nelle's participation in the Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia Programme, a guiding coalition was formed to oversee the change project. The members of this group were given the task of planning and implementing the cluster project, as well as regularly communicating the agreed moral imperative or purpose to all stakeholders. The guiding coalition's third task was to oversee the planning for improvement process, specifically in terms of the action research component of the Asia capability school-based project, in which small teams were asked to undertake investigations in classrooms.
Dickson College has made significant use of strategic partnerships in progressing its ambitious goal. The most crucial partnership to nurture was clearly with all schools in the cluster. Kerrie ensured that she took every opportunity to keep cluster principals up to date with the purpose, planning and progress, while Nelle worked closely with the language teachers to ensure buy-in and clarity, to enable a culture of sharing knowledge and resources and to ensure that this new work was not seen as an add-on but a natural improvement of teaching and learning.
Nelle took great pains to recruit interested potential leaders for the guiding coalition to ensure sustainability. The establishment of the cluster PLC has also been an attempt to sustain this initiative over time. The simple fact that different schools are asked to host PLC events and activities reduces the risk that momentum relies on the keenness of a small number of key drivers. The success of the PLC is evidenced by that fact that several teachers from outside the cluster, and indeed from other sectors and systems, have asked to participate.
Other critical partnerships include the sister school relationships that have been, or are in the process of being, established. Dickson College has an ongoing relationship with Nara University High School in Nara, Japan. Nara is also Canberra's sister city. This relationship continues to be nurtured through regular student visits and through the use of information and communication technologies. Kerrie is currently in the process of establishing a similar relationship with Wenling Xinhe High School in China. Both of these schools are senior high schools catering for students in years 10–12.
Dickson College's goal in initiating this change project has been to look at the strategies that it has successfully employed within the college itself and make them bigger by expanding the influence. One example of this has been the college's intention to research what an Asia literate student graduating from Year 12 at Dickson would look like/be like/think like. This initiative has caught the attention of the Education and Training Directorate, which is keen to see this thinking expanded across the Australian Capital Territory.
The college has built on this kind of thinking to ensure that Asia capability occupies a prominent place in its strategic planning documents. Emphasis is now on prioritising the Asia literacy agenda in all planning documents, including its annual operating plan, the operating arrangements for the PLCs at school and cluster level, as well as in the college's self evaluation processes. In evaluating the college's achievements, the key question, 'What is our key work and how are we going with that?' will be posed.