“We had a large number of suspensions, we had a large number of probably unhappy parents and families, modified timetables where students were only attending school for short periods of the day, [and] our staff morale was really low…” new principal Jess Kelly says. 

But in two short years, with a strong leadership team in place, the school community flipped its approach to teaching and learning, turning disappointing school stats on their head. Kelly has only been sitting in the principal’s chair for eight months, but held the role of assistant principal for four years prior.

She recalls the moment when school leaders decided to make some drastic changes. “We, as a leadership team, worked really hard using the school wide positive behaviour framework, and that allowed us to collect data from our staff around what changes needed to happen across the campus,” she says.

The team, consisting of the principal, assistant principal, four leading teachers and the head of wellbeing, decided to take a strengths-based approach, which they called a ‘flip-it’ approach. “… it was, ‘let’s flip our thinking’,” Kelly explains. “So let’s not talk about disadvantage, let’s not talk about what we don’t have, let’s talk about what we do have.”

The school started working with families and students in terms of what their strengths were, and built a positive culture around the campus.

Some initiatives included monthly ‘tea and talk’ sessions with families, a focus on student learning data, collaborative teaching models and a new curriculum designed to excite and engage students. It wasn’t a top down approach, and Kelly says an important part of the shift was that all staff, students and parent came along for the ride.

“I think that was a real positive, it wasn’t about not working with the people who were around in 2014 and bringing in a whole new staff, it was about building the capacity of our campus without losing any staff along the way,” she says. And for those who stuck with their school through the tough times, the reward has been well worth the bumps in the road.

“So, through that framework and campus data and a focus on improving the quality of our teaching and learning, we were able to see a significant shift over two years,” Kelly reports. “In effect, by 2016, that data had completely reversed.

“So, we were having 96 per cent of our staff saying that staff morale was high, and 85 per cent of staff were saying that students were very well behaved. “Communication across the campus had improved by about 60 per cent,” she adds.

And to top it all off, the Tallis campus leadership team were the recipients of an Outstanding School Advancement Award, as part of the 2016 Victorian Education Excellence Awards. “Northern Bay College is quite a large college and we’re sort of a small part of that pie,” Kelly says of the campus.

“So we actually felt like [the award] was significant for us in recognising our work as a team, and that even though we were little, we could achieve some pretty incredible things.

“We felt like as a team it was a real endorsement of our belief in our journey. “So, we had a little term in our leadership meeting, around holding the faith ... and we’d often close the door and keep holding the faith.

“It might be a bit rocky at the moment, and it might be a little bit difficult, but keep going,” the principal recalls. Kelly says a key to a strong leadership team, is a shared vision and willingness to make change.

“We think that we did that really well and continue to work openly and honestly together,” she says.

“We have a sense of fun, so it’s a pleasure to be part of the leadership team here, and I guess as campus principal I don’t feel like I’m going to come into that meeting and that things won’t happen, there’s a real hunger for change.”