Keen to know more, EducationHQ sits in on McKew’s breakout session on Day 2 to hear what the esteemed Honorary Fellow from the University of Melbourne has to say.
Working to better the Australian educational system is a quest close to McKew’s heart. She knows the power that positive schooling can wield on one’s ambitions and contribution to the world.
In primary school she recalls the “bone crushing boredom” that defined her early years in the classroom, and speaks of the discouragement dished out by her teachers and fellow peers, who “regularly told me I was a failure”.
It was only in secondary school, alongside her “smart and worldly” classmates that McKew came to realise she was capable of much more than she had ever been led to believe.
“I was with women who actually thought I was a bit brighter than I thought,” she remembers.
“I benefitted from enormously from my high schooling.”
On this note McKew delves into her latest work, a book titled Class Act which weaves together a snapshot of conversations with influential change-makers in Australian education, while casting a critical eye over the cultural and academic transformation taken by six Australian schools.
“I sought out people who seem to make a lot of sense, people who had done the hard yards in schools…” McKew says of her interviewees.
Given the current turbulent debates over school funding and the intense focus on Australia’s declining PISA results, McKew likes to think Class Act cuts through to what really matters for schools: learning from others what works.
Noting that schools are “getting more and more complex”, McKew turns her attention to the growing burden lumped on our school leaders.
Principals and those in leadership positions are being asked to do to much, she asserts, and this is making the role intensely unappealing for the emerging generation.
“Our educational leaders are actually exhausted.”
“They are not superhuman, they are driven by a high moral purpose. They all set the bar high, they devise a plan … and then push the system to get the resources to back that plan.”
According to McKew, great leaders “push and push” the status quo and “test the limits of their authority all this time”.
“This is not some power trip, but because they want to address some educational deficits,” she clarifies.
There are collective nods of agreeance as McKew wraps up her spiel, and one gets the feeling that Class Act might now have a few more eagers eyes scouring its pages.