Barbara Watkins, principal at Loreto Normanhurst, an independent girls’ school in New South Wales, knows this all too well.  

To encourage a thirst for knowledge in their staff, the school implemented Loreto 5, an innovative professional development program in 2001, and according to Watkins there’s been no looking back.

The program offers five places for staff members to participate each year. Teachers must submit an application with the support of their head of department, and go through an interview process to justify their application.

Those selected are then given release time to undertake a structured program of professional development, focusing on the integration of ICT into teaching and learning.

“The whole year, they’ve got the release time,” Watkins explains.

“It’s a big project so we give them lots of time to work on it, so it’s kind of 0.2 release … in terms of their load, they have 20 per cent less, so that means that they can spread that out over the whole year, which works really well.”  

During their time out from the classroom, participants undertake a range of professional development exercises most of which are run in-house. This year, Watkins says participants have been focusing on flipped learning.

“We’ve been doing a lot of research into that ourselves as a school, and a lot of people had looked into doing experiments with that…” Watkins says.

“…we had explored a bit of that last year as well, as part of the Loreto 5 group. It went so well, and what happens is when there’s a Loreto 5 group that explores something, it kind of then ferments, it spreads through the school … they share it with the rest of the teaching staff.”

“That’s why it was kind of a natural progression to get another five people that were pretty adept at looking at the flipped classroom.”
Watkins admits it costs money to replace staff who are released from some of their teaching duties, but the program is well worth the investment.

“It can’t be beaten really, and it means also that you retain really good staff.  They share their ideas on pedagogy with new people coming in, they take up leadership roles, many of them have gone on to be our integrators … so they’ve had other opportunities, so it’s certainly money well spent.”

Watkins believes the Loreto 5 program was unique to the school when it first began, but says it’s possible other principals have implemented something similar since then.

“A lot of principals say to me, ‘that’s such a good idea, we’ll do that in our school’,” she says.