Having just won a Victorian Education Excellence Award for the most Outstanding Secondary Principal of 2016, it’s evident Corkill’s wildly ambitious approach to leadership and learning has paid rich dividends.
Heading up Victoria’s first specialist STEM school since its inception in 2010, the educator of nearly 35 years speaks of those early days as akin to navigating a ship through unchartered waters.
“We started without much of a roadmap and we tried to answer all those big questions around ‘what does the curriculum in a science specialist school look like?’ and ‘what is it here to do and achieve?’ and, ‘what sort of students would make the best chance here?’, ‘what sort of citizens are we hoping to create?,” Corkill tells Australian Teacher Magazine.
When it came to crafting the school’s pioneering science curriculum, location really was everything.
“We had a vision around curriculum that spoke to our location on the Monash University campus,” Corkill begins.
“Monash is one of the world’s leading research organisations and they have significant strengths in things like astrophysics and nanotechnology and biotechnology, engineering.
“So we wanted to capture the very best of what Monash does and what their discoveries are and where they’re leading world experts and actually bring that into the contemporary classroom so we give students a very different experience in science,” he adds.
So while they might be dabbling in advanced subjects like pharmaceutical science and bioinformatics, children under Corkill’s leadership learn more than just the theoretical nuts and bolts.
In fact, links to current research form the basis of all classroom enquiry.
“…that’s what really gets them excited about what they do – that’s what they want to know, they want to know where science is now.”
“It’s really important that students learn where the cutting edge is and how that fits and then they can ask the big questions about ‘well, where to now?” Corkill shares.
Indeed, the task of crafting the next generation of STEM leaders is a responsibility the educator has not taken lightly.
“We wanted to have the work of the school build capacity in young people, not only enquiry and curiosity, but also collaborative skills and leadership and ethics,” Corkill says.
“That’s really important to us because the science leaders of the future must be able to develop ethical solutions as well as economical ones and innovative ones...”
In light of his strong ties to rural Australia and its people, Corkill has drawn upon the unique recourses at his disposal to spearhead an annual Science Exchange for regional children, as well as a suite of outreach programs that have been drawing keen scientific minds from across the state.
“I have a great affinity for the bush and the people there and the struggles they face and it was really clear to me then that kids that have a real interest in science, well, they’re everywhere.
“And here we have a fantastic school in Melbourne and it doesn’t mean that students from six or 700 kilometres away are automatically going to see this as an option,” he recalls.
Describing his leadership style as an “empowering” approach which finds no value in micromanaging, Corkill remains deeply humbled by the recent public accolade.
“We have had a fairly strong vision and people have bought into that, so I think that it’s recognition that we have made a significant difference in the time we’ve been open and that is really pleasing.
“And I find myself being quite reflective on a career in teaching that spans seven schools now and what a great joy and honour it has been to work in education for that long and know that you make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
Altering the course of young lives through education is an operation that Corkhill is now looking to expand on a global scale.
And given John Monash is one of five executive schools’ leading the International Science Schools Network, it seems the sky’s the limit for his charges.
“We have relationships with schools pretty much in all continents … we want to collaborate across the globe.”