So as head of Capstone College, one of Tasmania’s few alternative schools for students not suited to the mainstream, McKane is here to turn tribulation into triumph.
“The thing about these sorts of kids, our curriculum in schools is so removed from them,” he tells Australian Teacher Magazine.
“Particularly when you’ve got an outcomes-driven Australian Curriculum, which says you have to meet these outcomes and tick these boxes, you have textbooks written with no connections between the pages.
“These kids are struggling to find meaning and make sense of what they’re learning and why they’re learning, so as much as possible we’re connecting [real world experiences] into activities.”
Fortunately McKane knows exactly what it takes to join the dots for at-risk students.
His leadership-studded CV includes a stint as principal at Warakirri College in Sydney, a school which also strives to offer a place of redemption for the disengaged, the disruptive and the abandoned.
An avid artist, McKane was wrapping up an artist in residency in the small town of Poatina when he found himself at a village meeting, throwing his hat back in the educational ring.
“[The residents] announced three weeks before I left that they wanted to start this sort of school in the village,” McKane recalls.
“I put my hand up and said ‘well, actually I can answer some of those questions, because I started one in Sydney’.”
Providing both the vision and the brains behind Capstone’s unique learning model, McKane has tailored an inclusive curriculum that’s hinged on tangible and constructive outcomes.
With the year divided into eight five-week unit blocks, all littered with core activities which play out in the local community, this is school, just not as the kids might know it.
In history, students will be building an ‘interactive’ museum, which will be housed in a shopfront at the heart of the village square.
Aspects of chemistry will be unpacked with a local glassblower, while trigonometry is soon to be taught out on the village green.
“[Our maths teacher] has been asked by the guy who runs the village facilities ‘look, can you give us a gradient map of the town village green because we want to put in a disability ramp in there, we want to know where the slopes are to do that...
“So the kids will be out there next Friday with the maths teacher and with this guy, literally doing dumpy levels and working out the slope on the ground,” McKane enthuses.
It’s about creating a nurturing, stigma-free environment for wayward young adults to redeem their past and re-plan their future.
A solid behaviour management plan is a key to this, McKane says.
“These kids have behaviours that most schools can tolerate, but we have a different way of treating behaviours that is not [just] discipline ... there’s the ability to walk out, go and have a hot chocolate, go for a walk around the town … it’s not like you’re setting up a punishment-response system.
“As a teaching model it goes back to a primary school kind of structure, where you’re there and you know the issues going on and you can intervene.”
When Capstone officially flung open its gates for its first cohort of 15 in February, McKane assumed his multi-pronged role as leader, core teacher and school administrator.
“You’ve got to be able to be fairly relaxed, on the outside you could see me as fairly laissez-faire – that’s probably more a response to the sort of the education we’re delivering,” he reflects.
“For a lot of these kids it’s not [being] in school that’s the big issue. The stuff that’s really hard is the stuff they have to deal with outside...”