Murgon State School in Queensland, Australia partnered with The Learner First to engage students, teachers, staff, and the broader community in a community-wide journey toward deeper learning. The school adopted the lens of its “least-served learners”—those who are underserved by traditional teaching and learning styles—in order to better understand those learners’ needs, and then to enhance the teaching and learning experience in ways that respond to those needs and improve the experience of learning for all. Over the first year of the partnership, Murgon SS has placed a sharp and narrow focus on equity and success, architecting targeted and contextual solutions and strategies that develop students’ self-understanding, connection, knowledge, and competency, the learning outcomes that lead to meaning, fulfillment, and lifelong success.
“Success especially in terms of the whole child and… [it’s] different for each child… [TLF] has re-emphasized for me the whole idea and practice of differentiation and tailoring learning—not only academic, but social and emotional learning… And it’s striving for equity for all learners, both staff and students, that has resonated for me.”
—John Sarev, Deputy Principal
As a key element of the process, a “Change Team” has been established to lead the work and pivot school culture and moral purpose in the direction of high expectations and deeper learning for all. Helping guide the Change Team is an on-the-ground Change Catalyst from The Learner First, with whom Murgon SS, alongside the broader community, has intentionally partnered to develop its change strategy. The Change Catalyst facilitates whole-day sessions each term within targeted five-week sprints focused on human-centered design, authentic assessment, and other priority actions and areas identified by the school’s evaluation of its current capabilities and needs. Staff will engage in professional inquiry related to The Learner First’s Contributive Curriculum—a guide to developing self-understanding, connection, knowledge, and competency in the context of curricular learning—measuring student and school progress at every step of the way with The Learner First tools.
Murgon SS’s mantra for its collaboration with The Learner First is “Engage, empower, and transform.” In December 2020, to establish a baseline prior to partnering, the school captured attendance, engagement, and behavior data, and staff is engaging in professional learning centered on data mining and analytics in order to successfully measure direct and indirect outcomes and impact. The process for measuring outcomes is rooted in the “Five Frames of Measurement,” as set out in Measuring Human Return: Understand and Assess What Really Matters for Deeper Learning, through which Murgon SS will engage deeply with The Learner First’s Capability Rubrics (measures of a school’s key capabilities), Learning Culture Rubric (a measure of the development of positive school and classroom learning cultures), and Learning Progressions, which measure students’ development of self-understanding, connection, and competency alongside academic knowledge. Guided by these and other tools, the Change Team engages in what they’ve termed “purposeful” meetings to provide regular health checks, has created built-in milestone checks to assess and evaluate ongoing impact, and uses Student Free Days to check its performance against baseline data and the Strategic Improvement Plan.
With an indigenous cohort of 96%, Murgon SS intends to shape the “new standard” in rural education in Queensland by fostering a school culture of learning, connection, and belonging. It continues to look for ways to further strengthen student agency, voice, and participation in curriculum design and authentic assessment, a process that has already commenced with students joining their teacher in curriculum and assessment check-ins in which they share and speak to their work. In addition, a focus on student voice and agency has enabled learners to become actively engaged in school decision making and direction setting. A “Learner First Alliance” has been formed that advocates for the rights of the learner and provides opportunities for students to lead meaningful change by fostering connection and self-understanding across the school. Teachers are also working to implement a learner-first lesson delivery structure, helping to ensure that students can more meaningfully engage with their lessons and as representatives in the school’s improvement process as a whole. Demonstrating deep respect for all voices and valuing their contributions underpins the school’s strategy. Linking with the local elders as core members of the Change Team, along with students, families, and school staff, ensures that the cultural community context is embedded in Murgon SS’s ways of working, and has created relationships, powerful connections, and a sense of self-worth among all involved.
“It’s good when the teacher gives us a voice to express ourselves in class.”
—Taelyn Waldock, Student Ambassador
“A lot of things that we have learned have come from students in particular, having them in on the discussions, joining them in with us on the rubrics… getting their perspectives on things. It’s been a bit of an eye opener.”
—Tracy Flavel, Head of Curriculum
“It was coming from the children… from their word of mouth… what they want to improve their education.”
—Pop Neil Stanley, Clontarf Operations Officer
Moving forward, Murgon SS and The Learner First will focus on curriculum revitalization and realignment to establish the skills, competencies, and social-emotional outcomes that will support indigenous and non-indigenous students to learn, live, work, and thrive in their local communities and beyond. Murgon SS plans to continue to establish mutually shared and understood systems and processes over the next five years, with Change Teams continuing to lead the way toward operational and strategic goals and collaboratively sustaining and growing the work over time. The change actioned through and by this partnership is enhancing students’, teachers’, and families’ educational experience and establishing Murgon SS as a “beacon school” in rural education, where indigenous and non-indigenous well-being and resilience are embedded in all design work and approaches.