Saint Stephen’s College, an award-winning school on Australia’s Gold Coast, has a reputation for innovative learning that embraces advanced technology and employability skills. “The school’s secret to success is a unique blend that ensures students excel academically and are prepared for the world they graduate into,” says Headmaster Dr Jamie Dorrington.
With his appointment in 2003, Dr Dorrington created a list that included balancing innovation with people power, embracing new technology and providing excellent teachers. And, although moving from paper to practice proved complex, the journey has been very worthwhile. “I was determined to look beyond subject silos,” he says, “to promote the capacity to work in teams, the ability to apply knowledge, a global perspective, futures orientation, and self-mastery.”
Saint Stephen’s College has been named a top innovative school in Australia by The Educator magazine in 2016, 2017 and 2018, drawing praise for its Learning Management System (LMS). LMS enables teachers to deliver lessons digitally, facilitating online interaction beyond school hours, project-based learning, an adaptive maths programme and multi-model learning where people and technology work together seamlessly.
“The adaptive maths programme is a personalised software system that analyses how best to pitch maths to each individual,” says Dr Dorrington. “It gradually increases the complexity – knowledge-delivery and skill-development – while our job is to weave that together, tackling complex problems in the classroom with a teacher present. We’re stretching our students without making learning perplexing. They love it.”
Another recent development is dedicated project-based learning in Year 10 – Team Projects – where students work on interdisciplinary projects.
“When at university I found myself being told to work in teams but with little direction on how to do this effectively,” says Dr Dorrington. “That’s frustrating. Team Projects provides the skills to do this. The range of studies includes finding solutions to local traffic problems, creating opportunities in the local tourist market, and bringing refugee children into school to play sport.”
Collaboration is key
Saint Stephen’s College has also invested in “bricks and mortar” to create state-of-the-art collaborative learning spaces. These include the LOTE (Languages Other Than English) Centre, with webinar rooms; the iCentre library; Science-In-Action Centre and Arts and Applied Technology Precinct with the latest sound recording and black box studios. “Teachers have embraced opportunities to collaborate, which enhances student learning,” says Dr Dorrington.
Plans are now being developed for a Senior Learning Hub – a flexible learning environment, open early in the morning until late at night – allowing students to work with the LMS and meet with teachers one-to-one or in small groups. “I like the beehive approach, where students swarm in when they need something and, ultimately, leave with important skills and increased confidence,” says Dr Dorrington. “Innovative education should revolve around the students, not the other way around. Technology can do some of that. However, schools are communities and it’s vital to strengthen person-to-person relationships.”
Saint Stephen’s flourishes because of its innovative vision and looking beyond traditional academics. “Our mission statement is to develop character and inspire hope,” says Dr Dorrington. “This is what we deliver through our unique balance of advanced technology, core community values and learning life skills.”