Education Vision 2020 – Anthony Elmore from St Michael’s College, Merrimac Talks About Staying Ahead of the Changing Face of Education

St Michael’s College, Merrimac Principal, Anthony Elmore talked with trueAU.NEWS about staying ahead of the changing face of education.

“One of the things that we keep coming back to is that education today is not the same as what it was five years ago or ten years ago,” Principal Elmore said in the podcast interview above.

“The world has absolutely changed, and we need to make sure that we’re keeping up with those changes, and we’re making sure that we’re educating our young people for that changing world that they are graduating into.”

When asked how his college was adapting into an innovative future, Principal Elmore talked about the college focus on the student.

“We know that the range of opportunities that are there, it’s a smorgasbord for students and really for us as a school to work with families, to work with the students, to help them discover their spark, to discover their individual strength for their future, because sometimes it can be overwhelming the amount of change that’s there and the amount of opportunity that’s there for students, and so we’re really focused on working with students individually to unpack and discover for them what is it that ignites their passion and really will shape for them, that whole innovation,” Principal Elmore explained.

This podcast publication is part of the Education Vision 2020 series.

Click here to learn more about St Michael’s College, Merrimac.

Read the Anthony Elmore Podcast Interview TRANSCRIPT

Andrew: Thank you for your company. Once again, we’re continuing our series Education Vision 2020, where we’re getting around quite a few education experts, and finding out where education is now, where it’s headed to, and the reason why that’s so important, as we’ve been saying over and over again. There’s many reports out, there’s lots of studies that have been done that show very clearly that a person that’s well-educated, that they enjoy a number of things. They enjoy longevity of life, so quite often they live longer. They definitely have more opportunities available to them that they can take up, and quite often just an overall more fulfilling life. Well, that’s the same for a country as well. If you’ve got well-educated people, you have a much more prosperous country on the world stage, so today we’re catching up with the principal of Merrimac, actually I’ll say St. Michael’s College, Merrimac at the Gold Coast. That’s Anthony Elmore. Anthony Elmore, how are you?

Anthony Elmore: Good, thanks. Good.

Andrew: First and foremost, a little bit about you. You’re the principal of this college.

Anthony Elmore: Yeah, so I’ve been here for 18 months now, so it’s been wonderful to be here at St. Michael’s. A wonderful community. We’ve been on a very significant improvement journey over the past 18 months. Really focusing on learning and teaching, and really having the students at the core of all of our decision making over the past 18 months. It’s been great, wonderful time here and we’re really looking forward to the vision that we have as we move forward.

Andrew: As we drove in this morning, we really noticed that you’ve got a lot of work underway over this Christmas period, and we definitely want to have a chat about that, and some of the vision that you’ve got for the college moving forward, but before we do that, just in your view, broad terms, where do you think education is right now for Australia?

Anthony Elmore: Well, I think one of the key things for us as a school community, but also broader than that, when you have a look at what’s happening in Queensland. You have a look nationally. One of the things that we keep coming back to is that education today is not the same as what it was five years ago or ten years ago. The world has absolutely changed, and we need to make sure that we’re keeping up with those changes, and we’re making sure that we’re educating our young people for that changing world that they are graduating into. That they’re taking the next step into, so when we have a look at that, we can’t continue to roll out the same that has happened in the past and that’s part of the journey that we’re on, and I don’t know that any school out there that is serious about preparing their young people for the future and that prosperous world that we want to generate. We need to make sure that we’re looking with that eye to the future, not necessarily focused on, “We’ve been doing it this way for 20 years. Why can’t we keep doing it this way?”

Andrew: You mentioned 20, 10 and five years, probably looking at just over those last five years because that change just seems to be accelerating. What are some of the big changes in your mind when it comes to schooling life?

Anthony Elmore: Well, certainly as we’ve seen, particularly in these past 12 months the change to the Queensland Certificate of Education and the impact that has for our senior students, and we’re very excited about that and the work that’s happened across Queensland. The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority supported all schools through that and that’s been excellent. A wonderful change for all of our students coming through. I think what we are noticing then, the increase, the variety of subjects that have come on for students, that real sense for our young people that there are such a scope of opportunities for them.

We know that the range of opportunities that are there, it’s a smorgasbord for students and really for us as a school to work with families, to work with the students, to help them discover their spark, to discover their individual strength for their future, because sometimes it can be overwhelming the amount of change that’s there and the amount of opportunity that’s there for students, and so we’re really focused on working with students individually to unpack and discover for them what is it that ignites their passion and really will shape for them, that whole innovation. Where is their future? These young people are entering into a world. The jobs don’t exist yet, and I think back despite the tinges of grey that might be coming in. It was only 20 something years ago that I graduated. The world was different then and the options that we had, and I talked to the parents about that. The world was simpler, much, much simpler then, and our young people now, we are needing to prepare our students, our daughters and sons to enter into a world where they’re shaping their own careers. They’re shaping their own jobs and we need to look at innovation, risk-taking, but in a supportive environment, and that’s what we’re really working on here at St. Michael’s.

Andrew: This being a school that’s so Southern in a state of Queensland, and there being a border not so far away from here, that you step over and you’re in New South Wales. How do you find when education systems seemed, like it’s the same country but they’re different, and you’ve got people that are probably students that are going through. They’re going to graduate just because of the proximity of where they are. They’re possibly going to head into New South Wales for their university education, or maybe to even get an apprenticeship or something like that.

Anthony Elmore: Yeah, certainly. That’s something that I have found interesting over the past 18 months that I’ve been here at the college, that we have because of our location, a centrally located perfectly here on the coast, that we have a number of families that come to us from Melbourne. A number of families that come to us from various parts of New South Wales, and there’s that… And number of families who come from overseas as well, and why wouldn’t you? The Gold Coast is a beautiful place-

Andrew: Starting to sound like a sales pitch. I love it.

Anthony Elmore: That’s right, but certainly what we’ve noticed that not only there’s families coming to us, but the mobility of families that when the students finish year 12, and they’re looking to their next step. It’s no longer that insular mindset that was around those years ago where you grew up and you stayed for your education in one location.

Our students are branching out. They’re going over to West Australia. They’re going to South Australia. They’re going all over the place and with the changes now that are taking place they’re able to have that mobility with much greater ease, and so we’re working with students around that. It’s that academic rigour. It’s that ability to have that resilience to move into those different environments, and that’s what we’re really focusing on for all of our students and also for their families, because sometimes that resilience is something that moms and dads need to be building up over time as well for when their daughters and sons get to that stage at the end of year 12 and go, “Well, you know what? My opportunity is across the other side of Australia.” Or in a different state, and we work to support all of our families in relation to that.

Andrew: When you look to the future, and you’ve said that for students, that they probably don’t know what… the jobs aren’t invented yet that they may be going to, but when you look at it from a slightly different perspective with artificial intelligence, with robotics, anything that’s fairly well repetitive could possibly be taken away from being a human job to a robotic or a computer orientated job. What does a well-rounded student look like that can go out into that world and find their place to be productive for the world?

Anthony Elmore: I think the reality is that we need graduates that have those core relational skills. We are producing graduates here that have a love of learning. That have that ability to enter into any environment and relate to people. That are able to have that ability to feel, to be able to form connections, but are able to think outside the box and able to look at a situation and go, “You know what? There’s a different way of doing this.” To take risks that are safe. To be radical. We’re not the stock standard kind of factory model of graduate here at St. Michael’s. We are producing radicals in a very supportive way, and we are producing risk-takers in a very safe way because that is the future. We want our young people to be really critical in their thinking. To be able to look at the… Look at social media now and the way news cycles form. You look at the way election campaigns operate.

We want our young people to look at that and go, “Is that true? Is that right? Where’s the truth in all of this?” But also, we’re producing graduates who look at a situation and say to themselves, “Is this just and fair for everyone involved?” And so what we are producing are young people who… And not really, we’re not producing them, we’re not a factory, but we are generating graduates who have excellent academic outcomes no matter what pathway they’re following, but also they’re graduating with this ability to care, to love, and to be able to look at situations and think about themselves and think about others in the situation.

Andrew: You’ve taken us for a walk around the college here, and you’ve articulated vision for the way that you want the college to look. Things that you want to do with it. The innovation that you want to see front and centre of the college. For a campus like this 10, 15 years’ time, what do you think it looks like?

Anthony Elmore: Well, that’s a journey that we need to go on with the entire community, and that’s something that we’re beginning our master planning stage, and we’ll bring in our families, our students. One thing I can say with great certainty is that our campus in 10, 15 years looks very different to our campus now. What we currently have is a college that’s 34 years old that has been built in a stock standard way that any visitor to our college would see what you would expect to see in a college that’s 34 years old. What we think about now, when you look at a school and you look at a Catholic community, and you project forward and say, “Well, how are we meeting the needs for our students?” Things are different. The world is different, and so what we are going to be moving forward with is a different way of working.

When you think of Year 9 as a prime example, and my eldest child is about to enter Year 9, and so I talk about this as an educator and also as a parent, that traditional educational models don’t necessarily serve the Year 9 cohort well, and so we’re starting the conversation to say, what does it look like for Year 9’s at st Michael’s? What does it look like for Year 8’s at St Michael’s? Does the stock standard model of bell goes at 8:30, bell goes at 3:00, and you’re in and out of classes between that time. Does that work for everyone? Perhaps the answer is no. Perhaps there’s a different model, but that’s a conversation that will take the whole community on a journey before we get down that path, but in answer to your question what the college looks like now, physically compared to what the college will look like in 10 years’ time, it will be a different place.

Andrew: For this area here, particularly around the Gold Coast, right out to the beaches and into the Hinterland. You evidently talk with a lot of principals in the area, because you’ve got an interest in the education of this area. Are they having the same thoughts as you, or do you find yourself going, “You know what we actually want to step 10 steps ahead of everybody else?” What’s the sense that you’re getting?

Anthony Elmore: I think it’s like any industry, and any walk of life. You’ve got some people who are very comfortable in what they do, and you’ve got others who are keen to explore and keen to go to the edges and see that the world’s not flat and see, well, what happens if we keep walking?

Andrew: So you haven’t fallen off it yet?

Anthony Elmore: No, I haven’t fallen off the edge yet. You never know. One day maybe, but I know I’ve spoken to some principals that operate some of the major state colleges around the area, and they have had some similar experiences as I have in my first 18 months, and they are looking for innovation as well. It’s one thing to say that we look for innovation and innovative ways to do things, but it’s about saying, “Well, what are we actually doing that’s engaging students?”

And I keep coming back to that very issue that for every decision we make it’s about having our young people at the core of that. That for our students, the best way to focus on engagement of students is to have every decision we make, to have those young people at the forefront of our minds. What are we doing to ignite the spark in every young person? Because when we think of the 900 young people here in our college, there are 900 different passions out there. When we talk about the strength of our students, every parent out there knows that for each of their children, they present in different ways. Their personalities are different. Their strengths are different, and I know for my three children that is very true, and so when we talk about the strength of our students, what are we doing to give opportunity for our young people to demonstrate their strength? And so that’s a focus that we have here at St. Michael’s to make sure that we’re providing those opportunities.

Andrew: Do you find, and you said earlier on that parents have come through a generation and as it’s been widely reported, the evidence is there that, there hasn’t been the disruption up until now, so they’ve gone through a period where careers were very stable. If I can just use, for example, if you wanted to get transport, taxi would come to mind and it would just be a taxi and nothing else. There was no other thing to consider. Now we’ve got Uber and all of these other brands that even for us it’s just hard to keep up with. How do you find conversing, communicating with the parents to let them know that the change is rapid, but it needs to happen? That is in the best interest of your child when maybe they just haven’t lived that.

Anthony Elmore: That is a very interesting one, and across this 12 months that has really been highlighted for me, and what I have found is that the families of the younger cohorts seem to be more open to some of the change that’s coming through, generally in society. I’m not talking about change necessarily to the college, but change generally in society, and some of the families in the older cohorts might be a bit change fatigued perhaps, in some of those areas, and I would reflect that perhaps even just, again from my own family’s perspective that I think it’s one of those things that we just know that we just need to roll with it to an extent because that’s the life of our children, of our… If I think of my daughters and my son, that’s their life and if we’re going to be parenting at that appropriate stage and appropriate level we need to get on board with what’s happening there, and so we talk about that and even at the end of last week was some of our staff.

There was a great debate about taxis over these ride share services, and so it’s tough for some of our staff even to, and for our supporting staff to understand that the world has changed. It’s not just education that’s changed. The world has changed, and so for us as educators, that disruption is there. At times it might make us feel uncomfortable, but it is our role to keep up with that disruption and to work with that for the good of our students, and that’s part of that resilience that we demonstrate, that keenness as lifelong learners to sometimes show the students that what some of this disruption does cause us a bit of discomfort, but these are the skills that we put in place to deal with that as we go forward, because you can be guaranteed that disruption that our young people are going to see is going to be at a greater rate, greater volumes than what we’ll experience in our lifetime.

Andrew: Is there another layer that maybe you get with a Christian orientated college being Catholic that maybe you don’t get with say, a state school, because there’s just a rapid change and there’s nothing else, but with the Christianity, with the Catholicism, there’s a constant with the values. Do you sense that at all?

Anthony Elmore: For me, I think our faith and being, and we talk very much about the fact that we are a Catholic school. We are not a private school. We are very proudly a Catholic school, part of a system of Catholic schools as part of Brisbane Catholic Education. Now for us, the fact that we have our faith that gives us great comfort, particularly during times of rapid change, and that is such a great source for us at any time of change, at any time of disruption, at any time of discomfort, being able to come back to our faith enables us to come back and centre our story with our students and with our staff, and so for us, we know that Jesus was the major disruptor. If you talk about the story from when Jesus was born and then all the way through his life, the challenge and disruption that Jesus bought was constantly there, and that’s what we talk about constantly at school, and within our community.

We talk about that with our students and with the staff, and so when we talk about the other disruptions that go on in society, we can keep coming back to the fact that we need to take time out to stop and to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and to really think about, well, what are we being called to? What is our response to some of these challenges that are happening? And the fact that we are Catholic and we have such a strong element of faith in our lives, it gives us that comfort and that opportunity to really be settled during these times.

Andrew: And that comfort and settling factor to it all. That’s also true and helpful for maybe a family that might be completely secular that wants to engage with the college, yeah?

Anthony Elmore: Absolutely, and that would be very true of our experience here at St. Michael’s, so again, proudly a Catholic community, but we would have at the moment a significant portion of our community that are not Catholic. A significant portion of our students, a significant portion of our families who are not Catholic, and that is wonderful. That is wonderful for us as a community and those… It’s an invitational model we operate. Catholic education is an invitational experience, and so for us, we are able to talk with all of our students and all of our families about that great story of Jesus, and that great comfort that our faith gives us. We’re not out there to ram that down anyone’s throat, but it allows us to really show families from all walks of life, that great level of support and comfort that’s there, and so yes, you’re correct that with families that are not Catholic, they’re still able to access that story with us.

Andrew: You’ve taken the conversation in a place that just lends itself to a brilliant segue leading into Christmas, but I just don’t want to take it there just yet. We do want to learn a little bit more about you. You’re heavily involved in community organisations.

Anthony Elmore: Yes, I’ve certainly have had an extensive experience with community organisations. It’s one of those things. I probably picked that up from my father, I suppose. Growing up as a young fellow in Ipswich that my dad was always heavily involved with St. Vincent de Paul and other organisations, and my mother as well with, always involved in our schools and all I saw that that was… Always important to give back to the community, so as soon as I had the opportunity. I’ve been involved in numerous organisations growing up.

Andrew: Yeah, I believe you’ve been involved in Rotary, and a reason why I wanted to bring that up is we’ve been having quite a few conversations just around the different communities that we transcend, and there’s been a sentiment there that the younger people just aren’t coming into those community groups like they used to, so a lot of those groups like Rotary, Lions and what have you. They’re ageing. What would you say to young people? You’re a principal, you’ve got a lot of young people that you have access to and communicate with on a daily basis. How important is it for community for people to get involved in those groups?

Anthony Elmore: Oh, it’s so important and I know when I think of my club that, before I moved here to the Gold Coast, I was in the Rotary Club of Ipswich city and we probably had quite a significant number of younger members that had much more recently joined, and it’s that sense of being able to give back, because in your local community, when you think of your businesses, you think of… Even in my case the school, which yeah. It’s that blend between a business and that educational facility, that it’s the community that supports you, and so it’s that sense of being able to give back to those that need your support over time. I think of here on the coast, we’re now involved in our local surf lifesaving club and being able to support on the weekends and get out there and help out, run the activities on the beach with Nippers and things like that. To be able to give back to the community, and just demonstrate that appreciation of what actually happens in the community.

I know that sometimes people will say, “Oh, I’m too busy. I’m too this, I’m too that.” But you’re never too busy to give back, and for us, we would talk about it again, everything, and it’s easy being in a Catholic school, because I talk about this every day then. We put that lens back on things that we have gifts that we’ve been given from the Holy Spirit, and so we give back. We use those gifts to be able to share with the community.

Andrew: Which is brilliant because you just brought me back to the segue Christmas. Your message as a principal of St. Michael’s College, Merrimac, at the Gold Coast. What would you say to families when it comes to Christmas?

Anthony Elmore: Well, of course in the lead up to Christmas in our season of Advent, it’s that time of preparation and preparing ourselves for that great celebration of the birth of Jesus.
We know that when we talk about Mary and Joseph, and going through that time of uncertainty and then Jesus being born, and the great gift that that was to the world and as families and individuals in the lead up to Christmas, it’s really that time to pause and reflect on all the gifts that we have in our lives, and that time of being thankful for everything that we have and that reflection, whether or not people have that religious background or not. It’s that chance just to pause and just be mindful of all of those wonderful things that happen in our lives, and how do we show appreciation, or give back and I know there’s many organisations in the lead up to Christmas that we can demonstrate our appreciation, whether it’s through St. Vincent de Paul with their various appeals. I know that Salvation Army, Red Cross, so on and so forth, but it’s that time just to pause and spend time with those we love over that break, and recharge our batteries before we head into the new year ready to face what is ahead of us in 2020.

Andrew: After those batteries being recharged, do your teaching staff and the broader staff, how much work, what sort of preparation goes into being ready for next year and taking on all of that change, all of those challenges, all of those exciting elements of what the future brings when it comes to education?

Anthony Elmore: Well, the preparation for 2020 has begun already, and all the planning, the unit planning, the co-planning that has begun already, but certainly for the new year we’ll have our leadership team on deck in mid-January. Our teachers will be back shortly after that, and we’ll be engaging in a whole range of professional learning activities. We’ve bringing in some consultants early in the year specifically looking at that question of where are we now? Where do we see ourselves in five years’ time? And exploring that question of how do we get there and that’s a sole focus on student learning.

Our focus around learning and teaching, and the student at the centre is continuing over 2020. Our learning and teaching journey of co-planning, co-teaching, that co reflecting will continue across 2020. The outcomes that we’ve had this year as a result of our focus on accelerating student learning have been wonderful, and we’re pushing even further with our learning and teaching journey into 2020, so we’re really looking for… As much as I’m looking forward to Christmas break, I’m really busting to get back to that work in 2020 because we’re just at that stage of just achieving such wonderful results for our young people.

Andrew: And for the school community that may be on the last day of school, and they’re going to be back here next year dropping their sons and daughters off. Are they in for a shock as to what the school’s going to look like when they turn up next year?

Anthony Elmore: Well that is an exciting thing for me, so school finished on Friday and on Monday I couldn’t even make it into the driveway. We’ve got our landscaping crew that is here, so we’ve got a significant investment in relation to landscaping out of the front of the college. The most exciting thing-

Andrew: I know where you’re going with it, this is awesome.

Anthony Elmore: People think I’m a bit nuts, but the most exciting thing is our new toilets that are happening, and I’ve been down there daily taking photos of the demolition.

Andrew: You’ve got to take us through that because this is something that has absolutely driven you insane to this point. Yeah. Why is that?

Anthony Elmore: So we’re doing our first block of toilets at the moment, so unfortunately, for whatever reason, our toilet blocks haven’t been maintained or renovated in some time.

Andrew: Modernised.

Anthony Elmore: So that’s happening at the moment and also the revitalization of one of our main classroom blocks, so by the time people start school back in January we’ll have all the landscaping, and new toilet blocks, and one of our main teaching blocks revitalised, which is a very, very exciting development for us, and then the commencement of our master plan.

We’ve had our energy audit completed at the end of last year, and so we’ve had our big electrical process happening yesterday also, and so that’s, the amount of work happening here over the past couple of days has just been out of this world. It’s been excellent to see that happen.

Andrew: First day of school, next year you’re going to have to stand out the front and watch the parents that go past miss the turnoff, confused, going where’s the school that we left last year.

Anthony Elmore: That’s right. It’s for me it says a lot to our community. When a young person walks through the gate of the school, I think a lot about how do they feel when they walk through the front gate, and for just even today as the concrete was being poured out the front for the new paths and some of the new areas, the first thing I consider is that young person getting out of the car, walking through the gate. It just has a different feel.

If you can walk through that gate and you go, “Oh, something’s different. Something’s new, what’s happened here?” And so just change how you feel in the morning makes an impact on their day, so and they’re the improvements that will continue developing over the year.

Andrew: Do you think it also sends a bit of a philosophical message that while you’re changing some of the physical attributes of the school, that’s also in line with the changing of the pushing the education to the boundaries, so that the student is going to get the best. As you said earlier, they’re central to all of the decision making and the thinking, but that you are pushing the change. You’re not scared of the change side of that. You are turning out a student that’s ready to take on the world?

Anthony Elmore: Oh, I think so, and we’ve been talking over the past 18 months about excellence in learning and teaching. Excellence in our sporting and co-curricular program, and excellence in our relationships, and one of the things I’m mindful of is that we can’t just talk about excellence. We need to deliver excellence, and I’m absolutely confident after the end of this year looking at the outcomes we’ve produced in learning and teaching that we can proudly talk about excellence and learning and teaching.

We then, in my mind, can’t be impressing upon students excellence and learning and teaching if we have facilities that don’t meet people’s standards, and that’s something now as a community, we need to, in a sensible measured way, work on the development of the college. Now the college is only 34 years old, as I mentioned, but we need to have a look at how do we keep the facilities fresh, so it’s a bit like me, I’m only 21 of course-

Andrew: Yeah. Podcast, you can tell anybody anything.

Anthony Elmore: My wife and children, not so much my wife, she’s kinder, but mMy children would regularly tell me what I need to do to keep looking fresh, whether I listened to it or not is another story, but it’s one of those things. We can’t let the place become tired and dilapidated, so a bit of investment won’t hurt.

Andrew: Well said. Anthony Elmore, the principal of St. Michael’s College, Merrimac, the Gold Coast. Thank you very much for your time with our listeners.

Anthony Elmore: Thanks Andrew.