Education Vision 2020 – Principal Michael Connolly from St Columban’s College, Caboolture Talks About the Fast Changing Face of Education


St Columban’s College, Caboolture Principal, Michael Connolly says pathways for students are ‘ever changing’.

“Pathways for young students are changing and they’ll be ever-changing into the future,” Principal Connolly said in the podcast interview above.

“And it’s something that as a school principal, you look at because most of the jobs our young people will go into.., aren’t even created yet – with the way we are with technology – in the way the world is working and is ever changing.

“We’ve got to prepare our young students.

“So, we’re really doing this with our younger students in having lots of aspects of design.

“And rather than just teaching content and subjects, we actually teach them to be thinkers of the future.”

Principal Connolly also talked about some of the exciting opportunities students will have in 2020 – including working on a real plane, which the college has purchased. And students will have a large range of university courses available to them while being a high school student with the college.


Click here to learn more about St Columban’s College, Caboolture.

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

Read the Michael Connolly Podcast Interview TRANSCRIPT:

Andrew MW: Thank you for your company again and welcome back to Education Vision 2020.
We look at this, because education is very, very important to all of us, for the individual, well-educated person, it’s been proven, there’s lots of reports that are come out and studies that say that if you’re well-educated, you’re likely to have a more fulfilling life, probably even a longer life and many more opportunities and that available to you. And as we’ve being saying that’s the same for a country, a country that has well-educated people is a much more prosperous country. So, that would make education very, very important to the success of a country, community, and anybody else that’s involved in those communities.
Now, it’s an exciting day today because we’re with the principal of St. Columban’s College, Caboolture, Mike Connolly. Mike Connolly, how are you?
Mike Connolly: Yeah. Good, thanks, Andrew and yourself?
Andrew MW: Yeah. Good. Thank you very much for your time with our listeners and look, we’ve spent quite a number of years working with each other. The first time I met you was actually here at St. Columban’s College.
Mike Connolly: Yes. Yes, it was.
Andrew MW: And you probably remember it. It was Scottie Lachman that was interviewing you.
Mike Connolly: That’s right.
Andrew MW: For 451 OTV back then.
Mike Connolly: That’s right.
Andrew MW: So, a lot’s happened. Your view with education, where do you think it’s at? Probably on a world’s stage and also the local community.
Mike Connolly: Look, I think we’re in a very exciting time with education and before I get started, can I put our prayers and thoughts out to those people experiencing drought and fires at this stage? It’s one of the things that is in our prayers and thoughts and I think the education and our education around our young people in looking after others too is a really important thing. And we’ve certainly been doing that over the year.
But when we get back to formal education, can I say that pathways for young students are changing and they’ll be ever-changing into the future. And it’s something that as a school principal you look at because most of the jobs our young people will go into, so we welcome our Year 7’s next year, most of the jobs that they’re going to go into aren’t even created yet with the way we are with technology in the way the world is working and is ever changing. We’ve got to prepare our young students.
So, we’re really doing this with our younger students in having lots of aspects of design. And rather than just teaching content and subjects, we actually teach them to be thinkers of the future. And I think it’s in that way that we educate them to be thinkers that we’re going to turn out some very, very good people into the future.
And we’re seeing this even through our results this year. Results at St. Columban’s have been the best they’ve been in the last 10 years, with 100% of our students getting a C or better on the QCS test. And of that 80% of our kids either got an A or B, which is great because the QCS test is an indicator of where students are going and how they are with their thinking processes. So, I’m really happy that our students have got those particular results.
Andrew MW: And with those strong results, over the years that you’ve involved in education, just putting aside the future for the moment, what changes have you seen like with the job markets, have you seen a big change in-
Mike Connolly: There is, Andrew. There is a change in the job market and the way we even get around. And one of those things that we’re looking at at the moment is aerospace. It’s one of the industries that is going to give, in the next five years, about 4,000 jobs, even in this local community. So, we’re really pushing our students to go and try out the hundreds of jobs in the aerospace industry. Starting from fitters and outfitters to the planes right through to your pilot, your air traffic controls, your ground crew, your flight crew, because it is the way of the world.
Andrew MW: And as a college you’re not just talking about it, there’s serious investment in there, isn’t there?
Mike Connolly: There is serious investment in that. And it’s not because it sounds good that we want to be in it. It’s because there is actual real pathways.
Andrew MW: Well, when I drive in, I drove past a plane. Can you explain that to us?
Mike Connolly: So, the plane is there for our younger students to actually pull apart and see how things work. And it’s that hands-on that actually give people the passion in that area. So, if a student can hop in a plane and actually see how it works and how you can actually build things to go faster, stay up higher, and use less fuel, which we need to be aware of in this day and age. We need to be that sustainable. We need to have a sustainable population and really look after our climate. So, hopefully, our students into the future, we’ll be inventing these planes that are using less fuel and are not being as harmful to our environments.
Andrew MW: And so not only do they have a plane here that they can get experience with, you’ve also put very important partnerships in place for this as well.
Mike Connolly: Yeah, that’s right. We’ve got a memorandum of understanding with Qantas and Brisbane Airport Corporation, so over 280 of our students went out this year to the airport to do various jobs, whether it be in the plane as a pilot or an engineer or fitters. And so there all the various jobs, some of the students worked out there on the defence helicopters that actually sit at Brisbane Airport. So, just gives them an insight into where the workforce is going into the future.
But not only are we moving in aerospace, we’re also looking at health, we’re looking at retail, we’re looking at the way that we are buying and selling things retail. So, all the major industries we’re looking at and giving our students those careers into the future. And it’s interesting that 24 of our students to this point in time, have got offers from universities, early-
Andrew MW: Already?
Mike Connolly: All early offers. Yes, yes.
Andrew MW: So, this is before the OP results. We were just talking about that. They haven’t come out yet.
Mike Connolly: The OP results haven’t come out, but our students, about three weeks ago received the early offers from the universities. So, it just shows you that the universities are looking at our students and their results and their pathways to get them into their universities, so they can further their education.
Andrew MW: And so partnerships, we talked about the aerospace partnerships, but your geographic, from that perspective, you’re very well positioned to be well partnered with the Caboolture Hospital, you’re straight across the road from it.
Mike Connolly: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And we do have partnerships with the Caboolture Hospital. We also have a partnerships with aged care. But I am really a community-based principal. I like to use the local community and we do that and I’m very proud of our Caboolture Burpengary community and we go run out to Bribie Island all the way up to Woodford and even up to the Sunshine Coast in the Moreton Bay region. And I’m happy to live in this area. I’m happy to be a person in this area and I’m happy to have such wonderful students coming out of this area.
And we do, even last year at our Awards Night seeing 20 students go across the stage with Australian Representative Honours. And we’ve just had notification that we’ve got three more that have made an indoor netball side over the weekend, travelling with the Australian team to New Zealand next year in July to be part of a Tri Series. So, I’m just happy at the opportunities we’re giving for our young people in this area and I think it’s fantastic and I think the students out of the Moreton Bay region are just fantastic students and really are great ambassadors for our local area.
Andrew MW: You said at the Moreton Bay region there’s a university that should be opening next year and it will be underway and I actually drove past it just the other day. It’s really taking shape now, looking good. The green grass has been laid and all of that sort of stuff. For the Moreton Bay region, you get around the community and you were involved, and you may still be, the Burpengary Progress Association, heavily involved in those sort of things.
Mike Connolly: Yes, I am. Yeah. Yeah. They had their great event on the weekend. Their Christmas spectacular, it’s great to see out there, the Burpengary Progress Society getting behind the Christmas markets and that sort of thing.
Andrew MW: That’s great. So, just to step outside of the St. Columban’s College school grounds for a moment, the Moreton Bay region, you getting around and being so involved in the community of it, where do you see its place? The Moreton Bay region as a region is very, very young. What do you see its future?
Mike Connolly: Look, we’re a prospering region and you can see that by the university going in at Petrie and actually, we’ll be proud to say we’ll have 14 students going to that university. So, they were part of our early offers, so our students from here have actually put up their hand to go down to Petrie and be at the university and it’ll be one of those cutting edge places that it’s great to have in our region and you’re going to see it go from strength to strength.
And certainly, they’ve got our support here. We spent many days going down to the university and having a look through. We were invited on the first tour to go through and have a look through the university and it shows great prospects for the future. And not only do we work with universities in our region, but we’ve just had our Year 7’s, 8’s and 9’s spend quite a bit of time at QUT in the city, with the program that they run of getting students keen about the universities.
In their last weeks of school our students actually spent time in there learning what a university is about, what it can offer and getting them inspired about their future. And I think that’s why we have our big night in early June where we, Pathways For The Future, we call it. The Pathways For The Future night. We actually inspire our young people, all of our students to come there on that night and look at the exhibitors there and find out what they might like to do.
Because I think it’s only with that exposure that our young people are going to be passionate about things into the future and that might change from year seven to year 12, but at least we keep putting those things in front of them.
Andrew MW: Mike, a lots changed in education from the perspective of if you go back 20 years ago, really you’d be just trying to achieve your senior certificate if that’s what you’re going for. And if you were going to university, that would be a focus into the future. If you’re going into maybe a trade, the best that you had as far as while you’re at school is maybe a bit of work experience. Can you just take us through, so much of that has changed, people are getting started, you’ve touched on it but they’re really getting started from the time they start secondary school now, hey?
Mike Connolly: Andrew, it is changing and I think people sometimes get a bit carried away with the OP’s and it’ll be the ATAR scores and that. Really they are a number. Yep, they are a marker.
Andrew MW: And just one indicator of many.
Mike Connolly: One indicator. But our job as schools is to get our students thinking and to give our students as many different tools in their toolbox as they can when they leave. So, we’re seeing lots of our great math, science students doing some design technology subjects because they actually have thought, “Well, when I finish my engineering degree I want something else.” So, to go with a Cert II in engineering to the job interview that you’re going as an engineer and you know your way around a toolbox, you know your way around a construction site, you know what’s happening there, you’re certainly giving him that leading edge in getting a job.
So, I suppose our jobs is thinking into the future and saying, “What skills can we give our students here at St. Columban’s to equip them for the future?” So, if schools are only talking about one thing, about ATAR and what it was, OP, then that’s not the way of going. Every child should be … the world is their oyster at this stage and many, many students start out in year seven thinking they want a trade or thinking they want to go to university, by the end of year 12 they’ve changed those thinking patterns and they can do whatever they like.
Andrew MW: And you’ve touched on that because once they graduate and they go out into the world and they might be going to university or they might be going through some other pathway, whatever that immediate pathway is, there’s a lot of data now that shows that more and more increasingly, whole careers are changed in your working life. So, has it become more complex now from an education perspective to set up a student so that they are able to take on all of those changes?
Mike Connolly: Oh, look, it is complex, but one of the things that we do have in our education and it’s front and centre, is design and innovation. So, teaching students how to think, teaching them how to solve complex problems, teaching them how to think through problems that they might not have experienced before. Because it’s in doing this and setting our students up with those thinking skills that are going to make them the inventors of the future, the innovators of the future. So, it’s really important as a school that we’re really pushing kids onto that.
We’ve been focusing on that over the last years. And you can even see the flavour of our junior curriculum now being based around design and design technology. So, when you go into the industrial technology, you’re not making 30 of the same project, you’re using the same skills, you might have a brief, but you might be making 30 different things in that room because that’s what the design calls for. What does the client want, what are their needs and how do we need to produce that.
And I’m seeing some great work of that over in our industrial technology and I’d invite anyone in to have a look at our place and see what they’re doing because there’s some really great things happening. And that design subject is also carried through into our Year 11 pathways as well. And we have a subject-based around design and seeing some of the things that those students are coming up with for the future is quite encouraging.
Andrew MW: Mike Connolly, for you as the principal, your staff, with all of this change with the way that education is evolving. When you look at the change from OP to ATAR, all of those big things that are happening and then looking to the future, how do you have a teaching staff, a supportive staff, a culture, and then also a parent community that can embrace that and then move ahead and be ahead of the coal face, so to speak?
Mike Connolly: Yeah. Look, I think we are. Being an educator calls us to be educated the whole time and have that challenge of education. So, I’m really fortunate to have a staff that are willing to change and are willing to get the best for their students and are willing to go and keep themselves in education even as educators as they move through.
So, whilst the change has been difficult and it’s been hard to move through, our teachers have embraced that, our staff embraced it. And they know that if we’re going to be relevant in years to come, we need to change and we need to be innovative. We need to embrace what the need is out there in society and move forward.
Andrew MW: For a country, quite often a measurement for people, just their perspective that things are moving forward, is structural innovation and investment. And you made an interesting comment before we hit the record on this podcast session. You just said that schools should always be building, they should always be improving. And it was interesting for you to take what is quite often a state government or a federal government perspective, the big picture and you’ve got that with the school. Tell us about some of that renewal that you’ve …
Mike Connolly: Yeah. We’ve decided at the start of this year that we are going to move forward, so we’ve engaged not only a landscape architect but also architects to move us forward in our facilities and what we’re offering here at St. Columban’s. So, we’ve taken a lot of reference groups from industry, from our parents to our staff to our students of what is going to be the very best for them into the future.
And we have made a commitment here at St. Columban’s to keep looking at our facilities and keep making them relevant and making them look like industry and making them engaging for students. Because if we walk into a school and it looks like when I was at school, even though it was only a few years ago.
Yeah, that’s for all of us in this room.
Andrew MW: As a student.
Mike Connolly: As a student, yes. Yes. No hair or grey hair doesn’t mean a thing. But if we walk into a classroom like we used to have, then I’d seriously be saying, “Really is that school moving?” So, we’re trying different things of delivering education because-
Andrew MW: What are some of those different things?
Mike Connolly: Yeah. Look, what we’re doing is we’re trying to make our lessons more relevant, delivering them in short bursts because our young people now they want things in quick time.
Andrew MW: Instant reward.
Mike Connolly: Yeah. We’re putting our lessons online so students can go back, we’re doing teacher-
Andrew MW: It used to be if you didn’t take the notes right, you were in big trouble. You had to find a friend who was good at it.
Mike Connolly: Well, now you can just tap onto your OneNote or into the Cloud and get your lesson down. So, yeah, our staff are very happy to do that. And our staff are very happy to get that feedback on their lessons because they do want to be relevant, they do want to be engaging to our young people. And we want to turn young people out that have been engaged in school and say, “Well, that’s just been the best days of my life this far.”
Andrew MW: Yeah. That’s interesting that you say that. That we want to turn people out that don’t look like this. So, if I can put it this way, the ideal student that’s graduating this year, what do they look like to you?
Mike Connolly: Yeah, the ideal student are the students that are always looking for a need in our society. One, they’ve got a social conscience and they should be the people that are saying, “Well, how can I help people less fortunate than myself?” So, that’s one of the attributes. The other attribute is by looking for opportunity and saying, “Where can I move to? Where is our society moving to? And where can I best place myself to contribute positively into the future?”
So, I would hope our young people that we turn out from here are constantly looking to that, are constantly looking to make a difference and consistently saying, “Well, I’m going to learn from all my experiences,” and are not frightened to step out of their comfort zone and give things a go. Because as we always tell students, you might say you failed, but there’s no such word as fail because it’s just First Attempt In Learning, we call it.
So, the old saying a fail is … yeah, there’s sometimes where you’re not going to get it right the first time. But with persistence and resilience, it will get there and you will finally succeed.
Andrew MW: Some of the best inventions in the world and most defining moments have come out of a so-called fail, haven’t they?
Mike Connolly: That’s exactly right. That’s how we learn. If things didn’t fail, we wouldn’t learn.
Andrew MW: So, looking right deep into the future, let’s go 10, 15 years. What do you think a school campus like St. Columban’s college will look like?
Mike Connolly: Yeah, look, I’m hoping our school campuses look more like our universities where education is not only inside but it’s outside and we’re encouraging think tanks to work together. We’re getting our sharpest minds in the college to work on things in the community and we’re engaging like that. And I’m hoping that into the future that students can learn in many, many different ways.
And, and that’s not excluding having stuff online and having them engage in different ways. So, we’re really starting to move in that direction, but I think in all of that it’s about how we care for our students and the pastoral care and for these students knowing that there are people there to support them as we do in our pastoral care, I thinks a really nice thing.
And I think we’ve done a great job of that because we see our Year 12’s graduating, there are many tears on that day. And I think those are tears of, “Oh, we’re really going to miss you.” And that just shows to me that there is a genuine care for this place and a genuine care for that particular student in the five or six years that they’ve been with us at the college.
Andrew MW: Mike Connolly, thank you very much for spending time with our listeners.
Mike Connolly: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew MW: Good on you.
Mike Connolly: And can I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and please keep them in our prayers, those people who are affected by drought and fires and to all of you out there, have a very happy and Holy Christmas.