Learning to inspire

Academic excellence is just one component in an overall mission
to seek excellence in all dimensions of humanity.


By Mark Tannock, Principal of St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point

At St Aloysius’ College, the pursuit of academic excellence within its overall strategy of Human Excellence has involved a range of different reforms over recent years. While the ranking achieved by the Class of 2023 was the subject of most comments both inside and outside our community, this was only possible because of the improved engagement and deeper learning that these young men engaged in throughout their time at the College.

We have pursued reforms over time that have targeted the suite of variables that impact a student’s engagement, learning and achievement.

These have included our classrooms and other learning environments; our use of time as a tool for learning in the Senior School; the use of information and communication technology both in the classroom and the use of Canvas, our Learning Management System; changes to the Academic Reports we give to parents to ensure that each boy’s primary educator has relevant information to support his learning; and changes to our curriculum as we adjust to the changing world with different offerings to students. The most impactful of these has been in the area of STEM.

However, above all else, the lifting of academic standards at the College in recent years has been a result of three different variables:

Firstly, the centrality of leadership. Our Heads of Department (in the Senior School) and Grade Academic Coordinators (in the Junior School) are pivotal in developing and maintaining excellence in the academic program. We gather them together regularly to discuss learning and these teams have formed a very collaborative environment whereby they hold each other accountable for continuous improvement within a culture of mutual cooperation. Our leaders are then charged to work collaboratively with their teams to reflect critically upon our practice in order to improve it.

Secondly, our students. The College has had a renewed approach in recent years to encouraging ‘student voice’ in our pursuit of academic excellence. Our boys have agency in their learning and they have much to say (when asked) about how they learn best and the pedagogical style that suits them. Asking boys these questions and allowing their voices to inform our practice has been impactful. We endeavour to hold in tension the relevance of “student voice” while also recognising our own role as custodians of a canon of knowledge, skills and understanding that we expect all students at the College to master.

Finally, our teachers. I have written many times that “boys learn the teacher”. We hold that it is the quality of the teacher next to each student who has the greatest impact upon his engagement, learning and achievement. We are blessed with many fine teachers across our three campuses and the best teachers are those who love their subject; are able to develop authentic, respectful relationships with their students; and who possess the capacity of being a reflective practitioner in that they continually reflect upon their practice in order to improve it.

Academic excellence is not an end in itself. It is a component of an overall mission to seek excellence in all dimensions of our humanity. It is by doing this that we are seeking the Magis and seeking those greater things we are born for. Ad Majora Natus.

This article was originally published in a recent edition of ‘The Gonzagan’ newsletter for St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point.

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