Mark Robertson: At the Helm of a Voyage Towards Progressive Education


The article below has been extracted from ‘The Knowledge Review’, July 2019.

Education plays a vital role in everyone’s life. We are being taught since childhood to do our homework, to participate in different extracurricular activities such as sports, acting, singing, dancing and so much more. The ultimate purpose of these activities to mold us in the best way possible. Understanding ourselves, about our likes and dislikes, strengths and weakness eventually lead us to become what we are meant to be.

For some people, the education that has been imparted on them helps to foster essential skills and take on the leadership roles. The leadership role has its importance beyond our imagination.

Every organization needs an individual to look up to as a torchbearer; someone who will lead the way even in the toughest situations; who would like to take on the challenges and embrace the uncertainty. And the minds who are responsible for creating such people are visionary educational leaders. Their dedication to the constant improvement, discipline, and will, help them to prepare the best educational institutions that will be responsible for nurturing and developing the students who will make a difference in the world.

The Knowledge Review, emphasize on our intent of finding the few profound educationists who take on the responsibility of catering to the necessity in upholding the value of education, and Australia’s 10 Most Influential Educational Leaders, 2019 epitomizes such significant individuals for the better.

Mark Robertson: At the Helm of a Voyage towards Progressive Education

The landscape of education, across the globe, is constantly in a state of evolution. Leveraging technology, understanding the shifting learning needs of different age groups and delivering the best quality holistic education are the aspects that have become a USP for a number of schools. One of the many factors playing a crucial role in spearheading the transformation of schools and the educational sector, for the better, are prominent educational leaders like Mark Robertson, the Principal and CEO of Oakleigh Grammar, Melbourne.

“I have been blessed and honoured in my career in Education to have been involved in the leadership of Schools in a wide variety of educational styles and settings,” Mark expresses. He states that this exposure has allowed him to develop a flexible mind-set, with regard to approaches to educational policy and practice, and to allow him to mould within a team context environments which best cater for students within the cultural context of that particular community.

Mark says that he is immensely enjoying his role as CEO and Principal of Oakleigh Grammar and has concrete relationships with the Board of Management and undoubtedly with the entire community. A characteristic of Mark’s leadership has been the ease with which he is able to interact with the various personalities which make up a school community. He draws energy and deep satisfaction through connecting with others and understanding their life stories. Mark’s role as CEO is essentially important to his role as Educational Leader. He believes that strong business decisions based on accurate data and reliable forecasting is essential as a leader of a multi-million dollar turnover business.

Mark regularly involves with wider educational bodies and often participates and attends international conferences during school holiday periods to ensure contemporary pedagogical practices are at the fore-front of pedagogical discussion within his current School. Mark strongly believes that quality teaching and learning essentially means appropriate investment in developing quality teaching, and learning practices and investment from the annual budget in this area is very important. Mark’s membership of the AHISA Vic Executive, CSE Board and associations with ACEL and the IB continue to allow him to contribute to and to learn from others on a macro level of educational policy and reform.

Overcoming Adversities
Mark states that leading an Independent School in 2019 is much more complex than it has ever been. He says that strong and healthy relationships and support are critical to ensuring not only stability in the role but, indeed relates to all aspects of this privileged role. “In reality, I love the role of Head due to the variety and complexity inherent in it,” Mark expresses. He comprehends the various responsibilities he has to cater to, such as understanding that compliance is extremely onerous but essential, financial diligence in a multi-million dollar business is critical, working with key stakeholders with differing agendas presents its challenges. Hence, he’s able to draw a conclusion that managing the affairs of a large and Independent School is a mammoth task but also an extremely rewarding one.

Mark has had the experience of managing both multi-campus and single campus schools and has known first-hand that challenges are always present in a variety of forms – the key to managing those challenges rests with calm, objective and value laden processes to arrive at the best outcomes for all parties consistent with what is in the best interest of his school’s reputation.

A Comprehensive Learning Culture
Mark is of the opinion that modelling by staff of the Christian values of the School is essential to student success within that value system. He believes creativity is often stifled in students at an early age due to poor culture and structures evident in many schools. The solution to this in Mark’s opinion is inquiry based learning, balanced with explicit teaching which allows students to strengthen fundamental skills and to access high-order thinking, thus propelling them to reach their potential in their learning journey. “The love of learning emanates from curiosity,” Mark emphasizes.

He states that the learning culture of a School is directly influenced by the inherent values system therein. Mark believes that a Christian doctrine leads to harmony, respect and importantly to social responsibility within a multi-cultural context and in a sense the moral fabric of a School Community is underpinned by faith, courage and trust in everyone’s intrinsic beliefs. Personifying Christian life has been and continues to be important in Mark’s leadership, allowing him to exemplify the inherent values into everyday School life.

Aiding the Community’s Progress
Mark believes that consistent leadership presence is very important in providing confidence and familiarity to the community. He cherishes the regular opportunities to interact with his community in both a meaningful and significant fashion. Certainly, most days he endeavours to be circulating around the school, greeting parents and students and genuinely interacting with them as they enter and exit the school. Opportunities to be actively engaged and involved in school life are something he strongly values.

Mark considers that it is very important to preserve key traditions of a well-established and reputable school as students look forward to these embedded cultural norms as they progress through their school. He ensures these traditions are protected in line with respectful and sensitive character and behaviour. “We learn for life and in life we learn – every member of my School Community is encouraged to adopt a mind-set of being a leader and a learner – for that is the culture I have developed and continue to develop at my current School,” Mark expresses.

Imparting Inspiration
According to Mark, the importance of establishing open and authentic relationships in the workplace cannot be understated. In a values driven Christian organisation, genuine connections between key stakeholders through the embodiment of the School’s mission is integral to its success as an institution that is seeking to bring out the best in each student as they discover their own passions and interests. Accessibility and approachability of a school leadership team and indeed all staff is of enormous importance to the quality of relationships developed.

Mark believes that educational leaders should be intentional and genuine in their approach to collaboration while enabling growth and development through outlining clear expectations and boundaries whilst enabling growth for engagement, creativity and personal flair. In turn, trust is developed and the resulting engagement sets a path for the care and wellbeing of all. Mark also states, “Fundamentally, in 2019 we must always put the welfare of our students at the fore of any decisions undertaken and be open, transparent and strongly committed to all elements of Child Safety.” To this end, Mark’s Leadership at Oakleigh Grammar is strong yet compassionate, leaving no one in doubt that the school’s commitment to every student in providing a safe learning environment is of paramount importance.

Leadership Philosophy
Mark emphasizes upon the fact that educational leadership must be authentic. He believes that objective assessments via the identification, collection and analysis of data, is essential to ensure students’ learning journey is providing the stimulus for maximum development. Mark is a big fan of Carol Dweck’s mind-set framework, as it relates to the application of everyday life. At his current School Mark and his team initiate new projects as trials and have had great success in particular with neuroscience based programs; to that end the team has nourished many young people to achieve at their highest possible level.

According to Mark, a holistic development of each student is one that is the very essence of an enduring and worthwhile education. The growth of international and national movements such as ‘R u okay?’ and ‘Me too’ suggest that there is scope to more explicitly cultivate the importance of further open and respectful relationships involving males in the community. Increased awareness about students’ emotional and mental health has grown significantly and community figures such as sporting identities in part have contributed to increasing this community awareness through their admissions that they too are struggling to navigate an emotional terrain that has any pitfalls along the way.

Mark holds a personal passion to assist students in understanding their place and what it really means to be a responsible community citizen. One area of achievement that he is very proud of at his current school is the implementation of a highly recognised, yet unique (to Australia) character development program which has obtained the highest level of quality assurance.

Mark expresses that at Oakleigh Grammar the VCE median study score has increased by 5 to 6 increments in the time he has been Principal and takes pride in this achievement too. However, he states that the welfare of each and every child at Oakleigh Grammar must always be at the forefront; every student requires nurturing and needs to feel valued within their school community and to this end both academia and welfare must be developed ‘hand in hand’.

“A key factor in realising success in any area of School Improvement is the dynamic of the executive leadership team,” says Mark. “Action plans developed within a strong consultative culture modelled by the leadership team empowers staff to innovate and achieve outcomes that must be shared within the Oakleigh Grammar community,” he adds.

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