Saraid Doherty is, to put it simply, the kind of person who gets things done.
In 2016 she was announced as one of Educator Magazine’s ‘Hot List’ teachers. Parkmore Primary School – the school Saraid leads – was also the only Victorian government school to be awarded an Innovative Schools Award that year, for integrating social and emotional learning into its literacy and numeracy program.
During 2016, Parkmore Primary also adopted the Berry Street Education Model (BSEM), and has wholeheartedly embraced its strategies and curriculum. In an interview with BSEM’s senior trainer Brendan Bailey, Saraid explains how she guided the implementation of the model, and what the benefits have been.
Parkmore Primary School is located about 20 kilometres east of Melbourne in the suburb of Forest Hill. It’s an established multicultural suburban area.
Principal Saraid Doherty’s background is a bit unusual because it includes a Master of Applied Positive Psychology and a Master in School Leadership, which have given her an excellent grounding in some of the key tenets of BSEM. However, she gives much of the credit to her staff and says BSEM is a great program for any and every school to adopt.
“I’ve been lucky to work with very energised staff, who have a culture of saying yes to things,” she said. “I saw Tom [Brunzell – BSEM team leader] do a workshop, and I thought, ‘here’s a model that we can really use.’ The conditions were right, it was really practical, and I could really see it as part of our school’s journey.”
Saraid outlines how she goes about creating a workplace culture where staff feel safe to take risks and try new things. With her staff, she discusses the times she tried new things and they failed, and how those times have helped her learn from her mistakes. She also discusses her own strengths, and highlights those of her staff. These open and honest discussions, coupled with her qualifications in positive psychology, are central to building a sense of trust within her school.
“My staff trust that I have already thought deeply about why we are implementing a particular program, and they are willing to do the hard work because of this trust.”
Additionally, she describes philosophical parallels between the Berry Street Education Model and Parkmore Primary.
“In both,” she says, “wellbeing is at the centre of everything we do.”
“There’s a real depth to the [Berry Street] model,” Saraid explains. “The evidence base and the close ongoing partnerships between Berry Street and the University of Melbourne really give it a solid foundation, especially compared to some of the other things that come across my desk. It has a real sense of rigor.”
Staff at Parkmore Primary were asked to ‘hit the ground running’, and to try something from BSEM from the first day after their initial professional learning session.
Saraid was pleased to hear the language of BSEM being used throughout the school straight away. Staff were then asked to reflect on what they’d learned, and to discuss and try out what had really resonated with them during the training.
“We also anchored everything we did with BSEM in what we’d done before. We emphasised that we were building on the existing skills of teachers. And that teachers did have a lot of expertise already. Teachers needed to reflect on themselves as skilled professionals – to acknowledge that expertise and consider it – so that they could build on that expertise with BSEM.”
Consultation with Berry Street’s expert education trainers throughout the implementation process was also important to Parkmore Primary. Doherty would often contact the BSEM team to discuss the needs of the school, to make sure that the training was precisely targeted to benefit her teachers.
“You have to make it a part of your everyday processes.”
Staff also continue to be asked to share ways they have successfully used BSEM strategies at staff meetings, so that that the implementation of the model at Parkmore continues to flourish.
This has led to Saraid considering the possibility of making BSEM part of the Professional Learning Team (PLT) approach being rolled out across Victorian schools, an area where she sees great potential.
The benefits of the Berry Street Education Model at Parkmore Primary have been significant.
“The most powerful thing, I think, has been teacher resilience. BSEM is about pedagogy and accountability, but it’s also about care for others and care for self. Teachers are now less reactive and more able to respond from a place of care. BSEM workshops – and the experiential learning with its differentiated approach – were so powerful.”
Saraid has also noticed significant language changes in students, especially noting that students now use the ‘Present. Centred. Grounded.’ concept to discuss their emotional state with teachers.
“Around the school I can see visual reminders of what we did with Berry Street, and I can see the practical strategies we learned from the model being used every day. I can hear students using the language, and these reminders, this language, is achievable for everybody.”
Article by Brendan Bailey