Empowering young women to succeed

By Natalie Paelchen

I love my job. I have the best job in the world. Every day I work with highly skilled and passionate educators, motivated young women whose laughter and ideas echo across the quad and classrooms and most of all I help shape a responsive, agile and tailored educational experience for every individual student in our Senior School.

I have been an educational leader for the past 10 years and can see the positive impact that modern educational practices are having on the learning outcomes of students and our work as educators. The emphasis on the use of data analytics, individualised learning, digital technologies, blended learning environments and a push towards redefining the schooling experience as being more than just achieving an A-E result are all steps in the right direction and at the forefront of our work with all students here at Seymour.

Having oversight of the teaching programs in the Senior School I bring my own educational philosophy to my work. I believe that there are three things that are core to our business. As a College we must provide learning programs of the highest quality that are accessible to all students; we must challenge and extend every student in our care through her academic program and finally we must listen to the voices of every individual student in our classrooms. It is her individual dreams, her hopes and her aspirations that she brings to her learning experience. By listening carefully to students, giving advice as experienced educators and through enabling students to make authentic choices we create the ideal conditions for every individual student in our College to take ownership of her own path to independence and reach her fullest potential.

Our Independence model in the Senior School places the student at the centre of her learning. We have re-defined the meaning of core subjects at Senior Foundation by taking ACARA curriculum and shaping it to meet the desires of learners who are looking for further specialisation and acceleration at Year 10 level. We have thoughtfully devised a pattern of study across Years 10-12 that enables any student to accelerate into subjects which in the past she has not had access to. We offer multiple streams of study and help support students access courses off-campus. We work hard to say yes to students and to support them in their choices.  

I am a firm believer in the concept of ‘complete achievement’ where not everything a student does in her academic program is driven by results or linked to what she believes as a 16-year-old will be her future career. I want students choosing a range of different learning experiences across her 3 years in the Senior school so she can find and explore her passions and interests. I personally think it is important that the highly able student of mathematics and science can also choose to question the meaning of life in a Philosophy course or choose to demonstrate her artistic flair in a Film making course, if she wants to. Why? Because all learning experiences are valid and contribute to the skills and attributes that students take with them through their life. When students get out of their comfort zone, they are encouraged to take risks and make mistakes all of which leads to those magical “ah ha” moments when something difficult or challenging finally makes sense. I believe that this is what makes authentic and meaningful learning.

One last thought to leave you with. Every year we have Year 12 students who choose to incorporate university study as part of their academic program. It can be a daunting experience for some students and this year I counselled a young woman who was finding the idea of going into the ‘unknown’ almost overwhelming. We spoke about the importance of accepting the temporary feelings of anxiety and accepting that the first time she attended would be uncomfortable but that she was going to be okay. Only recently I caught up with the same student and was delighted to hear her speak with bright eyes about how proud she was of herself for persevering, how much she was enjoying her course and how she now confidently contributes to tutorial conversations. Something had shifted in her whole approach and more importantly in her confidence in herself. It made me reflect that these are the moments that educators live for and it was just so satisfying to see this young woman achieve some personal growth through taking a step into the unfamiliar.

My wish and work for every young woman in our care is that she takes every opportunity to challenge herself and grow through her academic program, that she makes good choices and that that she can confidently and independently navigate her own way in the world.

Natalie Paelchen
Dean of Teaching and Learning  (Senior School)