• Dr Pete Stebbins PhD

High Performance Teaching Teams in Catholic Education with Principal, Anthony Lucey


In the HPS Leadership Shares series we interview education leaders nominated by their colleagues and peers as exemplars of excellence in building high performance schools. 


Anthony Lucey is the Principal of St Williams Catholic Primary School in Grovely, Brisbane and is deeply passionate about creating a best practice teaching and learning environment for students within a Christian faith based context.  In his approach to building a High Performance School, Anthony works tirelessly at the twin goals of engaging staff, students and parents with the broader Catholic mission of the school whilst building a culture of high performance teaching teams dedicated to continuous improvement and best practice in teaching and learning.


In this edition of the HPS Leadership Shares series, Anthony shares his journey as a Principal in building high performance teams within a faith based school context and some of the important lessons learned in growing both the faith and dedication to best practice teaching and learning within the school…


The Butterfly Effect 

“A teacher affects eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops.” Henry Adams

Q: Do you believe teachers are having a larger impact in society beyond the classroom?

A: Great teachers provide a model for a positive and healthy society in the way they interact with students, parents and colleagues. This is characterised by compassion, empathy and understanding, as well as an overwhelming belief in the goodness of each person.  The best teachers find a way to make every student feel like they are important and that they have a role and influence in the class and school community.

The curriculum must also be delivered in a rich, real and relevant way so that learning is connected to the community and students see their learning as having a purpose and meaning. I believe that local communities can be transformed when they are engaging with school communities. 


Q: What keeps you up a night? 

A: While I tend to be quite a good sleeper, I sometimes toss and turn when I think about the ways we can develop sustainable systems of genuine care that ensures all student and staff wellbeing is prioritisedThere is no good having knowledge or skill if we are burnt out and wasting away.  

I do worry about the focus on student wellbeing being out of step with the ongoing push for improved grades and academic achievement. We need to take a much longer-term holistic view about student development preparing them to be life-long learners who can ride out the peaks and troughs of the learning pit of growth and development. We need to build student resilience as much as their academic capability and help them establish learning goals beyond subject curriculum timelines to give them a deeper, more life-long interest in learning.


Your Brief History of Time....


Q: Can you give us a snapshot of your life journey in becoming an education leader?

A:   I began teaching in Murgon in country Queensland and moved to Brisbane in my late 20’s with my wife. While I was in Murgon I remember the challenge of trying to build a supportive classroom culture, which is something many early career teachers must overcome, as well as developing the skill of using assessment effectively so that I could help students learn more effectively. 

I then worked as an Assistant Principal Religious Education in a small school where the focus was very much on meeting the needs of marginalised learners. The leadership team also faced challenges around creating  support systems that could improve the literacy, numeracy and wellbeing outcomes for the learners in this community. 

Following this, I worked as an Assistant Principal Administration in a much larger Catholic school where the leadership challenges were more focused on creating a collaborative culture and building the capacity of a large staff to connect to the vision and mission of the school. 

I became a Principal 12 years ago and since that time I have  journeyed through a range of challenges from building and renovating schools to instructional leadership and a clear focus on building the capacity of staff to work together to solve problems of practice. 

My leadership is always evolving and hopefully improving as I learn more about how to be more compassionate and understanding of the people in my community. 

Leadership Life Lessons....

“Experience is the best teacher of all.” Harry Callahan

Q: What were some of your key early career leadership learnings and experiences?

A: As an early career teacher, it was about unlearning the lessons from the past and finding my mojo for teaching and learning. I think that this was more about developing relationships and teaching students how to think and learn from one another. An example of this that I still remember from those early years was establishing effective collaborative behaviours by teaching the specific skills required for the various contexts of learning. 

This shift from having to give the answers towards empowering others to collaboratively find the answers was also mirrored in my leadership journey where at the start I felt like I had to have all the answers and provide the authoritative view. Over recent years my leadership has evolved to be more collaborative and learning with others to assist them to address problems of practice. 


I have also had some great mentors and those that made the most impact on my leadership have been the ones who showed me how to be vulnerable and relaxed in my communication and decision making. I remember one such great mentor who told me to ‘take people from where they are, walk with them, and lead them to a place where they couldn't go alone.’ He regularly challenged me to listen with my heart to find a compassionate response. 


Other mentors have helped by listening intently and encouraging me to take risks in being authentic and vulnerable and in giving direct and clear feedback to others when I preferred to avoid the risk of tension and conflict. I believe the best mentors find a way to build capacity by giving feedback without judgement but somehow provide a gem of wisdom. 


On Being an Effective Principal in Catholic Education…

“I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.” John Wooden

Q: What are some of your key leadership learnings as Principal in building high performance schools?

A: While It is important to clarify expectations and have positive frameworks for communication, I believe high performance is maximised when all members feel known and understood. Listening for understanding is to take all people where they are at, to walk and listen with them to understand their story, then try to develop them as a collective that can go to places they couldn't have gone by themselves. 

The paradox here is that without clear expectations and positive frameworks for communication, a school-wide approach to listening for understanding is made much more difficult. 

At St Williams we have been implementing the High Performance Teams Program in our school this year and have found the meeting protocols tremendously helpful in giving staff equal voice into consultation and decision making processes. The team profiling and data walls have also been integral in providing insights into the diversity among teams and explicit ways of working to guide feedback and continuous improvement. This increased clarity and safety around consistent ways of working has deepened trust and improved support and wellbeing. Our staff have strong foundations of high performance team culture to build upon and increase their professional growth and commitment to teaching excellence.



On Building High Performance Teaching Teams in a Faith Based School


Q: What have been the critical success factors and biggest setbacks you have experienced in building high performance teaching teams?

A. The development of high performance teaching teams begins with knowing your staff and helping them uncover their values and connecting these to their work. This is a slow process of getting to know staff at a deeper level by listening, reflecting and discerning what is important to them in the context of their work. Leaders can also build trust and cohesion by letting go of the need to be in control and taking deliberate action to build trust. This is created by listening more than you speak, checking-in and asking about problems of practice. Teams also seem to respond well to the creation of simple collaborative structures that build time in every week for focused reflection on the relevant challenges of student learning.

To accelerate change, it is helpful to find champions within the team who seem to be on board, then resource their ideas with all the energy and support you can muster, while also getting them to share the change initiative so it builds a sense of momentum and confidence. It is also important to encourage the sharing of problems and failure as much as success as this is grounded in the reality of the classroom. Teachers love to search for the practical and achievable solutions. As a leader, it is important to be seen as a learner with the staff and to accept the challenges of practice with humility and curiosity. 


On Managing Change and Growing Faith & Best Practice


Q: How have you successfully managed change in your school? What has worked and what hasn’t? 

A: I have made so many mistakes implementing change by either going too fast, too slow or making it too confusing. And I am still learning about the dynamics of change.  This has usually come about from thinking that my idea was sure to work without having thought it through or discussed it with my staff. I have found change to be most effective (and lasting) when there has been a clear understanding of the reason for change, staff have had a voice in shaping the approach, the freedom to try aspects of the change and the permission to make mistakes along the way. 

Change seems to work when there is a cycle of action and review and a clear success criteria (developed together) that clarifies the evidence needed to show progress towards the change.

The practical application of this change looks like weekly reflections on the school vision and mission where provocative questions are asked about its purpose, impact and currency for parents, students and staff. An example of this might be:

 Provide the criteria for success and have self and peer reviews of performance to find the successes and challenges; Resource time for teachers to meet and resolve problems of practice; Review and take a calm, centred and gentle approach to difficult conversations and the range of personalities in the school;Celebrate when you can;Create a purpose for learning; andRemind staff that learning is not an end in itself. A faith based approach emphasises the transformational goals of teaching and learning as a life long endeavour.


Q: How have you increased the focus on evidence for learning and best practice whilst growing the emphasis on values and faith?

A: There is a common misconception about the difficulty of linking values and faith with evidence for learning when these are entirely compatible constructs. One of the great benefits of the Christian faith in education is the emphasis on learning, change, humility and mutual accountability. 

The Christian ideas that we are to sow seeds that reap a wonderful harvest, that we treat others as we would like to be treated, that human nature is positive, and we are lifelong learners on a journey, sits nicely with many of the important values of society and also the educational principles behind positive behaviour for learning and developing growth mindsets.

At St Williams our motto is ‘In God’s Hands’ and our faith is expressed through our mission to provide child centred education, excellence in teaching and learning, and a commitment to the holistic development of all individuals. We believe in: providing a holistic Catholic education; providing quality teaching/learning experiences; and developing happy, disciplined and well-balanced children. We embed his missional focus into daily school life through the way we deliver teaching and learning experiences, the way we interact and resolve problems and the sense of hope for a positive future that we build in our students.


We have found the emphasis on exploring evidence based learning, high yield teaching strategies and high performance teams systems have been complimentary to our faith based school and strengthened the sense of community and confidence among staff, students and parents as we continue to focus on every student succeeding.


Sliding doors – Into The Future...

“I touch the future. I teach.” Christa McAuliffe

Q: Fast-forward 20 years from now – what have the school leaders of today done to create a successful future for both their students and for the education system?

A:  Schools are intimate learning communities where like-minded people gather to learn, grow and socialise together.  The best schools will look to reach out to families to find what they need and how they can provide educational and pastoral support. They will also reach out to other schools in the area to build the capacity of families to learn and discuss matters that affect the community and the life of those who inhabit them.   

In a world that is becoming increasingly automated and detached, families will look to schools to provide effective support and development of personal and social interactions. In this regard, I hope that the legacy I will leave as a Principal will be that I helped others to grow and this was done with kindness and compassion. 


Thankyou Anthony Lucey!


Dr Pete Stebbins PhD

Contact Dr Pete

3/1 John St Bilinga, QLD, 4225 Australia

drpetestebbins@gmail.com

  • Black LinkedIn Icon
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon

© 2020 by Dr Pete Stebbins