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Educational Innovation Rises Down Under

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Innovation in education has no boundaries. It's apparent that overcoming obstacles to providing an innovative and relevant curriculum that promotes trust, respect and responsibility is not limited to the U.S. We see schools overseas facing similar issues of finding the appropriate teaching method to prepare their students for life after high school. But for Parramatta Marist School, in Westmead, NSW, Australia (15 miles west of downtown Sydney), the solution to the challenge of providing the best education possible resulted from the vision of Brother Patrick Howlett.

Brother Patrick has spent 23 years leading three large high schools in Sydney, including Parramatta Marist, where he has served as principal for the past 10 years. As a long-time educator, Brother Pat, who received a Masters in Educational Leadership from Boston College, knew that there was more to educating students than asking them to memorize vast amounts of text which were not relevant to their lives.

But how to make the change? After receiving support from the Director of Catholic Education Parramatta Diocese, Greg Whitby, Br Pat visited various schools in the U.S., and, after two years of consultation within his school community in Australia, he adapted teaching methods from New Tech Network (NTN) and implemented project-based learning (PBL) at Parramatta Marist's middle years in 2008.

According to Br Pat, he ventured overseas in search of the best teaching practices for his students and found what he was looking for at New Tech.

A look into the history books shows you that Parramatta Marist was established in 1820 and was entrusted to the care of the Marist Brothers in 1875, making it the oldest Catholic school in Australia. We are excited that the Australian high school will be formally welcomed into the New Tech Network this month, making it the first school outside the United States, as well as the first parochial school, to join the network of high schools established in 16 states.

Brother Pat has a true passion for education innovation. His story is one of tenacity and leadership. He approached NTN several years ago, and has sent teams of teachers to the United States for New Tech training for the past five years. Until this year, we didn't have the capacity, manpower or resources to build this type of international support, and we were limited to inviting Brother Pat and some teachers to attend our U.S.-based training. Until now, he and the faculty were not able to access all the benefits of the network we have here in the U.S. -- access to Echo, our powerful learning management system, or peer-to-peer collaboration and sharing best practices among teachers. I have had the pleasure of meeting various members of Brother Pat's team at the NTN conferences, and have witnessed their commitment to find the best possible method for educating their students.

Brother Pat, his leadership team and key members of his staff collaborated for the past five years with NTN staff and in recent times with Tim Presiado of NTN. Tim and I had various conversations where he shared with me his vision of how NTN could work in Australia as well as with a parochial school.

"I knew there was nothing preventing the NTN culture from going international," Presiado commented. "In the past, all that stood in our way was our lack of capacity and bandwidth. But that has changed now, and we are able to welcome Parramatta Marist School into the Network. The NTN model can work and thrive internationally."

What does this mean in terms of global education? New Tech methodology can be for every student and every community -- public/charter/parochial and private schools -- can achieve NTN's design principles that provide students with a relevant, engaging and rigorous education preparing them for success after high school.

"Learning at Parramatta Marist High School is rigorous, relevant, authentic and student-centered," said Brother Pat. "It is designed around a project-based learning approach refined from the NTN model. There is never just one correct answer in the PBL approach, which encourages students to practice proposing a variety of credible responses to questions. The hope is that when students leave the school they will take with them a passion for discovery through life-long learning."

The culture of learning we have in the U.S., and have now introduced in Australia, focuses not only on knowledge attainment, but also on the development of work ethic, teamwork, presentation skills and literacy skills. We see that a relevant and engaging education that prepares students for life after high school can be made available to students worldwide, regardless of the type of school they attend, the country they live in or the challenges faced by the specific school district.

I can't wait for next week when I will visit Parramatta Marist for the first time as we welcome Australia into the Network. I am excited to deepen collaboration with an innovator like Brother Pat, and I look forward to meeting our first Australian students as NTN expands to a new continent.