Innovation years at Westmount among the best in a brilliant career

DECEMBER 22, 2015 / Articles


Margaret Lees is retiring from teaching after more than four decades in the profession. She says the last 10 years as academic principal of Westmount’s 11 campuses across New Zealand have been a highlight of her career.

“The excitement of my experience at Westmount has been the dramatic change that has taken place over the past 10 years.

“We started with a group of very traditional, didactic teachers. Now we have a teaching team that is characterised by its innovative, collaborative culture.

“We’ve developed a model that has been very successful for our students, and is now being implemented successfully in Australia and the UK.”

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in Westmount’s case, the needs of small numbers of students at rural school sites were the catalyst for change. The Ministry of Education was very supportive of a trial using video-conferencing (VC) for NZ Curriculum delivery. After the first year, students taught through VC were more successful than students with comparable PAT scores who learnt in traditional teaching situations. Beyond the data, it became obvious that the VC students had developed their capacity to work independently.

This was the origin of the Self Directed Learning Model which is now implemented across Westmount schools and internationally through One School Global.

Over the last 10 years, academic achievement has lifted across the schools from a pass rate of @50% in University Entrance, to 87%. Margaret credits video-conferencing and Self-Directed Learning with this success. But she also acknowledges a powerful alignment of parents and trustees with this Teaching and Learning approach. “I think when you have a common bond of religious belief or family associations in a school, it’s very powerful for learning outcomes.”

She also credits the collaborative teaching culture. “We have worked hard to develop an academic curriculum, and build teachers’ understanding of what students need to achieve well.”

Margaret retires very satisfied with a long professional career that has included Te Awamutu College and Green Bay High School in Auckland. She says she looks forward to staying connected as Westmount continues to improve and strengthen its professional development teaching programmes.

“This is a great environment for teachers who want to concentrate on teaching, and develop professional excellence.”