“You only make a difference in education by making a difference with individual students.” – Australia

For the past twenty-five years, David Hamlett has been on a mission to transform secondary schools by creating learning environments that are inclusive, personalized, contextualized and authentic. Under Hamlett’s direction, Taroona High School transformed into a world leader in personalized teaching approaches, globalized learning, and the use of ICT. “There has been significant increase in the use of technology in schools from virtually nothing to the current situation where almost every student brings a personal web-capable device to school,” says Hamlett.

His impact has been so profound, he was named the Australia Secondary Principal of the Year in 2011. Currently on sabbatical, Hamlett “plans to achieve a greater understanding of successful strategies for school principals to build social capital within their schools, across school networks, and through community partnerships, so as to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all students.” He is traveling the world, meeting with school leaders, policy makers, academics and leading educators in Finland, the United Kingdom and Canada to analyze and identify key features of successful models which can be translated and used in Australian education.

Here, David shares his views on personalized education and what defines “innovation.”

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education? 

Innovations include: new organizational structures removing age-locked progression, ‘courses’ reflecting teacher passion and student choice, technology as an ‘enabler’ of learning, rapid increase in teacher ‘digital’ pedagogy, bring your own device for learning, and whole school improvement planning using a balanced scorecard approach to strategic planning.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

The use of technology in schools in Tasmania.  Access to high quality infrastructure for all students using personally owned devices.  Timetable structures in many schools.  Attitudes toward technology among staff and across schools — from computers as a tool, to computers as an enabler.  Focus in staff development on improving teacher pedagogy.  System influence over a long period of time.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Maintain an unwavering focus on improving student learning outcomes and use this as a filter for almost everything you do in schools.  Have a strong evidence base for your work and use this to manage the risks associated with innovation.  Make sure that any innovation” is structured  to some extent as innovation is hard work, and even though it fosters creativity and passion, it can also ‘burn’ people out so it needs to be managed.  Innovation is highly situational (i.e. innovation in one context or school will not be innovative in another). Schools are all at different stages of a journey so don’t judge yourself by somebody else’s standards.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I introduced a learning management system that provides secure 24/7 access to students and parents. I’ve also driven the use of personally owned devices for learning project.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are
receiving a quality education? 

System inertia and essentially a conservative attitude to educational change.  It’s difficult to convince parents and system leaders of the need to take risks with the education of children.  The secret is in managing the risk — not avoiding it — but this can be a difficult conversation with both parents and system bureaucrats.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Recognizing that the use of technology in schools is a non-negotiable in ALL classes and learning areas.  Proactively addressing the issue of social networking or communication and collaboration, which should have happened sooner.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

Greater focus on leadership development.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?  

Firstly we need to be very careful with the use of the word ‘innovation’ as it is not clearly defined in terms of what it looks like and is certainly not universal in its use.
So let’s take it as a given that it has a context… and the context determines what is innovative.  Then we have a definition something like, “Innovative practice is doing something to support and enhance learning that was not possible in the past.”  Hence the best opportunity for innovation in education will be identifying ways that innovative practice can enhance the learning outcomes of all students and managing the associated risk through the use of a good evidence base.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)? 

Focus on the learning needs of individual students and believe that you can make a difference in the lives and opportunities of all students you teach.
You only make a difference in education by making a difference with individual students.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning? 

A greater focus on personalization will potentially help every student though a focus on continuous improvement.  The trends of national benchmark testing, greater accountability and the belief in rewarding good teachers and punishing ‘poor’ ones, and competition rather than collaboration, are all of serious concern to me.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be?

Uniformly good teachers!!!  Why?
Teachers make the real difference; it’s not about tools.


About David Hamlett

Birthplace: Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
Current residence: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Education: The University of Tasmania; B.Sc, Dip.Ed, M.Ed Studies
Person who inspires me most:  My wife and children
Favorite childhood memory: Working with my grandfather on his farm
Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  Las Vegas for pleasure on way home to work
When was the last time you laughed?  Yesterday Why? Trying to explain to a cab driver in Toronto that I wanted to go to Malvern School.  Australian vowel sounds don’t cut it in Canada.  Couldn’t get the M-al-ve-rrrr-n right!
Favorite book:  The Bourne Series by Robert Ludlum
Favorite music:  Leonard Cohen
Your favorite quote or motto: If you want to change the world you must first change yourself.” And, “The future is not a destination but a journey, the creation which changes both the maker and the destination.”

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