Principal Profile: Andy Muller, Scotch Oakburn College
By Emma Westwood
Writer | Editor | Content & Digital Strategist
Andy Muller is Principal of Scotch Oakburn College in Tasmania. We find out a little more about him and his achievements at the school.
Before Andy Muller found himself heading one of the most prestigious institutions on the Apple Isle, he taught at another venerated school, Melbourne’s Scotch College, where he threw himself into a number of roles including coaching of the rowing team and taking students on cultural adventures to the likes of Nepal.
Andy’s journey as an educator then led him to St Leonard’s College where he was fortunate to be promoted to the role of deputy principal and help further define the school as one of the elite colleges of Melbourne.
While Scotch Oakburn was well-known to him, mainly as fierce competitors in the national rowing competitions, it wasn’t until the position of principal was advertised that he considered the school as a career prospect. But when he travelled to Tasmania to take a look firsthand, he knew Scotch Oakburn was the place where he was meant to be.
Andy Muller generously gave EdSmart some of his time to answer questions about his education experiences and philosophies.
EdSmart: What do you believe defines Scotch Oakburn as a school?
Andy Muller: “There are three things that I think really define us as a school. None of them are unique on their own but, collectively, I think they go a long way to building a great school ethos and that intangible notion of school spirit.”
“We’re about developing young people in so many more ways than in just an academic perspective. We want to make sure, when they walk out the gates at the end of year 12, they're really good people and they're ready to take on the challenges that face them. That requires a whole lot more than just content knowledge; it requires the development of personal attributes, values, morals, etc.”
“Great schools like Scotch Oakburn are about so much more than just being a learning institution; it's about being a community. One thing that I've found really pleasing here is what a great sense of community there is around the school. When we moved to online learning with COVID, and even knowing the trouble that would cause in some households, everybody recognised that it was for the health and welfare of our community, and they got right behind us. So that's just one little example that reinforces what a great community we've got.”
“We’re also a Round Square school. Round Square is an international organisation, and they're very much about students' awareness of their role in a global community. They have six pillars: Internationalism, Democracy, Environmental Stewardship, Adventure, Leadership and Service. At its core is the notion that what we do here [at Scotch Oakburn] matters on a global scale, not just locally; that outward-looking notion of us being part of a bigger world community, not just the community here in Launceston. That's another really important defining factor of the school.”
“We’ve also got a really great pastoral structure working across different year levels. There's a lot of informal mentoring of younger students by older students through our vertical pastoral structure. I know it's not unique – other schools have got that – but it certainly defines us. And students give us feedback of how much they enjoy knowing students in the older year levels. It means, when they move around the campus, that there's a lot of interaction – good social interaction between students – that notion of Big Brother/Big Sister with the younger ones is really great to see. Because it's not formally imposed, it's got a really great natural feel about it.”
Is there anything you’ve specifically introduced during your tenure? “Part of being a principal is that you enable a whole lot of people to do things, and that gives them licence to actually introduce things themselves. Some of it is encouragement; encouragement of things like the increased recognition and integration of Round Square that I mentioned before. Recognising that it's not just about the overseas trips for the kids but it's actually about day-to-day learning and how we integrate that into our curriculum.”
“We introduced HeadStart to [Tasmanian Certificate of Education], which is common in other states but the notion of year 10 and 11 students coming back after their exams at the end of the year and having a fortnight of commencing year 11 and 12 was pretty foreign. We're still the only school in the state that does that.”
“A big one that we changed, from our community perspective, is that we introduced community surveys in the first year that I was here in order to get a really good holistic understanding of what people felt about the school – what was working, what wasn't working and what we could address. In 2018, after doing some community research, we completely changed the fee structure at the school. We decreased fees across our junior school by about 25 percent on average, and then gradually decreased the decrease – if that makes sense – as we went up through years seven, eight and so on.”
“That initiative was a huge recognition that our fees had grown out of proportion to our community's economic capacity, and that had a fantastic positive impact on what had been a gradual decrease of enrolments since 2011. It’s been really pleasing to think that we can offer our education to more people in our community.”
"There have been lots and lots of little things that have happened along the way and a lot of it has been driven by giving people licence to try things. If anyone has had a good rationale behind changes they're putting into play and they haven't quite worked, that's okay. We learn from these things and maybe we adjust them or maybe we say, ‘Well, look, we tried that. The rationale was sound, but it didn't quite work.’ So, people actually being able to fulfil the responsibilities of the role that they've got – that notion of distributed leadership – that's just been some of the things that we've done while I’ve been at Scotch Oakburn.”
What do you see as the role of technology in schools now and in the future from a learning and operational perspective?
“I see technology as a real double-edged sword. Technology, when used well, should enable teaching and learning and the display of knowledge in ways that otherwise wouldn't be possible. But I think that sometimes technology is just used as a shortcut for things.”
"Technology was pivotal in our delivery of learning during the whole COVID isolation period. Because of the amount of resources that we put into [our technology] over the years, within 48 hours, we were able to move straight to eLearning, and it worked really well. Obviously, the older the year level, the less requirement on mum and dad and the more independent students were but, on the whole, it worked really well. So, technology has certainly got its place. There are things that you can do with technology, things that you can show like simulations and so on that you can’t do any other way.”
“With technology, access to information and up-to-date information is obviously far better than it was when I was a student but, the other side of this, is that it can, strangely enough, isolate people. We've taken the approach that technology’s here to aid the learning but not in social settings. We’ve got a policy where students don't use their phone during the day because it tends to isolate people instead of giving them the opportunity to socialise and interact person-to-person.”
“We've got to make sure we educate students to use technology very responsibly. We see all the time in the media how technology brings so many people undone. When I was a kid, you did something silly and a couple of people knew about it, and then they forgot about it two days later. Now, it's there forever. So, as I say, technology is a double-edged sword but there's no point pretending it's not there.”
“I think the pendulum probably swung a little bit too far one way for awhile but I think it's coming back to an equilibrium – we’re now using technology appropriately in schools and not relying on it for teaching and learning.”
When you get away from school, what do you enjoy doing?
“I have a background in sports so I enjoy staying fit. Too much football when I was younger means that I struggle running these days, so now I do a fair bit of bike riding. And that's also a social outlet – cycling is a good social experience. I've got to know quite a few people around the place through cycling. It’s a great opportunity just to be somebody else; just another person in the community rather than being the principal of Scotch Oakburn 24 hours a day.”
“I also love travelling with my family but, of course, that's not on the cards at the moment [with the pandemic]. And when I get a chance, doing things like reading a good book gives my mind a little bit of a rest from work and from all the various machinations and things that are going on. Whether it be for the hour in the morning I go for a ride or whether it be a little bit of a break every now and again, that’s all really valuable stuff, just to maintain a little bit of balance.”