Imagine a High School where ‘Adult Learning Environment’ is the reality not just an idea

Nossal High SchoolAnd where there is an Information Resource Centre where books are borrowed and returned on an ‘honour’ system; where there are no bells or buzzers because the students are responsible for their own time keeping; and where appreciative enquiry, team teaching and collaborative study in an open learning environment is the order of the day. If you remember those old school days between 15 and 18 years of age when you sat in dreary classrooms while the teacher stood at the front and filled you full of information that you had to commit to memory and regurgitate at appropriate times, then it’s time to consider a new form of student utopia.

Because here in Melbourne, Victoria, we have a new style of teaching which goes to the core of what ‘education’ should be all about. If you consider that the word education originates from the Latin root ‘educare’ which means ‘to lead or draw out,’ not ‘to push in’ as most of our educational models of earlier times seem to reflect, you may begin to gain an inkling of what our newest secondary educative model for students from Years 9-12 is aspiring to achieve.

This is no experimental laboratory of learning. It happens to be one of our newest and most ground-breaking educational institutions, in the form of Nossal High School, built and opened as recently as 2010 by our Victorian Government as one of only four unique Selective Entry Schools in the state. Student competition to gain entry to this open learning environment is fierce (likewise the teaching staff), and the high achieving, socially aware and community minded alumni that Nossal is producing is testament to an environment where discussion and debate across a wide range of subjects with a wide range of peers is the norm. Nossal’s truly unique environment gives students the freedom to utilise ‘break out spaces’ around the school during class times, to independently study or meet with teachers for advice and support.

Nossal Chill out areasWhen you walk through the school, you will marvel at the open plan teaching spaces; the light, bright and airy feel to the whole physical environment; the internet cafe style study areas; the whiteboard tabletops for group project brainstorming; the many informal lounge areas for ‘chilling out;’ the casual teachers’ offices furnished with comfortable lounges for students wishing to have ‘one-on-ones’ with their selected teacher; the adaptable physical spaces that convert in a few minutes from auditorium to smaller, more intimate ensemble areas; the breakfast, tea and coffee facilities conveniently located around the common areas for students to avail themselves; and the extremely well equipped specialist teaching facilities.

Whether it be physical education, music, english, the sciences, maths, cooking, drama, languages, humanities or other elective subjects, the student-centric, learning-rich physical facilities are state of the art. The school even has a wonderfully equipped IT resource department that is solely there for students and teachers to leave their computers or other IT paraphernalia for hardware repair or software de-bugging or system set-up as the case may be.

But what is most striking when you explore the community is the quiet confidence of the students actively engaged with teachers and each other in an open learning environment or walking purposefully to their next study elective, ubiquitous iPad in hand, in a respectful atmosphere of collegial enquiry and discovery. When you stop and ask any student at random, what they do for fun outside of ‘classroom’ time, you will invariably hear the answer that ‘the whole experience of learning is fun here’, so the lines are very blurred between what constitutes schoolwork vs free time at Nossal High School.

In the pursuit of individual excellence via an environment that allows students to grow step by step to reach their full potential, not only do students learn from their teachers but also the teachers learn from their students. In the words of Nossal High School’s organisational ethos, “We believe that teachers and students are forces that exist for each other and therefore promote and encourage an environment where both staff and students are treated equally with respect and understanding.”

Nossal Learning EnvironmentThe school’s curriculum is based on Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner’s principles of the ‘Five Minds for the Future,’ (Gardner, 2008) and it achieves this through exceptional learning, outstanding teachers, gifted and talented students and an innovative and dynamic adult learning environment. This is a philosophy that future leaders will need to develop certain cognitive abilities, which Gardner defines as the ‘five minds:-’ the disciplined mind; the synthesizing mind; the creative mind; the respectful mind; and the ethical mind. As Nossal High School’s website states, each domain is explored under this framework, so that students gain a high level of analytical thinking in a way that doesn’t limit their learning.

The Disciplined Mind – Individuals will need to be an expert in one area – they will need to develop depth and breadth in specific disciplines.
The Synthesising Mind – Individuals will need to be able to gather together information from disparate sources, find links, transfer and communicate this knowledge.
The Creative Mind - Individuals will be rewarded for being creative – that is the ability to construct a box and think outside of it, and approach problems in unique ways.
The Respectful Mind – The world of today and tomorrow is becoming increasingly diverse. Accordingly it is imperative to respect differences and similarities and promote tolerance and understanding, hence the significance of Physical, Personal and Social learning.
The Ethical Mind - Individuals need to be able to act ethically – that is to think beyond their own self interest and to do what is right under the circumstances.

Even the naming of the school was chosen with much thought invested into the process.

Sir Gustav Nossal is an internationally renowned scientist and a significant figure in Australia’s medical and scientific community. He was Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (1965-1996), Professor of Medical Biology at the University of Melbourne and President of the Australian Academy of Science.

Nossal - Younger Gus NossalGus Nossal has received numerous awards and recognitions throughout his career. He was knighted in 1977 for his ground-breaking work in immunology and made a companion of the Order of Australia in 1989. He was awarded the Albert Einstein World Award of Science in 1990 and in 1996 he won the highly prized Koch Gold Medal for major advances in biomedical science. He has been identified as one of Australia’s national living treasures.

He has been listed in annual Australia Day Honours four times, including as Companion of the Order of Australia in 1989, ‘For services to medicine, to science and to the community,’ and a Centenary Medal Winner, ‘For distinguished service to the study of antibody formation and immunological tolerance’ in 2000, when he was also named Australian of the Year.

Nossal - Sir Gus NossalIt is fitting therefore, that the school is named after Sir Gustav Nossal, such a prominent and inspirational figure who believes in state education and has brought true benefit to the world. He continues to be an active champion of the school and its work, and at the beginning of each year he is an enthusiastic attendee at the opening assembly to present badges to the newest intake of Year 9 students.

The school’s Information Resource Centre, as the educational hub of the school, holds an extensive range of print as well as digital resources to complement the curriculum being delivered at Nossal. The IRC also holds an extensive fiction collection, general non-fiction books as well as audio visual resources and equipment.  The programmes being delivered by the IRC are wide and varied. Complementing the guest speakers and performers who visit the school throughout the year, the Information Resource Centre also runs a range of interesting and exciting programs and competitions for the all-round development of the students.

Given that we live in a cyber-connected world, Nossal High School aims to empower students to become ethical ‘cybercitizens,’ who approach the use of IT and e-learning in a systematic, disciplined and respectful manner. They are encouraged to challenge data and synthesize their findings. As the schools says, ‘A Nossal Cybercitizen knowingly adopts cyber ethical approaches when digitally interacting at local, national, regional and global levels. The overall philosophy is to use e-Learning and ICT to develop responsible, ethical student learning pathways in Virtual Learning Environments, the intranet and the World Wide Web. The digital pathways are to be used to develop logical thinking, problem solving, collaborative techniques, ability to synthesise and creativity in our students.’

Through the use of IT, underpinned by Cyber ethics, the school is challenging the students to become knowledgeable about the nature of information, comfortable with new technology and, able to recognise its relevance and potential. Cyber ethics is defined as the values, beliefs and behaviours needed to ensure safe, responsible and respectful use of digital technology.

This is the future of education that I envisage for our children if we are to create a world that is going to be sustainable for generations to come and where the focus is not purely on growth for growth sake and the insatiable consumption and global inequity that comes from such a single-minded approach to the modern economic reality.

It is fortunate that pockets of our world are now inhabited by educational institutions like Nossal High School. It is my fervent wish that this and others like it will be the model of educational best practice that public and private schools alike will aspire to become, because students that graduate from these secondary schools and on to tertiary study are the leaders we will be looking to in the future. Maybe one day, instead of a handful of secondary schools like Nossal, we will see centres of learning of this ilk spread throughout our communities. I hope so.

What are your thoughts on the future of education? I’d love to read them.

Drop me an email to if you would like to discuss further how to select the right people for your roles and how to leverage that knowledge for the benefit of them and your organisation.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less. Have a great week – Brian

Precision ProfilingWhat Makes You Tick? Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your team.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here


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    Imagine a High School where ‘Adult Learning Environment’ is the reality not just an idea

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