Nick Johnstone, Principal of Bishop Druitt College

Nick Johnstone’s journey in education spans over three decades, encompassing diverse experiences across multiple states and sectors, with a particular emphasis on regional and rural schools. As he reflects on his career path, Nick shares, “My motivation for pursuing a career in education leadership is deeply rooted in my faith, a passion for developing and implementing innovative and transformative strategic visions, and a commitment to the holistic development and wellbeing of students.”

In his early years, Nick’s focus was on science education, fueled by his love for sports and recreational learning. However, his career trajectory evolved, leading him to significant leadership roles at institutions like St Luke’s Anglican School in Queensland and Geraldton Grammar School in Western Australia. Since 2018, Nick has embraced the role of Principal at Bishop Druitt College, situated amidst the serene landscapes of the Coffs Coast in Northern New South Wales.

“At Bishop Druitt College, I take pleasure in creating school cultures that are innovative, welcoming, and inclusive,” Nick affirms. “To me, school engagement, academic outcomes, and community wellbeing are interconnected. I firmly believe that both students and staff can enhance their capacities through a growth mindset, embracing new experiences, sharing successes, learning from failures, and doing so with a generous spirit.”

Nick’s dedication to education has not gone unnoticed, garnering him prestigious awards such as Queensland’s Peter Doherty Award for Outstanding Science Teacher and the Australian Science Teachers Association National Ruth Dircks Scholarship. His impact on the field was further highlighted in 2022 when he received the Most Influential Educator Award at the Australian Educator Awards.

Beyond his professional endeavors, Nick’s commitment to service shines through his involvement in various local, state, and national boards and committees. From the Coalition of Regional Independent Schools Australia to the NSW Independent Schools Regional Principal Advisory Committee, Nick’s contributions extend far beyond the confines of his school. Additionally, he proudly serves as the President of the BDC Barracudas Sporting Club, exemplifying his dedication to nurturing youth development beyond academic boundaries.

Forging a Path to Educational Excellence

In developing Bishop Druitt College’s educational vision, Nick draws from extensive experience and an educational philosophy centered on innovation, wellbeing, and experiential learning. “For me, education should be an innovative, transformative, and holistic experience, fostering the growth of individuals in mind, body, and spirit,” Nick shares. Rooted in over 30 years of experience in Anglican schools, his philosophy emphasizes the principles of innovation, wellbeing, and experiential education.

Innovation, as Nick sees it, transcends mere technological advancements; it encompasses a culture of continuous improvement. At Bishop Druitt College, this ethos is evident in groundbreaking programs like BDC Investigations, the Kaizen Initiative, World Options, and Microcredentialing. These initiatives break the mould of traditional pedagogies, integrating evidence-based practices and real-world linkages to create a dynamic and engaging learning environment.

Wellbeing lies at the heart of Nick’s educational philosophy, reflected in the establishment of a comprehensive Wellbeing Hub. This hub integrates psychologists, counselors, and even a wellbeing dog, underscoring Nick’s commitment to nurturing the physical, emotional, and social wellbeing of both students and staff. Programs such as the Rites of Passage, Rainbow Group, and Human Rights Group further emphasize a holistic approach to wellbeing.

Experiential education forms the cornerstone of Nick’s philosophy, recognizing that real learning occurs through hands-on experiences. Initiatives like BDC Investigations and the Kaizen Initiative promote active engagement and critical thinking, rooted in the 6Cs of Deep Learning and the Round Square Discovery Framework. These programs not only impart knowledge but also equip students with essential life skills for the future.

In Nick’s words, echoing the sentiments of educational pioneer Kurt Hahn, “There is more in us than we know if we could be made to see it; perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.” This quote encapsulates Nick’s belief in unlocking the full potential of individuals through innovative, wellbeing-focused, and experiential education, preparing them to thrive in an ever-changing world.

As Principal of Bishop Druitt College, Nick’s role in fostering a positive learning environment is multi-faceted. He leads by example, embodying integrity, and emphasizing relational leadership principles. Through strategic planning and innovative programs, Nick promotes experiential learning and wellbeing. By empowering staff and students and fostering community engagement, Nick cultivates a positive, dynamic, and growth-oriented atmosphere conducive to learning and development.

Despite the challenges faced as Principal, including enrolment fluctuations and financial sustainability issues, Nick’s strategic approach and commitment to innovation have yielded remarkable results. Balancing financial management with infrastructure growth and sustaining community engagement demanded meticulous planning. Moreover, navigating human resource challenges, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, underscored the importance of trust-building and evidence-based practices in maintaining a thriving learning community at Bishop Druitt College. Through resilience and dedication, Nick continues to lead Bishop Druitt College toward excellence, inspiring students and staff alike to reach their full potential.

Driving Excellence and Growth

Throughout his tenure as Principal at Bishop Druitt College, Nick has overseen a series of notable achievements and success stories that reflect the institution’s commitment to excellence and innovation. “In the past five years, we’ve achieved significant financial success, maintaining the lowest debt-to-student ratio in the college’s history,” Nick remarks proudly. “This success has allowed us to reinvest in the college through extensive refurbishments and an innovative building plan.”

Under Nick’s leadership, Bishop Druitt College has experienced unprecedented growth in student enrolment, reaching a record high of 1291 students in 2024. “Our focus on providing quality education and fostering a vibrant learning community has been instrumental in attracting more students to our college,” he notes.

Nick has played a pivotal role in spearheading the construction of state-of-the-art facilities on campus. “From a Maths Centre and Adventure Playground to a Recording Studio and additional Primary Classrooms, our infrastructure development initiatives aim to enhance the learning environment for our students,” he explains. “We are currently working on the construction of the Innovation Centre, an Outdoor Education Centre, and new sporting facilities to further enrich our campus offerings.”

Innovative educational programs introduced under Nick’s leadership, such as BDC Investigations, the Kaizen Initiative, and Microcredentialing, underscore the college’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of educational excellence. “We believe in providing our students with dynamic and relevant educational experiences that prepare them for the future,” Nick emphasizes.

Community engagement is a cornerstone of Nick’s leadership approach. “Establishing initiatives like the BDC Barracudas Sporting Club and the Fathering Project has strengthened our ties with the community,” he states. “We are actively working on building ‘Friends of’ groups to further enhance collaboration and engagement.”

Recognizing the importance of global perspectives in education, Nick has fostered international partnerships and collaborations. “Transitioning to global membership in the Round Square program and establishing ties with schools in Japan and Cambodia have enriched the educational experiences of our students,” he says. “These partnerships also contribute to enhancing the college’s global presence.”

Strengthening Bonds, Fostering Collaboration

Bishop Druitt College demonstrates a strong commitment to engaging with the local community, recognizing the invaluable role of community involvement in enhancing the educational journey for students. Nick explains, “Community involvement is vital in enriching the educational experience for our students. By fostering strong connections with the local community, we create a supportive network that enhances learning outcomes and promotes holistic development.”

One of the college’s key initiatives to engage with the community is through the establishment of Friends of Groups. These post-COVID initiatives, launched in 2022, serve as platforms for fostering community connections and encouraging shared involvement in the school’s activities. “The Friends of Performing Arts, Friends of Barracudas, and Friends of Goori Group have been particularly successful in strengthening community bonds,” Nick remarks.

Additionally, the Fathering Project, initiated in 2019, underscores the importance of paternal engagement in children’s lives. By emphasizing the vital role of fathers and encouraging their active involvement in school activities, this initiative aims to strengthen family bonds and contribute to the overall wellbeing of students.

Furthermore, the Parent Ambassador Program, established in 2023, plays a crucial role in enhancing community ties by appointing ambassadors to represent the school. These ambassadors foster positive relationships between the college and parents, facilitating open communication and collaboration.

In addition to community engagement initiatives, Bishop Druitt College has embarked on several collaborative projects and partnerships that positively impact both the college and the community.

One such project is the Waratah Project, spearheaded by AISNSW, aimed at enhancing academic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Through strategic measures such as targeted interventions and the establishment of post-schooling pathways, the project has led to a remarkable increase in graduation rates among Indigenous students.

Another notable collaboration is the Clarence Coffs Careers Hub, facilitated by Bishop Druitt College in partnership with other schools in the region and supported by AISNSW. This initiative provides students with exposure to post-schooling opportunities and facilitates seamless transitions into higher education and the workforce through internships, mentorship programs, and career exploration activities.

Finally, the Teaching Hub, a groundbreaking pilot project aimed at addressing the teacher shortage crisis, stands as a testament to collaborative efforts between Bishop Druitt College, AISNSW, and Southern Cross University. By pairing experienced teachers with student or trainee teachers, the hub fosters skill development and support for the next generation of educators, ensuring the retention of local talent in regional communities.

Through these initiatives and partnerships, Bishop Druitt College continues to prioritize community engagement and collaboration, enriching the educational experience for students and fostering a strong sense of belonging within the local community.

Tech-Integrated Education

At Bishop Druitt College, technology isn’t just a supplement to education; it’s woven into the fabric of teaching and learning, enriching the educational experience in innovative ways. Nick Johnstone, explains, “We’ve embraced a cutting-edge approach to education by seamlessly integrating technology into our teaching and learning processes. Our iHub’s Innovation Room, for instance, serves as a dynamic space where Virtual Reality (VR) integrated learning takes center stage. Through immersive experiences, students explore subjects in ways previously unimaginable, enhancing their understanding and engagement.”

The commitment to innovation extends to hands-on learning with educational tools like Bee-bots and Makey Makey. These interactive resources foster a creative and experiential environment, encouraging students to actively participate in their education. The incorporation of Lego Robotics further amplifies this commitment, allowing students to delve into the exciting realm of robotics and automation.

Complementing these initiatives are comprehensive STEM classes, providing students with a robust foundation in subjects like rocketry, software engineering, and robot wars. “These classes empower students with practical skills and knowledge, preparing them for the evolving landscape of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” Nick emphasizes.

Furthermore, Bishop Druitt College has established a Generative-AI committee, where staff and students collaborate to explore how AI can be ethically and innovatively integrated across the school and into the wider world. “The holistic integration of technology at Bishop Druitt College reflects our dedication to preparing students for the challenges of the modern world,” Nick affirms.

However, with the increasing use of technology in education come both benefits and challenges. “We’ve identified opportunities to support student wellbeing by limiting access to mobile phones during key learning times,” Nick shares. “However, we also recognize the computing power of these devices and utilize them on field trips as data loggers.”

While technology enhances learning and engagement, the college acknowledges that if technology doesn’t add value to the learning experience, social learning can still be best practice. Nick brings a wealth of experience to this discussion, having a background with learning management systems and programming live synchronous bulletin boards in the late 1990s and early 2000s during his Masters in Education in Science and Technology.

Pioneering Innovation and Sustainability for the Future

Nick’s vision for the future of Bishop Druitt College is rooted in fostering a dynamic and forward-thinking educational environment, characterized by innovation, sustainability, and experiential learning. “I am dedicated to nurturing an innovative mindset within the college community,” Nick shares. “This involves staying abreast of emerging educational trends, integrating cutting-edge technologies, and continually refining pedagogical approaches to ensure Bishop Druitt College remains at the forefront of educational excellence.”

Key initiatives on the horizon include the development of Farnworth, the school farm, poised to evolve into a remarkable outdoor teaching and learning environment. “By capitalizing on its potential, we aim to create a space where students can engage with nature, learn sustainable practices, and develop a profound connection with the environment,” Nick explains.

Inspired by Kurt Hahn’s philosophy, the establishment of an Outdoor Education Centre is also in the works. “This initiative seeks to provide transformative experiences, instill resilience, and foster personal growth through outdoor education, not only for our students but also for other local schools,” Nick says.

Additionally, Nick envisions the creation of a Research Institute dedicated to sharing evidence-based educational research and innovative practices. “This institute will serve as a hub for collaboration, bringing together educators, researchers, and practitioners to explore and disseminate innovative approaches to teaching and learning,” he elaborates.

Looking ahead, Nick envisions Bishop Druitt College embracing a transformative evolution by strategically navigating the shift towards hybrid work and study environments. “We will introduce a dynamic employment model that accommodates part-time staff, fostering diversity in expertise,” Nick explains. “Leveraging technology, we will facilitate remote teaching and learning opportunities to ensure accessibility and promote global perspectives.”

Moreover, Bishop Druitt College will develop a curated collection of online classes to cater to various learning styles and preferences, maintaining high curriculum standards while providing flexibility and personalized learning experiences. “Pioneering the exploration of cutting-edge learning platforms and interactive technologies will create engaging and immersive online educational environments,” Nick adds. “We may also explore the possibility of an online school option to extend the reach of our exceptional education to a wider audience.”

Guiding Bishop Druitt College with Integrity and Innovation

Nick’s leadership at Bishop Druitt College is underpinned by a set of core principles and values that reflect his commitment to excellence, integrity, and collaboration. “My decision-making is guided by ethical conduct, ensuring actions align with moral and professional standards,” Nick shares. “Integrity is non-negotiable, and decisions are made with transparency and fairness.”

Furthermore, Nick believes in the power of collaboration, emphasizing the importance of input from diverse perspectives in decision-making processes. “Shared decision-making enhances ownership and commitment among team members, staff, and stakeholders,” he notes.

With a student-centered focus, Nick prioritizes decisions that benefit the wellbeing and growth of students. “Providing the best possible learning experiences, support systems, and opportunities for students to thrive is paramount,” he affirms.

Innovation and adaptability are also key principles guiding Nick’s leadership approach. “Embracing new ideas, technologies, and pedagogical approaches ensures the college remains at the forefront of educational excellence,” he explains.

Nick’s commitment to continuous improvement is evident in his leadership style, where feedback loops, reflective practices, and data-driven insights play integral roles in refining strategies and programs. Moreover, Nick values empowerment within the college community, believing in providing autonomy, recognizing achievements, and supporting professional development to foster a culture of empowerment and personal growth.

When asked about advice for individuals aspiring to pursue leadership roles in education, Nick’s guidance is rooted in the belief that teaching is a noble and transformative profession. “Embrace the noble mission of education and understand its transformative power,” Nick advises. “Be a lifelong learner, cultivate empathy and compassion, inspire and mentor others, embrace innovation, build collaborative partnerships, and celebrate successes while learning from challenges.”

In summarizing specific qualities or skills crucial for success in educational leadership, Nick emphasizes empathy, compassion, and commitment. “If you don’t care, they won’t care,” he states, highlighting the importance of personal investment in the educational journey. “Being a school principal or an educator of any type is a social responsibility, but you must give of yourself and give your best effort every day.”

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