Published on August 6, 2022

Our new Principal, Ms Rebecca Butterworth, has an insightful perspective on the future of education. Her views on the challenges young people face and her desire to elevate learning to be progressive, inclusive and forward-thinking offer a positive driving force for current and future HVGS students.

two people sitting at  a bench

Ms Butterworth joined HVGS this year after 20 years teaching abroad in International Baccalaureate Schools in China, Zurich, and most recently, Singapore. Inspired by a remarkable English teacher, Ms Butterworth pursued teaching – after realising that her original career path of law, really wasn’t where her heart lay. Early in her career, she was offered a position at a school to be the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) Coordinator, which opened the doorway to international education and a path of leadership from quite early in her career.

Ms Butterworth’s career trajectory and experiences gained in international education place our School in good stead to synthesise our current practice with new ways of thinking. This thinking will help shape and define our curriculum, culture and focus for the future.

Our conversation covered Ms Butterworth’s IB experience, her role in supporting HVGS students and her future plans for the School. As a Year 12 student, my time at HVGS has almost come to an end; however, I’m really excited about what Ms Butterworth brings to the HVGS community and can’t wait to see where to next for HVGS.

HG: Do you feel your involvement with the IB influenced your career?

RB: When I got introduced to the MYP, it was a really exciting time. The program was very young. I worked in Queensland at the time, and we didn’t have a national curriculum; we had our state curriculum. Teachers had a lot of autonomy, and we could blend the IB and state curricula quite well. The MYP is very concept-driven and inquiry-driven and what we were doing in Queensland was also. While I was still teaching, I also worked with the IB as a workshop leader, authorising schools to do the MYP. This opened the door to international education, taking me to new
overseas experiences.

HG: I’m interested in your overseas experience and what you have learned from this. I see your international experience as a significant advantage to HVGS and students studying the IB.

RB: Schools are very similar, no matter where you are. There is a universal need for all students to feel a sense of belonging and care at school. The curriculum is a pathway to help students realise their potential and feel that deep sense of belonging and care. Working in international schools gave me a lot of autonomy and scope to enhance curriculum and policies. That knowledge and understanding are something I can bring to HVGS.

HG: On a more personal level, what are some of your hobbies and interests?

RB: My hobbies have evolved over time. I find it important to be reading. I also like to do some of my own writing because finding ways to express myself and share my thoughts is important to me.

HG: On that notion of self-expression, do you feel this is something that students also require in their schooling?

RB: Elevating student voice and giving students agency in their learning is very important to me. Voice can be spoken, written, and nonverbal, but it’s ultimately about finding ways for students to feel a sense of belonging and safety.

“Students need a way to express what they’re thinking, feeling and, importantly, what they need.”

Rebecca Butterworth

HG: This can be hard for some students. How should schools support students to find their voice or the right words?

RB: We can do that in multiple ways and through different opportunities in which to do that. It doesn’t all have to be in a conversation. For example, for Year 7 and 8 students, our Head of Stage Vanessa Dean brought in Skodel, a wellbeing
app. Students can select an emoticon to express how they’re feeling, and they’ve got an option of answering a couple of questions and adding a comment to say they’d like the teacher to reach out to them or not. Mentors get that report every week, which helps support students who are experiencing challenges. This gives students a voice about how they’re feeling and the autonomy to say, “I would like to have a conversation”, or “I would not like to talk”, rather than asking them at the end of
the class how they are feeling because they’re probably going to say “fine” and walk away.

two people on a park bench

HG: Following on from that, what do you feel are the key challenges currently faced by young people?

RB: The plethora of choices about their future is one challenge. You’re told, you can create your own career, but what does that mean? And then how do you know what skills you need if you’re creating your own career? Choice is also a challenge in terms of accessibility to information and knowledge. How can young people be critical,
wise consumers of knowledge? They need time to read, so they can dig below the surface to really understand an issue.

Also, young people’s access to drugs and alcohol is not a new concern, but it’s awfully easy for them to access the things that can harm them. We have a responsibility to help young people make good choices.

There are real pressures on young people regarding the cost of living. This means they might be living at home for longer.

“That financial autonomy and independence that young people would hope to have in their early to mid-twenties; it’s not the same as it was for previous generations.”

Rebecca Butterworth

Although I think the world is hopeful and fantastic, talking about mental health is challenging. I think it’s positive to talk about it, but on the flip side, the more we talk about anxiety, the more we create anxiety, too. We always need to live with a little bit of worry and support young people to understand what is ‘okay stress’ and ‘okay anxiety’. Having time and space for that development of self-awareness is critical.

HG: What has been your impression of HVGS, and what is the plan for the future?

RB: HVGS is a caring community, and I think it’s quite a connected one. One of my highlights has been how keen the community is for moving forward, for wanting to look into the future and saying, “who can we be?” I see that amongst staff, parents, the Board, and our students.

My immediate plans are to involve the whole community in helping set our strategic direction. I really want to engage the community in that process. We’ll start doing that in Term 3 with the involvement of parents, staff and students.

“Another focus for me is community, culture and connection. We are thinking about how we build a shared understanding of our identity and our culture as HVGS.”

Rebecca Butterworth

I’m also focused on equity and inclusion. We have a group of staff who want to be allies for our LGBTQI+ students. We are setting up an affinity group for students who wish to join as allies or as people who identify as gender nonbinary or lesbian, gay, queer – and I’m excited by that. I see my role as enabling that to happen and then stepping back and connecting like-minded students and staff, letting them run with things, and seeing how that evolves – while also honouring all other identities in the School.

I’m also excited about how we can more authentically and meaningfully support our Indigenous students and our local community.

Hugh Gelder

Hugh Gelder

Hugh Gelder is a Year 12 students at Hunter Valley Grammar School. He is studying Advance Mathematics, Economics and French.