Helping Tonga’s school principals

Published: Wednesday 6th April 2016

Educational leadership: Associate Professor Charles Burford with Edgar Haake, principal of Chanel Catholic College, Vava'u

ACU academics in the Faculty of Education and Arts, Associate Professor Charles Burford and Honorary Professor Anne Benjamin, last month led a seminar on educational leadership for all Principals and Head Teachers in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Tonga and Niue.

Charles and Anne were in Tonga at the invitation of the Director of Catholic Schools, Mr Soane Vahe, and His Eminence, Soane Patita Paini Mafi, Cardinal of the Diocese of Tonga and Niue.

Their visit followed a comprehensive three-stage review of Catholic schools in the Diocese during 2014.

In 2015, the Director invited the Reviewers to enter into conversations with him and his colleagues regarding the implementation of the recommendations resulting from the 2014 review. The return visit of the Reviewers took place between 24 February and 3 March.

The Reviewers’ role in visiting the Diocese at this stage was as critical friends providing an external “sounding board” for the Director in his assessment of progress following the 2014 review.

The Reviewers served as colleagues in dialogue with the Director in his planning for the next stage of implementation, and in modifying, as appropriate, actions recommended in the previous review.

To maximise the benefit for the Diocese from their visit, Charles and Anne were invited to lead conversations with Principals on leadership issues facing catholic education leaders in Tonga, 2016.

Participants in the four-hour seminar included principals of Catholic technical institutes, secondary schools, primary schools, early childhood education centres (kindergartens) and senior staff from the Catholic Schools Office.

The seminar focused on what it means to be both a Catholic educational leader and a leader of learning in Tongan Catholic schools.

The sessions were situated in the findings of the Review of Catholic Education in The Diocese of Tonga and Niue conducted by the presenters in 2014 and used the presenters‘ research and consulting experiences from the Leaders Transforming Learners and Learning Projects 1, 2 and 3 (LTLL), one of the leading research and community service initiatives in Catholic education in Australia, to analyse the review findings.

The LTLL Project (2005-2012) was designed to meet a stated need within Catholic educational communities for the development of knowledge and practices about leadership for learning that was consistent with the teachings of the Church and relevant to the research and developments in the field of leadership for learning in educational communities.

The seminar introduced the Tongan educational leaders to the LTLL conceptual model that utilised a moral purpose foundation that took its values from the perspectives of Australian Catholic educational leaders.

This resulted in a values-based model that focuses leaders’ attention on the importance of core values in Catholic education: Catholicity, common good, justice, excellence, individual rights and transformation. The model then investigates the place and importance of four elements that influence learning in schools. These are:

  • Teachers as Leaders
  • Educative Leadership
  • Authentic Learning
  • Transformational Learning, the moral purpose of education.

The seminar selected two of these elements and focussed on criteria for them:

(1) Authentic learning: standards for learning; organising for learning; pedagogy; student engagement; assessment for, and as learning; and

(2) Educative leadership: leadership through collaboration; leadership based on evidence; leadership for professional learning; leadership for sustainability; leadership building culture and community; leadership for effective change; leadership through networking; leadership building capability.

The Tongan leaders were asked to reflect on how these elements were present in their schools and discussed these reflections with colleagues from their own school division, (i.e. secondary, technical institutes, primary and pre-school and the Catholic Schools Office).

While the number of Tongan Catholic schools and students are small in comparison to metropolitan dioceses in Australia, there are some parallels with more remote regional dioceses in Australia, where factors of scale, distance and resources throw up challenges in addition to those found elsewhere.

Tongan Catholic education operates a comprehensive model from pre-school through to tertiary (technical institutes) which provides an extremely valuable resource to the nation as a whole and in which depth of faith goes some way towards meeting large gaps in financial resources.

For more information about Tongan Catholic education and its challenges, please contact either Charles ( or Anne (