Interview with Incoming Principal Mark Ashmore

In October 2021, Salesian College Chadstone will embark on a future-focused journey with educational leader, Mark Ashmore. Mark will lead the College as the 11th Principal in Salesian’s 64-year rich history.

In a candid interview, Mark shares what motivates him to grow boys’ education in a new COVID-19 normal, the critical elements of a future focused pedagogical vision and how and why he has chosen to dedicate his life to boys’ only education.

Mark, we congratulate you on the recent Principal announcement and welcome you, your wife Jen and daughter Elsie to the Salesian College Chadstone community.

What motivates you to grow boys’ education in a new COVID-19 normal era?

COVID has created uncertainty for people in society regarding our health, the economy and the relationships and connection to one another. I am motivated to grow boys’ education in this new COVID-19 normal era as our young men need to be provided with a narrative of hope, joy and optimism grounded in our Catholic faith.

Boys need to feel that they are welcome and that they belong, opportunities to learn across a variety of pursuits, a place to contemplate and nurture their faith, and a place to have fun with others. My experience in boys’ education is that as educators we need to walk with the boys on their journey to support their faith, wellbeing and learning.

It is an exciting challenge to prepare our boys with the skills and dispositions to adapt to change, be resilient, and to consider and value others so that they can contribute to society as active citizens and good Christians.

As an industry leader in learning and teaching over the past 22 years, what are the critical elements of a future focused pedagogical vision?

Our rich Salesian charism underpinned by the educational principles of founder, St John Bosco, provides the foundation of a future focused pedagogical vision: a boy will learn best in a home that welcomes, a parish that evangelises, a school that educates for life, and a playground where friends meet and enjoy themselves. Community, faith, learning and enjoyment are important aspects of a vibrant school life.

Competitive and uncertain employment markets require us as educators to find ways to align student interest and goals with new career pathways. I believe that every boy can learn and achieve excellence, not necessarily in ‘traditional’ school pathways, rather through a diverse and innovative curriculum. Changes by the VCAA to incorporate vocational skills into the VCE will provide us with an opportunity to explore exciting ways that will connect our boys’ learning to meaningful and applied pursuits that serve the community.

Engagement through inquiry and dialogue with our Catholic faith in learning and teaching will ensure school graduates leave with skills that will support transition into further study and employment. I am excited by Salesian’s Learning Matrix as the project-based and problem-based learning approaches will allow our boys to learn critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity as well as how to manage themselves and relate with others.

“The young must not only be loved, they must know that they are loved” is a fundamental part of the Don Bosco philosophy. How important are the elements of pastoral care and development of the whole person when developing young men?

Pastoral care and student wellbeing are extremely important for a boy to engage, connect and learn in a Catholic school.

Relationships between a student and his teacher and peers is important in the development of a boy’s learning.  St John Bosco’s spirit of leading young people to know that they are loved is fundamental to each boy. To reach his full potential, he needs to be supported in a safe and inclusive learning environment where the dignity of each person is nurtured and respected. Boys need people who believe in them and care for their needs.

The Salesian Preventive System of reason, religion and loving kindness has been a guide throughout my teaching journey. It has allowed me to create learning environments that promote an atmosphere of acceptance, forgiveness and change that allows a boy to make mistakes and reflect and grow from his experience. My experience in learning and teaching also ensures that boys are engaged in lessons where they remain focussed and take advantage of opportunities.

As a Catholic school it is important that we focus on the holistic development of our young men as it helps them form their identity, build positive relationships and develop an optimistic approach to life. I look forward to witnessing the Salesian students engage in their learning in Oratory, the classroom, on stage, behind a lectern, or on the sporting field as each provides an opportunity that educates for life.

Integrity, respect, belonging, joy and dynamism are the College’s core values. Why are virtuous principles so important to students and the wider community?

The College’s values provide students, staff, parents and the wider community with a common language and understanding of the school culture. Animating the values helps to foster relationships built on mutual respect through openness and acceptance of others. Safe, inclusive and engaging learning environments can be fostered when every person in our community espouses the values of integrity, respect, belonging, joy and dynamism.

Each member of our community has a responsibility to uphold and promote the values as they are the foundation upon which one behaves and interacts with others and ensures that as a school, we are welcoming, respectful and promote growth. Therefore, it is through these values that we develop good young men.

Your first teaching experience connects back to the Salesian tradition in Xavier College, Gawler. How did that experience shape your educational vision?

I have very fond memories of my teaching experience at Xavier College, Gawler.

I am extremely grateful to Salesian priest and foundation Principal Fr Denis Handley (Salesian College Chadstone old collegian 1966) for the teaching opportunity.

Whilst only five years old, it was evident that the school was a supportive community that provided holistic learning for students. I felt welcomed and included by staff and students; this has since been a focus of my teaching and leadership.

As a beginning teacher I was guided by the staff to focus on student relationships to ensure that they felt valued and loved. I recall a situation where a student was struggling with their learning and subsequent behaviour was becoming evident in my class. In approaching the situation, I listened to the boy which highlighted needs outside the class were impacting his choices. A conversation and further support followed which in turn led to improvements to his wellbeing and in his learning.

What are you most excited about bringing to the students and community of Salesian College Chadstone?

I am excited that I bring an understanding of boys and their educational needs, an educational vision that aligns to the Salesian charism and an expertise in leading learning, teaching and wellbeing.

I have been privileged to have worked with the Whitefriars College community to improve the learning culture and cultivate the boys’ holistic development. It is this experience and knowledge that will assist in building upon the work of the Salesian staff to foster a learning focussed school.

As a relational leader, I look forward to listening to students, staff, parents and old collegians about their positive experiences of Salesian College and how together we can further improve the College. It will also provide an opportunity to share more of my story.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am an authentic faith leader that builds relationships with others.

As leaders we are called to serve others and I respond daily to the changing needs of the community in my support of staff, students and families. I am sure you will not find me regularly hiding away in the office…rather I will be visiting classrooms or in the yard talking to boys about their life and learning.

My school leadership is student focussed. In making decisions I consider the student needs and how such a decision may impact their learning and wellbeing. I regularly work with student leaders and seek feedback from students about life at school.

In valuing relationships and the dignity of all I try to listen and understand the needs of the community. I will collaborate and consult with staff, students and parents to strategically lead school improvement.

How and why have you chosen to dedicate your life to boys’ only education?

I thoroughly enjoy teaching and coaching in boys’ only education.

As a student I had a positive experience in a Catholic boys’ school which allowed me to develop my faith, learning and character. This holistic education allowed me to grow. Upon becoming a teacher in a boys’ school, I wanted to provide my students with similar learning experiences that I had in the classroom, on the sports field or in the yard. Likewise, I draw upon my own learning experiences, sport coaching and participation, teaching, leadership and family life to create shared experiences with the students.

My career has specialised in boys’ education which has enabled me to fully understand the needs of boys and their development. I have witnessed that a boys’ only education creates opportunities for boys to feel valued and respected as they journey from boys into men of integrity. Amidst their peers in a nurturing environment, I believe boys are more willing to participate, take risks and be empowered to lead. Young men singing in a choir, public speaking, playing sport or studying collaboratively with their peers after school are more inclined to do this as they feel more comfortable and can be themselves in exhibiting their own God given talents.

My main message to the boys I give, is not to change who you are for others, rather be yourself and follow your interests and goals. Our role as educators is to nurture these goals so that each boy can find and utilise their talents so he will flourish in society.

What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy spending time in the company of my immediate and extended family and friends. Having a 10-month-old daughter has provided joy to my wife and I as we have watched her grow and develop.

I enjoy participating in sport, particularly distance running, golf and downhill skiing. I enjoy watching sport and am a passionate Hawthorn supporter and love going to the footy. I also follow the Melbourne Victory, Liverpool F.C. and the Melbourne Storm so no doubt this will be a source conversation with the boys.

With my wife, we enjoy travelling where we enjoy the outdoors, eating food and visiting art galleries and sporting events.

With extensive travel to impoverished areas in your time, social justice is a topic you feel strongly about. Why is social justice awareness so important in our world? 

Jesus role modelled to us that we need to serve others through compassion, forgiveness and by responding to the most vulnerable in our community. We must each reach out to love our neighbour…both in our local and international communities.

I have been blessed to have worked in Catholic schools with enriching charisms that have allowed me to share these life changing experiences.

Leading and participating in social justice initiatives and immersion experiences with students to remote indigenous communities in Australia, Cambodia, Africa and India has allowed me to help others in those communities through service, advocacy and fundraising. I have seen how social justice experiences have transformed boys into young men by developing an appreciation of the dignity of all people and in looking to serve those in need. The experiences too have enriched and developed my own spirituality and faith and fostered my own intercultural understanding.

We look forward to the exciting future plans that we can achieve together with Mark for our students and community in 2021 and beyond at Salesian College Chadstone.