Our Principal & Our Chair
A Conversation With Our Principal: Bernice Ressel
What first drew you to DSM?
I’ve been a bilingual education enthusiast since as far back as I can remember. I’m originally from Gelsenkirchen – a city in the North Rhine-Westphalia state and Ruhr area of Germany, not far from the Danish border. When I gained my qualifications in teaching (in both English and German) I was immediately keen to see the world and discover the joys of my chosen career.
I have worked as far afield as Oxfordshire (secondary comprehensive school), Tokyo (Deutsche Schule), and Germany, finally landing here at Deutsche Schule Melbourne in September 2015. The small size and progressive approach of DSM really appealed to me, as much as the close-knit and collaborative community supporting it.
What is your vision of academic success for your students?
I’m pleased to say that we are well on our way to realising our vision for the academic success of our students. This is largely due to the commitment of a highly qualified staff, whose lessons provide every student with the opportunity and means to reach their individual potential personally and academically. While we strive for high academic outcomes, we also want to make learning enjoyable and fun for the students. I work as hard as I can to be there for all our students, as well as our staff and the parents, but it is certainly a collaborative effort.
In term 3 this year, we invested considerable time in articulating this vision and shaping our mission and the values underpinning everything we do. From this work, we identified three core foci: to inspire, nurture and challenge our students to become creative and confident participants in the global community.
How important is it to engage parents?
The engagement of parents is equally critical to the achievement of our school vision and values. The school provides students with the environment to live and learn two cultures. But it is ultimately the parents who motivate the children to join us and who support them to practice what they learn beyond the school gates.
This year we were very pleased to support the establishment of a DSM Parent Association (PA), which ensures a more active and constructive role for parents in the school. Parent class representatives bring their year-level perspectives to discussions and initiatives driven by the PA, whose purpose is to encourage and support a positive and productive school culture and create a vibrant and inclusive school community. My staff and I welcome this latest collaboration with parents and look forward to the positive communication and educational outcomes it will undoubtedly bring.
How important is it to engage the community?
The success of our school lies in its membership of both local and German-speaking communities, and what better way to encourage our students to join the global citizenry than by nurturing our own community.
We are proud of the strong relationships we have forged with our students’ families, but we are just as energised by our engagement with the broader community, which is invited to a variety of cultural activities throughout the school year. Highlights from 2016 have included our annual DSM Carnival, the “WoW Yarra” program (Walk and Wheels Once a Week), and our parents’ Australia v Germany soccer friendly. But perhaps most popular is the DSM Christmas Market, which this year saw more than 40 stallholders attract 3000 visitors and an entertainment program featuring a parent music troupe and student buskers.
What were a few of your highlights from 2016?
I was thrilled this year with our DSD students, who successfully passed the first DSD I exam to be facilitated at the school. These are school alumni, who return to undertake the accredited German Language Certificate, Deutsches Sprachdiplom (DSD). All our 2015 graduates (Year 6) returned in 2016 to take part in the program, joining 65,000 participants worldwide who continue to develop their advanced German language skills.
Another highlight this year was the expansion of our transition program for Foundation students coming from the kindergarten program at Froebel Bilingual Early Learning Centre, co-located on the Fitzroy campus. The transition program was increased to four-to-six lessons, further enabling students to meet their new teachers, familiarise themselves with their new environment and ease their way into the first day of school.
Other notable events this year included our continuing relationship with the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Council, and the performance of ‘Welcome to Country’ by Wurundjeri Elders at our Christmas Market. We were also pleased to receive a very positive visit from the inspectors of the Association of German Schools Abroad. Both events reinforce DSM’s cultural strength and diversity, positioning us powerfully for future growth.
A Conversation With Our Chair: Florian Dehne
What inspired you to create DSM?
Originally from Hannover, Germany, I traveled to Australia with my wife, Averil, in 2000. After just two years, we decided to move here permanently.
When our first child was born so were our ambitions to nurture our family’s German-Australian identity. It was around this time that the then principal of the German International School in Sydney came to talk to members of the German-Australian community in Melbourne. He spoke passionately about the benefits of a bilingual education for both the children and the community. His ideas resonated strongly with me and the seed was sewn for Deutsche Schule Melbourne.
We opened the school in 2008 with teaching staff, board members and volunteers working together to establish and develop school operations. The role of the Board and my role as Chair have evolved substantially since then.
Now we function as a governance board, which sets strategy and facilitates a clear vision for the school. I have worked for many years as a strategic consultant so I also enjoy acting as a coach and confidant to the School Principal and key staff.
How do you cultivate effective school leadership?
It has been important to us to find people that bring the right combination of capability, motivation and also cultural fit to the school leadership. That really applies to both the Board and the leadership staff. Everyone has the best interests of the school in mind and modestly performs his or her role with passion, thoughtfulness and respect. The result is a positive and productive team committed to establishing the right priorities for the school and ensuring we maintain our focus along the way.
What are your ambitions for the students of DSM?
Since opening in 2008, the school’s vision has been to expand from kindergarten and primary schooling to secondary education.
The journey so far for our students takes them from the early learning centre, run by our partner Froebel, through the primary years to grade 6. After that, many of our students move to a local secondary school, and some continue their German studies through DSM’s advanced German Language Certificate program (DSD). This is designed to help them with VCE German and acquisition of the DSD2, which is the German language qualification required to study at a German university.
We are keen to progress the establishment of a DSM secondary school, the design and development of which were the subjects of serious consideration this year. Our intention is to offer the GIB (often called German IB) as the leaving certificate. This is a special form of the International Baccalaureate, which is also approved by the German Government as a leaving certificate equivalent to the Abitur. Its ethos and structure align closely with DSM’s vision and bilingual profile.
While the introduction of the secondary school will take some time, we have already made progress by seeking German Government approval to proceed, while also engaging key stakeholders and continuing with our planning.
What were a few of your highlights from 2016?
2016 was in many ways the first 'normal' year in the best possible sense. We had a full-time principal and experienced senior team running the operations of the school. The board started to re-orientate itself from its previous, hands-on role to a much more governance-focused entity, which felt great.
This continual professionalisation of the school leadership is resulting in great success in terms of enrolments, student numbers and educational program improvements. We have also started to become more active with the wider network of German International schools. This year I met with my peers, the Chairs of other German international schools, at a regional conference in Singapore. We were among an assembly of Board Chairs, Principals and Business Managers of German Schools Abroad in the South Asia region, discussing ideas of successful and future-orientated school management for German Schools Abroad.
What can we look forward to?
As a school, DSM is in a very good position. The school’s educational outcomes are great and our children continue to enjoy coming to school every day. We are growing and expecting to continue to grow. And with that growth comes the opportunity to broaden our offer and ensure the school will become even more capable of addressing individual student needs. For the community, a key focus will be the preparation of the 10-year anniversary in 2018. We will be working on a book that documents our history in an engaging way and I am sure there will be some memorable celebrations to propel us forward.