DR Doug Ashleigh has decades of experience as a Catholic teacher, principal and administrator, but there’s nothing old school about this senior educator.
Dr Ashleigh recently moved with his family from Sydney to take on the challenging role of deputy executive director at Brisbane Catholic Education.
He has spent much of the past decade at the leading edge of digital learning, focusing on educational measurement, eLearning and “the IT environment” in Sydney Catholic Schools.
“I consider myself, through my various roles, as an innovator,” he said.
In 2005, Dr Ashleigh completed doctoral studies at the Australian Catholic University, with a thesis entitled “A study of successful implementation and management of educational technology in three New South Wales primary schools”.
He sees the possibilities of technology as an enabler supporting and enhancing education practices where greater levels of learning personalisation and autonomy are possible – leading ultimately to fundamental shifts in the working environments of schools.
“No question, we are in an age of exponential change and our ability and agility to cope is put under enormous pressure,” he said.
“The demographic of our staff is such that many of the staff who are in leadership positions haven’t grown up with the technology that the younger staff find is second nature.”
In his most recent role as director financial corporate and ICT Services in Sydney Catholic Schools, Dr Ashleigh had his finger on the pulse of digital change and the possibilities and challenges of eLearning.
Addressing the Sydney Schools Archdiocesan eLearing showcase, Dr Ashleigh told his audience, “As educators, we live in very exciting times”.
“The relationship between teacher and student has never had the possibility to be so rich and rewarding for both parties,” he said.
“If you think of learning as a journey where the journey is more important than the destination, what becomes vital is the process of the journeying.
“With the rate of change and the unpredictability of change, having an end point to learning is pointless – hence, the concept of life-long learning and the school as a learning organisation.
“However, it should not be automatically assumed that growing up in a technology-rich world will be sufficient to ensure effective integration of technology that transforms the learning experience in the classroom.”
While innovation is a passion for Dr Ashleigh, he will face a myriad of challenges in his new role in charge of 72,000 students across south-east Queensland.
“I do bring to the role a diversity of experience having worked in five dioceses and congregational schools, which will be valuable because the role of deputy executive director is so broad, covering Catholic identity, religious education, professional learning, teaching and learning as well as having a strong connection with the South and North Service centres,” he said.
“A critical part of the role is working with diverse teams and getting the best out of groups, motivating staff, identifying talent, looking for greater opportunities of alignment across our key strategies.
“In particular, ensuring that BCE’s key strategies, strengthening Catholic identity and delivering excellent learning and teaching guide the work of the Learning Services directorate.”
Dr Ashleigh said he had visited 11 schools in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, and he intended to visit many more in order to gain a grounded and contextual overview of school life in Brisbane Catholic Education.
Dr Ashleigh said he drew on the love and nurturing of his own family to help guide him in his work.
His wife Bernadette is a social worker who has worked as an adoption counsellor, and they have four adult children – Conor, Liam, Niall and Siobhan, who he said all attended Catholic schools and “loved it”.
“I align with my own faith journey in the sense, that, like anyone’s journey it’s tested by experience and challenges in your own backyard,” he said.
“Having four children there are always challenges, but I suppose I relied on having strong connections with various aspects of the Church.
“I grew up with a strong connection with the Christian Brothers and Josephite Sisters reinforced by my parents who migrated to Australia from Ireland in the early 1950s.
“I was immersed in the charisms of both orders as a student and teacher which initiated an interest in the development of charism and the role they play in shaping young people’s lives.”
Dr Ashleigh said he searched for ways to make the Church a meaningful and a real experience for students.
“I try and look for innovative ways to do that, trying to keep true to our core value, particularly our Gospel values that have allowed us to have our richness of tradition and sacramental life that is vitally important,” he said.
Dr Ashleigh highlights the importance of nurturing a strong connection between school and local parish.
He considers this relationship a vital and fundamental characteristic of Catholic schools that must be enhanced through education programs and religious celebration.
“I know our schools are working really hard to sow the seed through their relationship with their local clergy exploring opportunities to make religious celebration and sacramental life of the school as engaging as possible for the younger people,” he said.
“It’s really important to sow that seed because if young people do happen to move away from the Church for a period, we want them to draw on positive and life-giving experiences of the religious life of the school and parish and know they will be welcomed wholeheartedly in their Catholic community.
“And in the context of the Year of Mercy the door is always open and it’s an opportunity for reconnection and renewal.”
Dr Ashleigh said keeping Catholic schools safe was another of his key tasks, and one he gave utmost priority.
“We as a community of educators are acutely tuned and aware now of the importance of education and creating the environment where people are safe to grow in their understanding,” he said.
“We take the safety and wellbeing of staff and students exceptionally seriously.
“As an education system Brisbane Catholic Education places great importance on ensuring that appropriate policies, guidelines and induction programs are in place as part of staff training and induction.”
By Mark Bowling