The Sophia Program

An integrated professional learning and research program funded by Sydney Catholic Schools for one year from 2022 to 2023 and led by the University of Melbourne.


The Sophia Program is an integrated professional learning and research program for principals and teachers within the Sydney Catholic Schools in collaboration with the University of Melbourne. The program will involve principals and teachers taking professional learning aligned to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, action research, and a community of practice mentoring throughout the year-long project.

The overarching objective is to support principals and teachers in Sydney Catholic Schools to use space as a pedagogical tool and support their transition into new innovative learning environments. The project has dual aims: (1) to investigate the impact of learning environments on teachers and students; and (2) to investigate the effectiveness of an integrated professional learning program in enhancing teachers’ self-efficacy and capacity regarding teaching in an innovative learning environment.

Detailed project outline

  • Objectives
    • To develop teachers’ spatial competencies through professional learning and mentoring.
    • To implement a suite of school-based action research activities relevant to each school’s context.
    • To use evidence from the action research to make continual improvements to teacher practices relevant to each school’s context.
  • Outcomes

    Sydney Catholic Schools, like many education systems around the world, are investing in open and flexible educational spaces. These flexible learning environments can be defined as the complete physical, pedagogical and psychosocial contexts in which learning is intended to occur, that encourage flexibility for a variety of teacher and pedagogical practices that enable student-centred learning.

    To maximise the potential of the space, educators and learners alike must first understand the range of teaching and learning opportunities offered by the environment. Appropriate and ongoing professional development has been identified as critical in meeting this need. This program seeks to provide professional learning and mentoring for educators across the Sydney Catholic Schools, and to evaluate longer-term, sustainable quality teaching practices to improve learning and outcomes of students.

  • Impact

    The outcomes of this study will provide evidence for Sydney Catholic Schools to better plan, design and implement school learning environments and investigate the effectiveness of the interventions on teachers’ self-efficacy and students’ learning and outcomes.

    The project will directly address the professional development needs of educators by keeping them up to date with relevant content, skills, and pedagogy, which supports their professional growth. Additionally, the project meets educational reform priorities of the Alice Springs Education Declaration by promoting “a culture of excellence in all learning environments by providing varied challenging and stimulating learning experiences and opportunities that enable all learners to explore and build on the individual abilities, interests and experiences” (Education Council, 2019, p. 5).

    When disseminated more widely, the outcomes of the study are not only relevant to educators and school leaders but also to policymakers, to support the learning and outcomes of all our students.


Dr Marian Mahat, Senior Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne (Project Lead)

Vivienne Awad, School Design Specialist, Sydney Catholic Schools