Student Voices Matter

Building student voice and supporting student agency is a key focus of the new Australian Student Wellbeing Framework. Authentic student participation is the hallmark of the Peer Support program and is further reinforced and activated by Peer Support SRC workshops. The workshops provide a springboard of ideas and practices to enhance and develop a culture where students are active participants in their own learning and wellbeing and this fosters a sense of connectedness.

The focus of group discussion and individual feedback at recent workshops from Primary and Secondary SRC coordinators highlighted the need to energise their schools SRC in order to provide active and meaningful participation of students across school life.

Student voice is getting greater traction in Victorian schools with a recent change by the state government to make it mandatory for students to be elected to every high school council and given full voting rights. This is a significant step in activating and supporting student voice. There are a variety of ways to empower students to be strong leaders who can make a real difference in your school at an SRC level.

Developing authentic student voice and engagement are current hot topics. Participants at our recent SRC workshops valued the opportunity to discuss and reflect on this. What do you think? How are you enabling this successfully at your school? What would help you to do it better?

Australian students are becoming increasingly disengaged at school – here’s why

Pearl Subban, Monash University

Around one in five Australian school students don’t find school engaging, which means they are less likely to learn properly.. It’s an issue that tends to worsen as students become older.

A study showed that in year 7, 70% of students observed found school engaging, but in year 9, this dropped to 55%.

Part of the reason is that the brightest kids are not being challenged enough, leading to students becoming disconnected and disengaged from their studies.

Disengagement has resulted in Australian classrooms becoming rowdier and bullying becoming more prevalent.

A 2012 study revealed that just 60% of students in South Australian secondary schools found school engaging. While over two thirds of teachers reported disengaged behaviours on an “almost daily basis”.

Why are students not engaged at school?

There are many possible reasons for disengagement. Among these are the possibilities that the tasks being set are too challenging or too boring resulting in students being easily distracted; or that lessons being taught are perceived as uninteresting or irrelevant.

This has marked implications for the academic progress of these students, who are then at risk of dropping out of school prior to completion.

Disengagement can lead to dropping out

Around 25% of disengaged young people do not complete school, with some variation nationally from primary to secondary school. This should be concerning.

Of the 25% who did not complete school in 2013-14, one in four students indicated that they did not like school, with some indicating that their disinterest was on account of not doing well.

Of concern is the quietly disengaged student, who sometimes goes unnoticed because they are usually compliant, but not as productive as they could be.

How to make students more engaged

While engaged students are keen to perform well, achieve highly, and consequently look forward to successful post-school lives, disengagement can lead to poorer academic performance for some students, and therefore limited success. This can in turn affect their quality of life.

Personalised learning approach

Teaching children in the same way means some of the brightest kids often are not challenged enough. Personalised learning has been identified as one of the essentials to school success. This involves using individually designed strategies which tap into student strengths to help increase the level of student engagement. This could include, using open learning spaces, student developed timetables and behaviour guidelines.

Add sense of purpose to learning

Getting students involved with projects and using real-life scenarios could contribute to a sense of ownership and bring enjoyment to learning. Through these approaches, students are more likely to feel that school is relevant, important and prepares them meaningfully for life outside school.

Foster student wellbeing

Positive interactions between teachers and students can help create classroom stability, feelings of security and overall gratification with the learning process. Forming positive relationships at school can also contribute towards a student’s emotional and social wellbeing.

Teachers need to compare their strategies with their peers in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the different methods they use to increase student engagement at schools.The Conversation

Pearl Subban, Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dr Helen Street’s “Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools From the Inside Out.”

Summer Reading

Over summer we’ve enjoyed reading Dr Helen Street’s “Contextual Wellbeing: Creating Positive Schools From the Inside Out.” She considers the social side of wellbeing, which has not necessarily received the attention that it needs in order to truly allow our young people and communities to flourish.

Dr Street challenges educators with the observation that our schools, their practices, policies and environments are not always set up in ways that actually enable the development of the social cohesion needed for genuine individual flourishing.

Her review of research highlights the importance of programs that work to shape school context through the development of positive relationships across the whole school population. “Equity, cohesion and creativity… along with opportunities for learning through collaboration and play, underlie the development of positive relationships and an overall sense of belonging within the school community.” (p.110)

“Equity, cohesion and creativity… along with opportunities for learning through collaboration and play, underlie the development of positive relationships and an overall sense of belonging within the school community.”

We’re proud that Peer Support programs have been enabling schools with the processes and content to help develop cohesion and belonging for over 40 years.

Our programs involve the whole school population in primary schools, and over a few years of operation in a secondary school, every student will also have been involved. This is a key factor for the effectiveness of a wellbeing program, and has a powerful impact on the development of equity and cohesion. (p. 27)

Is your school ready for a positive start to 2019?  How cohesive is your school community?

You can buy Dr Helen Street’s ‘Contextual Wellbeing’ here.
(please note we are not affiliated with Dr Helen Street in any way)

3 Expert Tips for Implementing Peer Support

Get Organised in Term 1

As Term 1 gets started you will be actioning your implementation strategy to ensure that your students get the most out of The Peer Support sessions. These top tips will help set you and your students up for success.

Raise Awareness

Use the resources in The Peer Support Manual to ensure all the community, particularly new teachers and parents, understand the operations and benefits of the program. Our Wellbeing Education Consultants are also available to deliver student, staff and parent talks to support your school’s successful communication.

Train Leaders

Before starting the program for 2019, Secondary school Peer Leaders may benefit from the 90 minute refresher training – you can find this in the Secondary Manual. 

Primary Peer Leaders will be set up for success by working through their 2 day training program before beginning the program in Term 2 or 3. If you need assistance with this contact us today.

Briefing and Debriefing

Coordinating Teachers need to ensure that their team of supervising and class teachers have all the information they need to support their Peer Leaders. Some extra time taken in the early stages really helps the sessions run smoothly, so use the resources in your Manual to ensure this is done well, using the feedback forms to inform ongoing guidance for Peer Leaders.

Good luck with Peer Support at your school. Remember that our Wellbeing Education Consultants are available to support you.

Cairns State High School’s Peer Support Program

School Spotlight

Cairns State High School

Cairns State High School launched the Peer Support Program at the start of 2018. The Executive Principal, Chris Zilm, was aware of the impact of the program in other schools and was keen to embed it into the fabric of Cairns State High School.

peer leader students

The Peer Leaders were very enthusiastic about the roles they had taken on and felt that the skills of leadership and facilitation they had learnt and used during the process would also support them with other areas of their lives inside and outside of school. The school’s coordinators noted that this was the first time that some of the students involved had engaged in leadership, and the program’s structure enabled them to experience great success in their roles.

peer leader group of students with coordinators

Cairns State High will continue to implement Peer Support in 2019 after having critically evaluated their first year. Anecdotally, schools have a greater chance of success in keeping The Peer Support Program alive if more staff at the school are trained and involved. Cairns State High School have recently trained another two additional teachers to work alongside the coordinators.

The positive experiences of the students at Cairns State High School have been shared with neighbouring schools, and several of them will also be adopting The Peer Support Program in 2019.

The Importance of the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework

The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework (ASWF) was launched in October 2018 to update the National Schools Framework of 2011. Encompassing five main elements of Leadership, Inclusion, Student Voice, Partnerships and Support it has the purpose of complementing and guiding the whole school community to ensure safety is maintained, positive relationships are built and wellbeing is promoted.

The content and strategies of Peer Support resources offer practical ways for schools to activate the ASWF.

Support ASWF

One of the primary focuses of the Support element of the ASWF is promoting resilience, raising awareness and understanding of wellbeing and embedding positive behaviour as part of the fabric of the school. The evidence informed, whole school and peer led approach of The Peer Support Program supports this component. Teachers are engaged in professional learning to ensure consistent implementation of the program in line with whole school plans for wellbeing and positive behaviour.

inclusion ASWF

Inclusion is the second element of the ASWF highlighting the importance of building and maintaining positive and respectful relationships. This too is fostered by The Peer Support Program which increases connections across the school through vertical groupings. This allows students to form purposeful relationships as well as develop empathy and a sense of responsibility for students with whom they might not typically engage.

student voice ASWF

The Student Voice element of the ASWF aligns with The Peer Support Student Representative Council (SRC) workshop and supporting material, and assists SRC Coordinators to establish and maintain an effective SRC. The workshop outlines how to empower student representatives with the skills needed to act as leaders. Students are subsequently equipped and can be part of authentic engagement and decision making which will benefit themselves, their peers and the whole school community.

The strong evidence-informed foundation of The Peer Support Program provides an effective means for teachers and schools to develop areas which the new Australian Student Wellbeing Framework places at its core.

Smartphones Banned in NSW Primary Schools

Last year the NSW Education Minister commissioned an independent review into the non-educational use of mobile digital devices in NSW schools. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, together with Associate Professor Amanda Third and cyber safety expert Susan McLean, consulted with a large range of stakeholders, including students, over several months. The findings of the Review were published in December last year.

One of the 8 recommendations of the Review was that the use of mobile devices during school hours should be restricted in NSW public primary schools. NSW public high schools can opt into this restriction or pursue the approach that best suits their circumstances and the needs of their diverse communities.

The Impact on Student Wellbeing

Reactions to this recommendation have understandably been varied. The Review itself notes the possible friction involved in respect to the balance between the essential development of self-regulation, and the need to protect young people, particularly those who for a range of reasons may be more vulnerable than others.
Some concerns about excessive screen time include the consequent reduction of face to face social connectedness, reduced inclination to be involved in community activities and the development of values which are skewed towards materialism. In particular, the role of smartphones in bullying and other forms of abuse are widely addressed in the Review.

Working closely with teachers, The Peer Support Program features both the structures and content to help counter the impact of such concerns, whether or not they are related to technology. These include the fundamental nature of the program, being focused as it is on fostering meaningful, positive and direct interaction between young people, and modules specifically targeting areas of learning such as maintaining healthy friendships and developing authentic personal and community values.

Since our inception in the 1970’s, The Peer Support Program and resources have been developed to facilitate communication, reflection and learning by young people on key issues which affect individual and community wellbeing. Our modules are designed to stimulate understanding and practice of behaviours such as upstanding, engaging positively in the community and generally developing a pro-social orientation. 

If you would like to know more about specific Peer Support modules which can help your school to address these significant areas, take a look at our website or contact one of our Wellbeing Consultants.