Kacey Constantine, the Principal of Magnetic Island State School, Queensland, understands that “relationships come first” with the students and staff at her school. Situated off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island State School has a population of 160 students and its Learning and Wellbeing framework is designed with relationships at its heart.
Peer Support was introduced at the school 20 years ago by Year 6 teacher Martin Hammelswang, and the ongoing significant benefits are clear to see. Kacey describes the overall feeling of the school as one of “calm”, and indeed when walking around the school you cannot help but feel the sense of connectedness and calm that permeates the active learning environment. Over the years that Peer Support has been running, a broad range of social and emotional learning skills have been embedded into everyday activities at the school. Making relationships central to all that the school does has meant that the Peer Support Program is used as a key part of the organising framework for Magnetic Island State School. The focus on wellbeing and building positive, enabling relationships has been a vital element of school improvement. Peer Support and Positive Behaviour for Learning operate side by side to build, as the school calls it, a Positive Culture for Learning. The importance of wellbeing for learning is well documented by research: students learn best when they feel safe, happy, and have a positive sense of self and a sense of belonging.
The organising framework (above) which Magnetic Island State School has developed identifies the key strategies and guidelines impacting the work of the school, and how relationships are supported by these and also permeate the community. It’s a great example of how schools can develop and express coherence across various initiatives to better focus efforts and hence create synergy.
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.
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 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.
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.