End of Year Celebrations

Whether your students are graduating from primary or secondary school, the last days of the school year can be exciting, emotional and a cause for celebration. It’s a special time to support your students’ wellbeing, encouraging them to reflect on their learning, celebrate their achievements and the connections made across your school community.

We would love to hear how you plan to celebrate this term. Here are some ideas. 

Supporting Students During Celebration & Holiday Time

Parents and educators have different concerns for young people as they move into the holiday season. There are many useful, age and context specific resources available for them to share with each other to help promote safe behaviour, whether it be celebrating or engaging in daily pedestrian activity. Students, parents and teachers may find partying advice and information such as this (click here) helpful at this time of year.

Students, teachers and parents can find lots of effective activities and advice about road safety, particularly during holiday time, by using this resource: https://www.safetytown.com.au/

Youthsafe has a number of free resources for educators to use with young people, supporting a range of issues including road safety, workplace safety and safer celebrating:

Why Celebrate?

Celebrating involves much more than party poppers and cake! It’s also about recognising and affirming achievements. The joy and gratitude that this creates adds depth to the wonderful spirit that the year’s end can bring. Reflecting meaningfully on these experiences can have a positive impact on the efficacy of learning.

This is part of the reason why the debriefing process is so integral to the Peer Support Program. The Peer Support Program provides opportunities for students to reflect on and celebrate their participation and achievements which we see as integral to the Program’s effectiveness. In doing so, the Program has strong links to the Australian Curriculum’s General Capabilities, such as the Personal and Social Capability elements.

The Personal and Social Capability element of self-awareness involves students reflecting on and evaluating their learning and recognising personal qualities and achievements. Creating opportunities to identify and celebrate the year’s learning across a range of areas can be a powerful way to build positively on students’ self-awareness.

Likewise, school communities can benefit from the process of evaluation and celebration, in terms of both the learning and the valued, trusting relationships that this can create. The Program materials include evaluation surveys which can be used to gather feedback on the Peer Support Program, inform planning for next year, and generate affirmations. Coordinating Teachers can contact their Wellbeing Education Consultant to gain access to these.

How Leadership Can Help Your Students Flourish

As educators we are aware of the challenges and pressures faced by our students, and reported rising levels of anxiety. High academic expectations, adverse online experiences and fears about the future of our planet are often quoted in the media as contributing to the concerns of young people.  Young people themselves report that coping with stress, study problems, mental health and body image are the areas that cause them most concern.  (Mission Australia Youth Survey Report 2018). 

Is it wise and helpful then, to add to our expectations of students that they also take on leadership roles? Isn’t this just adding more pressure?

Conceptualising and facilitating student leadership in a purposeful way can ensure that it provides students with practical skills and agency, as well as the potential to enhance both wellbeing and academic outcomes.

A recent article published by the Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia, highlights the significance of intrinsic motivation in a world where ‘learners are required to independently access and process copious amounts of information’.  Schools’ growing emphasis on the development of critical thinking, creativity and collaborative approaches means that individuals require increasing levels of self-awareness also, so that students can be mindful of their personal strengths and values so they can actively and purposefully engage these in their learning.

The article also references research which indicates ‘that students who are intrinsically motivated to learn have higher academic performance and complete more years of education than students who are not intrinsically driven’. The benefits to behaviour, learning and achievement of intrinsic motivation, as opposed to external rewards, have been proven in numerous studies over the years.

Experiences of student leadership that are purposeful and involve positive connections with teachers and peers can contribute to the intrinsic motivation needed to support effective learning and wellbeing.  Self-determination theory posits that autonomy, competence and relatedness sustain intrinsic motivation.   These can arise from student leadership when it is supported by appropriate training, ongoing support and feedback, and involves young people working collaboratively to solve authentic problems and create positive connections.

Educators are continuing to look for authentic opportunities for student agency and voice in learning processes, as exemplified in 2018’s Through Growth to Achievement report.  Likewise, schools across Australia, led particularly by Victoria, are responding to the need to provide meaningful outlets and support for young people to be heard and to participate actively in ensuring their safety and wellbeing.  Developing and sustaining leadership programs that equip students with both the skills to express themselves, and the mechanisms to make a difference to their communities can contribute powerfully to students’ autonomy, competence and relatedness, and hence the quality of their motivation.

There is currently a plethora of resources and programs available for schools to choose from in order to support their students’ positive behaviour and wellbeing.  For various developmental reasons, the impact of universal programs on adolescents has been found to be less effective than at other ages.  A recent paper by Yeager, Dahl and Dweck proposes that is due to the increased sensitivity of adolescents to the need for respect and status. 

There is an opportunity and a distinct advantage for schools to be strategic about student leadership:  to find ways to ensure that the structure and content of leadership programs and activities enable young people to experience the respect of their peers, and an appropriate sense of status as a result.  In so doing, it may be possible that the effectiveness of behaviour and wellbeing programs for adolescents is enhanced.

The experience of supported and skilled leadership, rather than simply adding to students’ concerns and commitments, can potentially contribute strongly to young people’s flourishing.  Peer Support Australia have developed a Student Representative Council Workshop to support teachers to optimise authentic student engagement in, and leadership of such structures.  The Peer Support program also enables rewarding leadership experiences which can contribute to students’ intrinsic motivation and positive behaviour through the respect that leaders experience from their groups and the sense of competence and relatedness that their involvement provides.

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.

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.