Sunday, August 25, 2019

Staff and student wellbeing

Developing a positive culture at a high school is an ongoing task.  Transience, cohort changes, workload, personalities, religious beliefs and perceived racism, perceived sexism, competence, home life, mental health, physical health, systemic change, leadership styles can all influence the "mood score" of a school.

Most schools are currently grappling with the aboriginal cultural framework.  Some school will be grappling with societal changes (eg. changing the way the issue is viewed in society) as they will have few, if any aboriginal students in the school. There will be many people in these environments that believe the whole project is a minor inconvenience that can be for the most part ignored.

In our environment this is not true.  How we embed these ideas in the school will impact the mood of the whole school.  We're probably a little bit ahead of the game, which allows agencies to think we are a solution that will work for at-risk students.  Unfortunately that is not always true as these interactions require intensive support for success, support that is already stretched between the competing needs of the school.

There is that balance in resourcing for us that needs to examined as individual students can disrupt the learning of large number of students.  Although, through the framework we can assist these students, over time, in some extreme cases (like with any other student from any other nationality) the needs of the individual exceeds the ability of a school to respond to their needs and external help is required.  For these students, the ping pong between agencies begins as they see the best solution as a child in a school, but the school sees the situation as untenable as they put students, staff and themselves at risk when they enter school grounds due to their current circumstance.

The ability of teachers to deal with the individual needs of a student is not equal across a school.  Identifying new areas of challenge(weaknesses) and then working with teachers to resolve them is a delicate process, challenging established practices and then examining and redirecting to develop alternate practices.  Trauma informed practice, culturally informed practices, perceived racism in practices, perceived favouritism toward students, perceived sexism in practices, gender related practices (a relatively new phenomenon to deal with) all require a delicate touch, to confront someone after a complaint to challenge the way they teach can go as deep as personal identity which can result in emotional and aggressive responses.

Although teachers are relatively static in a school, year 12 cohorts leave and year 7 cohorts enter each year.  This results in a leaving of the leadership of the school, the most competent in a school leaving each year and a whole new group becoming embedded in the culture.  With the varying skill levels of teachers in year 7, this can impact the school for a significant period.  Students transitioning to school have siblings in feeder primary schools and this, more than any other factor, impacts on the enrolments at a school.  These are the parents giving feedback to new parents in each feeder primary school.  No amount of marketing will overcome the response of existing parents leaving the school or repeating that the school has an issue with fighting, bullying, drug use, poor teaching practices etc.

The one line budget has put significant strain on small schools, struggling to maintain ATAR classes, struggling with high class numbers and struggling to provide high levels of support to students with all the issues that low-socioeconomic areas bring in financially struggling, high levels of mental health concerns, limited parenting, low support for education, high levels of drug use in the home, and with considerable parts of welfare dependent cohorts.  Many of these categories are not covered through the one line budget outside of broad groups such as EALD, Aboriginal and Islander students, and Intellectual disabilities.  The use of one line funds to maintain additional school Psychologist time in particular is one drain on a budget.  To fund extra class resources, Professional Development is being done in-house as much as possible, external agencies are being brought into schools in an increasing rate (which feels a bit like money shuffling as all the money comes from the same place), requiring additional management time to do properly.

The story here is only the beginning which shows how complex and underdeveloped my understanding is of the issues we face.  I suppose the point is that school culture changes glacially as nothing seems to occur in a vacuum and very few simplistic solutions can have an impact across a school - all we can do is look for wins in certain areas, make sure they don't move resources from something that is already working and measure the effect.  A school has a simple goal at it's heart ("teaching kids well") but have allowed themselves to become much more and we may need to reconsider some of the roles that schools play to gain traction again with the idea that "high care, high expectations, high results" is narrow enough in its scope to  do well.


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