THIS PAGE IS AN OVERVIEW AND DAILY LOG OF A RESEARCH TRIP TO AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS IN APRIL/MAY 2007. THE TRIP HAS BEEN ENTIRELY FUNDED BY ROSEHILL COLLEGE (AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND) WITH THE GOAL OF FURTHERING UNDERSTANDING OF BEST PRACTICE IN RESTORATIVE PRACTICES WITHIN SCHOOL SETTINGS.
Finding Your Way
WED 2 MAY - ADELAIDE
Salisbury High (1000 students) is situated in an area of considerable student disadvantage but have managed to cover themselves in glory, winning many national and state education awards, including the Australian Business Excellence Awards. SHS are an International Baccalaureate school with a strong focus upon a ‘Care System’ – which is in effect an individual case management approach for each individual student.
This Care System had elements of other schools I had seen but had packaged things together in a really useful way. The entire school population is divided in Care Groups of maybe 14-15 students of the same year level. This group stays together with the same Care Teacher for their entire time at school. This necessarily involves every teacher taking a Care Group, including year level co-ordinators, Deputy Principals and Assistant Principals. There are also vertical houses but these are only really of significance during school sports or cultural events.
Before the school began their exciting developments, a whole year was spent in staff training by ‘unpacking’ values that the staff, students and parents held – rather than making assumptions about why students acted as they did, real exploration was made into cause-effect relationships that staff had often overlooked. The result was that SHS began to work harder at valuing relationships between all members of the school community.
What was surprising for me was the level of personal care and authority the Care Teachers had with members of their Care Group. Ann said that she had shared her mobile phone number with all of her students, she had their numbers and routinely made calls when required. Furthermore, every Care Teacher had the power to suspend a Care Group student – but this decision would be made in consultation with other staff including senior management and year level co-ordinator.
Sylvie (Human Resources) clearly took her Care Group responsibilities very strongly. She described how students who were suspended could not return to school/class until they had participated in a ‘re-entry meeting’ (shades of yesterday) involving parents and facilitated by herself as the Care Teacher. If this re-entry meeting exposes other harm that needs addressing, a further conference may be organised for later, possibly involving other students or other staff. Care Teachers who are finding their feet with restorative events such as these will be supported by year level co-coordinators or senior staff.
Terry and Ann explained that this level of personal contact with the students was often required because some students had difficult home lives that offered little stability. Considerable numbers of parents exerted control at home using punitive methods and many students were accordingly hardened to discipline by force. Every Care Teacher has been trained in Restorative Practices and is expected to address problems with his/her own students using this philosophy. ‘Care’ is even assessed as an area of student assessment – given equal weighting to their subjects.
In days past, the school had experienced in general an unsatisfactory relationship with the parent community – parent/teacher meetings were usually dismally attended and parent/staff contact tended to revolve around wrong-doing. To rectify this, SHS made every attempt to take responsibility for breaking down the barriers to parent participation – the school has reached the point where there is a 90% attendance rate by parents to parent/teacher evenings. Recently, one Care Group of 15 students had a turn-out of 49 caregivers!
Student Reports are only released during these parent/teacher meetings and food accompanies all parent events. The yr 8 information evening (new intake) is preceded with a BBQ – all the year 8s are supervised in play while the parents are attended to.
There is a whole school assembly every 3 weeks which are planned mostly by staff but run mostly by senior students. Since SHS began creating distinct vocational pathways for senior students, the reduction in student misbehaviour has been “astonishing”. There is also a distinct pathway for prospective university students who are provided their own room for study purposes.
To keep the school running smoothly there are several elements. To name a couple, a senior staff member is on patrol at all times, checking for floating students and to respond to critical incident requests from individual teachers.. Secondly, relieving teachers are highly supported including the provision of their own room. Another aspect of school life that really attracted me was that one of the staff special interest groups (Project Teams) was 'media relations'. That group had accepted the vital job of (supporting the Principal in) promoting Salisbury High School as a highly desireable school of choice. I saw many positive newspaper clippings about SHS students that testified to the successful efforts of that group.
I wish that I could have spent more time at Salisbury High School – there was doubtlessly much more to see. Thanks to Terry, Ann, Sylvie, Helen (Principal) and everyone else who looked after me. Keep up the inspirational work!