Forging community partnerships is one way that schools can access external resources and expertise to further support staff, students and parents.
‘Community is so important,' Koonung Secondary College Principal Peter Wright tells Teacher. ‘Unless you're actually involving and engaged with your community – and I'm not just talking about parents, I'm talking about all the other opportunities that are out there – then you're not adding value to your school.'
Last year Wright was offered the chance to work with Life Education Victoria CEO Michelle Woods through the Principal for a Day (PFAD) program. Life Education delivers health and drug education to youngsters across Australia and the Melbourne school has had a dedicated student wellbeing team for 10 years, so it was a great match.
As the name suggests, PFAD participants spend a day in a school, shadowing the principal and taking part in other activities. In addition to speaking with teaching staff about her role, Woods spent time with a group of Legal Studies students explaining the ins and outs of being a CEO.
As with many PFAD partnerships, the day itself was just the start of a valuable two-way relationship. The two parties then worked together to plan and deliver Life Education programs to students, staff professional learning and parent forums. The Victorian education department's recently released Framework for Improving Student Outcomes includes a focus on student resilience and respectful relationships.
‘I could see that there was a real link there between the work they [Life Education] were doing and what we were wanting to do here,' Wright says. ‘Whilst they have mainly worked in the primary school space for many years, they were looking to push into the secondary school space and perhaps do some more in that area.'
The link-up has enabled the school to provide curriculum-based sessions each term at no extra cost. On the other side of the coin, Life Education Victoria has been able to trial and develop its materials for secondary students.
The program for Koonung, delivered by Life Education staff from South Australia, covers digital literacy and cyber safety, drug and alcohol education, nutrition and health, and resilience. There are three levels of delivery – students (Years 7 to 10 in Term 1 and Years 7 and 9 for the rest of the year), parent discussion forums and staff professional development. Staff have to attend at least one of the four sessions as part of their PD. All three levels of delivery include pre- and post-session surveys, the results of which, along with other feedback, will be used to evaluate the impact of the program and future needs.
Assistant Principal Anne Abbott says, as with any external content delivery, it was important to make it a part of the curriculum rather than a one-off. ‘You can't just bring a company in, [throw] them into the room and then just leave it, it's got to be embedded in a proper way.'
Abbott and colleagues had several planning meetings with Life Education staff before starting the program. She says it has fitted in beautifully with the school's existing work on wellbeing, which includes daily pastoral care support, weekly assemblies, support for students with disabilities, a Year 9 program called Live Life and Year 10 Pathways program, and a partnership with a local Rotary group to deliver student drug and alcohol education and parent forums. The Life Education programs run until the end of the year.
Principal for a Day 2016 takes place in Victorian schools on 8 September, when Whitehorse City Council CEO Noelene Duff will be heading to Koonung. Wright says the focus this time around will be its sister city and sister school relationships with Matsudo in Japan. ‘There's some link there but I want to try and do a bit more. So I'm doing a targeted Principal for the Day with the hope that it just opens up some more doors for the school … and makes sure we both get something out of it.'
Is your school using outside resources to improve student outcomes?
How could community partnerships support some of your students' needs?
How is your school working with parents in the area of student wellbeing?