08 SES 01, School wellbeing
Despite evidence of the capacity for children to make meaningful and informed contributions to matters affecting their wellbeing at school, children are infrequently consulted in the determination of support services (Redmond et.al, 2016). Student perspectives are important because they provide unique insight that cannot be obtained in other ways and, as such, can significantly add to our understanding of issues impacting student wellbeing and educational outcomes (Anderson & Graham, 2016; Robinson & Taylor, 2013). However, much research that draws upon student perspectives for informing school-based change considers it in such a way that is unlikely to have lasting effect due to either the privileging of voice, or varying levels of buy-in from school staff (Atweh & Bland, 2004). In this way, status quo may revert shortly after the special project consultation (i.e. university and/or project research) has concluded or the school staff driving the change leave the school (Gillett-Swan & Sargeant, 2016). The evidence-base supporting inclusive and collaborative staff-student partnerships is ever increasing in contexts where students are considered at least as “active respondent” rather than as passive recipient or data source (Fielding, 2004). At the same time, schools are increasingly needing to balance supporting the wellbeing of their staff and students with competing accountability requirements such as standardised testing, tertiary entrance preparation, and literacy/numeracy standards (Sanderse et.al., 2015). In practice, this often involves the implementation of top-down initiatives with varying levels of local school/teacher-level ownership, consultation, or involvement. As a result, student focused wellbeing initiatives may not be at the forefront of each school’s strategic priorities or is implemented reactively or tokenistically to meet departmental requirements. The domino effect of sidelining wellbeing at the expense of academic priorities may then perpetuate a downward spiral of decreased wellbeing for students and staff alike (forthcoming). Student perceived awareness of school priorities and lack of importance placed on their needs may also contribute to a decreased sense of wellbeing in the school environment which has further ripple effects (Thomas, Graham, Powell & Fitzgerald, 2016). This is also noticed by staff who may experience feelings of relative helplessness where they simply do not have the time, capacity, or support to be able to focus on student needs that are not directly related to academic outcomes (Graham, et.al, 2010). Students need greater wellbeing support in school, but so do staff. As such, this project sought to engage in an authentic partnership with students, staff, and school leadership to aid in building the capacity of the adults and children at the school. A key aim of the project was to support, enable, and facilitate staff and student engagement in ongoing and meaningful consultation about wellbeing at the school. Students were supported in co-researching wellbeing at their school alongside the university research team and school staff as a way to further develop their research skill development as research initiators (Wyness, 2018). At the same time, the university research team worked with key wellbeing leadership at the school to support the introduction of a school-wide culture change where student perspectives on issues relating to their wellbeing at school were then actively sought, valued and taken seriously (Lundy, 2007). The consultative process undertaken culminated in a collaboratively developed school-wide wellbeing framework for action and school strategic priority. This presentation focuses on one part of the larger project in critically evaluating the question of how can schools best implement staff-student consultation and collaboration for school improvement and enhanced student outcomes. Multi-stakeholder reflections on the strengths and challenges of such an approach offer further insight towards the potential transferability of the approach to other European and non-European educational contexts.
Consisting of multiple phases, this project utilised a whole-school case-study design (Yin, 2013) and incorporated a range of data collection methods including document analysis, survey, focus group interviews, students-as-researcher projects, and staff working party meetings. All students in grades 7 to 10 were invited to participate in a survey about their wellbeing at school. All staff were also invited to participate in an adapted version of the survey consisting of questions about wellbeing at school from the staff perspective, as well as staff perspectives on student wellbeing at the school. The survey results were then discussed with up to 30 students from each year level (grades 7 – 10) in a series of focus group discussions, from which up to 6 students per year level participated in a 6-month inquiry investigation into the wellbeing issues identified by their year level. These students engaged in weekly research inquiry sessions facilitated by the school-based project team leader and university project team. A student forum was held at the conclusion of their inquiry projects where student project teams were invited to engage in collaborative discussion with the staff working party and representatives from school leadership about their project findings and implications. The staff working party consisted of 11 members of the school community with a stakeholder interest in wellbeing including those without direct involvement with students. Concurrent with the student project activities, the staff working party scrutinised and challenged the mixed methods data (Cresswell & Plano Clark, 2011) generated from the earlier student survey and focus groups to reconcile the diverse perspectives of student wellbeing concerns. The intention of this intensive analysis was to extrapolate meaningful and actionable outcomes for the school. Intensive mentoring was provided for school staff to support their capacity development in authentically seeking, incorporating and interpreting student perspectives in school decision-making. These processes resulted in school-based wellbeing framework for action as an end product. As a living and adaptable document, this framework is able to be responsive and flexible to individual school contexts, needs and climates. Embedded within the framework is support for the continued authentic participation of multi-stakeholder perspectives in wellbeing decision-making at school. The approach utilised further supports the enactment of authentic student participation and involvement in the school environment (Lundy, 2007).
The synergy between multi-stakeholder (staff-student-leadership-school community-researcher) perspectives and expertise enabled collaborative and authentic incorporation of theory and practice for practice. This supported the development of a user-friendly, implementation focused approach to supporting wellbeing at the school. The partnership approach enabled greater local ownership of the initiatives, in turn facilitating sustainable practice to better ensure its longevity after the completion of the project. The success of the project was enhanced by having at least one dedicated member of the school-based project team being a passionate ally and advocate for students and their inclusion whether the university project team were there or not. This was further reinforced by leadership commitment and receptiveness for individual, collective and whole school development opportunities; staff-student relationship development; and greater understanding from the school community about the student perspective including how to reconcile staff and student perspectives that may at times conflict. Some staff revealed that their perspectives on students and their capabilities had changed as a result of their involvement in the project. They indicated prior to the project they had a more restricted view on the potential for students to contribute to decision-making at the school and had noticed through the project implementation that other staff were now also seeing students more as equals whose views matter. The processes utilised in this project enabled the school to begin developing their capacity in voice inclusive practice and receptiveness to student voice and consider how these factors may contribute to longer-term and sustainable changes to practice at the school in the future. Critical reflections from multiple stakeholders on essential parts of the process are discussed in addition to a framework for implementation in other schools in the future.
Anderson, D., & Graham, A. (2016). Improving student wellbeing: Having a say at school. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 27(3), 348-366. Atweh, B. & Bland, D. C. (2004) Problematics in young people as researchers: Visions and voices. In Bailey, C. and Cabrera, D. and Buys, L., Eds. Proceedings Social Change in the 21st Century, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD. Creswell, J. & Plano Clark, V. (2011). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Fielding, M. (2004). ‘New wave’ student voice and the renewal of civic society, London Review of Education, 2(3), 197-217. Graham, A., Phelps, R., Maddison, C., & Fitzgerald, R.. (2011). Supporting Children's Mental Health in Schools: Teacher Views. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 17(4), 479-496. Lundy, L. (2007). Voice is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), 927-942. Redmond, G., Skattebol, J. et al (2016) Are the kids alright? Young Australians in their middle years: Final report of the Australian Child Wellbeing Project, Flinders University, University of New South Wales and Australian Council for Educational Research, www.australianchildwellbeing.com.au. Robinson, C. & Taylor, C. (2013). Student voice as a contested practice: Power and participation in two student voice projects, Improving Schools, 16(1), 32-46. Sanderse, W., D. I. Walker, and C. Jones. 2015. Developing the Whole Child in an Age of Academic Measurement: Can this be Done according to U.K. Teachers? Teaching and Teacher Education, 47, 195–203. Thomas, N., Graham, A., Powell, M. A., Fitzgerald, R. (2016). Conceptualisations of children’s wellbeing at school: the contribution of recognition theory, Childhood, 23(4), 506-520. Wyness, M., (2018). Childhood, Culture and Society: In a Global Context, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Yin, R. K. (2013) Case Study Research Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
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