The school where teacher-student rapport thrives

The school where teacher-student rapport thrives

In 2017, Campbelltown Performing Arts High School (CPAHS) conducted a survey of its Stage 4 students and found that a significant number could not name a teacher who knew them well, both as a young person and as learner.

Recognising the ramifications of this, the school’s principal, Stacey Quince, undertook some revolutionary changes in classroom structure to help turn this around.

Quince set about creating three communities to facilitate this change.

The first was around practice – those deeply involved testing prototypes, gathering evidence and reshaping approaches; the second was a community of engagement – those interested in the work, willing to give feedback, but wary of implementing change; and the third was a community of interest – the rest of the staff, who are kept updated about what is happening, are also invited to have a voice in the process.

‘A change in culture as well as practices’

Once new practices had been proven successful and were ready to be implemented across the school, Quince said they were adopted by all staff through “a supportive, incremental model”.

“At CPAHS we’re focused on ensuring our students are prepared for a rapidly changing future and that’s meant a change in culture as well as practices,” Quince – who is currently on secondment to the NSW Department of Education – told The Educator.

“We’ve worked over a long period of time to transform learning in our school; it’s been incremental, rather than sudden.”

Quince said the school drew from a strong evidence base in areas for which there is significant research but also worked with global and university partners to develop and test new practices within the school’s own context.

“Part of this has been based on using disciplined innovation methods to develop solutions to contextual challenges but we’ve also built the capacity of our staff to be researcher-practitioners and gather evidence of impact to inform their work,” she said.

“Empowering and trusting teachers to drive this work has been fundamental to its success.”

‘Strong partnerships built on trust and transparency’

Quince said that throughout the initiative process, the school worked hard to ensure ownership of the transformation by all stakeholders.

“Throughout the year, we provide lots of opportunities for students and the community to provide input and feedback – through focus groups, surveys, facilitated consultation evenings and exit slips, to name a few – and then we report back to the community about how our worked has changed as a result of their input,” she said.

“These opportunities are provided during the planning phase of a new program, while we are implementing it and at the end so we can make it even more effective next time.”

Quince said this process is about “strong partnerships that are centred on learning and based on mutual trust and transparency”.

“The impact of this work over time is evidenced in so many ways,” she said.

“By external measures our students’ literacy and numeracy skills continue to grow, we have more students entering university, and Tell Them From Me survey data shows that our students report improvement across all three key areas - advocacy at school, expectations for success and sense of belonging.” 

The school’s ongoing evaluation also indicates that student engagement has deepened, and learning outcomes have improved over time.

However, Quince said one of the biggest indicators of transformation has been an increase in parent and community engagement.

“To have 250 community members all contribute, through facilitated consultation, to the development a new curriculum model; or 700 community members come through the gates for an exhibition of learning and provide positive feedback through exit slips; or 100% parents surveys tell us they want to continue student-led conferences – that’s powerful evidence of a whole-of-community approach to learning,” she said.

Quince said a key example of a specific practices that reflect this transformation has been the school’s student-led conferences.

“Student-led conferences have been employed over the past three years at CPAHS to support an ongoing, meaningful connection between the student, school and home,” Quince said.

“These conferences are run by the student, with the support of a learning advisor, and empower the student to critically reflect upon their progress with regards to both areas of strength and areas for development whilst establishing the next steps they need to undertake to improve in their learning.”

Fostering a deeper sense of agency

Fran Halloway, HT Teaching and Learning at CPAHS, said students are provided the opportunity to communicate this learning process to their significant adult in a formal setting.

“This not only develops their skills in articulating and evidencing their progress, but also fosters a deeper sense of ownership and understanding about their learning for everyone involved,” she told The Educator.

Year 8 student, Maliyah Arnold, said the student led conferences make her learning more interesting.

“I am more invested because I have a voice and can make decisions about my learning,” she said.

Kirstine Gonano, the relieving principal at CPAHS, said students are provided with the opportunity to have voice and choice in the type of learning activities they are engaged in.

“For example, through project-based learning, students make authentic connections and co-create products and services with the community, sharing this through multiple feedback and critique cycles and exhibition,” Gonano told The Educator.

“Consequently, students are more engaged and interested in their learning and are achieving improvised learning outcomes as a result.”

Year 8 student, Akacia Perry, can attest to this.

“My projects solve real world problems and are important to me because they help the community and other people around the world,” Perry said.