One of the great joys of my days is working with students. Often, and as contradictory as this may seem, the best work is done when a student is feeling low. It is a little counter-intuitive to even suggest this. But stay with me as I explain this important branch of Academic Care.
To begin with, what is Academic Care? As defined, it is the process of enhancing student learning and well-being through attention to developmental, situational and organisational mechanisms in and beyond the classroom. Like most definitions, this statement does not capture the complexity of Academic Care – a complexity inherent in its very human aspect. At Snowy Mountains Grammar School, this care is part of the fabric of our days. As such, it is usually a part of the day that goes unnoticed by the casual observer.
Staff at our school aspire to deliver world-class educational experiences that meet the needs of our learners and the educational demands of an ever-changing world. Each day, I am privy to examples of this aim being lived. Whether it is the opportunity to improve our mountain biking skills or our spelling skills, learn how to expand fractions or use a dovetail joint, understand oxidisation or the causes of World War I, use music more powerfully in video editing or understanding contour lines on geographic maps … a day in our school is one filled with wonder and curiosity.
But the difference at Snowy Mountains Grammar is that we pair this educational goal with the values of care, authenticity, respect and empathy. Whilst we have deliberate lessons, events and initiatives built around our values, the learning here is also organic, manifesting out of what initially appear to be adverse situations: a perceived poor mark, incomplete work or leaving work needing to be completed to the last minute, friendship breakdowns or poor behaviour choices. In these moments, it is the gentle conversations and advice offered, the extra time spent unpacking responses in tasks, or the suggestion for a new direction in a piece of writing. As educators, these are the moments that can become most profound. Not only for the students, but ourselves.
At these times, the key is to be the listener. When we become the listener, the agency shifts and the teacher does more than deliver content. They coax, guide and sometimes even inspire. Listening builds trust and empathy. And trust, for me, is the key to Academic Care. If we want our students to come on the journey, they need to trust that the journey is going to be a good one. That they will be safe to make mistakes, to stumble and even fall. And they need to trust that if they do, then we will be there to help them continue on again.
Our current Year 12 cohort is living this very journey. And they are excelling on it. On any given day, the library has Year 12 students – and increasingly Year 11 – taking advantage of the space until early evening. The space and time have become an extension of their classrooms; spaces of collaboration, questioning and deliberating. What has again been noticeable with this group is their resilience. As I write, Trial Examinations will be being handed back and for many students there will be successes. For others, there will be concerns and a sense of not having performed to the best of their ability. Low moments. In these moments, our care and respect must come to the fore if the student is to rise to the next challenge; the actual final examination. It is in these examinations where we want our students to peak.
This is where the aforementioned question needs to be answered. And the answer should be around growth. “What did I do wrong?” should be answered with “Let’s find out and correct it for next time.” That way, our students continue to grow and we continue to nurture our learners’ self-belief, self-worth, sense of wonder and curiosity.
Mr Paul Horvath