Achieving authentic diversity

I have admiration for our young people whom I see respecting the diverse needs of our students each day. They view their world as a place filled with diversity and understand that they will need to navigate through that world when they leave school.

As the OECD 2021 Building Capacity for Inclusive Teaching project points out, our school environments have become increasingly diverse places where students from various backgrounds share their learning and personal experiences.

An inclusive education that offers a quality education for all must therefore respect diversity and the different needs and abilities, characteristics and learning expectations of students and their families. In summary, we need to support the learning and wellbeing outcomes of all students by valuing their unique identities and needs.

The role of educators in promoting inclusivity

Inclusive teaching practices give particular attention to pedagogy or the use of different approaches to teaching, the curriculum and the nature of assessment. Teachers are aware of the different needs of students within their classes and hence will differentiate or make adjustments in their teaching. The objective of teachers is to find ways that will engage all students in the classroom and to assess students in ways that will enable them to show their understanding.

As educators, we can demonstrate inclusiveness through pedagogy or approaches to teaching, curriculum and assessment which engages students in learning that is meaningful, relevant, culturally appropriate and accessible. There is also another important element of inclusiveness which gives attention to enabling all students to feel a sense of belonging to the school rather than feeling marginalised and isolated.

Within the new Child Safe Standards, Standard 5 focuses on upholding equity and respecting the diverse needs of students in policy and practice. There is a clear expectation that as a school we pay attention to the needs of children with a disability, children from linguistically diverse backgrounds,  LGBTQI+ children and young people, and Aboriginal children and young people.

School belonging

The concept of school belonging is foundational to establishing a school environment in which the diverse needs of students is respected. As early as the 1990’s researchers were defining school belonging as the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included and supported by others in the school environment. When students feel they have good relationships with and are accepted by their teachers and peers, they gain a sense of belonging which results in school engagement.

The relationships that students develop with their teachers has a positive influence on how young people feel about school. When students perceive their teachers as creating a caring and well-structured learning environment, they feel valued and respected as individuals. The role of the teacher becomes one of assisting students to acquire new skills and attributes that pertain to their personal and their academic goals. Within this relationship of mutual respect, teachers can challenge the learning of students which will enhance their knowledge and understanding and set high expectations for everyone in the classroom. I have seen many examples of teacher-student relationships at Lauriston where our students develop professional and trusting working relationships with teachers who can provide support for personal and academic development.

Previously I have written that a successful education builds not just cognitive skills, but also the social and emotional skills of children and young people. Our cognitive, social and emotional resources enable us to build our curiosity for the world around us, our compassion for others and our bravery when managing tensions and challenges or persisting through difficult times. These three resources help children and young people to manage the tension they may feel when their peers come from diverse cultural backgrounds, have specific disabilities or may not identify themselves in the same way as their peers.

International students want to form new connections and make friendships with domestic students because they want to feel a sense of belonging, facilitate acculturation in their new school and community environment, and feel comfortable in the classroom learning environment. Issues of language and lack of familiarity with cultural norms can be challenging for international students and may lead them to feel isolated. When attempts to make friends with domestic students become a challenge, the students will more than likely form friendships with students from their own country who understand cultural habits and values. While the students may have social connections, the sense of belonging comes from being accepted into the community.

Developing a purposeful approach to diversity

As a school community we each have a responsibility to respect the diverse needs of children and young people. We strive to make inclusive practices part of our daily life at Lauriston.

  • Our year level cohorts are made up of students who are a microcosm of the diverse society in which we live. Their cultural diversity is observable, but perhaps less observable is the diversity of learning and wellbeing needs, the different ways in which our students define and describe their family unit or the way in which individual students identify themselves. Each student is accepted and valued as an individual and each will make a contribution to our School.
  • Our Assemblies are student focused and we hear their voices, celebrate their achievements and listen to what they have to say about a broad range of topics.
  • Our various co-curricular opportunities and clubs are broad and varied because our girls have a wide range of interests and talents.
  • Our Community Service activities create opportunities for our students to go out into the broader community and listen to the stories of people from diverse backgrounds. There is a focus on developing empathy and understanding for those individuals whose lives are often impacted by the community in which they live.
  • Activities such as House events and Year Level activities are designed to promote inclusiveness. We expect that every student participates in these events and makes their personal contribution. We observe our students acknowledging and encouraging their peers because they are brave enough to participate and try.
  • Our Howqua program teaches our students to live in a residential community where inclusion is part of daily life. Students come to the Howqua program with different skills, talents and family values. At Howqua our students come from different family settings and different cultural backgrounds. The Howqua staff and the program itself have a significant impact on the way that our girls learn to accept and live with difference.

It is incumbent upon our School community that tolerance and compassion are seen as the norm for our behaviour towards others because this forms the base of a supportive and caring learning environment.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse was established at the University of Arizona in 2011 after a shooting that killed six people and wounded thirteen others, including former Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. While the institute focuses on the promotion of healthy and civil political debate, I believe that the principles outlined by the institute pertain to inclusive practices and recognising diversity.

  • There is value in engaging with our differences constructively. When we can make connections across what appear to be divides, we find satisfaction. When we choose not to engage with others who have different opinions or have differences to ourselves, we fail to gain any insights and create a negative environment for ourselves and them.
  • We all need to listen for understanding because this is a fundamental skill for engaging constructively about our differences. We all need to enter into conversations with curiosity and an openness to listen to what the other person is saying.
  • As in everyday life, we need to demonstrate empathy by placing ourselves in the shoes of another person and this will help us to see that the person is not a stereotype, but a person who is seeking connection with their peers.
  • When we engage with humility we recognise that other people may bring different views, skills, talents and understandings to our own that should not be discounted or viewed as less worthy.
  • Inclusiveness means that we start with respectfulness towards each other and our differences, with a view to finding common ground where we can articulate some of our shared values, aspirations and experiences.

Our young people will work in many different places around the world, and they will work with teams of individuals who will not only be culturally diverse, but will come with different cognitive, social and emotional skills. Their role will be to learn how to utilise these differences in enhanced problem solving and decision making.

Susan Just, Principal