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Doing School Differently

My job sees me on the road and in the air for a substantial amount of time throughout the working week. Travelling to get to schools all over Australia, I am very grateful for the existence of audiobooks and podcasts – they really do keep me sane and focussed as I cross this great land. While I must admit a morbid fascination with True Crime, for the most part I enjoy listening to interviews and autobiographies of really interesting, creative people.


And I have noticed something that these folk often have in common. When asked to describe their time at school, many (though certainly not all) tend not to remember the experience fondly. They will often say something along the lines of, “School just wasn’t for me,” or “I did well enough in class, but I just wasn’t that interested.” Or, “School was the thing I had to put up with until I 3 o’clock when I could bust out of there and indulge in my real passion.”


These reflections are interesting to me for many reasons; the obvious one being that you don’t necessarily have to have a successful education to go on to to live a very rewarding and fabulous life.


But moreover, they challenge us to take off our rose-coloured glasses when we reminisce about the ‘good old days’ of education.


The recent rhetoric around the need to get ‘back to basics’ in schools completely ignores the fact that for many of us, traditional schooling models didn’t cut it, and they certainly don’t for today’s generation of young people.


Thankfully, there are many forward thinking and courageous folk in education today who are pushing the boundaries of how education can look and feel for our kids. They refuse to try and shove square pegs into round holes, and instead continually create ways to provide holistic education for all who come through their gates.


I am fortunate enough to partner with many of those schools doing things differently, and let me tell you, the impact they are having is inspirational.


Special Educators have always known that all students can learn, just in different ways and at different times. They value the unique contribution every young person brings to the school community and know that by catering for every child’s learning styles and needs, they will have the opportunity to fulfill that contribution.


The incredible teams at Warringa Park School, Verney Road and Mildura Specialist School inspire me with their passion, genuine care and sense of collective responsibility for their students and their families.


The BUSY Schools in Queensland provide alternative school programs and study opportunities for students in Year 11 and 12 who have struggled in mainstream education systems.


When I visit the Cairns campus, I am always blown away by the creative, personal approach and flexibility that allows these teenagers and young adults the opportunity to complete their education, while preparing them for the world of work, or vocational or tertiary pathways. When I speak with the students and their families, there is a distinct sense of gratefulness that a school finally ‘gets’ them.


St Patrick’s in Northern Adelaide is re-imagining what a technical college can be. With high expectations and support for all, students are not only are inspired to use their unique skills and talents to work toward gaining successful employment, but also to develop into young people with a great sense of hope, purpose and empathy. And they are smashing it!


Margaret Jurd College is doing school in a way that is unlike anything I have seen before. Now with two campuses in the Newcastle area, MJC caters to students with mental health diagnoses, behaviour challenges or students who are neurodivergent. Many young people have been disengaged from or not even attending mainstream schools for extended periods. Offering small class sizes, students supported by case workers and a completely personalised program in a judgement-free environment, the adults at Margaret Jurd College go above and beyond to give their students the education they deserve. I am in awe of them.


There are so many educators out there, in mainstream and alternative settings, who are pushing the envelope, taking risks and doing things differently for our kids, sometimes with support of education leaders and policy makers and sometimes despite the lack of it, and I applaud them all.


Some future creatives and change-makers who are sitting in your classrooms right now will certainly appreciate it too, of that I’m certain.


Check out other articles Kirsty has written here.