It’s been over a year since COVID-19 first hit Australia and the education sector is still dealing with the impact of lockdown and remote learning.
Last year was a year of firsts, with students, teachers and leaders learning and working remotely for the first time. In the wake of the ‘new normal’, COVID-19 related discussions have shifted their focus from the impact of the pandemic to what comes next.
On May 20 2021, Pivot Professional Learning held their first live event, ‘Designing A Better Future For Education’. Joined by key stakeholders in education from across the country, together these great minds discussed how we can work towards a better future for education.
“Events like this are key to moving forward to create a more equitable system for our students. To create lasting change, we must take the time to listen to and work together with key stakeholders across roles, sectors, and approaches,” explains Amanda Bickerstaff, Pivot Professional Learning CEO.
What the education leaders had to say
To kickstart the night, Pivot asked each leader on the first panel what the impact last year had on their school and professional communities, and what next steps were necessary to support school communities going forward.
Claire Brown, National Director of AVID Australia defined the foundation for the next steps forward in education with two words; “respect” and “trust”. Claire said “We need to respect this profession. We need to stop beating it up in the press. We need to stop saying it’s poor quality teaching that’s the problem.”
“These debilitating conversations need to stop. When our teachers are doing a great job in the middle of a pandemic, let’s support them – let’s trust them.”
Claire Brown, National Director of AVID Australia talking about placing trust and respecting our educators.
President of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, Andrew Pierpoint, expanded on Claire’s notion of respect and trust for school staff. “You never see a government of any flavour, tell the Royal College Of Engineers how to build a bridge,” Mr Pierpoint said.
“But everybody’s really keen to tell us how to run large complex organisations day in and day out.”
The panel of education leaders championed the idea that before we can start asking more of our teachers and principals, people must respect and trust their expertise and stop second-guessing their ability to make the right decisions for their school communities.
Andrew Pierpoint, President of the Australian Secondary Principals Association explaining the need for trust in our education institutions.
Looking at student experiences during the pandemic
To have the clearest picture of the way forward for schools, it is important that students are given a seat at the table. The second panel of the evening featured four young people, who were asked about the impact of last year on their learning and what they’d like to see going forward.
Anushka Sharm, a Year 9 student at Brunswick Secondary College, explained that after last year’s lockdowns, it is clear that whatever the next steps forward may be, student-teacher relations and communication has to be at the centre. “After a year that was so isolating, it is so important that students feel comfortable and able to ask for help,” Anushka said.
2020 graduate, Vee Tangri, also touched on the need for communication, stating that discussions around mental health are still very difficult to have because it’s seen as a taboo conversation.
Vee questioned, “If I reach out [to the mental health facilities at my school], will my parents know? Will my teachers know? Will the people around me think of me differently?”
It’s so important that in the wake of this ‘new normal’, we put students and their perspectives at the centre of the education conversation.
Not-for-profit and policy maker’s advice
The third and final panel of the night featured the perspectives of leaders working in the not-for-profit space, and education policy makers. When asked about the next steps forward, two key themes emerged – wellbeing and collaboration.
CEO of Teach for Australia, Melodie Potts Resevear, revisited the last panel’s focus on wellbeing, and reminded educators that academic performance and mental health are two sides of the same coin. “There’s a very real risk that we start to seperate wellbeing from academia, when the two are inherently linked”.
Melodie raised the importance of looking at education and learning from a more holistic point of view; this sentiment was echoed throughout the night. When we look at the purpose of schools in the wake of the ‘new normal’, we can’t be focused on academic output without carefully considering wellbeing first.
Another area of focus championed throughout the night was collaboration. After the tumultuous year of 2020, everyone was in agreement that connecting with other people, sharing ideas, and having more conversations similar to the ones held throughout the evening were key to building the future we need, and one that would be most effective.
“The power of people working together is the solution to this” – Former director of Barstow Institute, Neil Barker.