Here’s the cheat sheet for creating better school policies

Here’s the cheat sheet for creating better school policies

School policies are vital tools in creating school culture and supporting staff. They allow students to thrive but take time to write. A new evidence-based resource can change that – and it’s free for educators.

Monash Education’s Kelly-Ann Allen has brought together a team of experts to produce a comprehensive collection of policies ready to be adapted for schools.

Climate change. Inclusive education. Improving learning outcomes. Affirming gender identity. There are many issues schools need to tackle from a policy perspective. Building Better Schools with Evidence-based Policy offers 38 different policies drafted by experts and reviewed by teachers, parents and school leaders.

This book is basically a cheat sheet for time-poor staff to create robust school policies to address the needs of their school communities. Here are some of the policies available.

Create a policy for: A sense of belonging in schools

Having a sense of belonging at school means that a student feels like they are valued — that they are accepted for who they are, shown respect and supported by their peers and teachers, and included in school activities. Sadly, it is reported that 1 in 3 students don’t feel a sense of belonging to school and this can have a damaging effect on their overall wellbeing, their academic outcomes, and their mental and physical health.

boy sitting alone outside
It is estimated that approximately 1 in 3 students does not feel a sense of belonging to school (OECD, 2019)

According to educational and developmental psychologist Kelly-Ann Allen, part of the team who wrote the School Belonging Policy, a sense of belonging needs to go beyond policy and become an explicit school value.

“It’s a shared responsibility. Take a policy a step further and send statements across your whole school community,” she says.

  • School leadership will create formal structures to consult students on school policy decisions, building their sense of agency and ensuring their voices are represented in policy-making decisions.
  • Teachers will provide students with personal support, affirmations, and inspiration for learning, as well as academic support.
  • Students will support each other academically as well as personally through peer mentor programs, study clubs, etc) and have an induction procedure for new students at the school.
  • Parents are encouraged to be involved in school life in meaningful ways and provide feedback regularly.

Read the School belonging policy chapter from the book Building Better Schools with Evidence-based Policy.

Create a policy for: Taking action against climate change

Given that young people will bear the brunt of climate change and are also leading the way in acting against it, schools are now expected to have strong policies in place safeguarding the future of their students.

According to environmental education researcher Alan Reid, who wrote the Declaring a Climate Emergency policy chapter, the urgency of all sectors of society addressing the climate emergency by 2030 is highlighted by the recent IPCC reports and COP meetings.

“Accordingly, teachers and school leadership are increasingly expected to be on the front foot in helping address the climate breakdown among current – not just future – generations. This includes helping students understand the realities of the climate emergency now, and how schools and communities might foster climate change resilience through selecting from a wide range of policy options, or coming up with their own.”

Alan says over the next decade, teachers and school leadership will be tasked with adopting wide-scale behaviour changes that help limit global warming and help their students be resilient against its impacts.

school teacher with a group of schoolchildren learning about recycling
The suggested policy has schools committing to directing more funds and resources towards climate change education and action

The suggested policy has schools committing to actions such as:

  • Creating a citizen’s assembly from all sectors of the school and its community to generate ideas of how they can better tackle climate change.
  • Directing more funds and resources towards climate change education and action, including working with local and indigenous knowledge holders.
  • Committing to being carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon safe by 2050 at the very latest.
  • Auditing the school’s commitments to energy use, physical resources and waste streams, transport, biodiversity, food and packaging, sustainable living and the protection of wildlife.
  • Updating the curriculum, extracurricular activities, and student support services to foster the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to help create climate resilient individuals.

Read the Declaring a climate emergency chapter from the book Building Better Schools with Evidence-based Policy.

Create a policy for: Supporting teachers with the transition to technology

Teaching looks very different than it used to, with most of a teacher’s work now being conducted through digital technology. And while many of the digital breakthroughs within the education sector have helped to relieve teachers of repetitive and routine tasks, teachers now face a range of other concerns they previously weren’t exposed to.

teacher holding online class
Teaching looks very different than it used to, with most of a teacher’s work now being conducted through digital technology

This includes issues such as automated feedback and grading tools, ethical decision making around  the social media use of  students; and the digital labour that is required for teachers to keep up to date with the latest apps and learning resources online.

In the Teachers’ work with digital technologies policy paper, Monash researchers put forward a policy that supports teachers’ use of digital technology in ways that enhances their capacity to work effectively and safely, such as:

  • Considering the impact of email traffic on staff workloads and committing to minimising unnecessary emails.
  • Establishing clear procedures for communicating with school communities, such as communicating through school email addresses and having a single point of contact.
  • Considering the possibility of “digital business hours” to be clearly communicated with the school community.
  • Ensuring transparency in what software and apps are being used by staff and supporting teachers in making these decisions.

Read the Teachers’ work with digital technologies chapter from the book Building Better Schools with Evidence-based Policy.

Making producing school policies easier

We might not get excited about creating school policies, but we can get excited about the results and the way they can support us to create better schools.

Other topics include:

  • personalised wellbeing planning,
  • incorporating play in schools,
  • mental health promotion,
  • self-injury response and intervention,
  • cultural congruity, family engagement,
  • promoting educational equity for students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds,
  • excellence in indiginous education,
  • load reduction instruction policy,
  • feedback for learning, and
  • alcohol and other drug use.

Each policy details salient and succinctly synthesised research on areas that are of most importance to educational contexts.

The best part? The book has been made freely available by major sponsors The Homeless Project, Black Dog Institute, Communities that Care, Psychological Assessments Australia, the Australian Psychological Society’s Psychologists in Schools Interest Group, and the Global Belonging Collaborative.

Building Better Schools

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