Parents Voice in Government School Education

Case study: Ocean Grove Primary School

From left: John Hendry OAM (RbE originator), Scott McCumber (Principal), Georgia Fiske (Parents and Friends Club President), Gail McHardy (Parents Victoria CEO)

Ocean Grove Primary School began to bring Relationship based Education into the school in early 2022 with a staff in-service day presented by John Hendry.

Why Relationship based Education?

The school’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator, Andy McNeilly explains why Ocean Grove Primary chose Relationship based Education :

“I heard John Hendry on a podcast with Andrew Fuller talking about relationships. This really resonated with me and where our school was at with our Mental Health journey and the school community. We knew that building relationships was the next thing to help our children with their mental health and also their academic success.”

Ocean Grove’s RbE journey

In this video, Principal Scott McCumber and Mental Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator Andy McNeilly tell the story of how RbE is working at their school. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video,  the table below gives a guide to the topics discussed.

Background and statistics of the school, how RbE fits in with existing programs, academic results
Data showing improvements in students’ attitude to school, resilience, social engagement
Why Relationship based Education at Ocean Grove Primary? Principal Scott McCumber explains.
How RbE has been implemented at the school. Andy McNeilly on why the school chose John Hendry and RbE and how the principles of RbE are brought into the classroom and integrated with key learning areas.
Alex Fisher (parent at the school) expresses his appreciation and support for the RbE activities at Ocean Grove Primary.

1. RbE for staff

After deciding to bring Relationship based Education into the school, Andy McNeilly’s first step was to share John Hendry and Andrew Fuller’s ‘Relationships podcast’ with all staff at the school. Andy organised for John to run an online session with staff, and then on 11 March John ran a full-day in-service for staff.  Both Andy and Principal Scott McCumber wrote articles about the in-service in the school newsletter. Scott commented, “I have attended many professional learning sessions in over 20 years in education but I have never been so engaged for the full day and could listen to John for a lot longer.”

2. Into the classroom and the community

RbE sessions with every year level

Following the in-service day with teachers, every year level at the school had its own RbE session with John Hendry. Their teachers also attended and then students were set a task to work together to produce a class booklet about relationships. Feedback from teachers on this process was very positive. 

In the classroom

RbE has been integrated into classroom teaching – here’s an example of a worksheet for teachers to use for RbE classroom activities.

Below you can see examples of students’ work on RbE topics.  The first photo shows ‘hope clouds’ written by Year 2 students, including:

  • humans make first contact with intelligent life forms from outer space
  • I have some of my good friends in my year 3 class
  • the world spreads kindness to each other
  • junk food will be healthy

The second photo shows a student’s artwork on the theme of Kindness. 

Around the school

Relationship based Education is now highly visible around the school. In staffroom and classroom, the principles of RbE are up on noticeboards, the ideas of RbE and Social and Emotional Learning are explored on whiteboards, and staff hand out cards with a personal message on the back to congratulate students on showing the RbE values such as Kindness and Integrity. 

Parent session

On Tuesday 9 August, John Hendry ran an evening session for parents. John explained the Relationship Reparation approach and how it was fundamentally educational. The role of forgiveness in this reparation was explained and questions answered. Principal  Scott McCumber also attended and spoke about a partnership approach between school and parents – working together on a Relationship Reparation approach when things go wrong in relationships, whether they be between students and staff, parents and staff, or between the students and their peers. The session was well attended and feedback was very positive.

See below for more information about family engagement. 

Communication with the school community

From John’s first visit to the school (the staff in-service day on 11 March), Principal Scott McCumber and Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator Andy McNeilly made sure parents were kept informed of the RbE progress. More than that, they included lots of inspiring ideas and information in the school newsletter Grove Gazette over the following months.

The newsletter articles included:

  • Informing parents about the staff RbE in-service and forthcoming RbE sessions for students. 
  • Details of the five principles of RbE
  • Promotions for John’s session with parents (and a review of it afterwards)
  • An article by Scott McCumber congratulating students for acts of kindness at school
  • Other articles about related topics. 
See below for more information about family engagement. 

3. Building staff capacity

Relationship Reparation for staff

John’s final session with staff in 2022 was centred on Relationship Reparation, a “non-adversarial” approach to deal with a situation where someone has harmed another.  The harmer and the harmed work together, using apology and forgiveness to repair the relationship. This fits directly with the Restorative Practice model created by David Moore, explored in our RbE booklet. 

Ongoing RbE leadership

Andy McNeilly (Mental Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator) and Scott McCumber (Principal) worked closely with John Hendry during 2022. John spent extra time with them to ensure they could continue to provide guidance and build staff capacity in maintaining a positive RbE culture at the school. Scott and John worked together on RbE policies for the school. John understands that every school is different and each school needs to create and ‘own’ its policies and practices. 

Follow-up session for staff: Rules, Consequences and Reparation

In March 2023, John and Andy led a follow-up session with staff about the new school rules, which were implemented in late 2022 after consultation with staff and students. The session focused on new ways of looking at consequences if rules are broken. 

Message from Principal Scott McCumber

Since John Hendry brought Relationship based Education into our school, it has strengthened my conviction that relationships are centrally important in education, for students, parents, teachers and school leadership.

RbE has given us all a framework to understand and develop quality relationships, to make our school function better as a place of learning and caring.

We are developing an understanding across the whole school community that relationship reparation is the most effective response when mistakes are made, rules are broken, or relationships damaged. This is a challenge to the old way of thinking based on punishment, which tends to create a cycle of resentment and disengagement. Relationship reparation helps us to forgive, to move forward and to restore hope.

RbE has helped us to create a great learning community at our school, based on quality relationships at all levels.

RbE and family engagement

Family engagement has been an essential component of the RbE activities at Ocean Grove. As John Hendry has said, RbE aims to “empower parents to be proactive positive contributors as critical stakeholders in the education of their children.”

RbE gives schools an excellent opportunity to advance one of the goals of the Foundation for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO):

Strong relationships and active partnerships between schools and families/carers, communities, and organisations to strengthen students’ participation and engagement in school

Mental Health in Primary Schools

The RbE activities at Ocean Grove are part of a long-term commitment to student health at the school, under the Education Department’s ‘Mental Health in Primary Schools’ program. These videos from the Department explore the program at Ocean Grove and other schools. 

RbE is one of the ‘outside agencies’ mentioned by Andy McNeilly in the second video.

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