Culture of care key to student success

07 March 2012

Creating a culture of care in the classroom could be the key to improving student achievement in schools.

Creating a culture of care in the classroom could be the key to improving student achievement in schools.

Delivering the prestige lecture at a recent colloquium hosted by the University of Canterbury’s College of Education, Dr Tom Cavanagh from the School of Education at Colorado State University said that to address the achievement gap in schools educators needed to also take into consideration the discipline gap.

“The achievement gap and the discipline gap are linked. We needed to get out of silo thinking, where the two issues are separate, and look at the two together because one affects the other,” he said.

“These two gaps can also be linked to a cultural gap between students, teachers and the wider school community, where teachers don’t know anything about the community their students come from. You have teachers living in one part of town teaching students from ethnically diverse backgrounds who live in another part. You’re not going to get a community/school partnership until this gap is looked at, and looked at honestly.”

Dr Cavanagh, who was one of 14 speakers from around New Zealand and from overseas at the Schools, Communities and Social Inclusion Colloquium held on 2 March, said recent research worldwide suggested that educators needed to move away from a focus on improving teaching practices and on creating better curricula. These improvements were ineffectual if the students that needed help the most were being removed from classrooms and learning environments for disciplinary reasons.

“If we’re going to keep students in the classroom we have to build the capacity of students and teachers to address harm to relationships in the classroom, not the dean’s office. Problems need to be dealt with in the classroom, not by removing children from the learning environment.”

Dr Cavanagh said by moving away from punishment and retribution to restorative practices, disruptions and issues of conflict could be turned into learning opportunities for both students and teachers.

Other speakers at the colloquium included Dr Dorothy Bottrell and Dr Susan Goodwin from the University of Sydney, whose book Schools, Communities and Social Inclusionwas launched at the colloquium; Dr Dave Palmer and Jennie Buchanan from Murdoch University in Western Australia; Dr David Zyngier of Monash University, Melbourne; Dr Robyn Munford and Dr Jackie Sanders, Massey University; Melanie Riwai-Couch of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi; Dr Melinda Webber, University of Auckland; and Christchurch school principals John Rohs (Aranui High School), Matt Bateman (Burnside Primary School) and John Leonard (Freeville School).

University of Canterbury Professor of Māori Research, Dr Angus Macfarlane, who helped coordinate the event, commented on the high calibre of the presentations.

“The delegates at the colloquium came from all sectors of the education community and it was good that they got to interact with the research and practice of many noted presenters.”

The colloquium was sponsored by the Southern Hub of Ako Aotearoa and supported by Palgrave Macmillan Publishers, the College of Education and the Office of the Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Māori). 


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