Authors, Hamish Curry, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation and
Brendan Hitchens, Program Coordinator, Asia Education Foundation.
What does ‘teaching respect’ look like in Australian schools?
Year 1 and 2 students at Thornbury Primary School are greeted each morning with “Kii Deadly Darebins!” Kii is an Indigenous greeting from the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri People which is taught at the school.
“Deadly” an Aboriginal colloquial term from wonderful, also sums up the school’s values.
Thornbury’s Deadly values are focused on respect and apply to students, staff and the community – in fact they were developed through an extensive school and community consultation.
Principal, Leon Bell, says our Deadly values include “respect [for] everyone’s story… Deadly values are taught regularly by class teachers as part of our Student Wellbeing program. We start the year with Deadly Days and each day is dedicated to a particular value. 2020 has seen the value of respect regularly taught through our Respectful Relationships program - even during remote learning.”
Leon makes the point “we have people come to our school from all walks of life and each family has different values, culture, beliefs and routines. We are here to learn from each other, and everyone is treated with respect. We may not agree with everything, but a key behaviour is ‘I am proud of who I am, and I respect your story’.”
In a recent study, AEF found that ‘Respect’ is the key value identified in Australian primary schools.
85 percent of schools included respect in their school strategic plans and mission statements. Our scan, using school lists collected from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, included over 650 primary schools across Australia in remote, regional, suburban and inner-city postcodes.
What do Australian schools mean by respect?
Schools define ‘respect’ quite differently from a focus on diversity and inclusion, to those who view respect as politeness and being well mannered.
For Deanmore Primary School in regional Western Australia, respect is treating “ourselves, others and the environment with dignity, compassion and consideration in both actions and words.”
At Carlton Primary School in inner Melbourne, respect involves, “developing an atmosphere of belonging.”
What does respect look like in schools?
AEF spoke to a number of schools across Australia to better understand what valuing respect looks like in the school’s programs, its curriculum and in school communities.
At Edge Hill Primary School in Far North Queensland a critical part of the school’s commitment to diversity is a well-established international student program.
Acting Deputy Principal, Adam Hooper, says “our focus on cultural acceptance has meant international students from a variety of countries have flourished while in attendance at our school.”
Intercultural understanding is also central to achieving respect at Yarra Road Primary School in Victoria.
Principal, Kate Perkins explains, “we have a very strong Intercultural Team at our school who work closely with our Leadership, Student Well-being and Positive Education teachers to ensure we deliver a curriculum that not only incorporates the Intercultural Capability component of the Victorian Curriculum into our teaching, learning and assessment but also provides opportunities to enrich student understanding and levels of respect in all other aspects of our school program.”
Yarra Road invest in whole staff professional learning to embed Intercultural Understanding into the school curriculum. They also have Sister School relationships with Malaysia and Vietnam through AEF’s BRIDGE School Partnerships Program. Kate says this “has given us a platform to deepen our staff, students and wider communities understanding about the importance and value of engaging globally and understanding and respecting other cultures.”
The value of Respect at Adelaide’s Plympton International College is successful because it is primarily driven by student voice.
The school encourages student leadership and voice on all major decision-making groups which contributes to the value of respect. A great example of this is the Wellbeing Ambassador program. This year the ambassadors established a reading program for 'Bullying No Way' day. Students purchased picture books that focused on diversity and acceptance, then read the stories to students in the primary school.
Plympton are serious about embedding the value of respect across its curriculum. For example, students engage in inquiry-based learning to solve contemporary global issues. In the STEM 3D printing program, students looked at the Nepal Earthquake. They learnt how a team of designers went to Nepal with a 3D printer to help fix the infrastructure.
Principal, Linda Richardson, says “through learning experiences like this, students gain a better understanding and respect for people in other regions”. The Resource Centre is continually developing the digital and physical collections to reflect the school’s diverse student body and intercultural education. “We want to feel that all students feel heard and can look at a range of characters as role models” explains Linda.
Led by their motto, “engaging young minds to influence and shape a better world,” Grand Avenue State School in Queensland have values encapsulated in every element of schooling, in words, actions and visually. This includes classroom displays, staff shirts, letterheads, a mural, footpath display and in the school song and haka. To develop our values “we used an appreciative inquiry model where all of the community – parents, students, staff and the community at large were involved. That was the start of our STAR expectations,” says teacher, Mabel Fa’ata’ape. STAR stands for Successful learners, Take responsibility, Act safely and Respect everyone.
For Ivanhoe East Primary School, in Melbourne, respect is “valuing everyone’s rights, beliefs and differences.” “It is our responsibility to provide genuine opportunities for our students to connect with others, to practice empathy and kindness,” says Principal, Justine Mackay. “These experiences allow them to see that, despite our differences, we have more things in common regardless of our background and experience.”
It’s encouraging to see these schools achieving the goals of Australian education as set out in the Alice Springs Mparntwe Education Declaration agreed by Australian Education Ministers in 2019. Australia’s national vision for education includes that “education promotes and contributes to a socially cohesive society” and students are “active and informed members of the community who “appreciate and respect Australia’s rich social, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.”
Including ‘respect’ in a school’s mission statement is an excellent step in acknowledging the vital role respect plays in fostering an inclusive community for students, teachers and our wider society. But, as these schools demonstrate, a mission statement is not enough. Respect needs to be intentionally embedded into both a school’s ethos and practice.
Respect is a key dimension of AEF’s new Intercultural Learning Framework. It is part of a skillset all learners need to develop to connect with and acknowledge our diversity.
A special note of thanks
The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) would like to acknowledge a select group of primary schools and their executive teams for their support and contribution in the development of this article. In alphabetical order the AEF extends a special thank you to each of the below schools.
- Ms Mabel Fa'ata'pe, English as an Additional Language or Dialect – Growth Success Teacher, Grand Avenue State School
- Mr Adam Hooper, Acting Deputy Principal, Edge Hill State School
- Ms Justine Mackay, Principal, Ivanhoe East Primary School
- Mr Matt Forrest, Principal, Macedon Primary School
- Ms Linda Richardson, Principal, Ms Caitlin Nicole, Ms Alexis Wagner, Resource Centre and Communications, and Mr Erik Ma, Plympton International College
- Mr Leon Bell, Principal, Thornbury Primary School
- Ms Kate Perkins, Principal, and the International Team, Yarra Road Primary School