Year

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences

Abstract

The building of new schools in Australia is not an uncommon occurrence, however, there is little research that guides education authorities on ‘how’ to address the challenges that staff experience as they endeavour to establish, develop and sustain the educational visions, so as not to revert to past practices. In a rapidly changing society, a model of education must equip young people with development of personal characteristics and attitudes to navigate the complexities and challenges of the world in which they live and work. A new school provides a unique opportunity to re-imagine a model of education that meets the needs of learners and teachers in the twenty-first century.

This thesis presents a case study of a new systemic Catholic secondary coeducational school, with a focus on exploring the foundation staff’s experiences as they adapt to integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) as a regular component of a cross-curriculum in a new school setting. The purpose of the study is threefold: to document the staff’s perspectives and experiences during the establishment and development phase of the school; to investigate the implications of teaching SEL as a cross-curricula innovation; and to add to the research literature on new schools and build on the research on SEL implementation.

Data collection consisted of in-depth interviews with nominated Diocesan staff and the school’s foundation staff over a two-and-a-half year period and triangulated with secondary sources namely, school documentation, the researcher’s reflections through journal notes and seminal studies on new schools and social and emotional learning. Data analysis occurred through three stages and were compared and contrasted with the available literature on new school or school reform and social and emotional learning.

Results supported earlier research on new schools development and social and emotional learning implementation. There were common experiences, both successful and challenging. Two successes were the staff’s consensus that SEL was an important addition to the Learning and Teaching Framework and the school’s organisational structure, the Learning Advisory Program, designed to provide daily opportunities for staff to build relational (SEL) and academic outcomes. However, there were numerous challenges that impacted on the implementation of the school’s educational mandate.

The implications of this research indicate that in order for a new school to successfully deliver SEL, the following issues need to be addressed: collective ownership of the school’s vision and philosophy; the confidence and capacity of the staff to address SEL in the cross-curricula delivery; the style and level of leadership direction and support for SEL; essential professional development; stressors of new school workloads and the emotional and social adaptation to change and sustainability of the school’s initial educational goals. The role of the education authority in the initial planning and the subsequent impact on implementation at the new school was also explored.

This study is another step toward developing a broader understanding of the complexities and drivers of new school development and the implementation of social and emotional learning in a curricula learning and teaching model. It adds to the limited research on new schools in Australia and highlights the issues of SEL implementation if not managed well from the leadership team.

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