Home Hybrid Learning How to get students engaged in learning at the start of a new school year

How to get students engaged in learning at the start of a new school year


How to get students engaged in learning at the start of a new school year

After a long break over Christmas and New Year, teachers are still hard at work trying to get students back into ‘school mode’.

According to a recent OECD report, boredom is the third most common reason behind students’ refusal to attend school, highlighting the need for educators to double down on student engagement and make sure school is a place they want to be, not just a place they feel they have to be.

As Waverley College’s Head of Wellbeing, James Horrocks has been applying his passion and knowledge for helping high-risk students and implementing sustainable school-wide initiatives for both students and teachers.

With over twelve years of dedicated service in the education sector, Horrocks’ expertise spans pastoral care, leadership, strategic planning, student wellness, and positive education – skills that allow him to help students create authentic, sustainable pathways.

Start of year wellbeing strategies for teachers

When asked what strategies he has found to be successful for teachers when it comes to re-engaging students after a long holiday break, Horrocks highlighted the importance of establishing good learning routines early.

“Students are returning to structure after a long time without much structure, so stay consistent to better support them as they readjust, Horrocks told The Educator.

“You should also take the time to learn about your new classes and observe the dynamics in the room early on. Then use these observations to inform how you can cater to the different learners in your classes.”

Horrocks said it’s also helpful for teachers to find out what makes their students tick.

“Some you may already know, others you won’t. Students want to know you care and engage much more genuinely when they know their teacher knows them and cares about their learning,” he said.

“Importantly, allow for student voice. Students engage more deeply when they feel like they have autonomy over their learning. Provide guided choices and, where possible, scope for students to pursue their own interests.”

Collaboration and communication are key

A recent study by Mission Australia found that one in four secondary students and one in seven primary school students report having a mental health condition – ultimately leading to psychological problems in their adult life.

Horrocks said that as schools get into the swing of 2024, Learning Support and Wellbeing Teams must be mindful of staying on the ball when it comes to providing critical information on how to best support the needs of students.

“It’s also important to support collaboration and communication across teaching and learning, wellbeing and learning support teams,” he said.

“Additionally, school-wide processes and learning routines should be clear, easy to find and well communicated to all staff at the start of each year.”

Horrocks also highlighted the importance of staff and student support structures being easy to contact and engage, should teachers identify anything they need further support with.

“Where feasible and possible, invest in up-to-date training and professional learning for all staff in the space of Youth Mental Health,” he said. For example, all teaching and support staff at Waverley college are fully trained Mental Health First Aiders.” 

Horrocks said this gives all staff tools with which they can better identify and support mental health and wellbeing issues as they present in students. 

“Other training includes, in-house wellbeing professional development for all staff, run by pastoral leaders, college counsellors, and community support groups.”

Why Waverley College’s approach is successful

Horrocks said Waverley’s approach to wellbeing is so successful because it builds a strong sense of belonging and community. 

“A primary factor in all individual wellbeing is having a sense of belonging.  If students feel this, they feel safe, supported and connected to their school. By establishing a firm sense of belonging, many other benefits will begin to emerge, both in the domains of wellbeing and academia,” he said.

“This focus is underpinned by the vision of the Waverley College Wellbeing Team which is to ensure that ‘Waverley College is a safe and supportive community, where all individuals are known, valued and challenged, allowing them to reach their full potential’. All wellbeing initiatives at the college stem from this vision.”

Additionally, Horrocks said the focus of wellbeing at Waverley is to ensure that all programs and initiatives are context specific. 

“By this, I mean that we work to gather all the most up-to-date information and research on best practices and emerging wellbeing concerns and then examine these through the lens of the Waverley student,” he said.

“In doing this we are able to address the wellbeing issues that are of most importance to our students, teachers and community in a way that connects with them authentically and meaningfully.”

Waverley College’s Heads of House have developed a purpose-built wellbeing program that runs in fortnightly lessons for all students in years 7-9 and addresses wellbeing concepts that are age-appropriate and most relevant to students lives at different points of the school year.

Horrocks said the College also places a high value on wellbeing throughout the school and ensures that it is well resourced and supported, with all staff acting as wellbeing mentors, an incredible team of pastoral leaders in the Heads of House, college counselors, nurse, Head of Student Wellbeing and Deputy Principal – staff and students. 

“All members of the community value wellbeing and prioritise it in their teaching and learning practices.”

The biggest challenges moving forward (and what’s being done about them)

Horrocks said connection, belonging and relationships are continuing to emerge and solidify themselves as primary challenges to student wellbeing.

“Now that we are well into the post-covid world, many students are facing issues in feeling a sense of belonging and building safe, respectful and meaningful relationships,” he said.

“Many students coming through schools currently missed important opportunities to learn how to build positive relationships during remote learning and the lockdowns. As such, many are saying that they feel increasingly isolated, and are facing challenges such as increased anxiety, along with other well-being issues as a result.”

Horrocks said moving forward in 2024, the College is ensuring that it is constantly staying agile in its approach to wellbeing to enable it to adapt to emerging challenges in the area of wellbeing. 

“As mentioned before, our vision and focus on belonging is directly targeted at addressing these emerging trends,” he said.

Some examples of this, notes Horrocks, is the College’s fortnightly Pastoral Lessons, which focus on building belonging and teaching respectful relationships, and the College’s vertical Connection, Communication and Culture (CCC) homeroom system, which acts as a ‘school family’ for each student.

“This helps students to feel safe, supported and known by peers from all year levels and by a staff mentor who stays with each group throughout their 6 years in the senior school,” he said.

Horrocks said the Wellbeing team at Waverley is also ensuring that its programs remain successful.

“This is being done by constantly reviewing our wellbeing programs, frameworks and initiatives, both internally and externally by consulting with industry experts and organisations such as the AIS and Mental Health First Aid Australia to ensure we are enacting best practice and maintaining the highest standards in all facets of student wellbeing.”

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