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Student experiences of relational pedagogy in a Big Picture Education Advisory at Willibe High School

Stone, Helen (2018) Student experiences of relational pedagogy in a Big Picture Education Advisory at Willibe High School. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Traditional high schools do not always meet the needs and interests of marginalised students. This thesis has a two-fold aim: first to understand the problem of student disengagement from formal schooling and second, to investigate how a more relational pedagogy within the structure of a Big Picture Advisory (BPA) classroom might address the problem. How to provide quality, equitable and engaging high school education continues to perplex a range of stakeholders, including policymakers, school administrators, teachers, parents and students, particularly in disadvantaged communities. The role of public education is to give all students the opportunity to flourish, be creative and succeed in life and careers. However, this does not always happen as Australia’s high schools are struggling to provide a meaningful and relevant curriculum for marginalised students. In response, this thesis examines how the Advisory or “school within a school” presents a viable way of re-engaging students who are switching off and dropping out of high school in escalating numbers. The Advisory is a design for schooling underpinned by a philosophy of experiential interest-based learning, relational pedagogy and responsive student–teacher relationships. In this thesis, I argue that the Advisory enables a more relational pedagogy which provides a more socially just model of education for marginalised high school students.

Using a qualitative interpretive methodology, through participant observation, interviews and an analysis of school documents, the thesis provides an understanding of how students in a BPA understand, experience and respond to a relational pedagogy based on the values of trust, care and respect. Student narratives gathered during research at Willibe High School (WHS) described a trusting, caring and respectful learning environment. Students also reported a sense of connectedness and belonging which supported their overall well-being. The social and emotional needs of marginalised students were attended to via a more relational pedagogy focused on pursuing individual interests. As a result, students showed a greater willingness to engage in learning, connect to the official curriculum and develop career aspirations. It is through the negotiation of a personalised curriculum and activating authentic learning experiences with peers, family and community that a more democratic and relevant experience of high school becomes possible for each student. In conclusion, I examine the implications for students, teachers, administrators and policymakers and recommendations for future research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Supervisor(s): Down, Barry and Taggart, Andrew
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