Empowerment and Respectful Relationships is Not What We Teach. Instead It Is How We Live

Kristy Kendall
Jun 4, 2021 5:05:07 PM

As we move further into 2021, we can see how education has continued to evolve with one of the greatest shifts since COVID being the willingness of educators to look to the horizon for new sources of information and new opportunities and embrace them for the benefit of all students. 

Integral to our approach at Toorak College is how we review data, trends and perspectives, apply those insights to our context, and adjust and evolve accordingly. Taking time to pause, reflect and evolve our programs is something that is constant at Toorak; be it in designing new curriculum, building our extra-curricular program or fine-tuning wellbeing initiatives. 

As educators, we must have our finger on the pulse and adapt to shifts in societal, technological, behavioural and cultural factors to ensure what we do and the impact we have on our students is based on their needs. While our overarching priorities for 2021 remain centred around connections and experiences, much of the work behind the scenes has focused on what we are seeing unfold in the media recently; the complexities of teen culture and the nature of relationships. 

Over 500 teenagers are in our care each and every day. Speaking to many of them about their experiences and how they develop positive relationships with those around them, we heard that while they are surrounded with positive role models and felt empowered to challenge the way things are, there is more support we can offer to ensure they are able to have the right conversations and have the tools to stand by one other. 

Our approach has and always will be to review what resources exist and use what best suits our students and our context or create new resources where required using the knowledge and skills of our teachers as well as experts. 

While the national curriculum requires that students learn about respectful relationships from Years 3 to 10, Toorak students, as early as Prep, are introduced to themes such as body awareness and ownership, knowing the difference between good secrets and bad secrets and identifying who your trusted grown ups are. Through a variety of resources, games and discussions, they are taught strategies that promote empowerment and feeling safe. 

The “Rules of Sex” are introduced from Year 5 and are discussed as being based on the law and a way to reinforce the fundamentals of respectful relationships. From Year 7, students explore themes such as cybersafety, healthy friendships, diversity and inclusivity, sexual health and identity and they learn a range of strategies that will help them navigate situations they may encounter and make good decisions. In Years 9 & 10, students further explore what it means to be in a healthy relationship including understanding your rights and responsibilities, consent and harassment and how social media affects your health and wellbeing. Senior students also explore mental health and learn about risk and protective factors and strategies on how to recognise warning signs, develop resilience and coping strategies and what to do when further help is required.  

When reflecting on our Health & Wellbeing program this year, we recognised the need to revisit key themes and reaffirm strategies, particularly for our VCE students. We will be dedicating time outside of our students’ curriculum to do just this, so our students can continue to feel empowered and supported throughout their final years at school. 

One of our core values at Toorak is ‘empower’ and when it comes to respectful relationships; our continued emphasis is on listening to and empowering our students, telling stories and role modelling positive behaviours. After all, respectful relationships are not about what we teach, they are about how we live every day.

Kristy Kendall


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