12 October 2023

Corridor Cultures: a mission to improve the student experience at Carey

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Corridor Cultures: a mission to improve the student experience at Carey
Corridor Cultures: a mission to improve the student experience at Carey
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In 2023, Carey commenced partnership in the Corridor Cultures research study, which aims to understand and improve school cultures, with a specific focus on gender and sexuality. These two factors are the most common drivers of school-based bullying and violence, and often feature in exclusionary language and behaviours of school students. Actions, spaces, activities, materials and practices that only affirm narrow gender norms can impact all students’ sense of belonging, connectedness and wellbeing. Research has also shown that this kind of violence impacts students’ sense of freedom about subject choices, co-curricular activities and self-expression. Developing an understanding of what we are doing at Carey to promote inclusive (rather than oppressive) behaviours will help ensure that fewer students are burdened by these outcomes.

Corridor Cultures is based at the University of Sydney, funded by the Australian Research Council, and run by Dr Victoria Rawlings, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Work. The research is being conducted across three different schools in Melbourne and Sydney and is community-led, which ensures that each school has its particular history, community and culture embedded in the research process. At Carey, four student co-researchers from Years 9 to 11 and four teacher co-researchers from multiple subject areas have worked in collaboration with Victoria to design data collection questions, explore generated data, and consider what school-based initiatives might be recommended to school leadership to improve our school culture.

Since February this year, more than 1000 Carey students have taken part in a whole-school questionnaire, with some of the results being presented to school staff and leadership. Following this process, focus groups were conducted with students and staff to allow for qualitative discussion of some of the key findings. Together, this data is being reviewed by the student and staff co-researchers with the aim of thinking about what is working well at Carey, and what challenges remain. Co-researchers will then consider what solutions might be designed to improve the school culture. Next year, these research protocols will be repeated.

This project resonates for Carey because, in line with our Baptist values, we are a proudly inclusive community. Diversity matters to us. We believe that all students, staff, parents and alumni should be treated with dignity and respect and we seek to provide an environment that is safe, supportive, inclusive and free from discrimination so that their physical, emotional and intellectual needs can be nurtured and developed. We are committed to working with our community to implement and continually improve practices that foster diversity, inclusion and belonging within our school environment and within our community more broadly.

Peter Robson, Deputy Principal – Student Wellbeing, reflected on the prospect of taking part in Corridor Cultures, by asking, ‘What is the lived experience of our School values of care, respect and growth? We know our partnership with the Corridor Cultures research will potentially take us to places of discomfort as the lived experience for some in our community is revealed. Our response to the research findings is the challenge that lies ahead.’

For Olivia Heaton, teacher co-researcher, contributing to the project has been an important part of how she sees her teaching practice and the ongoing refinement of school culture:

‘The reason I wanted to be involved in Corridor Cultures was because I felt that the aims really resonated with Carey’s values and that it could have tangible positive effects on the culture of the School as a whole. I jumped at the opportunity to be part of a program that would help the School continue to create a safe learning environment for all students, no matter their gender or sexuality. Corridor Cultures has the capacity to identify what needs to be done and how. It provides us with a clear framework to develop strategies and programs to implement, which gives me hope.’

To learn more about the importance of this research relationship and some of the initial findings, please join us for a Carey Corridor Cultures Parent Information Evening on Thursday 26 October. The event will run from 7.00–8.00pm in Carey’s IWA.

Kaitlin Young
Head of Middle School Cartwright House

Dr Victoria Rawlings
Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Social Work, the University of Sydney

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