Primary is fundamental and influential - Education Matters Magazine
Australian Primary Principals Association, Expert Contributors, Featured, Opinion

Primary is fundamental and influential

APPA President Angela Falkenberg highlights how primary educators contribute to ensuring students’ needs are met and the important role they play in sustaining the village that raises the child.

As an experienced teacher and leader in this space I know this to be true. Primary education is of fundamental importance, not just to learners but to the community at large. Primary is not just a stepping stone to university admission and post school careers, it is, of itself, nurturing and revealing of student strengths. It is also more than students being valued for their academic output. It is valuing children every day for the unique and abundant beings they are. We don’t just prepare them for the future; we are invested in valuing them for who they are right now.

Primary’s work in promoting inclusion, equity and belonging can positively impact the broader community. Educators create space and opportunity for students to activate personal strengths and agency in finding solutions to challenges affecting them. It also builds an understanding of the importance of being outward facing and collaborating for the collective good. This increases community capability, provides an additional resource, and builds student wellbeing; for when we do good, we feel good.

Image: Angela Falkenberg

Here are some examples: in one school, foundation and Year 1 students expressed a desire to have a play space that engaged them in exploring and climbing. Over a term they looked at pictures of play spaces, shared their experiences of play spaces they had enjoyed visiting and produced drawings of their vision of the ideal environment. With teacher help they synthesised these into a workable design for the space available, invited landscapers in to talk about possible costs and then attended a school council meeting to present their proposal to the council members. Their proposal and budget were agreed to, and the resulting nature play space was engaging and appreciated. It also revealed the benefit of engaging even young students in space design. If it is about them, why not plan with them?

“Primary’s work in promoting inclusion, equity and belonging can positively impact the broader community. Educators create space and opportunity for students to activate personal strengths and agency in finding solutions to challenges affecting them.”

Preschool students in a country school noticed the footpaths and car parking design made it tricky for the nearby aged care residents to safely cross the road to read with them. They undertook traffic surveys (they counted the number of cars that used the street), mapped possible pathway changes using the sandpit as their ‘design wall’ and presented their thinking to the local government. It resulted in a change to where and how cars parked, widening of footpaths and the installation of more signage to call attention to children and elderly residents crossing the road.

In another example, primary students who became aware of the data around the rise in loneliness, created positive messages on cards and with cheery smiles handed them out at the local shopping centre to brighten shopper’s day. The principal was brought to tears by messages she received from card recipients who told of the joy the connection with these students brought to their day and how, for some, it was the only human connection they experienced in a week. Primary students across Australia support community environmental projects such as tree planting, cleaning waterways and undertaking bird counts. Students are also supported to raise funds for causes important to them (visit www. schoolaid.org.au to see many great examples). In facilitating these opportunities, primary schools are building student skill in critical thinking and problem-solving, active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility. These are skills that the World Economic Forum identifies as essential work skills.

“APPA is working to increase the community’s understanding of the role of the contemporary primary leader and teacher and the positive ways their work shapes and influences communities.”

All of this takes place in the context of healthy relationships, valuing perspectives, a willingness to listen to the other’s point of view and trust that their voice will be heard. Leaders and teachers model how to get a point across, how to build and maintain relationships and how to engage in constructive disagreement; in doing so they create a psychologically safe environment for learning and wellbeing.

APPA is working to increase the community’s understanding of the role of the contemporary primary leader and teacher and the positive ways their work shapes and influences communities. As president, I view as important the need to highlight the considerable goodwill primary staff contribute to ensuring students’ needs are met (for example, providing breakfast clubs, overseeing in-school vision, and hearing checks, and connecting families to housing, financial or mental health support) and the important role they play in sustaining or even being the village that raises the child. Primary leadership and teaching is a pillar for today and for tomorrow. I am proud to be part of this influential profession.

About the author

Former President of the South Australian Primary Principals Association, Angela Falkenberg, was unanimously elected as president of APPA in May 2023, taking over the role from Malcolm Elliott. She has held senior school leadership positions across both primary and secondary schools and has extensive experience in the education of First Nation children. APPA provides a voice to over 7,600 public, Catholic and independent primary school principals across the country.

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