Sunshine Christian School builds staff capability to support student wellbeing and learning

Sunshine Christian School is a small multicultural school nestled in the western suburbs of Melbourne, with fewer than 100 students.  In this closeknit school community, where students represent 14 different nationalities, 80% of whom are Burmese and  Vietnamese, there is a strong  focus on wellbeing and learning.   

“Many of our families have been refugees, and experienced the trauma of war and conflict, and the children often arrive in Australia with little or no experience of the English language. Our school is small enough to know each other well, and be able to look after each other. Once we’ve done that, the learning will come.” said Damian Pietsch, Principal.

In each classroom, from Prep to Year 6, teachers and student support officers (SSOs) work alongside each other to support the students. Damian said that the SSOs are incredibly dedicated, and love the school and what they do. They first and foremost help to build a sense of community, and an understanding of each other. 

Sunshine Christian School recently renewed their membership with ATA for their 5th year, and we were interested to hear how staff have been using the professional learning.

Home Reading at School 
The SSO team is led by Gretta O’Mahoney, who initiated a Home Reading at School program. As students may not have anyone at home who is proficient in English, Gretta reads with students each week, to model the English language, build their vocabulary, develop their general knowledge, and foster an enjoyment of reading.

Talking Stones
Gretta said she loved to find a little take home from the PD she does, and adapt the ideas to suit the community.

During lock down Gretta was inspired by a professional learning resource from the Australian Teacher Aide Professional Development library on writing methodology. Big Write and VCOP is an oral based approach to writing that assists students to transfer their verbal skills to written skills, and is based on the premise that ‘If they can’t say it, they can’t write it!’

Gretta made up a set of story stones for each prep student, that they could use to create stories at home, and send back on their iPads. 

“I really liked the idea, especially for students from a non- English speaking background, as this strategy encourages students to talk and use language in many ways, and also inspired me to go on to make finger puppets for the class!”

Literacy and Wellbeing PD for staff in 2023
Next year, the SSO team will have the opportunity to participate in weekly PD sessions, that will be led by Gretta. 

The school will be inviting guest speakers, as well as using Australian Teacher Aide professional learning resources to develop the capability and confidence of the SSOs in the areas of wellbeing, literacy, and reading.

“In the busyness of the school day, time to interact, and share ideas is quite often the thing that will fall off because you’re so busy focusing on the here and now, and an hour spent on PD is worth a lot more time in the classroom later on.” said Damian Pietsch, Principal.

Literacy Resources 
The school will be expanding the Home Reading at School initiative, and will use the PD Planner for Schools to identify literacy resources for the SSOs. 

As well as an extensive list of practical literacy resources that show how to help students improve their vocabulary, reading and writing skills, Damian and Gretta were especially interested in the upcoming event, in March next year, on Strategies to Support Students with English as an Additional Language or Dialect

Wellbeing resources
Damian plans to invite their teachers to link to the school’s membership with ATA, and thought that the trauma series would be of benefit to teachers, as a many of their students have been refugees, and experienced trauma. 

Some of the trauma resources have a behaviour focus, and explore the impacts of adversity or trauma on children’s development and engagement, and provide practical evidence based strategies to help break down the barriers, and engage students in learning.

As well there is a three part Learning and Wellbeing series on how to deliver effective support to distressed children and adolescents, and work collaboratively to ensure the success of children exposed to trauma.

At Sunshine Christian School diversity is seen as a strength that contributes to the social fabric of the school, and the belief that when students feel good, learning follows, is embedded in their intentional approach to building staff capability to support student wellbeing and learning.