University of Canberra — Stronger Smarter Schools Program (SSSP)
The Stronger Smarter Schools Program (SSSP) is a University of Canberra (UC) partnership program designed to break down barriers to higher education for students from low socioeconomic status (SES), regional and remote, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. It works with teachers and school leaders to build leadership capacity and enact transformational change within schools.
Participating schools generally have an ongoing relationship with UC’s flagship schools outreach program, Aspire UC. By delivering professional development to teachers and other educational professionals, the SSSP complements the partnerships formed between schools and UC, and extends the capacity of schools to raise the aspirations and expectations of students from equity backgrounds.
UC partners with the Stronger Smarter Institute to deliver the SSSP to schools in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and regional New South Wales (NSW). Outside of this partnership, the Institute itself has delivered its flagship professional development program to over 2,500 teachers across 720 schools, with approximately 45,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled in those schools since the program began in 2006.
The SSSP aims to:
- build leadership capacity in school staff, particularly for schools already involved in UC’s schools outreach programs
- provide support and resources for schools to develop projects and resources to influence student self-belief and aspirations for the future
- provide support and resources to establish a network of schools in the ACT and southern NSW engaged in delivering the Stronger Smarter approach in their schools and classrooms
- provide support and resources to schools to design and evaluate their own improvement projects.
Activities and Progress
The SSSP delivered four professional learning programs to over 89 staff from 31 schools in the ACT and regional NSW between 2014 and 2016. The majority of participating schools have an ongoing relationship with UC through existing schools outreach projects. Through this professional development program, schools were able to complement the existing outreach work focusing on students, with additional support for teachers working with students from equity backgrounds. With a recent project extension, the SSSP is delivering another two professional learning programs in 2017. The SSSP is delivered via two intensive face-to-face programs; the first being five days’ and the second two days’ duration.
Participants rated the program exceptionally highly on both personal and professional measures. As a feature of the program, participants nominated a challenge to focus on in their workplace.
These projects reflect the diversity of schools and the varying challenges faced by educators, and were broadly focused on four main themes:
- concentrating on high-expectations classrooms: pedagogy and activities to introduce students to future-oriented goals, including university study
- creating high expectations and an excellence-oriented whole school culture
- developing innovative approaches to engaging community in schools
- cultivating high-expectations relationships with students and community members.
These projects ranged in scale and scope from altering individual classroom practices, to improving relationships with staff, to making changes to the physical school environment.
Workplace projects provided over 50 examples of activities designed to improve student engagement in the classroom; over 70 examples of activities focused on staff relationships, such as professional learning, building networks and cultural action plans; and 25 specific examples of resources created to implement within the school or community. Some projects focused on improving relationships between schools and their communities such as revitalising National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week celebrations, and creating additional opportunities for meaningful community involvement in school programs.
Many participants reported significant positive changes in their school, including reports of improved relationships between colleagues, within the classroom, and throughout the school as a whole.
The SSSP has already worked directly with 89 participants in 31 schools. A number of participants reported that the support, collegiality and communication among cohorts were a large source of encouragement, unlike that which has been experienced in other professional learning programs. Participants have organised visits to neighbouring schools and towns to share practice and resources extending beyond the involvement or coordination of UC or the Stronger Smarter Institute.
The mentoring, sharing of practice and positive changes embedded by these dedicated educational professionals creates the ripples of change that spread slowly throughout classrooms, schools and communities, creating increased opportunities for students and improving educational outcomes in the future.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.