Modelling respectful relationships
Schools are a key location where children and young people learn how to interact with others and work together in a respectful way. Schools that model respectful relationships can help students to understand that no one should be abused and that every person is deserving of respect.
Schools are also an important setting for challenging stereotypes and addressing attitudes and beliefs about gender and power that perpetuate domestic and family violence and abuse. Schools can be the catalyst for generational and cultural change as they are both places of learning (for students) and places of work (for adults). By explicitly examining power relations and challenging problematic social norms and stereotypes we can help lead cultural change in our society.
All organisations in Australia that work with children need to be aware of their obligations to provide safe environments in which children’s rights, needs and interests are met.
In February 2019, the Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations that encapsulate the ‘10 Child Safe Standards’ recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission found that many organisations in Australia failed to protect children from abuse, failed to listen to children who tried to disclose abuse, and failed to respond appropriately when abuse came to light. The National Principles provide a consistent approach to creating organisational cultures that foster child safety and wellbeing across all sectors. This will help to keep children and young people safe and reduce future harm in organisational settings.
As a teacher working in the field of respectful relationships education, you will need to be particularly aware of child safety and ensure that you put in place preventive strategies to create a safe, protective and inclusive learning environment. Some practical tips and strategies are provided in the sections that follow on this page.
More information on child safe organisations can be found at the Child Safe Organisations site at the Australian Human Rights Commission, visiting the National Office for Child Safety site, or by contacting child protection authorities in your state or territory.
Creating a safe and inclusive environment
An atmosphere of trust and respect needs to be established if students are being encouraged to openly discuss opinions and beliefs. You can help generate purposeful, respectful discussion and minimise uncomfortable or unpleasant experiences for students by:
- establishing and upholding group rules (see below for examples)
- expecting and modelling positive and respectful behaviours
- promoting an environment free from harassment
- demonstrating to all participants that you respect them and care about what happens to them
- affirming diversity in the school and wider community
- respecting students’ right to their own opinions and to remain silent during activities
- providing opportunities for disclosure and referral to support services when requested by students.
Set ground rules before you start
Before you start any lessons about respectful relationships or domestic and family violence you must establish shared ground rules that all students freely agree to follow. This is crucially important and will ensure that students feel safe contributing to activities, the sessions run smoothly, and interactions are respectful. Some suggested ground rules might include the following.
All students have the right to:
- not be asked private questions
- speak without being interrupted
- be listened to
- express their own opinions, ideas and feelings
- their own personal space
- make mistakes without being ridiculed or laughed at.
All students should try to:
- make a positive contribution to the discussion
- support other people
- listen to and respect what others have to say
- ensure that they don’t disclose personal information about themselves or others.
Addressing challenging questions
When facilitating activities about respectful relationships, many types of questions come up and you may find some of them to be challenging. It is important when answering to provide accurate and up-to-date information and be mindful of your personal and professional boundaries. If you choose to answer, you need to be confident that you answer accurately and honestly and try not to be judgmental or express shock. Think of each question as a teachable moment and try and answer from a global perspective that encourages students to think and reflect. It is also okay not to answer if you don’t feel confident in your knowledge, or think the question is better addressed in an alternative setting – such as after class.
The first thing you need to think of is what is this student really asking - what do they really want to know? It is also important to establish if the question is genuine - do they already know the answer or are just raising the issue to be controversial or problematic? If you believe that a question is not genuine, it can be more appropriate to decline to answer or to address the issue in an alternative setting.
Once this has been established you need to ask yourself:
- Do I need to clarify any information that the student has misunderstood?
- Do I need to challenge any gender stereotypes or attitudes that support or condone violence?
- What are the key messages that I need to be giving?
What should you do if you don’t know the answer?
If a student asks you a question and you’re unsure of the correct answer, it is okay to tell the students that you do not know. One way that this could be done is to use a response like this: “That is a really good question. I don’t know the answer but how about we find out together?” Understanding the limits of our knowledge is an important lesson for students to learn, and can be used as a teachable moment to practice information seeking and research skills as a shared activity.
Protective interrupting is a strategy that can be used to prevent students from disclosing sensitive information in front of their peers, while providing them with an alternative avenue to disclose safely and confidentially. It is important when students are discussing scenarios or situations in class that depict disrespectful, abusive or violent behaviour that you closely monitor the conversations so that students who begin to disclose private information about themselves or others can be interrupted quickly and sensitively. Use interjections such as “it sounds as though you want to talk about this, why don’t we talk about it after class?”.
After interrupting the student, it is important to guide the discussion back to the original conversation. If necessary, the students can be reminded of the group rule of not sharing personal information in class discussions.
If a child or young person begins to disclose potential physical or sexual abuse or domestic and family violence, listen to what they say but do not ask for further details. It’s important to let the student know as quickly as possible that as a teacher you have a requirement to report any information you receive about students who might be at risk or in situations of physical or sexual abuse.
Under no circumstances can you agree to keep it a secret. Teachers are one of the groups who are bound by legislative mandatory reporting requirements in the different states and territories of Australia. For information on legislative requirements in your jurisdiction, you should contact your approved education authority or refer to this site at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. It is also essential that you are familiar with your school’s policies and procedures on managing disclosures.
If the student chooses to disclose to you, use the following cues to guide your thinking as this information may be needed when you make a report to the appropriate authorities:
- is the student currently being harmed?
- is the student likely to be harmed in the future?
- is anyone else being harmed?
- does the student need medical attention?
- what are the student’s overall needs?
It is also important for you to look after yourself. If the disclosure causes you distress, then contact 1800 RESPECT for support and advice or your employee assistance provider.
Self reflection, discussion and debriefing activities
Closing a session in a positive way is critical when dealing with sensitive issues such as consent, violence and abuse. Discussion points and key learnings need to be summarised. Scenarios depicted in videos as provocations, unfinished stories or moral dilemmas should be brought to a point of resolution.
Each video includes self-reflection and discussion questions that should be used as a guide to understand students’ perception of the scenario and to clarify the take-away messages that students have understood from the video.
Selection of media items and order of viewing needs to be carefully thought through so that there is time to complete the activity with an appropriate closure before the lesson ends. Students who express a strong point of view about an issue, may need to be debriefed individually to clarify any misunderstandings and to ensure that the content hasn’t caused them undue distress.
Further support in teaching respectful relationships education
A series of Respect Matters professional learning modules have been developed by Education Services Australia to help support teachers in facilitating and leading respectful relationships education in their classrooms and schools. You can access these modules here on the Australian Student Wellbeing Hub.
Information about The Good Society’s respectful relationships resources
Does The Good Society align with the Australian Curriculum?
All content included in The Good Society has been developed to ensure that it aligns with the Australian Curriculum. You will find curriculum links for each topic within each playlist’s teacher guide.
To learn more about how respectful relationships education is embedded within the Australian Curriculum, you can also consult the Respect Matters Curriculum Connection on the Australian Curriculum website.
What classes should we use The Good Society in?
This resource is primarily suited to Health and Physical Education classes from Foundation to Year 10. For years 11 and 12, The Good Society can be used as part of a pastoral care or extra-curricular program. However, themes in these resources can be brought up in any class or subject where appropriate.