Full Engagement: Our Young People Deserve Our Best

Young people deserve educators at their best, who can foster the capacity and willingness for full engagement in their school achievement.

By Tom Brunzell, Senior Advisor Education at the Berry Street Childhood Institute

Flexible Learning Options (FLO) provide young people a second chance to become the people they hope to be. Often, our young people can feel blamed for their own “lack of willingness” to engage, yet we know there are many systemic factors that require them to seek specialised pathways such as FLO.

As educators and allied professionals, we represent a systemic movement that believes that we, as a society, owe these young people educational opportunities to succeed. It is our responsibility to hold ourselves to account to provide best practice and high professional expectations for ourselves as we support our students and their futures.

Being an FLO educator requires us to straddle a few complex dichotomies or polarities unique to our field. This makes sense because our students arrive at school with complex unmet needs of their own. It is common for us to teach classrooms with eight different literacy levels, four levels of emotional regulation and multiple levels of real-world savvy far above their actual ages.

Some of these classroom practice dichotomies are:

  • Flexibility vs. Predictability:

    We know that our students must receive differentiated instruction and individualised behaviour plans. How do we do this and still maintain the predictability and rhythm—and a culture of fairness throughout the program?

  • Student Voice vs. Staff Voice:

    We know that we want to empower our students to nurture and find their own voice. We want them to advocate for themselves and pursue meaningful and self-driven goals. How do we support this process while still providing the leadership and adult modelling they have not yet experienced?

  • Fair Processes vs. Restorative Practices:

    We are relationally based—which requires us to put the relationship first within the classroom. Yet, we need our young people to understand the fair consequences of their actions when impeding the safety, learning, or respect of another. How do we balance our practices of restoring relationships, while at the same time fairly teaching the fair consequences our young people will receive in the world beyond the classroom walls?

These and other polarities guide and balance our work. Underpinning these conceptual signposts, we know that trauma’s impact on a student’s physical and neurodevelopment can have significant implications for the classroom. Our young people deserve educators at their best: educators who know student-centred, developmentally informed strategies to foster the capacity and willingness for full engagement in their school achievement.


Tom Brunzell has over 15 years of experience as a teacher, school leader, and education advisor in New York City and Melbourne. He is the Senior Advisor Education and the leader of the Berry Street Education Model at the Berry Street Childhood Institute.

Tom will be a keynote speaker on Building the Proactive Strengths-based Classroom at the Doing School Differently flexible and inclusive education conference in Melbourne on 15th–16th September 2016.

Doing School Differently conference

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