School suspensions down by 70 percent in just 12 months

By Brendan Bailey, Senior Trainer of the Berry Street Education Model

There are industrial estates to the east and west, and the suburb is ringed by the M7 freeway. In the western suburbs of Sydney – wedged between Blacktown and Rooty Hill – sits Doonside Technology High School. Put simply, it’s in a tough part of town.

But it’s at Doonside that the Berry Street Education Model (BSEM) has led to some incredible outcomes. In conversation with Brendan Bailey from the Berry Street team, Doonside’s Principal Donna Loughran and Head of Wellbeing, Paul Karbon explain how.

Doonside’s involvement with the BSEM program began when Donna and Paul saw Berry Street’s Tom Brunzell speak at the 2016 Doing School Differently conference in Melbourne.

“We were blown away,” Paul recalls, “it seemed to be exactly what we were looking for.”

Donna agrees, “The model focuses on both wellbeing and academic achievements, and this really appealed to me as Principal and Paul as Head of Wellbeing. We liked how the model has this two-pronged approach.”

Doonside are halfway through applying the program to their school. They see the two-year implementation timeline as a considerable benefit. Doonside has taken the opportunity of the long timeline to re-evaluate the way they support both the wellbeing of their students and their discipline structures, so they can align them with BSEM’s way of thinking. They’ve also introduced a positive education subject called Life Education, where Year 7 to 10 students learn about how to improve their resilience, develop a growth mindset and build on their emotional intelligence.

The model is already delivering huge benefits to the wellbeing and academic success of Doonside students.

In the first year, Doonside has seen improvements in:

bsem-doonside-infographic-blog

While it’s clear that student academic achievements and behaviour is already improving, Paul believes that the greatest benefits have actually been to the teachers.

“We needed to take it slow and steady. The model is based on a lot of information about why kids ‘act out’, or retreat inwards, in response to their previous life experiences, and we needed time to unpack it. What we’ve found is that the Berry Street training we did as part of model has given the teachers the extra skills to properly understand, and work with, our ‘toughest’ kids.”

“It gave them the confidence to provide students with structure and routine, which we now know, is vital for helping create a classroom where they feel safe and supported. It’s so empowering for our teachers to realise that the kids who used to challenge them the most actually had unmet needs, and by doing things a bit differently they can engage them and really help them focus on learning.”

At Doonside they’re starting to develop a common language for discussing students, which is really improving the culture of our school.

“Teachers are no longer saying that this student is ‘a difficult student’,” Donna says. “They’re now saying that this student has some unmet needs and that they’re ‘escalated’ in behaviour. Words matter, and that changes the quality of the interaction that a teacher will have with that student.”

Donna and Paul have noticed significant differences in the students themselves also.

“They can articulate their concerns better by verbalising their feelings and can tell us when they’re having difficulty self-regulating their behaviour,” Donna says.

“The kids seem settled and the teachers are better equipped to talk to students about what has stopped their learning in the past. Kids now see teachers as there to help them.”

“In fact, the kids can talk about things out of their control and can even unpack previous blockers in their own engagement in school. It’s a far more productive conversation and it has almost put a stop to repeat suspensions.”

Staff at Doonside are now working to ensure that the themes and strategies in BSEM are passed on to new staff.

“I wish they were teaching this in university teaching courses,” Paul says.

But the vision at Doonside is not limited to their own school.

“There is a real need for this at all schools. A lot of schools have good community connections and excellent wellbeing support. But the holistic view of BSEM and its combination of wellbeing and academics, is what gives it strength.”

Follow Doonside Technology High School’s Twitter account @doonsideTHS to find out more about what’s happening at the school.

Find an upcoming Berry Street Education Model course

Watch more about Berry Street’s Education Model


Brendan Bailey arrived at the Berry Street Education Model in September 2017. Prior to this, he was Positive Education Leader at Buckley Park College in Essendon, Victoria. Brendan Bailey_041Through this work, Brendan became secretary for the Victorian chapter of the Positive Education Schools Association. 

His teaching history also includes eight years in alternative settings, specialising in students with behavioural management issues. Through these roles Brendan developed an expertise in helping students succeed in classroom environments, with a particular interest in students with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Brendan has a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, focusing his work on Systems Inspired Positive Psychology. 

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