Alliance announces inaugural fellowship recipient

Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia / 18 May 2020

The Alliance is pleased to announce the successful recipient of our inaugural fellowship is Kirsten Taylor, Head of Guidance Counselling at Otago Girls’ High School. The fellowship is offered in order to inspire new ideas, innovation, and excellence in girls’ education, and to expand knowledge and expertise for the benefit of girls’ schools. It provides AUD10,000 to support outstanding educators from member schools to investigate topics or issues related to girls’ education.

The successful project proposal, Whaiora, aims to assess culturally appropriate interventions for ‘at risk’ high school girls in order to deliver a culturally responsive group-based response to self-care, resilience and wellbeing.

We sat down with Kirsten (virtually) to find out more about her project and how she feels about receiving the Fellowship.

Kristen, congratulations on being nominated as our very first fellowship awardee, how do you feel?

I was thrilled to open my email and see that I had been offered the opportunity to carry out the Whaiora pilot study. I immediately ran through and shared the great news with my Principal Linda Millar who is 100% behind the project and our Assistance Principal Sue Porter who has been instrumental in making this happen. I must confess I did a little dance and a couple of jumping heel clicks just to affirm to those standing close by how happy I was to be receiving the support of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia who have made a fledgling idea a reality. Thank you on behalf of those girls who will benefit from the generosity of the Alliance.

Tell us more about the project you put forward?

The nominated project arose out of the seeds of research that I have been doing in completion of a Masters of Counselling. The underlying premise is that the learning available to us from an indigenous wealth of known practices is something that we need to be able to access and utilise in a contemporary setting, as the methods we have been using to date are not answering the needs of our young people.

The project itself is called Whaiora. It is a Māori concept that refers to a person seeking wellness, which is an active and empowering process. The qualitative study will involve twelve students who have been identified as ‘at risk’.

These students will participate in a series of practical group days led by cultural experts, Manawa Ora in a Marae based setting. The beauty of this project is that it also involves the families of the girls, who will be invited to participate in a workshop independently in order to ensure that the benefits of the work are shared within the students’ communities.

Can you expand on the outcomes are you hoping for?

I am really excited by the possibilities that this project may have for other girls’ schools in both New Zealand and Australia.  The hope is that we will be able to show that a group based approach, grounded in authentic cultural practice, allows students to safely explore their trauma and, through that, become increasingly whole and empowered.

If students are shown to be more engaged in their learning and see a reduction in their suicidal ideation and harming behaviours, then we can consider introducing these culturally informed group practices into a school setting.

This project has the potential to significantly reduce the need for Pastoral teams to work in a reactive capacity, and promotes resilience and healthy connection between the school and the families themselves. Importantly it empowers the student to take an active role in their self-care.

What prompted you to apply for the fellowship?

I applied for the fellowship in response to the rising need in our school community to create an intervention that would not simply ‘plaster over the cracks’ of significant suicidal risk and serious mental health issues but would offer our ‘at risk’ students meaningful resources and healing that would serve them well into their future.

Youth suicide in New Zealand in particular is a major issue and the frightening truth is that our girls are more and more likely to see this as a valid way out. The timing of the fellowship being advertised was synchronous as I had been looking at where I might find support and a platform from which to launch a pilot study.