3 ways your school can adopt a whole-school approach for sex & relationship education

One of the most powerful lessons we have learnt over the last ten years from working in high schools and walking closely with teachers, parents and students, has been the effectiveness of a whole-school approach for sexuality and relationship education. We often hear from teachers, the frustration they’ve experienced from not feeling fully-equipped to tackle the depth of issues that teens can face in this space. Our conversations with parents reveal a shared kind of feeling.

It has become abundantly clear to us that in order for students to truly thrive in their relationships and experience wellbeing in this space, a collaborative approach from the key personnel who make up the school body is key.  

If you’re familiar with our work, chances are you’ve heard or read about our passion for educating teens, empowering parents & equipping teachersThese three key values stem from one overarching theme that drives all that we do; at the very heart of our work is a desire to cultivate environments where students feel safe, secure and supported, in a way that would render opportunities for them to make healthy decisions in this space. 

Earlier this year, I presented to a school in North QLD. A teacher shared how encouraged he was that the school was prioritising these conversations. He shared how he had grown up in another country where these conversations never happened…not in school and certainly not at home. He shared that as both a teacher and a parent, these conversation can not be ignored. I was greatly encouraged as he expressed his excitement around the opportunities that young people now have in both school and at home to have authentic, non-judgemental and constructive conversations around sex and relationships.

When teachers, parents and the entire school community are equally receiving and delivering quality, consistent and relevant information to students around the topics of sexuality and relationships, everyone feels empowered.

Both parents and teachers are well-positioned to powerfully influence their students’ well-being.

So how do school communities cultivate an environment where together, teachers and parents can help students thrive in the areas of sexuality and relationships?

Here are three key components that your school can adopt to deliver an effective, whole-school approach towards the wellbeing of your students.

1. COMMON LANGUAGE

Work towards establishing common and consistent language around the topics of sexuality and relationships between parents and teachers.

Whilst young people might be experiencing thorough education around these topics in the classroom, it can be confusing if the conversations at home are absent.

It’s essential for students, parents and teachers to share a common language when having conversations and delivering this type of education. The information around topics within this space like sex, sexting, pornography and consent are already so complex, often making it challenging for young people to grasp. 

It’s important for school communities to think about whether or not there is a sense of confidence amongst both parents and teachers to discuss topics like; the physical and mental implications of sexual behaviour, digital sexual exploration and image-based abuse, the impact of pornography and laws around sex…just to name a few!

Practising shared and consistent language and terminology within this space will be effective in delivering clarity to students that will heighten their sense of safety and support from the school community. This can be achieved by offering additional information and programs for both staff and parents to be equipped with the necessary tools to deliver this type of education. 

However, if parents are not empowered to have these conversations or feel ill-equipped with reliable information, teachers are left having to play the dual role of educator and parent. 

2. COMMON VALUES

Check to make sure every facet of sexuality and relationship education aligns with the values and ethos of your school. 

Every school possesses core values that act as a bedrock for its school community. Whilst these values may hold different weights for the individuals that make up the school community, it’s important to take time to assess how your values weave throughout the healthy relationship education your school is providing. Healthy relationship education is not just about sex ed!

Within this space, there is an opportunity to instil the values that your school deems important and necessary for your students to experience healthy relationships within their lifetime. For example; respect, integrity, kindness, compassion and trust are just a few key values that are pertinent in both a school community and within sexuality and relationship education. 

One of the big conversations today, for example, is around consent. Of course, we need to be teaching kids what is consensual and what is not. However, if a school is looking to discuss consent from a values-based perspective, attention must be given to not only the legal side but also the values, ethics, morals and beliefs surrounding it as well. This is something we are very passionate about embedding within the conversation. 

3. COMMON GOALS

Place importance around this education and inspire the whole-school community with a shared vision and goal. 

We have witnessed over the years, the incredible way that members of the school community can rally together to deliver effective education around sex and healthy relationships when both staff and parents are aware of the depth of issues students face within this space. There is a deeper sense of urgency, motivation and inspiration that arises when teachers and parents have a shared understanding around the critical need for students to be equipped to make decisions relevant to these topics. 

We have found that schools can offer education around these topics by delivering quality research and reliable information to parents. Not only does this help to raise awareness of the issues that teens are facing in this space, but it builds within your school community a common goal to ensure the safety, protection and support for all students. It’s important for teachers to ask themselves questions like; are the parents within our school community aware of the impact that pornography can have on their children? Are we as teachers equipped to support students who are experiencing the trauma of image-based abuse? 

I remember speaking in a school earlier this year, one we have worked with for many years. This time around, the school had made a conscious effort to ensure that students, parents and teachers were all involved in the conversation. After listening to our seminar, a student had confronted his parents that evening about a significant issue he was facing in this space. The parents had expressed complete gratitude towards the school for equipping them to have this tough conversation with their child. Not only did this holistic approach from the school prompt the student to approach his parents, but it empowered parents to navigate the discussion with confidence.

Addressing these important topics from a whole-school approach is not only helpful but critical in seeing students thrive within this space. 

To see how your school is going with tackling healthy relationships with a whole-school approach, take our scorecard today.

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