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The idea of a partnership is that the parties all gain something of value. Usually the whole is much greater than the sum of the individual parts, so partnerships can have a multiplying affect increasing the outcomes for all. 
Kids are at school to learn. (It is important that learning is the priority, not teaching.) When students are successfully challenged in school they tend to learn a lot more and this is where you can come in. You can provide students with some real life challenges that can have a positive impact on their community. 

Your responsibilities

Your first and most important responsibility when working with schools is to work within their policies. This probably includes:

  • Signing in and out every time you visit the school.
  • People working with students may require a special police check.
  • The school will have policies about how outside people can communicate with students. 

If you are working with students outside the school, your group should be an incorporated body with your State government and hold the insurance required by your State's incorporation regulations.

Before outdoor work starts do an OH&S audit of the site.

You are responsible to make sure the site is safe. If there is the potential for dangerous litter someone will need to check and clean the area the morning before students arrive. 

If students are to be outdoors at a site for a long period, access to toilet facilities will be required. 

People working with students must be good role models. This includes wearing a hat, proper shoes, shirts with sleeves etc when working outdoors. 

It is strongly suggested that people in your group only work with students when a teacher is present (formal work experience programs might be an exception). 

Communicating with schools

Over the years I have found that when I contact a school and ask if I can help them I receive almost no replies. However when I ask a school for help I am almost always successful. Your success rate may not be as high as mine, but seeking help seems to be the way to go. 

You will find it is easier for primary schools to work with you than secondary schools. Often secondary schools are locked into subjects. Choose to contact schools closest to the projects you are doing. It is important that students see the projects first hand and walking to the site reduces many complications. 

Next step is to identify one or more projects you think a school can help you with. The school will need to be sure that they will not be out of pocket. They are not likely to be concerned about art materials, but will be about any new costs. 

Contact the school and ask for an appointment to see the Principal or a teacher who is a school environmental leader. They will only need at most a five minute overview of what your group does and what you would like help with. 

In the Principal's or teacher's mind two calculations will be made in the first two minutes:

  1. Is this a valuable learning opportunity for the students?
  2. Can we fit this into our busy curriculum? 

Some schools' curricula are organised two years in advance and sneaking something new in can be difficult. Other schools will become flexible when they don't want to miss the chance of doing something exciting with their kids. (If genetically there is such a thing as a goodwill gene then teachers have a double dose. I am constantly amazed at what teachers will do for their students.) 

Don't be surprised or disappointed if you are told that they would love to do the project with you in four months time. It will take most schools that long to slot you in. 

You will need to find out what rules will apply to people in your group working with students. Each State government has put in place policies to keep children safe. Your local schools will have a number of formalities that all outside people must comply with when entering schools and working with children. 

If you are working closely with a class, there may also be rules about emails and other forms of communication. 

Conducting a student presentation

We all know children's level of excitement falls away and they become easily distracted. The following is a list of ideas that will help you with your presentation:

  • Get as many ideas from the teacher as you can. 
  • Ask the teacher to collect the six most interesting questions students have about the topic and email them to you at least a week beforehand. You will find the questions useful in your preparation as you now have an understanding of what the students are interested in.
  • The start of the talk should be about you. Consider yourself a role model and quickly explain why you are interested and what you do to help the coastal environment. 
  • When doing the presentation, use photos and a digital projector if possible to illustrate what you are talking about.
  • Have some items that students can handle if relevant.
  • If relevant, have something (an object) to show students that they will find puzzling and will generate discussion. I have used a whale skull for this purpose and the ideas they come up with are brilliant but almost never about whales until I provide them a few clues. 
  • Only speak 5 minutes at a time and then break it up with something different. You can break the discussion up by handing objects around, posing an open- ended question, giving students something to do etc. Something to do could be as simple as sorting out some different seeds. 
  • Answer the students' six questions. 

Some things best to avoid:

  • Saying everything you know about a topic.
  • Speaking for a long period.
  • When outside, standing in one spot talking for lengthy periods. 
  • Speaking to more than one class at a time (speaking for 5 minutes in an assembly hall with 50 teachers hovering about is do-able). 

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