Melbourne high school - Alia College - FAQ
Q: How do you deal with bullying and anti-social behaviour?
A: The generous and tolerant atmosphere at Alia has not been achieved by accident. It is the result of a thoughtful approach which involves listening to students, without jumping to hasty conclusions; understanding both sides of any story; and being considerate of the feelings and intentions of all members of the school community.
Teachers avoid bullying students. Teachers are bullies enough in expecting projects on time; attendance on time; giving tests; and, above all else writing reports and doing parent/student/teacher interviews regularly.
Teachers provide a clear example to students of reasonable and mature behaviour. However, there is no policy of 'anything goes': teachers guide students in their learning and maintain clear expectations. They insist that students attend all classes punctually, work steadily and complete assignments and homework when they are due. Tests are conducted regularly and progress is systematically reported to parents. In other words, teachers exercise leadership and professional responsibility.
Teachers at Alia try to make the rest of the school experience for students as cheerful as possible by not acting like jailers, or over zealous police officers trying to catch every infringement of a dress code. Students are appreciative of teachers who primarily aim to teach rather than to minutely control behaviour. They pass on this attitude to others in the school.
Parents often report that their children are much calmer and more cheerful at home only a short time after they start at Alia. Sometimes new students come to Alia with defensive or aggressive behaviours. Gradually they learn that the system here is different and they learn to join the group. The full story is too long to go into here.
If you are keen, have a chat with the Principal, Bob, but take care he loves talking about such things. Just to whet your appetite, consider the following. There are many definitions of bullying but no firmly and widely agreed litmus test of where joking around stops and bullying starts. [refer 1 below]
Almost every bully insists that "It was just a Joke". and that; "There's something wrong with them because they just can't take a joke." Sometimes even standing up for yourself can lead to accusations of bullying. All of this makes it really difficult to use rigid approaches to try to deal with bullying.
In fact overly firm approaches themselves tend to make teachers look like bullies and so tend to validate bullying attitudes! At Alia we prefer our version of the Golden Rule.
Here is a link to a nice summary of the difficulty of trying to tie down exactly What bullying is by Dr. Ken Rigby a renowned expert on bullying.
Q: What is the Golden Rule?
A: It's something like: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Oh! And pay attention to what those others are saying, about what you are planning to do to them, preferably before you do it.
The Golden Rule is not a simple solution. You can see considerations for and against it
Q: Where does the name ALIA come from?
A:We had a great deal of trouble trying to get a name that everyone was happy with. We wanted a name that indicated that we had a different approach to schooling and that suggested that we engaged in a calmer and more academic atmosphere.
A parent suggested alia because we teach Latin language. It comes from the Latin phrase inter alia meaning among other (things).
So alia means other.
We have also been advised that:
- there are many schools called Queen Alia College which are not associated with our school. They relate to Queen Alia, a much praised member of the Jordanian Royal family, who died in a helicopter crash in 1977. Her name is remembered in a number of institutions such as schools, hospitals, charitable funds and the airport at Amman, Jordan..
- Alia refers to an elevation in Hebrew. Consequently it can mean a gift that is raised up. So apparently those approaching the altar may be asked if they have an alia to present. Similarly it can refer to an honour.
- Alia also means home it seems in some Himalayan dialect. Apparently Him-alaya means home of the snow.
- A search of the internet came up with "Princess of the Academics"?!?! We figured that we can happily cope with that one. If you have any corrections or additions please let us know.
- It is enjoyable. Latin is the most widely elected language in the school and the first language that went to year 12 here (closely followed by Japanese).
- It teaches the romance languages:French; Italian; Spanish; Portuguese; Rumanian. Once Latin has been mastered to any given level it is possible to learn one of these languages to the same standard in a fraction of the time.
- It teaches English. 60% of English words have a Latin basis or are cognate. English teachers have remarked that certain students who have done a sufficient amount of our Latin course show noteworthy improvements in spelling, sentence structure and grammar.
- It improves the standard of other subjects. At least one study in the USA found that the students doing Latin [as opposed to another language] showed a higher improvement in their studies overall.
- It provides a remarkable boost to the year 12 enter score. It commonly has the highest possible top score of 55 (most subjects stop at a maximum of 50) and it usually has the highest average score. [By the way this last factor is not actually a reason for studying Latin through to VCE. It is simply icing on the cake. In VCE you are best to take subjects that you: 1. Need for course entry; 2. Are good at; and 3. Like. Hopefully Latin would fall into one or more of those three categories. Taking "marked up" subjects solely for a presumed bonus is very unwise as you will do much better by taking subjects that you are good at and like.
A: Quite a few reasons:=
Q: My child has never learned Latin. Is that a disadvantage?
A: No. We are very happy with students who have absolutely no prior experience of Latin because it also means that they have no bad experiences with it.
Q: But if students enrol into year 9 wouldn't they be behind?
A: It's never a problem. We have a brilliant ab initio course. Students are able to start at the beginning and gain the advantages of the course without stress.
Q: Is Latin compulsory?
A: More or less. Whenever we have given students a choice in the matter, they have pretty much all elected to take Latin. It is possible for families to negotiate variations to the courses here but opting out of Latin prior to the normal time would involve losing significant advantages.
A: Yes. We have always had a much higher level of parent involvement at Alia than almost every other secondary school. They sometimes come to school meetings and homeroom sessions and have also come on camps - mostly the adventure camps such as when we walked across the Little Desert in north-western Victoria, and when we went to swim with the dolphins in Port Phillip Bay. These 'adventures' are an excellent cheap exciting family activity for those who can join their children.
Q: Are parents expected to contribute time to school initiatives?
A: No. But they are most welcome to contribute any initiatives that may be of benefit.
A: Yes. We are a school for parents who prefer an environment that values responsibility, respect and communication over rule-following.
Q: But isn't it irresponsible if you are not training students to obey rules?
A: Not at all. Rule-enforcement takes responsibility away from students. We focus on training students in how to be responsible instead.
The amazing side effect is that our students are remarkably happy to follow rules and laws. They don't feel rebellious when faced with a rule and are happy to do what is required because they have an expectation that any rule that is imposed will be administered with common sense and humanity.
Q: How can you operate without strict rules? Surely, that's a recipe for chaos?
A: It is not always easy because most students are trained in rule following (and avoiding!) Only some people are really keen on an environment that supports responsibility and respectfulness. Alia is the school for them.
Q: But most kids and many adults are quite irresponsible and disrespectful. How do you manage them?
A: Parents who know that their children need a high level of close control choose one of the many schools that use the standard approach to student management. Even when a difficult child comes to Alia it's not really all that hard for us because students actually prefer taking responsibility rather than being subject to rules that often produce results that students characterise as unfair or unreasonable.
Q: But, if some students don't learn civilised behaviour. What happens then?
A: We try very hard to earn the respect of students by being very real about the rules that we do have, and we are pretty good at that. If they really don't improve and are affecting the learning opportunities of others, then, as with other schools, we eventually have no option but to ask them to try another school.
Q: And isn't that rule-enforcement?
A: Yes. But "affecting the learning opportunities of others" is not the kind of rule that is imposed in some sudden and arbitrary manner. We don't issue any formal punishment for it. We talk and explain our concerns and everyone has an opportunity for input, usually over a period of weeks or months.
Q: What about students who act in ways that threaten serious harm?
A: There are some actions that are so scary that no school (including us) could accept. There are a few kids who urgently need competent psychological assistance, away from other students. Alia only accepts students who do not require such assistance.
Q: Isn't that rule-enforcement?
A: No. It's simply being selective about the kinds of kids who are likely to benefit from Alia's approach - and those who aren't. We can't accept every applicant. Within the school, we simply do our best to avoid knee-jerk reactions to small problems. We have created a no-blame atmosphere of responsibility, respect and negotiation.
Q: So you do have rules?
A: Well, yes, but the simplest way of avoiding endless semantic argument is to say that we don't have rules, thus distinguishing our approach from that of conventional strict schools, where carefully graded rules and punishments are imposed in a manner which is calm and firm but is also often quite rigid and distressing.
Q: Surely, if there are no sanctions for poor behaviour, you must have uncontrolled chaos?
A: No. Quite the opposite. If a school appears calm because of threats of punishment, then that suggests an environment of suppressed nastiness. If an environment is calm without rigid punishments, then that is a place of utterly real decency.
Q: But things can go wrong because you are not ensuring that rules of proper behaviour are being enforced?
A: It is always possible for things to go wrong. Things go wrong even under punitive rules. Alia is for those who prefer the less coercive approach.
Q: But don't you get the sort of student who cunningly uses your system to do as they wish to their own detriment and that of others?
A: Sometimes. But often their parents are well aware of the problem and we all work together to address the situation. If matters don't improve then perhaps a more regimented solution is best.
Q: Well, you haven't convinced me.
A: We are not evangelical. We simply provide a different approach for those who are actively looking for it. If you have been able to reach a definite decision about whether Alia will suit you or not, then that is excellent. Our aim is to provide enough information to enable you to make that decision appropriately.
A: Several teachers at the school wanted this for their own children. It isn't very hard once the culture is set up.
Q: But why would anyone bother??
A: It is much easier for when the students get to tertiary education or work, because they apply themselves so well. They are aware of how to focus without constant supervision.
A: Alia graduates rarely drop out of university courses. The drop out rate is said to be very high.
A: No. "Open and fair minded" would be a better description. But our approach might seem 'anarchistic' when people hear of our "no rules" approach.
We simply aim to provide a non-aggressive atmosphere in which learning and open inquiry can blossom.
We seek to operate with the least number of rules.
We do not espouse any particular belief system, philosophy, culture or religion. We do not enforce any specific creed upon anyone.
Q: Then why do you say 'no rules'?
A: We initially said it to distinguish ourselves from other schools. Families that have a strong culture of listening to each other rather than merely imposing rigid rules on their children are attracted to check us out.
Q: But doesn't it get you into a lot of trouble?
A: Normally it saves us a lot of trouble, because parents seeking a strong conformist approach are alerted to avoid us.
Q: Isn't "No Rules" about as anarchistic as you can get?
A: No. Anarchy is from the Greek meaning "without a ruler". Not without rules. We have strong government here and if a serious problem arises we deal with it firmly. Lesser problems are dealt with in a measured human way without knee-jerk reactions.
Q: Anarchism (as opposed to anarchy) is about removing all forms of government? Is that your aim?
A: Absolutely not. Our aim is to provide the best possible education as defined by the government. We are quite conformist in that, dare I say!
To achieve academically students need to feel unafraid to be themselves.
They need to be able concentrate on their studies without stress over bullies and oppressive rule regimes.
Q: Do you realise that that is ambiguous?
A: Exactly! It can mean:
It is required that the student commence learning now.
It is required that the teacher permit the student to learn - for example, by allowing conditions to be conducive.
Q: So which meaning do you intend?
A: Both! We rather like that.
A: We do. But without rigid punishments. The majority of people in society seem quite determined that they know the correct path for others. They seem to consider that it is essential to enforce correct ideas onto others by imposing punishments. We feel that punishments merely produce suppressed anger - an anger that will surface later. In a coercive environment, people stop communicating sincerely and openly. In a punitive setting, an undercurrent of aggression and suspicion builds between the students who support the system and those who react against it.
We have a brilliant system for encouraging and supporting civilised behaviours.
Q: But if you don't forcefully teach correct rules to students how will they learn them?
A: We teach effectively here rather than forcefully. Forceful approaches backfire in the case of about 5% of students.
Q: That's not many.
A: You only need a small number of upset people to create wider problems for everyone else.
Q: Why don't you teach using the same punishment system as other schools?
A: Because it doesn't work very well. There are indicators to show that it is not as effective.
Q: Which are?
A: [a] The academic results are lower; [b] bullying is now a major issue; [c] Other things
Q: But you must have difficult students who refuse to behave and who distress others. By not punishing them, don't you then allow them to bully other people?
A: No, the reverse occurs. As the testimonials indicate, our system reduces bullying dramatically. Bullies tend to thrive in punishment-based environments.
Q: Bullies don't simply stop just because you start being friendly. They simply push more and more, until they are forcefully stopped. How do you manage them?
A: That's correct. Obviously we manage them really well. But that question needs a very very long answer. There are no simple answers to bullying. Enormous skill and perseverance are required. The culture of the school must be built correctly in the first place.
A: Yes. Absolutely. The students become happier, more confident and learn far better than in their previous schools. Their VCE results are great. Recently one of our year 12s gained a scholarship entry into medicine at Melbourne University. The standard here is excellent. As for the human side, come and see for yourself. You can come any day. We don't set the school up for special visits. You get to see us warts and all. Just call 03 9822 9622 and ask for an appointment. You may also ask questions to the students.
Q: How can that be? How can Alia be the only school with these attributes?
A: The principal spent 40 years as a teacher determined to find real sustainable solutions to the ever-present problems of secondary education. It was incredibly hard and had many wrong turns. The end results are pretty worth while. Call in to see.
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