Raised and educated in Tasmania, Dr Elizabeth Robinson grew up on the North West Coast, with parents whose lives were carved by the depression and war – timbercutting at the head of the Hellyer Gorge, and placing signal lines across the Owen Stanley Range of Papua New Guinea. These lived-experiences of inter-generational belonging inform the descriptive (mythopoetic) nature of her academic writing, inviting us to explore the historicity of our own lived-worlds and the disruptions that shape our understandings. She is currently principal of Kingston High School.
It seems that society sees schools as highly transactional places, a ledger of sorts, accounting for academic outcomes and failures, selecting consequences in which good and bad behaviours are respectively rewarded and punished. What does this traditional view of education mean in a contemporary context of the neuroscience of ‘growth mindset’, ‘positive psychology’ and ‘trauma informed practice’? Perhaps philosophy, Hermeneutic Phenomenology, might enable us to capture moments of poignancy and reinterpret such moments to come to understand how young people, particularly those who express themselves in a language of distress, given compassionate attentiveness, might find their voices again and return to learning.
Dr Robinson holds a PhD through Curtin University, with her thesis: Pedagogy of being present: An inquiry into the unconditional communion of listening. Her thesis received a chancellor’s commendation due to its contribution to a future of educational change in relation to the effects of trauma on learning and bringing individual students “back into voice and life”. Dr Robinson’s thesis explores the ways in which listening to young people opens up spaces for healing relationships that are both self-educative and mutually transformative.
As a teacher in Tasmanian high schools, Dr Robinson began to define her own teaching as a pedagogy of listening to young people. In the context of her current role as a principal, Dr Robinson notices the tensions between the social/emotional needs of young people and the capacity of schools to meet these needs, navigating the complexities of inter-agency relationships and community demands for student inclusion as well as exclusion. How might a philosophical approach to understanding the needs of young people help inform educational policy in Tasmania and the wider national discourse around needs-based funding?