How do we help children make wise decisions in their lives today, while equipping them to be responsible leaders for tomorrow? That was one of the questions posed at the Primary Ethics conference held at the University of Newcastle on Saturday, where 60 volunteers met to workshop strategies for making ethics education available to more students in local primary schools.
Another focus of the day was to support volunteers’ professional development in their roles as facilitators and organisers of ethics classes.
Volunteers came from right across Greater Newcastle, the Central Coast, Taree and as far afield as Coffs Harbour. Some are parents, grandparents or carers of primary school aged children. Others are community-minded volunteers who have a love of learning and wish to make a big impact with an hour or two they have available to volunteer each week.
Philosopher and trainer Kelby Mason offered an engaging overview of the theories of philosophical ethics and how they are applied in the Primary Ethics curriculum, and we heard from Dr Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre on the importance of building ethical literacy. Dr Sue Knight, author of the Primary Ethics curriculum, answered frequently asked questions from ethics teachers, and described the role of curiosity and discovery in learning.
Among delegates were volunteers who have been a part of the Primary Ethics program since it was developed in 2011.
Volunteers Trish Bartley, Graham Wrightson and Lynne Donnelly offered some insights into their experiences in establishing programs and teaching ethics classes at a number of schools in the Newcastle, Hunter and Lake Macquarie regions.
“Being an ethics teacher really is two-way learning,” Ms Donnelly, an ethics teacher at Islington Public School said.
“I often walk out of a class reflecting what I’ve learnt in that topic, and challenging my own pre-conceptions.”
Coral Sturgess and Sophie Paterson from the Classroom Support Team led a session on pedagogy, guiding volunteer ethics teachers to build inclusive quality learning environments that supported children to exercise high-order thinking.
Participants also looked at shared strategies for raising awareness of the program, and Primary Ethics CEO Evan Hannah discussed projects currently underway to expand the reach of the program.
On September 22 it will be Wollongong’s turn with Primary Ethics volunteers from the southern half of the state invited to attend a day of strategy updates, professional development and networking with their peers, and where ideas and suggestions offered by our volunteers in Newcastle will be further developed by their colleagues in the south.
Main image: Volunteers came from Newcastle, Central Coast and afar afield as Coffs Harbour