Monash Children’s Hospital School – Profile

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Meet Colin Dobson, the Principal of the Monash Children’s Hospital School.

Colin believes in the importance of access to education and has worked hard to ensure patients receive an authentic school experience while undergoing treatment, he says the most rewarding aspect of the school since its opening is witnessing how grateful the patients and their families are to have an opportunity to access the service.

Why is it important to have a school at a Children’s Hospital like Monash?
All young people deserve access to a great education, and being an inpatient or outpatient of a hospital should be no obstacle to receiving the very best education. We do not partition our lives into discrete boxes- our lives are interconnected and interrelated so aligning health and education in an integrated and meaningful approach simply makes sense. We are in a unique position at Monash Children’s Hospital School to deliver education that wraps around the young person’s treatment, recovery and reintegration. The school provides continuity of the learning for the young person as well as connectivity to their school community. At Monash Children’s Hospital School we hold a deeply held view that every child regardless of their circumstances deserves access to a quality and exemplary education.

Since it opened, what have you found the response to be?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Children, parents, caregivers, family members, as well as our health colleagues, have stated that the school is indeed making a difference to the children in our care. Parents have been thrilled to know that their children’s education will be supported while they are inpatients/outpatients of Monash Children’s Hospital. The children have embraced the concept of ‘school in hospital’ and feel less anxious about missing out or falling behind with their education. The student’s gain a great deal from linking in with other children and being able to participate in specific lessons with children who also have significant health conditions. The medical personnel have been very inclusive and see the teachers as key members of the patient’s multi-disciplinary team.

As Principal, what do you find to be the most rewarding about operating a school like this?
As an educator you want to be able to make a difference to the children in your care. I believe that this is especially so in this unique setting. To see the delight on the child’s face when they accomplish a task, use a particular strategy to solve a problem and/or simply enjoy learning something new makes it all worthwhile. It is also rewarding when you see the relief from the parent or child when they understand that they will be able to stay connected with their school and continue on with their educational program, they are often anxious about what they are ‘missing out on ‘ at school.

I also love to see the pride of the teachers when they know that they are making a difference with a child. Teachers at Monash Children’s Hospital School need to quickly build a rapport with the child so they can make the most of the time they have with the child. As Principal, I am immensely proud of the teaching team. They are enthusiastic, passionate and committed educators who independently and collectively provide an exemplary teaching and learning program for the children. I have also been delighted to see the relationships between the doctors, nurses, allied health personnel and teachers develop over the past few months, it is indeed a wonderful example of a multi-disciplinary team working to make a difference to each and every child in our care.

What are some special features of the school parents may not know about?
As a new school we are still evolving and the role that the staff members play is continually developing. We are here to support the young person’s education and link in with their regular school, TAFE or community educational organisation. We can be the educational link between for the child as well as be an advocate for the family. We understand that parent’s/caregivers have the health of their child as the number one priority and while they focus on this, we as a school can assist in the liaison with the child’s regular school. Monash Children’s Hospital School can support the young person while they are in hospital receiving treatment, recovering at home and with the reintegration of the child back into the education system. Due to their health condition, changes may need to be considered for the child when they return to school and we can assist with this process and advice.

The school works with the children on a 1:1 basis as well as run small group class sessions. The program that is developed for each child is highly individualised. We provide educational support for children on the general wards as well as in our mental health units – Oasis and Stepping Stones. We also work with children who may be attending therapy sessions at the hospital.

As the school is still new, what are your future hopes for it?
In the first six months, the school is focused on providing exemplary care and education to the children who are inpatients of the hospital. In the next phase, we will be extending this support to authentically and meaningfully support young people who are outpatients of Monash Health as well as provide support to young people who may have disengaged in education due to their health condition. We are starting to build strong relationships with community organisations who are supporting young people who have disengaged from school and we hope to be able to provide an insight into the variety of educational pathways that are available to them. As the school continues to develop we also want to consider how we can provide professional learning for other educators who are working with the children who have significant health conditions. We will be able to work with our health colleagues to provide holistic professional leaning to our schools and TAFE’s across the state.

Technology will play a significant role within our school and will be another strong vehicle to connect the child with their education. This is already proving to be critical as we now have the ability for the child’s school work to be shared between their regular school and MCH School. This accessibility to the essential learning tasks that the children need to complete is invaluable. We are also just starting to explore some very innovative approaches and equipment that may provide greater live access into the child’s regular classroom hence achieving the outcomes for the children of connectivity and continuity.

What’s something our patients and families might not know about you?
For five years I was a tour guide in Europe and Asia. This provided me with insight and a wonderful perspective into the human spirit that exists in our world. Not only did I become aware of the histories of these wonderful countries, it also made me more aware of the cultures and beliefs that are embedded within them. I have a strong conviction to the concepts of respect, equality and diversity. In my opinion, we should focus on the similarities of the human spirit which means we can utilise people’s strengths and insights in such a more profound manner rather than focusing on the differences between people.

I have a genuine belief in the capacity of children and love to see them flourish and grow so they can be the best that they can be. As I often state – ‘begin with the child and the rest will be taken care.’

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