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What does it mean to be 'disruptive' in education?

When we reflected on our school coming up to its 10th year anniversary, we thought about the words that best define what NGC has been able to achieve since our humble beginnings. One that kept coming up was 'disruption'. In today's blog post, we wanted to talk about what DISRUPTION means, why we think it can be a profoundly positive goal and the ways we seek to be 'disruptive' in our own school context.

Interestingly, disruption can mean different things depending on context and perception. It can certainly have a negative connotation. Indeed, there is plenty of disruption, disconnection and discord in our modern world today.

Even if we just cast our minds back over the past few years, we have dealt with the disruption of the COVID pandemic and the explosion of communications technology, mobile phones and social media (which is disruptive in those instances where it isolates us and polarises us from each other). We have seen confronting accounts of war and genocide televised in real-time and the inconceivable disruption this has on everyday peoples' lives. We have encountered evidence of prejudice, racism and sexism and seen these disrupt the principles of our egalitarian, democratic society. There have been times where fear has triumphed (the Voice campaign and resulting NO majority vote comes to mind as an example where people were scared by progressive, important change, even if staying the same means disruption and inequity for our First Nations communities).

But at the same time, disruption can mean something profoundly positive. It can look like standing up for what is right, fair and just rather than conforming, staying silent or settling for the way things have always been done. We can see disruption as innovation and seeking solutions rather than dead ends. It can mean championing change and advocating for those who don't have the same power and privilege.

Again, in just the past few years, we have seen the #MeToo movement build huge momentum and seen so many grassroots efforts dedicated towards ending the epidemic of domestic and sexual violence. We saw the Black Lives Matter movement educate people on systemic racism. We continue to make strides in our understanding of neurodivergence and disability and how we can better create schools, workplaces and communities where all brains are appreciated and accommodated for. We have seen similar progress for the LBGTIQA+ community, with more acceptance and celebration of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The climate justice movement continues to disrupt long-accepted norms so we can save our planet and care for Country.

Just as Greta Thunberg has become the figurehead of climate action, so many young people are at the forefront of all these social movements. We don't find that at all surprising; the young people we know are open-minded, committed to inclusion and brave enough to do things differently. 

That brings us back to NGC and our decade of 'disruption’. When we consider how and why we started and everything we have accomplished over the past ten years, it comes down to intentional and innovative disruption on a systems, community and individual level.

1. We have disrupted the norms of the mainstream school system. NGC was established because we saw young people who were falling through the cracks of an overburdened mainstream system. We wanted to break down the barriers that see these young people disengaged, unsupported or stuck in a dangerous cycle of disadvantage.

This meant re-imagining what a school could look like so that it was a genuine alternative for young people who needed it. A place where young people could engage in learning, regardless of their past school experiences, literacy and numeracy skill level, neurotype, socioeconomic status, family background or aspirations beyond school. To achieve this, we designed our curriculum delivery to suit the diversity of our cohort and recruited a staffing team with the specialist experience and capacity to differentiate our teaching and support of each student.

2. We have disrupted our Central Coast community by filling a crucial gap in the educational options offered to young people.

NGC set out to do learning differently. We aren’t a private institution or a ‘special education’ school in a traditional sense or an academy dedicated to a singular pursuit of arts, trade or sports. Instead, we aimed to take a broader view of everything that education can encompass.

The result has been a small but mighty school that combines curriculum, vocational training, wellbeing programs and wraparound support. We have successfully created an educational setting where all young people are welcome and co-exist together, surrounded by the natural environment and without the typical constraints of uniforms, school bells and highly hierarchical teacher/student relationships.

We also knew we wanted to bring the community into our school and our school into the community, at any opportunity. Whether that was volunteering, work experience, applying learning in real-world scenarios, civic engagement or cultural education, NGC has helped young people to experience the sense of belonging and connection that is key to prosocial behaviour.

3. We have disrupted the negative life trajectories that young people can feel defined by.

Most of all, NGC was established for any young person who has felt like they aren’t capable of learning or that they are on a pathway that isn’t serving them. For some, that trajectory was mired in unemployment, welfare dependency and incarceration. For some, it was feeling socially isolated, like they didn't fit in or that they were 'too much'. For some, it was the sense that they had no other options left.

NGC has been a second - even a third, fourth or fifth chance - at school. We have wiped the slate clean to focus on the present and set high expectations around accountability going forward. We have allowed young people to grow into a new version of themselves that will continue evolving throughout their life. 


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