Empowering Activist Students


Schools rarely give room for authentic student voice, student agency and tangible opportunities for them to become effective change agents. Three years ago, an Ethiopian refugee student stood up in my class and voiced her pain at the empathy and shock expressed when a terror attack hit Paris, when her home town was hit by terrorism and civil war almost daily with no interest or care shown by her fellow students. Her bravery in expressing this openly in class led to a strong and somewhat angry reaction by her classmates. A few students however came together and approached me asking for an opportunity to try and change perceptions and behaviour and from this the Human Rights Group was born. Since this time students have led changes to the school uniform to embrace gender diversity, have created legacy experiences that are embedded into the school calendar such as, student panels discussing homophobia, sexism, racism and their impacts. They have partnered with local community groups to grow awareness around the dangers of giving birth in the third world and fundraising and packing birthing kits for these women. Currently the group is using footage of student interviews where they discuss their roles as perpetrators, bystanders or victims to run workshops with year 8 students. While there were many obstacles, these were used as opportunities to practice protest and advocacy. In sharing this journey a model for student engagement and activism will be presented that leads to civic engagement that transforms the school itself.


Activism, Transformation, Agency, Student-led, Social Justice, Diversity, Engagement, Acceptance, Student-voice


2019 Special Focus: "Learning to Make a Social Difference"


Focused Discussion


  • Katharine Ross
    • Year Coordinator and Facilitator of the Human Rights Group, Humanities, Bishop Druitt College, Australia Australia
    • I have been a high school teacher for over 20 years, with a focus on the Humanities and a special interest in the Studies of Religion. I have taught in schools in Melbourne and Coffs Harbour as well as lecturing at Southern Cross University in the area of pedagogy and practice. I have a passion for using Cultures of Thinking in the classroom as well as utlising it to support the student Human Rights Activists that meet each week at my current school. I took a year out of my teaching career to travel around Australia in a caravan with my husband and three sons and continue to have the travelling bug, spending time in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. It is my role mentoring refugee students that transformed how I see the power of student voice and its potential to challenge and interrupt conservative forces that restrict opportunities for student agency when they should be front and centre in determining their own learning journeys.