Case Study 1 – Thriving, striving culture: A whole school approach


Staff from Curtin University’s School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology have begun to implement a whole of school approach to enhancing student resilience.

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Key features of this case

  • promoting a collaborative striving culture with co-responsibility to learning and engagement
  • video and email message from the Head of School clarifying staff expectations of students and students’ expectations of staff
  • have-a-go approach to learning
  • scaffolded challenges across the curriculum
  • increased students’ responsibility


  • School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology, Curtin University
    whole of school approach
  • Staff completed course in late 2017, began implementing changes in February-March 2018
  • Case study recorded in May 2018

Drivers for participation in the staff development program

Universities are focused on the retention of students but many students in the course were not coping:

Despite staff increasing the amount of feedback, instruction and support provided to students over several years no discernible impact on students’ engagement or ability to cope with the demands of their course was observed. Staff were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the programs they were delivering to students.

In addition, while staff have a strong desire to support students, they also recognise the need to prepare students for the workplace:

Strategies adopted to enhance student resilience

Following participation of two key staff in the Enhancing Resilience development program, the school adopted a whole of school approach to building student resilience.

This process began with staff examining the program’s conceptualisation of resilience:

Deciding on an overall approach and developing strategies was next:

Strategies included more formative opportunities for students to have a go at an assessment and receive feedback on this, particularly early in the course. The message given to students is that it is their responsibility to demonstrate the required level of performance. Even if it takes them several goes that’s okay, staff are there to support them to achieve the desired outcome. Given resilience is built in response to adversity the School explored opportunities across the curriculum to increase the number of challenges students face in a scaffolded and supportive manner as well as consider clearly communicated expected levels of responsibility:

The school has also introduced mindfulness as a way of supporting students self-awareness:

Impact of the strategies implemented to date

As it is early days within the implementation of the desired changes, Associate Professor Courtenay Harris acknowledged that the observed impact was based on anecdotal feedback and observations. Staff have reported feeling more satisfied as they have permission to make some of the changes they’ve always wanted to such as more unpredictability into the assessments to test the students and help them find the resources they need to be able to cope with situations that they’re going to face in the workplace. Changes in student’s professional conduct have also been noted:

Figure 1: Model of enhancing resilience used to effect change

Why it worked


Several key enablers were identified by Associate Professor Courtenay Harris including:

  • Buy-in from key executive (Head of School) sent a strong message to both staff and students that enhancing resilience was seen as relevant and important.
  • Providing a half day of professional development was really helpful to ensuring staff engagement and a shared understanding of resilience and how it can be enhanced.
  • Staff participation in the Mindfulness MOOC as a group (community of practice) was viewed as both professionally and personally beneficial as the course supported their own resilience. This community of practice has helped spread the program’s message and assist other staff with their development.
  • Positive changes staff observed early in terms of increased student attendance and engagement within class and a reduction in unprofessional behaviour reinforced staff enthusiasm for making changes and their satisfaction in their work.


The key challenge faced with implementing the desired changes to enhancing resilience is centred around resources. The most crucial resource was time. Staff generated a lot of ideas that required time to plan, time to get other staff on board with these ideas and time to make changes to the curriculum. Time and funds were then required for staff development for everyone who taught within the targeted unit/course. Additional funds were also required for some initiatives such as viva examinations and marking students multiple (formative) attempts at an assessment. The final key challenge was the cumbersome requirements of making curricular changes that require approval at multiple levels within the university, thus delaying the implementation of new ideas.

Moving forward

Advice for others

Associate Professor Courtenay Harris provided five key tips for others wishing to enhance student resilience:

  1. Executive buy-in: Talk to your Head of School/Department to ensure buy-in at the executive level. This will help you facilitate engagement of other staff, communicate key messages to students and secure support (including resources) for staff development and additional funds needed to implement the desired changes.
  2. Make it a priority: University staff face high levels of demand so unless something is made a priority for your area staff will struggle to allocate the time and other resources to make things happen.
  3. Collaborate: Collaborating with your colleagues not only helps build teamwork but you can assist each other to develop ideas and resources. Having a team of champions will increase the likelihood of changes being implemented.
  4. Plan: Dedicate time, ideally at a school or course/department level, to engage staff in generating ideas for change. Develop these ideas into a plan for action; at what level do you want to make changes (e.g. whole of course, one unit at a time, one unit per year level); what will be done first, who is available at that time to implement the changes, what do you have the resources for. Having a plan for what you’re going to achieve this semester and then the following semester builds clarity, confidence and sustains momentum.
  5. Evaluate: Gathering evidence of the outcomes in relation to the changes you plan to implement is very helpful for both staff and students. Furthermore, if you require ongoing resources (inside or outside of your local area) evidence of impact is very valuable.