Recommendation 3: Professional Collaboration and Engagement

Being an active participant in building professional engagement and networks throughout the common law world has been one of the best aspects of conducting the project. The shared view of the social and educational good of best practice court education for school students binds a wide variety of providers. Educators involved in the the provision of programs are all experts in their field, enthusiastic, hard working and passionate about making a difference. They do this by overcoming substantial challenges, such as the recent pandemic, and by harnessing the good will of the legal and teaching professions.

The number of court educators worldwide is small with most organisations employing between two and five people to design and deliver programs. As a small industry seeking to meet the needs of a large number of teachers and students, professional collaboration is the key to innovation, evaluation of best practice and the sustainability of organisations and programs into the future.

Legal Profession Engagement

The legal profession is actively involved in court education for school and university students in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. This can take the form of:

  • volunteering to mentor students who are participating in mock trial and mooting competitions;
  • marking essay competitions;
  • sitting on the boards and funding court education organisations.
  • conducting court education programs
  • donating funds or time to small court education providers
  • supporting the development of court education resources

The American Bar Association’s Public Education Division programs are a good example of the positive impact a legal professional organisation can have on court education. Their sponsorship of sessions at the recent National Council for Social Science conference along with their annual Law Day Program and provision of professional development for teachers provides vital support to the delivery of court education in schools.

All of the organisations involved in the project reported sustained and generous engagement from the judiciary, lawyers, legal firms, barristers and other members of the profession. Many programs rely on volunteer members of the profession providing their time and expertise. This is particularly true in regional and rural areas where volunteer lawyers and judges will welcome local school students to their local courthouse and work together to provide a rich experiential education experience.

Teaching Profession Engagement

Teachers and the needs of their students are the focus of all court education providers. Carrie Ray-Hill of iCivics, in her interview,  outlines the goal of the organisation as:

Meet teachers where they are and support them to do more (ease of use, clear instructions, best practices, etc.). Teachers are the conduit to reach young people…

Engagement with court education providers is most common amongst teachers who have to teach compulsory civics syllabuses and/or high school law subjects. Teaching professional bodies frequently partner with providers to support their teachers.

Court education providers, in addition to their resource and program delivery:

  • sponsor conference presentations
  • provide professional development opportunities
  • link legal professionals with schools
  • provide legally trained volunteers to teach in schools
  • sponsor awards that recognise teaching excellence
  • use social media to provide advice and support to teachers

Recommendation for Australia

The Australian legal and teaching professions are engaged with courts and court education providers. Some have long and established relationships that provide for a strong support for students and teachers.

However, these relationships are frequently reliant on a single engaged individual, such as a judge or head of a teacher professional organisation, who provides the thought leadership and connections that underpin the relationship. If that individual changes roles or leaves the organisation the relationship can falter or disappear altogether.

This report recommends a concerted effort be made to embed structures in court education providers and the legal and teaching professional bodies to formalise relationships. This has been done with some success in a number of urban areas with the formation of consultative committees but more needs to be done to support best practice court education in regional and rural areas.

By removing the reliance on a single engaged individual to drive the relationship between court education providers and the teaching and legal profession and by embedding long term organisational and institutional connections we can ensure the best possible outcomes for students and their communities. This strongly aligns with recommendation two of this report. Having court educators embedded in courts and other legal bodies in both urban and rural areas would support the ‘institutionalisation’ of court education for school students and consistency in teacher professional development.