The leader of Coober Pedy Area School is currently completing a Doctor of Education at Flinders University in Adelaide on a part-time basis, with intensives lined up during each uni semester. 

Cornelius reports that her research angle is closely aligned with her visions for the rural South Australian primary school. 

“What I’ve become interested in is the idea of student voice, so kids having agency in their learning and what that does to engagement, their commitment to their learning and ultimately learning outcomes,” she explains. 

“I am now taking that research focus into the school and looking to reform what’s happening here ... from a student perspective, rather than a curriculum or timetable perspective.” 

Before she’ll collate and analyse the children’s feedback, Cornelius has launched mini student review teams that are assessing how various aspects of their school are run.

She says the first stage is all about building confidence and a sense of responsibility in her participants, so that they “understand that what they say and do does have an impact”. 

“The way I’m starting it at the school is with fairly low levels of voice opportunity ... there’s a group of students looking at the school uniform and reviewing it, there’s a group of students looking at how the canteen runs…”

The findings will eventually be thrown out to an online learning community comprised of educators from across the state, who will debate and discuss what Cornelius’ students had to say about being handed voice and agency in their learning. 

“It’s really important that the research is embedded into what your practice is, so you’re not doing something additional. 

“What I’m finding interesting is learning the research methods and all the processes that sit behind research, because that’s added a critical edge to what I’m doing and a depth to my understanding…”