Human-centered Schools: Recognising Needs


Janine Rees 6th June 2018


I know a lot about a few things and little about a lot of things. I’m more than happy to chat about or speak to my interest area ’til the cows come home. Put me together with a group of jaded teachers (include wine) and I’m a pig in mud. I’ve also learned to try to remain silent and listen when I have no clue about the subject matter.

I do question everything and am eager to learn. There are certain topics that I may politely fain interest in, but my eyes glazing over can sometimes give me away. I once tutored a beautiful, highly-intelligent, young boy who’d been gifted with an autistic brain. We were chatting one day, I can’t remember what I was speaking about, but he said, “ok stop talking now, I’ve had enough.” God love him, don’t we all wish we could do that sometimes! He was young and he’ll learn this may upset people; though I wasn’t upset, I was grateful for the input.

My area of interest is education and human rights. I am one of those people that become a little obsessive in their area of interest and my ability to hyper focus is bang on. I have an inability to focus on what I see as the less interesting parts of life, like laundry, paying bills, filing, dusting…

If I had my childhood again today I’d most likely be diagnosed with something. I was pretty adaptive and was definitely an ‘under the radar’ kind of kid. My mother would be the only one to know of the complete disorganization behind the scenes and the always and ever rotting apple in my school bag.

School bored the pants off me, other than the rare moments of art, drama, music and history. Couple that with trauma in my mid teens with the passing of my father and I morphed into ‘the naughty kid’. Education wise I got by and sometimes did what I had to do and sometimes didn’t, and luckily (as I thought at the time) no one chased me up. When I finished my education I had attained an A+ in socializing.

So, senior take two was very different. I had decided I wanted to teach, to capture the attention of the kids like me, the two thirds who either coast along or struggle greatly. I knew, from experience, that school didn’t work well for the majority. Again, my study and organizational skills left a lot to be desired, but I did really well the second time around because I had a goal or personal motivation.

I had never thought of myself as particularly smart, but I started to realize I wasn’t the dunce I’d pegged myself for. When I got to university, I began to know that I was actually really good at producing high quality work. Some of my research articles were kept as exemplary work samples for students. I was pretty chuffed about that but didn’t really ever tell anyone. I was lucky to have discovered my passion in my late teens.

I’ve learnt, in my 48 years, to seek out the ones who know a lot about a little. Seek out the ones who have lived experience; successes and failures. The ones who are happy to share their stories with you. I was just reading a fantastic article shared by The Void Academy…

“If you’re afraid of asking for what you need, you are not alone. In some ways, this fear is what we’re all conditioned to feel in a capitalist society managed by a scarcity-model market. These two factors create competition. Feeling like you have to constantly fight for your space in the world can make you believe that since everyone else is fighting the same fight, people will be unwilling to help you. This fear can be further exacerbated by institutional marginalization of folks other than those privileged within the white-supremacist-racist-ableist-transphobic heteropatriarchy.

The article calls attention to our conditioning, as well as using wonderfully descriptive language to remind us of the fact that a few people run the world and I’m not so sure they are the ones we want in charge. Think of every bullying boss or control freak you’ve ever known. In my experience the ones who talk themselves up and incessantly tell you how wonderful they are, don’t really feel it or believe it. The ones who seek control are the ones who feel the most out of control.

School is the place where a great deal of conditioning happens. Certainly, initial self-concept, beliefs or personalities are laid down by parents or whoever the child’s main care givers are, but the huge amount of time devoted to school, for so much of our developing years of life, can trump bedded down familial beliefs (luckily for some).

We teachers are very used to working with the main care giver and their child and are  sometimes at a loss as to how to best support the child or wonder why the child behaves the way they do, until, in walks the other parent and voila, problem solved! Not always, but often. And how wonderful that we are a mix of so many people. All having our gifts and our shadows. All equally precious and equally flawed. Human, I think they call it.

We humans all have an inbuilt navigation system that helps us find our way. That system has been given many names; conscience, soul, spirit, inner-self, id, psyche or  instinct and it’s driven by our feelings. The most important skills we need for every aspect of life is the ability to know and name FEELINGS and our NEEDS.

This is not an easy task for many and is not taught or well supported in most schools either. The first step in developing this skill is understanding how you feel. Your feelings are your guidance system. They are not to be ignored. Ignore them at your own peril. Hiding from or suffocating your feelings is not an option because they are like a cork, they will keep rising to the surface and take increasing amounts of effort to re-submerge, which is seriously exhausting. Ask an addict of any description about their unmet needs.

Unfortunately, mainstream education is a hierarchical system that trains children to compare themselves to others. The bell curve system we all know so well, underpins the educational philosophy that most Australian schools adhere to. Rather than finding, experiencing and knowing your own gifts you must adhere to year-level-oriented, premasticated content. The ones who are rewarded are the ones who can best regurgitate the Chinese whispers.

Human-centered schools are problem focused, solution oriented places, where everyone feels their needs are heard and met. We need to start to focus on feelings and needs. If we are disconnected from ourselves and our feelings we can’t know, describe or ask for what we need.

  • How can anyone give us what we need if we don’t know what we ourselves need?
  • How can a school or a teacher give a child what they need if the child can’t connect to their feelings and ask?
  • How do we know what another needs if we don’t ask them?
  • If you are not skilled at recognizing your own feelings and needs how can you possibly support the children in your care?

The single most important questions a parent or teacher can ask a child are, “WHAT ARE YOU FEELING and WHAT DO YOU NEED?”


In order to ask this we need connection. Firstly connection to our own inner self before connection with another. I see the best path as three interconnected circles between connection to self, connection to others and connection to the environment. A triple circuit infinity symbol if you like. Human-centered schools are based on connection. A world full of self-determined, self-actualized individuals all connected and working as a whole is my greatest need. SELF

Janine is grateful for your support to help her as a conduit for human- centered schools that support and nurture each individual’s innate gifts and talents. Every child is gifted.

Many hundreds of hours go into activism and articles to address the inequality that we currently see in our education system. If these articles resonate with you please help me to continue to offer my experience, research and knowledge. I am a primary teacher, a parent to three, an education consultant and activist. My Sparkt journey started in 2012 when I was invited onto my children’s school board and we were charged with the school’s master plan. I began dreaming of the perfect school and then went about finding them and sharing successful, child-centered schools. I was sparked into action to help others find their spark.


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