I find all this very heartening – the fence at the top instead of the ambulance (and paddy wagon!) at the bottom. From a time perspective, surely all teachers want to reduce wasted time. What we’re seeing with these great practical examples is that by focusing on values you will change behaviour, thereby saving time with tiring and time-consuming discipline. And, even more exciting, it works even in the lives of severely disadvantaged children, as we’ll discover.
The Freyberg Way
From Christine Wilson, Principal, Freyberg Community School, West Auckland:
‘Since 2000 we’ve operated the Freyberg Way, based on five community-decided core values. It’s become the basis of all our behaviour management.
‘Because we’re a primary school we chose 5 values – one for each finger on the hand -so that they’re easily remembered.
‘From the values, we list twelve virtues – one for each month of the year. After focusing on that virtue for the month, teachers and peers vote for the student in their room who most demonstrates the outworking of that virtue. (This helps students understand how to outwork/demonstrate ownership and acceptance of the values.)
‘Each class winner is awarded a citizen badge at a special full assembly at the end of the month, to which parents and community people are invited. Students wear the badge for the next month and sit on the stage at the next assembly before handing the badge on to the next month’s winners.
‘For children with negative behaviour, for whom discussion, timeout and other steps hasn’t produced a changed attitude, we have a ‘lunch club’. They focus on the virtue and value they’ve broken, and discuss why and how to show positive outworking of that value. Data kept over the years has shown this approach to be very effective.
‘Having behaviour and social patterns based on community-accepted values has meant that children who arrive with negative attitudes soon become positive.
‘I totally agree that “attitude determines altitude” and that values can never be overlooked in designing learning and teaching programmes, but they must be community owned and implemented, nurtured and celebrated – and role modelled at every opportunity.’
The Kid on the Ridge
From Merryn Muir, Principal, Selwyn Ridge Primary, Welcome Bay, Tauranga:
‘If you are interested in seeing what can happen at primary school level come and check out our ‘kids on the ridge’.’
Merryn tells me she sent the invitation a bit tongue-in-cheek. As it happened, I was in the area four days later, and was introduced to the ‘Kid on the Ridge.’
In early 1997, right from the birth of this Decile 6 school, the whole staff spent two weeks of school holiday time focusing on what values and beliefs they wanted their school to promote. It has modified over the years, and in 2002 their values focus got a face – ‘The Kid on the Ridge’ came into being. (And you only have to listen to the teachers and go into the classrooms to feel that this Kid is a real entity to staff and students alike.)
The power of a visual focus
Dressed in the school colours you’ll see, all round the school, a happy looking cartoon kid. Three parts of his anatomy are highlighted – the mind, with a bright yellow light bulb – representing knowledge; a bright red heart – representing attitude, attributes and values; and in his hand a big green toolbox to indicate skills and strategies for life. Never underestimate the power of a visual image – if someone flashed a picture of Superman at us, wouldn’t we all immediately know what his values are?
They found that once they developed the Kid image it gave a powerful focal point for everyone to link to. Since then they’ve aligned all their teaching principles and practices with the Kid in the centre, and they often hear children say, ‘What would the Kid do here?’
Every two weeks they have a Celebration Assembly, in which the Year 6 children are very involved. Their leadership skills become a powerful model for younger children, and the school now finds even five-year-olds confidently taking a microphone.
‘What’s the impact on your school and your children?’ I wanted to know.
‘It’s a happy place to be. The children have a lot of choice in what they do. They come up with their own research questions for projects, and can find their own sources. They know their preferred learning styles, are familiar with many thinking tools [and I saw examples of these in all the classrooms I visited], and are encouraged to choose the relevant tool in their toolbox (just as The Kid would) for the task on hand.’
The curriculum used to have a two-year coverage, but they’ve now gone back to working with themes to make the learning more authentic. For instance, Merryn showed me a fantastic example of ICT and English linked. I’m sure you’ll agree that poetry wouldn’t normally be a favourite topic for 9-10 year-old boys. But lads of that age had made an amazing video (using Photoshop), with fantastic photos of the surrounding region, the Mount, the beautiful beaches, twisted old pohutukawa trunks, beautiful sunsets – all super-imposed with lovely poetry written by the boys. It was shown at one of their Celebration assemblies. (And that was only one of a bunch of amazing ICT work done by children of all ages – I was quite blown away!)
‘We focus on ‘just in time’ learning, rather than ‘just in case’ learning. We used to provide knowledge-based learning; now we focus on skills they need in order to seek information when they need it. They’re taught information literacy. It’s higher-level, problem-solving, creative thinking. Children lead their own learning.’
There was one more question: ‘What about the kids from tough homes, where they get no support, where they live in a negative, violent environment?’
‘It makes a difference there also,’ Merryn said. She gave two examples.
1. Two boys enrolled who had been leaders of opposing gangs at their previous school. They were ‘Trouble’. A few months later, she found one sitting in the foyer, sobbing his heart out.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘I blew it, Mrs Muir,’ he sobbed. The big breakthrough – he knew the difference and was really distressed, for he knew he’d let himself down. He was very upset to leave the school at the end of his time, for the teacher was the only stable influence in his life.
The other lad received a citizenship award.
2. A very difficult child, from a very troubled home, left the school aged six, only to return in Year 5. His father had deliberately moved back into the area in order to get into the zone. The school had mixed feelings about having this child back.
He’d only been in the school a few months when he came into his classroom with a beam all over his face. He rushed up to his teacher and spontaneously gave him a big hug.
‘I was encouraged to start a fight, but I said I wouldn’t!’
All week, whenever Merryn saw him in the playground, he still carried his big beaming smile. Just imagine what that kind of success does for a child’s self-esteem and self-belief!
Congratulations to both Freyberg and Selwyn Ridge – great work.