As educators we recognise that children in our schools are still developing the essential skills they need to be successful learners. We also recognise that young people are still developing the social and emotional competencies that will support them in being happy and safe adults who will be able to contribute to society. The importance of developing these skills is recognised in the new Victorian Curriculum under Personal and Social Capability, with the rationale stating that this focus is “essential in enabling students to understand themselves and others, and manage their relationships, lives, work and learning more effectively. “*
Good practitioners understand that one of the most effective things that they can do to guide children’s development in these areas is through the explicit teaching of the skills, values and attributes they will need.
Explicit teaching is the focus of great schools such as Hamilton North Primary School in Western Victoria. Over the last eighteen months this school has worked hard to develop and embed their True North Values as part of their Restorative Approaches. An approach that is underpinned by relationships and positive classroom environments.
After recently developing a new logo with a designer, staff began introducing the logo to students in their classrooms. Initial conversations began by asking students what does the logo remind you of ? Whilst responses varied the common agreed response was an arrow. Students were then prompted to consider where might you see an arrow? Again whilst responses varied the common response was on signs showing you the way to go.
This effective questioning led by the staff ensured students were engaged and involved in the thinking as well as having ownership over the process. Students were led to also consider that arrows that show you where to go are also found on a compass – and that their job is to not only point you in the right direction but to also show you True North.
This then opened up another layer of discussion with students of What is the right direction? and How can school help you get there?
With this understanding established staff were then able to lead students through the second stage where the school’s values were introduced. Across the school students were guided in understanding that the school had developed a set of five values – Respect, Responsibility, Empathy, Cooperation and Integrity which the school believed would assist students in getting to the agreed destination of being successful learners and people. Following this each grade developed their own statement of what True North meant for display in their classrooms – underpinned by a clear definition of each of the values and what they looked like in action.
Schools such as Hamilton North Primary School that take the time to set up clear expectations, built on a set of agreed whole school values – develop a solid foundation from which to encourage the behaviours they want to see in the classroom and playground. When educators take the time to praise with specificity that links back to the values “ Thanks Billy for putting your hand up. That’s showing respect for the teacher and for the others in the classroom”
they are making it clear to students the behaviours they want to see more of. Teachers who invest in this practice are mindfully putting the spotlight on the right behaviours rather than always calling to account the behaviours that they don’t like. They are building a classroom built on cooperation and community rather than control and compliance.
There are times of course where educators need to address the moments when young people are not following the values. And when we do so it is important that when we are holding young people to account for their behaviour we do so respectfully in a firm but fair way that maintains relationships.
When the classroom values and expectations are made clear – and are on display – the conversations around behaviour that holds up learning, or makes people feel unhappy or unsafe become more effective as teachers are not talking about the child personally – but about their behaviour. With school expectations made clear educators are able to not only talk with Billy about whether his calling out is the right thing or wrong thing – but help him understand that he is not following the school value of respect when he chooses to do so. We can then work with Billy to consider the affect of this behaviour and what choice he could make differently next time.
Whilst many of the children in our schools will have the skills (and resources) to follow the schools expectations and values successfully, and will want to. There will be some students who will need additional help and support to be successful.
Processes such as Circle Time (not to be confused with restorative circles for fixing problems) is a great tool for further developing the school’s expectations. This process is about having fun (through games), building community (getting to know one another better) and explicitly teaching social and emotional competencies. Schools that invest in holding regular Circle Time sessions help strengthen relationships, reduce the intensity and frequency of wrong doing and enhanced learning outcomes because they are investing in building Personal and Social Capability.