Watching the Paralympians bask in the glory of competing and achieving success always reminds me that just because something is difficult, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. From an equestrian with cerebral palsy to a table tennis player with no arms, these athletes are living proof that solution-focussed thinking and dogged determination not only gets jubilant cheers but can bring about genuine change in society.
As we enter a new academic year, behaviour makes its routine appearance on the inset timetable – thirty minutes set aside for the policy to be distributed and expectations set, but we know that won’t be enough. To create a culture that inspires a sincere and lasting commitment to the school’s values, to a relational approach that promotes kindness, compassion and empathy, we need more than a half hour tick list.
At times, as educators we steer away from progressive thinking and radical ideas that could potentially revolutionise the behaviour culture for fear of ‘rocking the boat’ with parents and carers. I firmly believe that no school gets to be incredible without gaining the support of the adults at home. However, changing opinions grounded in traditional thinking that take a somewhat pessimistic view of a relational approach to behaviour can be difficult.
Yet, just like anyone who has successfully achieved in the face of adversity, together we can find ways to remove barriers, shift mindsets and make every single stakeholder feel proud to be a part of the school culture.
The start of a new academic year is a prime opportunity to take a proactive approach and offer, through a newsletter, opening evening/morning, online update, workshops an open and honest insight into the value and purpose of an approach to behaviour that is empathic and kind but also upholds the school’s standards.
Key behaviour messages
Below are some ideas for communicating the school’s vision for behaviour to parents/carers. The tone may need to change slightly depending on your key aim - to engage disengaged parents, to help highly aspirational parents have a bit more empathy with the minority of children who have reasonable adjustments made for them, a combination of the two or you may have a different motive altogether.
1. Explicitly explain the school’s behaviour support system
. You could outline that the approach you have decided to take as a school has been designed with a view to:
- building and sustaining positive relationships between every member of the community.
- developing empathy, self-awareness and ownership of behaviour choices.
- allowing every child to reach their full potential regardless of starting point.
You may want to include some information around fairness, equality and equity – the key message being that ‘fair’ does not mean treating everyone equally, but rather giving everyone what they need to reach the intended outcome (i.e. connecting with the school or even just your classroom culture) or removing the barriers which are hindering their ability to connect.
2. Share key information from the behaviour policy
– the rules, how over and above behaviour is recognised, expectations for adult behaviour and the sanction/consequence process. Alongside the adult behaviours you could include a short explanation around how children learn behaviour from us – when they see the adults acting with compassion, fairness and generosity they are more likely to follow suit and then grow into supportive, empathic, considerate, happy adults. This document could be used to support adults in adopting a similar approach at home. Of course, it depends how open the community is to having help from staff with the situations they face outside of the school gates.
This information could also be revisited and discussed at parents’ evenings, workshops, open mornings and any other times where you have parents/carers in school.
3. Here are some statements you might want to include in a newsletter/on a school website page/as part of an open morning/evening discussion.
At (Name of Organisation)…
- We firmly believe that children/young people should behave well because it is the right thing to do.
- We neither bribe with rewards nor threaten with punishment as a means of gaining control. We recognise these traditional methods do not teach sustained positive behaviour. Instead, we have systems in place that support a culture of collaboration so it is not adults versus students but rather everyone working together to solve problems and develop and sustain positive relationships.
- We encourage interdependence where students work together to achieve common goals and recognise how their positive behaviour choices feed into the greater good of the group.
- In place of the traditional Star of the Week assembly/Student of the Week, you will be invited to student-led assemblies to celebrate class/year group/department accomplishments.
- Our approach includes factoring in an understanding of where the behaviour is coming from.
- Throughout the year, we’ll send you regular updates where we will not only highlight the successes but also draw your attention to some of the obstacles that as a school and a class we have had to overcome.
- We all (students and staff) make mistakes. At (Name of Organisation) we aim to normalise being open and honest about when we get it wrong with the focus being around how we intend, as a team, to put it right.
- If we were to only offer updates about the positives, the integrity of our approach would be lost so we’ll offer a candid but diplomatic account of the challenges we encounter.
My overall goal would be to encourage every member of the community to live and breathe the school’s values. Let’s enhance empathy amongst the adults and help them to understand the importance of collaboration.
Of course, it won’t be easy, but nothing that will genuinely support our children and young people to be the change the world so desperately needs, ever is.