” ‘And that’, put in the Director sententiously, ‘that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable [sic] social destiny.’ “ – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
” The Party denied the free will of the individual – and at the same time it exacted his willing self-sacrifice. It denied his capacity to choose between two alternatives – and at the same time it demanded that he should constantly choose the right one…
…’There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, declares the individual to be sacrosanct, and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community…’ “ – Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon
“We believe in mutual respect but students are aware that at times this is not always equal respect. Adults and professionals have to make decisions which benefit the whole school community. This approach reflects what happens in the world of work and society more generally. We do, however, respect students as learners at all times.” – Wesley Davies, Principal at Dixons McMillan, formerly Deputy headteacher at Dixons Trinity [A version of this quotation is a common utterance to the students, both as a year group and in individual conversations.]
“We don’t do anything revolutionary. We just do what we say we will do.” – Luke Sparkes, Principal at Dixons Trinity [A version of this quotation is a common utterance to staff and adults.]
“I am an expert in teaching maths and in knowing what will help you learn. If I say you need to put your pen down and listen to me, you need to do that immediately.” – Teacher speaking to a student on Friday, as part of a longer conversation about why she had a correction (30-minute same-day detention). [I concede that ‘I am an expert in teaching maths’ is a bold statement; I am confident that everyone in our department is more expert than a 12-year-old.]
This is another post where I try to describe, and explain the reasoning behind, some of the practices in my school. As with others like it, I’m mostly recording and sharing others’ ideas and work. I buy in to our systems/culture about as completely as is possible (so am happy to discuss it if you disagree with aspects) but deserve no credit if you think it is correct.
This post is prompted by four things:
– This post by Mary Meredith on restorative justice and why she believes that it can be inappropriate to sanction some unacceptable behaviours. I don’t know about when she does think sanctions are appropriate, but I hope she’ll write about this in the future. I think she is completely misguided and that all parties’ long-term interests are being harmed by the approach she is proposing. I don’t doubt the purity of her intentions and do appreciate that she is sharing these stories.
– This post by Jonny Walker about how teachers get little or no training in what constitutes an effective telling off, despite reprimands and ‘corrective conversations’ being a normal part of adult-student relationships. I now feel this is the missing chapter in Teach Like a Champion. We benefit from getting to hear a lot of public reprimands, which allows us to mimic the tone and register until we (newer staff) develop our own ‘style’ that is consistent with the school culture. This is partially because it is modelled by senior and middle leaders (i.e. they try to pick up on everything and regularly address the whole body of students), and because there is an expectation of being sat in the back of others’ lessons as much as is practical.
– This post by Martin Robinson about his belief that extrinsic rewards have no place in a school. I agree with him wholeheartedly.
– A concern I sometimes hear, typically from less experienced teachers or visitors from very different school contexts (read: ones with behaviour that is not conducive to learning), that our school is producing automatons who don’t truly buy in to what they are doing. I don’t mention the lack of experience to erode the validity of their concerns; I’m trying to be faithful to the patterns of people’s reactions. I don’t agree with them; I don’t think our students are perfect – they are children, and have all the attendant foibles – but I think they have the peculiar confidence that comes with being in a safe, secure and academic environment. There are some drawbacks that we experience – such as more taddling than in other schools, and some overreacting to joshing and minor accidents (e.g. disproportionate responses to inane comments or accidental scrapes) – but it’s not impossible to address these within the systems that we have.
As I see it, our behaviour system is based on four strands.
1. Behaviour systems and ideals should be built around the most vulnerable children – these who will need it the most. It should protect students from harm (social, emotional, physical) and it should be designed so that it is possible for everyone to meet the expectations (some might need support to do this). In my view, a truly inclusive school doesn’t have different norms for students with individual needs, it has systems in place for everyone that already accommodate and facilitate diverse needs.
2. For routine behaviours, you should have routine rewards and sanctions. The bar should be very high.
3. For behaviours that require a student to really believe in what they’re doing, you need to tap into a deeper motivation.
4. Education is its own reward; increased knowledge and intelligence is inherently valuable.
1. Systems should be built around the most vulnerable
A lot of the rules and routines we have in place are not necessarily what students would choose if they designed the school themselves. For example, all students eat with their advisory (form group) in a prescribed seating plan, with a set menu (veggie or non-veggie is the extent of the choice they have) and are expected to engage in inclusive conversation. This routine – called Family Dining – exists in part because lunchtime is when many students can be especially vulnerable. This can range from cliques trying to exercise power by controlling who can sit with them and where:
to students not eating appropriate food for an afternoon of focus and effort, to students not eating at all, to the problem of younger students getting pushed to the back and missing most of lunch when lunch operates on a ‘queues and individual service’ system, to issues of schools not having incentives to insist on high quality of food if only the FSM pupils eat it, to FSM pupils having to declare themselves as such if they are the only ones who ever eat the school-provided food. It also prepares them for life beyond the academy when they (hopefully) will be eating in professional or academic settings, such as in halls or business meetings (perhaps due to the diversity of ethnic backgrounds, many aren’t comfortable using a knife and fork at the start of Y7 – this strikes me as an important thing to learn before they enter the world as adults). I could go on.
Another rule that can seem very restrictive to the outside observer (and some of the students) is the enforcement of silent corridors. Again, part of the rationale is those who might be more vulnerable. Our corridors are narrow; if two students are walking abreast and engaged in conversation, no one will be able to pass them; it is unreasonable to expect a small, young or shy child to assert themselves in that situation. Similarly, taller or larger students can unintentionally knock another student if they are distracted by conversation when walking in a narrow corridor. What can be a buzzing, energetic, lively shared space to one person – usually someone who is socially confident – can be a claustrophobic and intimidating space to someone else who is obliged to pass through it but would rather avoid it. On a practical note, it also wastes learning time and blurs the start of lessons if students are ‘dripping in’ due to having 5-minute chats between lessons.
2. Routine behaviours, routine sanctions
Dan Pink makes a strong case that there are two aspects to human motivation: for some desired behaviours, rewards increase compliance or productivity; for other desired behaviours, it depresses performance. This is an unexpected result, especially for students of economics. His work is summarised in this RSA animation:
He elaborates on this further in his book Drive, but I think the clip summarises the key ideas sufficiently that I wouldn’t recommend you prioritise it over other edu-ish-publications.
Some of the behaviour we expect in school is routine: be on time to school and lessons, bring the necessary equipment for lessons, follow instructions (e.g. to look at the speaker, open your book, sit where instructed, start on tasks promptly), abide by the uniform code, meet deadlines (e.g. homework), don’t answer back (e.g. if you think an adult has made a mistake, wait until an appropriate time to speak to them). For a routine behaviour that is not cognitively challenging, the evidence suggests that routine sanctions and rewards are effective. We have a system of same-day 30-minute detentions (called corrections, as they are intended to correct students’ behaviour) which are recorded centrally and staff have a rota for supervising. Students write out the learning habits and then write out how they will make changes in future. It is not perfect, of course: it does not eliminate every transgression, as a staff body we will always have to work to be more consistent in our applications of sanctions, and a very small number of students receive a disproportionate number of corrections. I don’t think this indicates system failure; it suggests that we need to work hard to ensure it brings the benefits we intend. Efforts with practice in CPD (see this post), and leadership from Heads of Year and senior leaders, work to reduce inconsistency. Intervention, monitoring and escalation are used to address the risk of some students becoming ‘immune’ to corrections.
There are rewards for students who consistently meet expectations, but it is very hard to get these. There are 3 ‘reward events’ per year; these are educational and enriching (e.g making a film in the Bradford Media Museum, or a day of painting and biology in The Deep in Hull) and students must have 100% attendance and 0 corrections in the preceding 3 months to be eligible. Amazingly, almost half of students qualify each time (I say amazingly as it is a high standard to meet).
Our catchment is very normal. We have (slightly) above average SEN on entry, (slightly) below average attainment on entry and the majority of students are from the five poorest wards in Bradford (one of the poorest cities in Britain). This good behaviour is not because we have ‘better’ students. Ours are wonderfully normal, funny, earnest, silly, cynical – everything you expect in a city centre school.
3. Tapping into deeper motivation
There are many ways that we work to help students to be intrinsically motivated to be courteous, hard-working and driven by a desire to serve a purpose greater than themselves. Whenever possible, corrections are always accompanied by a rationalising conversation that links back to our school’s values (these are referred to incessantly) and how it relates to the student’s sentence (see this post here by Joe Kirby). The ninja-level teachers often have students thanking them (!) for giving them a correction as it sets them on the straight and narrow. At first an external viewer might have a creeping sense of NewSpeak (hence my references to Huxley and Koestler above), but I am not aware of a student complaining that they felt they weren’t allowed to disagree, or that an apology or concession was extracted from them just to ‘get it over with.’
This links back to working around the most vulnerable students. For a student with ASD or RAD (reactive attachment disorder), they need an explicit conversation about why they have done something wrong and how they can improve. Rather than be ‘inclusive’ by accommodating that need separately, we strive to be truly inclusive by doing it for all students as a matter of course (see this post by our INCO for an amusing and thought-provoking treatise on this). Of course we’re not perfect at it; staff can be busy or stressed, as all teachers are, but we’re working towards consistency in the frequency and content of reprimands and explanations.
At least once a day, staff speak to the student body about how behaviours, norms, routines or expectations link to our values (hard work, trust and fairness) and drivers (mastery, autonomy and purpose). This is reinforced every time we praise or reprimand students, so it is a consistent thread through their day. The staff are willing to be earnest and open-hearted in their belief in the values – no mean feat! – and we work hard to help the students believe in them and live by them to guide their choices. Of course some students might work hard because they don’t want a sanction, particularly younger ones, but we’re getting closer to the main motivation for hard work being a desire for mastery and to be fair to their peers.
4. Education is its own reward
Finally, I suspect the behaviour system also relies on the staff really loving their subjects and conveying that enthusiasm to the students. Staff can convey this however they like, and pretty much teach as they please (lessons should be tailored to the class being taught, have explicit progress – this does not mean new material every lesson or racing through content – and effective formative assessment that allows the teacher to be adaptive).
If students are working hard in lessons, teachers are teaching well and learning is constantly celebrated as inherently wonderful and valuable then the intrinsic pleasure, and increased self-esteem, that accompanies tough learning should be rewarding in its own right. A desire to be a part of that should, hopefully, be the main thing that motivates students to work hard, be nice and become autonomous.
Some people might never be able to get on board with this. Our school might not be for everyone, although I have never been fully satisfied by arguments for less clear boundaries or lower expectations. The school would be my first choice if I had children and I would give anything to be able to offer this environment to the staff and students of any school.