Near the end of February my Assistant Principal and I went on a series of learning walks or walkthroughs with a focus on classroom rules and norms of working. We spent a short time in each classroom listening to students and teachers talking, we looked around the room for anchor charts teachers and students had constructed to see if school values had been unpacked with students and some goals identified and finally asked some students questions on the expectations they had of each other when working. These photos taken on one of the walks clearly show the consistency between classrooms.
This year with Kath Murdoch’s guidance we planned a whole school unit on learning to learn. These units gave us a second starting point, the first being our school values, for working on our agreed norms or rules. The senior school looked at the way the brain works whilst the junior school focused on preferred ways and conditions for learning. The photos below school samples from the junior school:
Our aim is to set up the conditions necessary for learning in each classroom.
However is this enough?
We suspected our senior students were saying no – its not! Student surveys completed by our seniors over the years had indicated students felt safe and connected to their peers but not fully engaged with teachers or the learning environment. Sure our overall academic results were well above state and national benchmarks but something was blocking significant improvement.
So we have brought in Margaret Armstrong, a fellow of the Winston Churchhill Memorial Trust to use restorative justice practices so that children learnt to verbalise and use their emotional intelligence so that they could more fully engage with learning. I participated in one of Marg’s sessions with the students joining their circle and hearing their stories.
I was particularly taken with one of Margaret’s strategies where she got students to write what was blocking them [other students putting them down, some group exclusion however subtle, not really knowing their peers] which she read out [no names]. She then rolled the paper up and tied it with elastic bands and this became the “talking stick” which, when passed around the circle, gave students permission to say what’s
on their minds. The stick passed around the circle a few times as students answered some questions about themselves and their peers. At the end of the session the students made some commitments to each other which was to be followed up next week Then came a cathartic exercise as students ripped the sheets of blockers [talking stick] to pieces symbolising the end of that behaviour.
I’m looking forward to next weeks session to see what has changed.