Last week 16 teachers from schools in Denmark who had been sponsored by the Lego Foundation visited our school, XP and Greentop Primary. They were interested in setting up schools based around ‘Project Based Learning’ (similar to what we adopt at XP) and wanted to see these approaches in action.
After visiting Crews during the morning, our Danish visitors were immediately struck by the quality of conversations that were taking place between our students. Some of them were seemingly astonished at our students’ ability to articulate quite sophisticated responses within their everyday conversations. They were also impressed with the intimate nature of Crew in general (don’t forget, Crew revolves around having one adult to thirteen students.)
One of the Danish teachers fedback to me about how students in one Crew were talking about a recent instance of disappointing behaviour from one of the members of the group. The teacher spoke passionately about how one boy had to explain the circumstances surrounding examples of his recent poor behaviour, and how he sincerely apologised to the rest of the Crew. The Danish teacher went on to explain the power of what he had just seen:
‘…there’s nothing like this in Denmark. I can’t believe how one student had to account for his behaviour, and how others gave him advice on how to avoid the situation that he had put himself in… it was remarkable!’
One of the reasons that explains why standards in behaviour are so good at our school is because it is often challenged from students within our community itself. Discussions in our whole school and year team community meetings are held where students use their voice to appreciate others, apologise for their mistakes and make stands against things they are unhappy with – and this includes any instances of poor behaviour. As a result, students are accountable to each other and not just to teachers like in so many other schools. This is where the power of the approach lies: the traditional paradigm across the majority of schools in the UK is that bad behaviour is addressed by the staff alone, and not the community or individual students that were initially harmed. We do things differently by attempting to improve behaviour, instead of merely punishing it.
Students are never asked to apologise publicly – yet apologies take place publicly and privately every day during Crew, and community meetings. If you’re an adult reading this, could you imagine doing that in one of your assemblies all those years ago? You know, actually having to account for your actions instead of just being told off by a teacher? Just being told off is the easy bit right? Facing up to, and truly understanding the consequences of your behaviour, has the power to positively influence children and adults for the better. I believe that some schools choose the easy and most efficient route first: sanctions and punishments over sincere attempts to remedy and improve ‘behaviour’ in its widest sense. Our school has consequences for making bad choices, but they are designed (wherever possible) to encourage reflection, rectify the situation and put things right.
It needs to be said at this point, that as a staff we publicly appreciate others, apologise for our mistakes and make stands – what’s good for our kids, is good for our staff!
Later on in the day, the same visitor’s final remark to me as he walked through the main school exit was ‘…you have a wondrous school Jamie, thank you.’