5 Takeaways from the Positive Schools Conference in Sydney
If you didn’t get the chance to attend the Positive Schools Conference this year here are some quick takeaways. Common themes were the importance of school connectedness, positive relationships and student and staff wellbeing.
- Ita Buttrose gave the opening keynote on the second day and encouraged us to reflect on the teacher who had the most positive effect on our lives. Who was it that inspired you to do the best, to be the best and motivated you to achieve? For those of us who are teachers, who was it that moved you to consider a teaching career?
She reminded us that as 21st Century Learners, our students have information at their fingertips. Education is a life-long process and we want our students to enjoy learning, to value innovation and creativity, to appreciate diversity and to become effective citizens. For ways to engage students in the learning see here.
- Positive School Culture. Dr Helen Street talked about creating the ‘glue’ that keeps students connected to the school, to the learning, to the community. As social beings our students need to feel connected through liking and having positive regard for the teachers and each other. When students feel connected to school, they feel proud and have a strong sense of belonging and follow the social norms of the group.
In primary school, a student’s popularity is determined by whether or not the teacher likes them.
In high school, how much the students like you will determine how well they follow your directions.
Dr Street emphasised the fact that group cohesion must be deliberately and overtly developed by:
- Focusing on cooperative activities over competitive
- Providing opportunities for collaboration
- Focusing on learning not achieving (reference to Carol Dweck’s work on mindset)
- Giving students choice and control
- Incorporating celebration and humour.
- Deciding the goals and aims of the class by having class meetings
- Giving students a voice in how the class is run.
Side note on Social Norms: The unwritten rules of the classroom are the social norms. When behaviour starts to develop and is repeated, social norms are taking over (e.g. the class can be as noisy as they like until the teacher yells). For ways to develop a positive school culture read here.
- Relationships matter. Justin Robinson from the Geelong Grammar Wellbeing Team reminded us that student-teacher relationships are among the most important predictors of engagement and achievement success and then asked the question,
“Do you spend more time on curriculum planning or more time relationship building?”
When students from the school were asked what qualities they appreciated in their teachers they wrote about teachers:
- Going above and beyond expectations
- Making class fun
- Approachability and emotional guidance: knowing students and being known
For students who are consistently disruptive or off-task, consider that they may not fit in or know how to belong.
Work to build a relationship with them by:
- Refraining from isolating them more (they already don’t feel part of the group)
- Giving them a leadership role in the class
- Giving them a job
- Listening to them and reflect their feelings
- Using 2 X 10 strategy
- Raising their profile by giving them positive attention
Look up Denise Quinlan’s article 24 Ways to Like a Difficult Child. It provides ways of identifying the student strengths to help build positive relationships.
4. Student Voice. Linda Graham (Associate Professor QUT) talked of the importance of hearing the students.
When students in a behaviour unit were asked what they wanted from their teachers they asked that teachers:
- Have time for them
- Help them
5. Student achievement and well-being. Maggie Dent provided interesting statistics:
|Timeframe||% of students with developmental delays|
|20 yrs ago||5-10%|
|10 yrs ago||15%|
To address these issues we need to:
- Create a safe, positive class environment
- Develop a sense of connectedness through: pair/ share, partner work, circle time, class song and specific feedback
- Give students a voice in creating class expectations
- Learn to fail or fail to learn (Ben Tal Shahar)
- Develop ‘Passion Persistence Practice’
- Provide effective feedback
- Teach students about the brain and how they learn