Supporting wellbeing in early learning
4 August 2020
In the second of the Education Gazette’s video series on wellbeing, we visit Epuni Kindergarten in Lower Hutt
Tier 1: The foundation. Looks at support systems and processes across the whole school – things that impact on all students and adults.
Tier 2: Looks at interventions for students who require additional behavioural and learning support.
Tier 3: Looks at more individualised and intensive support for students who experience chronic, severe and challenging behaviour.’
WGHS is something of a newcomer to the world of PB4L School Wide; they’ve been working through the first tier of their journey for the past two years. Last year, school leaders were involved in a series of training workshops. They’re now inquiring into the systems that underpin the school, which will inform the development of systems designed to support the PB4L ethos.
But how do we define that ethos? Education Gazette asked WGHS deputy principal Adrienne Lambeth and guidance counsellor/PB4L coach Jenny Corlet for their thoughts. What do we mean by ‘positive behaviour’, and how does that contrast with our idea of ‘negative behaviour’?
“For us, it’s all about acknowledgement,” says Adrienne. “It’s a widely used word here at WGHS – we steer away from the word ‘reward’.”
Jenny says it’s also about balancing the attention ledger. Traditionally, much attention and effort has been spent combatting behaviour that’s less than constructive. Jenny says that we need to acknowledge those students, who may previously have slipped under the radar, who should be recognised for the simple fact that they work hard and exhibit behaviour that contributes to the school.
“We wanted to be able to acknowledge those students who do what we anticipate them doing, but often, in the past, haven’t necessarily received any recognition for that.
“We’re trying to create an environment where those that contribute to the school get as much if not more attention as do those who exhibit negative behaviour.
“The classroom is really important too, so those students who keep themselves busy, who get on and are engaged in learning, and show themselves to be resilient learners – we try to acknowledge them as much as possible. It’s not about what your results are, it’s about the process.”
So there’s clearly some robust work going on at WGHS designed to correct the imbalance of attention that is given to negative behaviour, but that doesn’t mean challenging behaviour is going to go away altogether. Again, taking a schoolwide approach means delving into systems review and examining existing approaches, and how they could be improved by the application of the PB4L framework.
Jenny says there’s been a lot of discussion around consistent responses.
“One of the biggest things for us has been a strong systems review around our pastoral care, and about how we respond to negative behaviour.
“The systems we’re talking about are how we manage difficult behaviours in the classroom. We’ve been doing lots of professional development with staff around engagement of students, and how to manage what we call ‘minor behaviours’.
“For the teachers, the message is consistency in approaches to behaviour that might require that next intervention step. We’re talking about the need to make our responses very transparent, in terms of the steps that may, or will be taken in response to challenging behaviour.”
In keeping with the idea behind the school-wide approach, WGHS last year made the official launch of their PB4L programme a day that staff, students, whānau, and the community could all be a part of.
They began with an assembly attended by invited guests from contributing schools, as well as the Ministry’s regional PB4L trainer Max Gold. WGHS principal Tracy Walker spoke about what PB4L at the school meant, what its goals are, and what it will look like in practice.
Senior students had put together a video presentation about PB4L and what it means to them, which was also shown at the assembly.
The students then broke into groups according to their four houses. Each of these took the behavioural expectations that had been drafted by staff and students – ‘respectful, responsible, resilient’ – and went away to work on visual representations.
One group created a tree, where the leaves represented the expectations staff and students collectively place upon themselves; another of the groups created leaves, which they hung from actual trees; the third group created a jigsaw to symbolically communicate that there are many pieces to the school puzzle which aims to become a harmonious whole; the fourth group created a photo collage that demonstrated positive behaviours.
After the hard work was done, the entire community came together, cut a cake and tucked into a barbecue lunch to celebrate new beginnings.
The PB4L School Wide framework is designed to be just that: a structure which is made complete by crafting the programme to the individual needs of the school and its community. Jenny says that history had much bearing in creating a unique flavour to the scheme at WGHS.
“Because our school was founded in 1887, we have quite a history behind us. We wanted that to be a part of how everything was going to work. So I guess really, we included that in the way we’ve ‘branded’ the whole thing. We wanted the school colours of red, black, and gold; we have a song that talks about our school and talks about the braided Waitaki River, so that became a part of the symbolic design.
“We have a cartoon character mascot also, called Dulcie, which comes from our motto ‘Dulcius ex arduis’ – satisfaction from working hard. We’ve turned this into a first level of acknowledgement: Dulcie cards. These are the ‘free and frequent acknowledgement’ component called for by the PB4L framework. Dulcie cards are signed when students exhibit behaviour consistent with the expectation that is the focus for that week, or weeks. Six signatures are required to complete the card, which then goes into a prize draw, held three times a term for each year level.”
Arriving at the three WGHS expectations – respectful, responsible, resilient – was a consultative process that involved the entire community, says Adrienne.
“To start with, the consultation process began with staff, and then we included students. We tried to look at it from both angles. The students were invaluable in terms of crafting the language for our expectations, for example, as was the feedback of parents, which we sought from the beginning of this process.”
Part of the PB4L ethos is that students are not the only ones who need to be held to expectation, says Adrienne.
“We’ve had lots of teacher-only day discussions around how we, as staff, can be respectful, responsible, and resilient.
“We talked about modelling the expectations we need from students, as part of the lesson plan.
“Particularly with our senior students, we’re saying to them that they need to be models of behaviour. We’re always linking to them the fact that these are social skills that are expected from them as adults, and that they will take forward into the community.
“The message they’re getting is ‘you have responsibility; we’re on the same team.”
In the Far North centre of Kaitaia, Craig Benjamin is PB4L coach at Kaitaia Intermediate. Compared with WGHS, Craig and his team are a fair bit further down the track on their PB4L School Wide journey: the school is in its fourth year of implementation, having recently taken the leap into Tier 2 of the scheme, which seeks to upskill teachers in targeting the group of students who fall somewhere between the ‘compliant majority’, as Craig calls them, and the ‘tiny tail’ of students exhibiting seriously challenging behaviour.
The group that Tier 2 focuses on exhibits moderately challenging behaviour and can typically make up around 10 to 15 per cent of the student population.
Before embarking on this next step though, Craig and the team wanted to look backwards before looking forwards, and assess the effectiveness of their efforts to embed the systemic changes that make up Tier 1.
The school conducted a benchmark SET quality assessment, which Craig says the school also did really well in, giving all staff the confidence to move into Tier 2 knowing that PB4L was now a foundation principle of the school.
Students that Tier 2 of the School Wide programme seeks to help are those who aren’t applying themselves or engaging as well as might be expected. This section of the student population is identified through robust data collection and analysis.
Now that this group has been identified at Kaitaia Intermediate, Craig and the staff are implementing strategies. One strategy that’s ‘on the ground’ already is the ‘check in, check out’ system, which seeks to track what time students arrive at and leave school.
“Check in check out’ is kind of like an attendance behaviour plan with a PB4L focus; keeping everything in a positive frame of mind, and making sure it’s data driven, says Craig.
“The strategy only works with a certain group of children; for example those who are motivated to seek adult attention. We’ve had some really great training with the providers. One of the training providers will then be coming up later on in the year to give us some training on functional behaviour analysis, which will enable us to look at other Tier 2 strategies.”
Craig says that, as he’s been around the education scene for a long time, he’s seen many theory-driven initiatives aimed at correcting challenging behaviour come and go – sometimes it’s hard to put too much stock into the latest education ‘fad’, he says. Which means that Craig’s wholehearted endorsement of the PB4L approach should make school leaders sit up and take notice.
“The reason we’re in PB4L for the long haul is that, so far, every promise that’s been made to us, on the integrity and efficacy of this programme, has been borne out. We’ve been told by the providers, ‘do this properly, and you will have a reduction of up to 70 per cent in incidence of negative behaviour, within that Tier 2 group of children’.
“You might say that I’m a bit of an old fashioned teacher in some ways – or at least I have been. Sometimes I’m a bit cynical about new ideas! But when this [PB4L School Wide] was pitched, I really invested into it, because there’s such a wealth of data and evidence to support it. The truth is, we believe that PB4L will work for us long term, if we do it properly. You’ve got to make sure your building blocks are solid. If your Tier 1 foundation gets rickety, everything else will fall too. ”
Craig says also that the process of data collection and analysis has been revelatory in itself, as it’s shone a light on areas that previously no-one had ever thought to quantify. The data tells a story, says Craig, and connections can be plainly seen, where before no-one had joined the dots.
“We’re still getting data, and our data is really good. One challenge for us is that we’re gathering data that applies to behaviours that we’ve never focused on before.
“For example, children who turn up late to school: we started tracking that. Just by turning our attention to this, and asking the children about it, we’ve seen a marked drop in kids coming to class late.
“This in turn led us to calculate that this year we’ve lost quite a few teaching hours because children were turning up five or ten minutes late each day. But what we’ve found is that, by letting kids know that the school is paying attention to tardiness, truancy across the board has dropped.”
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that, for Craig, the PB4L approach – which can only, of course, have any effect with the buy-in, dedication, and hard work of staff members – has helped to revitalise Kaitaia Intermediate. Craig’s enthusiasm for the new approach – both of the school as a whole, and within his own teaching practice – is quite plain to see.
“The really cool thing is, you can walk around our playground these days, and there’s a really nice atmosphere. I’ve been at this school for 17 years, and, over these last couple of years, it’s been a real joy to be part of this environment.
“For example, the play I see at break time is so much more collaborative now. We’re trying to work out what’s happened to bullying at our school! In all honesty, the frequency of bullying at our school has absolutely plummeted, and we haven’t even focused on bullying specifically yet! [as part of PB4L].
“What we have focused on, coming out of our PB4L training – and again, I’ll admit to previously being a bit of an ‘old school’ teacher, in terms of how I speak, and how I addressed behaviours – is changing our language and our approach. These days, we don’t say ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’, we ask the student, ‘is what you just did responsible? Is that action respectful? Does your behaviour support what we’re trying to do as a school?’
“The children think about this and say, ‘well, no, it’s not’. That’s just so powerful for me. I certainly wasn’t reasoned with like that as a child!
“I think there’s been a ‘psychic’ change at our school, if you like, in how we connect with this process. I’m still watching the miracle unfold! I’m not going to say that PB4L is some kind of panacea, but we’re committing to this until we’ve got all of our tiers embedded.
“As I mentioned, some of us older teachers get a little bit suspicious and nervous about celebrating prematurely, but I honestly believe that PB4L isn’t just another education fad at all, it’s actually working, and we’re committed to seeing it through.”
BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, email@example.com
Posted: 9:53 pm, 21 September 2015
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