Principal’s Blog – The King’s Culture

This week we had a candidate in for a Maths teacher for next year. After touring the school, teaching a lesson and observing family dining one of the questions she asked was ‘how do you get these students to behave like this?’. This was a classic example of the small black dot in the big white square. We often spend our days focused on that one ATL3 we gave, or the student talking in line-up whereas a visitor sees what an amazing culture we have created. This week, I’d like to look at two questions, how have we at King’s Bolton created this learning culture? And why is this so important?

The answer I gave to the Maths candidate as to how this learning culture is created and maintained, can be boiled down to a few key reasons:

  1. Sweating the small stuff
    1. Staff at King’s see the value in challenging the smallest details (an undone top bottom, a missing ruler) because they know the larger impact they may have. Often described as the ‘broken pane’ theory- where New York tackled a huge amount of their anti-social behaviour issues during the late 1980’s by fixing broken windows, cleaning up graffiti and making the communities nicer places to be therefore reducing crime.
  2. High Expectations
    1. In most circumstances, children act like a gas and expectations act like a container – the former will expand to fill the space of the latter. At King’s we are aiming for immaculate behaviour, not good behaviour or ‘that’ll do behaviour’. Students will rise to those expectations, so we set them high.
  3. Consistency
    1. At King’s we apply the rules consistency, we make sure students know what is expected of them, the rationale behind this and the consequences for their behaviour. We have centralised systems in place which mean that all students, and staff, are treated equally.
  4. See it, Own it, Do it
    1. Building a strong culture is down to every single person, both student and adult in this organisation. We each have a part to play and every time we allow poor behaviour to happen without appropriately challenging it we are telling the students this is ok and making it twice as hard for the next member of staff. Remember the story about the caretaker working at NASA in the 1960’s, when asked ‘what do you do here?’ he responded ‘I’m helping to put a man on the moon!’. It is about ownership and leadership.
  5. Narrating the why
    1. Students need to know the consequences of their actions, both good and bad, and understand why sanctions and rewards are in place. At King’s this forms the backbone as to how we manage behaviour.
      1. Challenge behaviour
      1. Seek an apology (if appropriate)
      1. ‘Narrate the why’
      1. Refer back to the values
      1. Link to their flight-path
      1. Wipe the slate clean and move on
  6. Supporting each other
    1. As mentioned above we all have a part to play and responsibility to create a strong and effective culture for our students to learn in. If someone is struggling with this they need support not admonishment. The SLT and myself are there to support staff to do this, our doors are always open!

So that’s the theory, this does not happen, even with the best intentions, all the time, but it is what we aspire to each and every day in all our interactions.

Finally, why is this creating this learning culture so important? There are many answers to this question. It ensures that all students are allowed to learn, free from disruption and that teachers can focus on imparting and embedding knowledge and not on managing behaviour. However, it also goes deeper than this, we are normalising appropriate behaviour to our students, inside and outside of the classroom. The real challenge comes next, how do we work with parents and the wider community to ensure students maintain this behaviour outside of the school gates, be positive forces in the local area and become successful citizens?