Values Based Education – First steps

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Why we decided to adopt VbE

Each year we seem to try a different approach to our PSHCE curriculum and to date we’re still to find the right fit. We did SEAL for a few years and that was adequate, but merely adequate. The problem was it was very prescribed and and no one followed it as stipulated BUT the whole school themes and the assembly ideas bonded us from year 1 to 6 with a common language. Ultimately though it was too unwieldy and we looked for an alternative. We spent a few years just relying on assemblies and whatever happened to have gone wrong in the playground for our PSHE focus. Then last year we came out of the wilderness and used the ideas of Sean Covey, son of Stephen R Covey, and took the Seven habits of happy kids and some aspects of the US leader in me programme. http://www.amazon.co.uk/7-Habits-Happy-Kids/dp/1847384315

Although American and quite cheesy in parts the children responded well and began to use the language of the habits in school and at home. Parents were informed of our approach and some even went online and purchased the books that accompanied the programme. It was a successful year but I didn’t feel the programme had the scope to repeat so again I was looking for something new an inspirational to fill the void and meet of schools unique needs.

I have already spoken in previous posts about the new curriculum leading to many changes and how we, as a primary team, decided we needed to focus more on the skills needed for society in our school curriculum. In our discussions we identified the need for more work in the area of values and moral choices. Although identified as an issue for the children if you were in our staffroom on occasion, the administration area when the photocopier breaks down or the dinner hall watching the dinner staff you’d know the adults still have a way to go in this area too! With this is mind I spent the summer researching approaches to values and came across

http://www.valuesbasededucation.com and the book From My Heart from Values based Education Trust founder Dr Neil Hawkes.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-My-Heart-Transforming-Through/dp/1781351066

Dr Neil Hawkes is an ex headteacher, adviser and all round passionate individual who truly believes that the future of humanity depends on our children having strong values. He also believes these values should be taught throughout school as well as in the home. He is inspirational and extremely accessible and the more I researched the more I became a fan and a believer!!

You can also watch Neil talking at

Neil’s approach to embedding values into the school curriculum was such a simple idea and I could see so many opportunities to get children and staff excited about values and using the language of values. I also really liked the idea that VbE isn’t just about children but the whole school community, including parents and governors.

The Values Based Education Trust (VbET) also have many quality marked schools that are happy to share their experiences of embedding values in their schools. You can find them here http://www.valuesbasededucation.com/quality_mark_schools.html

It’s always a challenge to find face to face or even voice support for new developments working in Spain but while I was looking for a possible school to ask to visit I found a VbE workshop was taking place in the UK near to where my parents live. Best of all it was a free workshop! I got in touch with Nigel Cohen at VbET and he kindly organised for me to attend. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more about VbE at the end of September and in turn sharing this with staff.

I wanted to begin the process of embedding values at the start of term so I had to rely on my own research to introduce it and get started. This was also when I struck gold and saw this blog entry from Andrew Cowley http://newdht.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/building-values-based-education.html

It was great to know someone had the same plans as me for the year ahead and had introduced it to staff already. I contacted Andrew and he very kindly shared everything he had with me for which I am extremely grateful.

The staff session

Values based education was an easy sell due to the fact that it addressed many of the the issues we had raised as a staff at the end of the previous term. Staff we on side from the outset.

In this first session before any discussion it’s important to share Neil’s definition of what a value is “ A Value is a principal that defines our actions and behaviour

Once the theory was over I used the two questions that Andrew had used to focus staff on a discussion about values.

1. Can you think of 5 people who embody postive values?

2. Can you think of 5 positive and 5 negative values prominent in today’s society?

These questions were excellent and generated some brilliant observations of society and the behaviours that adults and students exhibit because of the values that society encourages. The discussions really opened up the language of values and made us all look deeper into our own values and actions. We could all see that we too needed to be more mindful of our values on a day to day basis.

And so it begins – after much polite discussion!!!

Our first 10 values are:

September -Politeness and Manners

October – Respect

November- Charity

December- Empathy and Conpassion

January – Positivity

February . Resilience and Determination

March – Courage

April – Caring for the environment

May- Forgiveness

June- Friendships and Relationships

Introducing values to the children

I introduced the idea of values in key stage assemblies and was very careful to pitch the concept at the level of the children I was addressing. I was really pleased with the children’s thinking during the assembly and they gave some wonderful answers to my questions.

“My mum has the value of love because she cares for me and makes me feel happy inside” Year 1 child

” My friend Carlos shows the value of friendship because he always plays with me and shares his things” Year 2 child

” I admire Nelson Mandela for his values. He valued equality and peace because he wanted everyone to be the same  and not fight” Year 4 child

” I think Jesus had good values because he cared about other people more than himself so he had the value of sacrifice and modesty” Year 6 pupil

Once the children had, like the adults in the staff meeting, started using the language of values I introduced the grand plan for values education and explained our first value.

We decided that the children showing values should be celebrated so we have a values tree in the entrance hall for all to see and when the children consistently show values or do something special related to values they are given a leaf to help our tree grow stronger. Children can also give each other and adults leaves for the tree.

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Finally for the first steps I have introduced VbE to the whole school team using a personally addressed letter to each member of support staff. They too can give students leaves for our tree. Parents will also receive details of the VbE project and will be asked to participate.

On Reflection

I would have very much liked to have involved parents and other members of staff in the initial decision about our first year Values but time was against us. I do however plan to involve parents in the evaluation of the process and I intend to canvas them on the second years values which will make our school values complete.

The Early Impact

Within the first few days I have seen more polite language being used but best of all I have heard the children speaking about values with each other and other members of the school.

Some examples:

While I was covering a year 4 class art lesson the children were busy working on their Picasso self portriats and one girl asked a boy on her table for the brown. She asked in a rather abrupt manner ” Give me the brown now!” The boys response ” That wasn’t very polite, I think you should remember our Value this month is Politeness and I think you’ll find you were missing something from the end of that sentence” Upon which the girl put her hand over her mouth and said ” Ohh yes, sorry. Please could you pass me the brown thanks” The boy passed the brown and said “There you go and thank you for asking so nicely!”

I was so pleased to hear this conversation and I know without the values focus it would not have happened.

In another conversation the day after the one above I gave a PSHCE lesson with the same year 4 class. It was all about the language of politeness. At the end of the lesson a boy, not normally known for his maturity or sharing of ideas, came to me and said. ” All those words and phrases we’ve throught of, I think you should type them up and laminate them and put them around the playground to remind people these are the words we should be using. Because it’s easy to be polite in class because you and the teachers can help us but when we are on the patio it’s really easy to forget”

I thought this was a great idea and I’ve invited the boy to come to my office on Monday and type the words up and laminate them himself to give him ownership of the idea. He was beeming as he walked away.

Both the children in question have a leaf on display recounting these moments.

Let’s hope week 2 of our journey continues to be as successful.

Resources for sharing- Please feel free to download and use these templates

Assemblies

Year 1 and 2 – Introduction to values and our first value of politeness

Values year 1 and 2

Year 3,4,5 and 6 – Introduction to vlaues and our first value of politeness

values intro KS2

Letter to non teaching staff about VbE and how they can support the development

Letter to staff

 

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Creativity what’s the point? Why choose to be more creative in your school?

 

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people” – Leo Burnett

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“Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.”

–James Russell Lowell

Creative learning is not about pure discovery learning it’s about teaching children enough, using creative and engaging strategies, in order for them to then think, question and enquire further to create an idea or thing using their creativity.

Why attack the principles of creative learning?

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of comments about namby pamby creativity and how creativity impinges pupils progress. It’s an issue I’m struggling with. I don’t see how if a school puts creative teaching and learning at the fore of its vision it can fail to have a positive impact . Now I may not have a doctorate or have carried out an action research project (yet) on the theme but I live every day as a head of primary and I am constantly observing, questioning and evaluating practice for impact. So during the last seven years in my current setting I’ve had enough experience of what works and not to make some judgements. These judgements are made in and about my setting;

  • A non selective primary school where 98% of students speak English as a second language.
  • We take children from age 2 to 11.
  • We follow the national curriculum for England
  • Some children are the age of the year below in England because of our January to December birth year entry system.

Our setting means we have to adjust the curriculum to suit our learners. The notion of school curriculum is essential for success and the development of children’s language, in order to communicate learning through thoughts and ideas, is our principal concern. Therefore developments in creative teaching and learning do impact on pupil learning and engagement because they are giving our pupils the opportunities they need to experience learning and the language they need to assimilate it. I do however believe what I know is not solely relevant to my school.

What should creativity look like in a school?

I also recently read an article about how labelling what creativity is and is not actually stifles creativity. I disagree, I believe it’s essential staff have a common understanding of what we are aiming for our children to experience in order to make sure a creative approach still challenges and meets the needs of all learners.

Maybe it is best to start with what it is not in my opinion:

It is not simply letting children simply play with resources vaguely linked to a subject

It’s not giving all subjects parity of teaching time

It’s not an opportunity to avoid challenge and differentiation

It’s not about children exclusively leading their own learning

It’s not about knowing every child’s preferred learning style and pandering to it

It’s not doing things in a certain way because that’s how we’ve always done them and someone once said it was creative

It’s not about saying there is no place for text books ever

It’s not about complete freedom but it’s not about doing exactly what you’re told all the time either!

It’s not anarchy although if you’re looking for a bit of fun this book gives some lovely creative starters! Tried and tested by my 3 year old!

So how do we teach creatively and develop enquiring minds? What is it that works?

It’s a common sense approach to teaching and learning.

It’s giving the children a real experience of what they are learning about in order for them to question and enquire further.

We need practice that allows children to live a learning experience before they can be expected to enquire about it or express creative opinions and ideas. Creativity is stimulated by children owning some knowledge, conveyed by a teacher, TA or expert adult, and then using their own logical enquiry and thinking skills to express creative ideas and reasoning to gain more knowledge independently.

For example- they need to visit a castle, walk around it and hear stories about the people who lived in the castle and the climate of that period in history before they can comment on:

  • Where is the best place to build a castle?
  • Why castles had draw bridges?
  • Why there are slit holes in the turrets?
  • Describe your day as a knight living in a castle.

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It’s teaching to engage learners

Cross curricular projects, the use of props, different media sources, outside speakers, song, dance, links with different countries…… I could go on but the best way to get creative ideas and motivate and inspire learners is through an interesting lesson

Text books can help practise knowledge but once that knowledge has stuck they need problems to solve to challenge and learn more and these must be problems they can get stuck right into.

It’s knowing your school is unique and embracing the school curriculum aspect of the new curriculum

You have to ignore what the crowd is doing and look only at your school and the children and community surrounding it. You must remember one size does not fit all and ensure your development priorities and teaching reflect this. I know I harp on about it but purposeful creativity, that will engage and inspire and have a lasting effect on pupils, will not exist in a school unless it adopts an inside out approach.

It’s having a flexible timetable

There’s a lot of pressure from parents and in some schools senior leadership to plan a weekly timetable that is followed for the whole year. This is a bad idea! Timetables must be flexible in order to allow teachers to respond to the needs of their children as the week goes on. Teachers also need to know they can choose to have a 3 hour art lesson if it suits their learning intentions. There’s nothing worse than getting the clay out and having to pack it all up after half an hour and then the following week get it out again and repeat the process, still without a complete creation and worse still using another 15 minutes to clean up AGAIN. I see the best results and the greatest satisfaction when I send a whole day on clay work and the children have a finished creation by the end of day. This why as well as a flexible timetable special days, special weeks, community projects, participating in school and other competitions, performances, day and residential trips and sporting activities longer than an hour should all be given a place in our curriculum.

It’s providing opportunities away from the classroom to act on ideas

As mentioned above trips are essential and the best trips link with the curriculum. A programme of residential trips that are adventure and environmental focused compliment PSHE and science learning. Trips should also be used to bring alive history learning our castle trip above is a case in point. Within the day the children experience castles through historical role play, they dress like people living in the castle and even eat their lunch as they would have done. Our best trip is a night away linked to the reading of Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuki’s kingdom. The children are taken to a field in an eco farm that we partner and they take part in a series of survival activities which include making their shelter to sleep in for the night, making fire with sticks and glass and cooking their food over an open fire. During the 24 hours to children have to use initiative and creativity- the tasks given to them mean they have no choice!

School clubs are also the sign of a creative school. They shouldn’t just be restricted to sport but embrace aspects we know are important in school but can’t always fit in. Clubs like sewing, photography, Minecraft, gardening and cooking are all curriculum enriching in a creative minded school.

It’s helping children to think independently and make choices

Don’t lock up resources ever! Children need to own their classrooms and know them like the back of their hands. They need to feel confident in leaving their seats to choose their own resources to use to solve problems.

Give children the chance to act on their ideas and lead the adults in the school. Never deny them the chance take an idea and grow it, you’ll be surprised just what a group of children can achieve.

It’s recognising all achievements

Children should be recognised for their ideas and not only rewarded for neatly presented written work afterall verbal and pictorial ideas communicate as much information and thoughts as written ideas. Sporting and artistic success in and out of school should be recognised both in class and in assemblies. Giving one child his/her certificate from an outside activity could turn another child on to an activity they never thought of but also raises the self esteem of the child receiving the certificate. The school should have a process for rewarding good work/effort in all areas of the curriculum.

Crucially celebrating achievements should ensure a variety of aspects are reported to parents. It’s about reporting on the gaining of life skills and special school moments unique to individuals not only academic subjects.

Look for chances to share with parents and the wider community whole school creativity and make every child a star. Exhibitions of work can be organised for any subject and are a fantastic way of celebrating creative output.

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It’s still about progress in learning

I don’t see being more creative in our teaching makes us any less accountable for pupil progress. Teacher’s should,as part of good teaching ensure they are keeping records of pupil’s progress against the objectives taught. They should be prepared to explain any lack of progress with evidence. However they should NEVER teach to a test for months of a school year.

In summary the points outlined in this post are my opinions and those that I use to lead the vision of creativity in my school. They appear to be working at this moment in time.

To conclude when I talk about creativity and a creative school I don’t believe that a teacher should specifically teach creativity. I believe that teaching in a creative way makes children more creative and more able to think for themselves.

Teaching by allowing children to enquire, think, experience, question and solve problems means they are being creative.

I truly believe creative minds are essential for success in the world as whatever changes are thrown at a person, a creative mind will cope with it.