During my last visit, 2010, we had sowed seeds with the secondary teachers by me running some circle time sessions with senior students – but this second visit was to explicitly spend more time building on this foundation. Lets face it we all know that most secondary teachers throughout the world are operating within an overcrowded curriculum, a climate of Draconian inspections, with very little teacher training on active groupwork where the process of PSHE ie; explicitly to give time to debate and reflect, has been squeezed out of the curriculum and target setting has taken its toll on the universal psyche of secondary teachers. For someone like me to bounce in, asking them to become enthusiastic tutors, PSHE advocates and vibrant and lively subject teachers is like offering the kiss of ‘pastoral care’ death!
This is the group of 6th formers I worked with to train them to be circle time volunteers to work with the Year 7’s
Still, bounce in I did – but, as ever, it wasn’t me that mellowed, convinced and eventually inspired the teachers – it was the young people themselves. Always, always the only approach that works in teacher training for me in secondary schools is for the teachers to sit ‘goldfish-bowl’ style for over an hour around me working in a circle with young people. The student’s eyes are inwards after 5 minutes so they forget who is observing them. The pedagogy of circle time is designed for emotional safety – young people understand this immediately and open up in a special way and all the teachers, in all the schools I work in, say they’ve never seen their pupils engage in that particular way before. Very soon they are raising school and relationship issues in a very respectful way, debating directly and sensitively with each other, in a very solution-focussed positive way. Young people’s minds are stunning in their sharpness and alacrity – and at the same time they have an enormous generosity of spirit! Also, because young people have huge energy it needs to be channelled into them creating a safe learning community on which they can rely for support and not to use negatively to sabotage their academic and emotional growth. So, as ever, the circle worked its magic both inside and outside. The students evaluated it highly – but more importantly, the hard-working ‘can’t bear to take on another thing’ teachers were reconnected to what drew them into teaching in the first place; a genuine liking for young people. Hope and curiosity were aroused, ‘what if we tried ….’ sentence stems were heard. You could hear attitudes shifting and shuffling, but quite rightly the teachers want to know that if they take this initiative on will management offer support, time and training. In their case the senior management team, because of the success of the model in their primary school and the parents’ commitment to it – actively want it to become a whole school approach to social and emotional intelligence.
This is the beauty of the potential of international schools, extended schools and possibly academies – they could offer children a continuity of vision from the nursery to year 13. It is truly possible to give a child a continuum of school experience that is seamless, with themselves at the centre, which allows them to perceive all adults and children as sharing the same values. It just takes huge commitment and inspirational leadership – both from the senior management teams and the circles of children – harnessing these together is the key to success.
So good luck to St Paul’s school. We are on a journey – with kindness and gentleness and regular circle time for the adults – we will all, young people, parents, teachers, admin, catering and support staff, see ourselves as part of one listening school.
Web Manager’s Note
Jenny wrote this whilst on a conference trip for South American schools to Brazil. Jenny first visited St. Paul’s School in Sao Paulo. Jenny participated in the school’s first ever education conference entitled “Educating to keep Pace with Change” and was amongst other key international speakers including Carol Ann Tomlinson, Dylan Williams, Mark Church and Margaret MacLean. Jenny went on to train in several schools in Brazil. This blog is one five juicy segments of Jenny’s Brazilian blog.
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