Everyone aboard for emotional literacy
Back at school after Highland Council's Learning Festival, the head of Raigmore Primary has been fielding emails about her presentation.
Highland teachers want to hear more from Moira Leslie after her talk on her school's journey to emotional literacy. Pupils call it "growing up from the inside".
By popular demand, Mrs Leslie gave a dozen back-to-back sessions during the two-day festival, organised by the council to highlight Curriculum for Excellence and showcase good practice. More than 2,000 teachers from across the Highlands attended 130 seminars at Dingwall Academy. Now they want to visit Raigmore and are asking for reading lists. There's already talk of another session to respond to their interest.
Sitting in her office with playground noise beyond, Mrs Leslie says concern about pupils with parents in the armed forces encouraged the school to embark on this journey more than three years ago (TES, November 28, 2008).
"We have a lot of children from armed forces families in the school and so families would be leaving regularly. We noticed some children coped better than others with the moving," says Mrs Leslie.
Soldiers serving in the Black Watch have recently been returning to this community from Afghanistan. It's a tremendously exciting time for their children at this school, who must have felt anxious during a high-profile conflict far from home.
Service families may have inspired the impetus for change here, but the shift in priorities is geared for every child, regardless of background, and it's producing results.
"What we are hoping is that children will be able to recognise their own feelings without allowing them to swamp them or influence their relationships with other people," says the Highland headteacher.
The janitor and clerical staff are also on board, with teachers and a group of parents, learning more about how to identify and manage their own feelings and developing greater sensitivity to others.
School begins each morning with an "emotional check-in" to find out how everyone is feeling and an upbeat song to get everyone in the mood for work. "That emotional check-in is extremely powerful, because it then allows the children to say, `OK, I'm in school now, I can leave my worries.' It could be `My granny's gone to hospital and I am a bit worried' or `My daddy's working away from home' or `Mummy's gone to have her baby today and I am really excited about it'," says Mrs Leslie.
When this is repeated with a three-minute check-in after lunch and breaks, social objectives like sharing are set and children are encouraged to be aware of others' needs.
"So when they come back in, they will say `John was really good because he was sharing his game with someone' or `Katie was on her own so I went across to play with her.'"
Before going home, children relax. Younger pupils stretch out on the floor for deep-breathing exercises, older ones stay in their chairs. Everyone thinks of something they've achieved that day, whether it's maths or eating all their cabbage. Children arrive home with something to smile about.
Discussions are under way now about developing emotional literacy education for secondary pupils.
"Some people think emotional literacy is a bit airy-fairy, that it's only for schools where there are behaviour issues or high-tariff children who can't cope with mainstream. It's not. It's about nourishing every single member of staff and every pupil in the school," says Mrs Leslie.
"We believe here that investing in the pupils as human beings - as opposed to just pupils - is a real investment in them. There were fears with some of our colleagues that if you invested time in dealing with emotions, it would somehow take away from the pupils' academic achievement. Actually, the opposite happens."
There's a strong staff ethos in this school and the headteacher believes that apparently minor changes are producing powerful results for children: "More positive attitudes about themselves, more confidence in sharing their feelings and being open with us, and therefore more confidence in actually not letting their feelings swamp them."
As we prepare to head out into darkening afternoon skies, Mrs Leslie has an afterthought:
"Don't go away with the idea everything is rosy in Raigmore Primary - we still have our moments," she smiles.