A behaviour policy that is no longer fulfilling its purpose cannot be ignored. But changing it is not for the faint-hearted: no other policy affects a school in quite the same way.
How we treat our students – particularly when they step out of line – epitomises the values and culture of a school. Get that right and you will build firm foundations for a strong learning community; get it wrong and you will likely experience discord and uncertainty.
So, when it became clear to me and my senior colleagues that our school’s behaviour policy needed to be replaced, we knew we were in for a bumpy ride. This type of change needs vision, takes courage and requires a bucketful of patience. Here’s how we managed the process.
First, you need to establish a clear vision of what you want to achieve. It is easy to lose sight of the rationale for change when faced with barriers, so keep bringing the benefits for learners and the school community to the fore. The greater your own understanding of what you are trying to do, the greater the buy-in will be from other staff.
Generating that buy-in is crucial because change is often considered synonymous with more work and monitoring. So don’t expect rousing applause at the announcement of a policy change. The answer doesn’t lie in establishing a behaviour policy in a senior leadership team meeting and then imposing it. Collaboration is the key to winning hearts and minds.
To enable this collaboration, we set aside periods of directed time to debate and agree preferred practices. Views on behaviour management are often rooted in an individual’s own experience and belief systems so, unsurprisingly, a number of conflicting opinions surfaced during this process. Not every staff member was in agreement, but at least everyone’s voice was heard, which made people more likely to feel invested in the final policy.
Get your message across
Once we’d drawn up our new policy, it was vital to communicate it in a clear and timely manner. The message was adjusted and delivered separately for each group of stakeholders, from pupils and parents to teachers, teaching assistants and lunch staff.
Over the next few months, the leadership team worked to model the new practices, while staff observed. We asked for their feedback and were open about admitting what we found difficult or got wrong. This built trust and made staff feel that it was OK to ask for support.
Patience was vital: it took at least an academic year for the new processes to become the norm. Messages needed to be repeated, preferred practices tweaked and misunderstandings addressed. However, taking a collaborative approach has helped to create a greater sense of community, with shared goals and values.
Deborah Harris is assistant headteacher at Wormley CE Primary School in Hertfordshire