Virtuous circle spreads school's feel-good factor

There is a song entitled "Let's Go Round Again" by the Average White Band that could be the anthem for teachers in schools. New ideas, schemes, methodology and theory are steadily rained upon us as persistently as a Scottish summer.

We all respond differently. Those who actually remember the band and have sat in staffrooms for many a long year can be heard to sigh: "This was tried in 1970, '74, '80 and '91, and it didn't change anything. So why again?"

Meanwhile, those who are angling for promotion - or just keen - leap upon the latest fad with great enthusiasm and little understanding. Those in the middle take on the elements that appeal to them and pretend to do the rest.

Most innovations fade a short time after the initial thrust of local authority "suggestion", in-service training and resourcing. If after a year things are still being used, then it is for one very good reason: it works.

This is why I, as a long-serving headteacher, am so enthusiastic on the whole school quality circle time model.

I heard talk many years ago that Jenny Mosley's circle time was amazing and the way forward. I gave my usual "I know what you are talking about" knowledgeable-but-vague nod and dived to the telephone to consult the learned brethren.

I then read and was impressed for many reasons, but mainly the emphasis on releasing excellence through building self-esteem for all within the school community. This is vital because people have to feel good about themselves in order to have the confidence to achieve, and that applies to us all.

So why does this model work? For children, the fact that there is a common language in place within an easily understood reward and sanction system gives them security and safe boundaries.

No longer do they have to guess what might happen, which saves them having to find out. When they change teacher, they know that life will basically be the same, as they will still be working within the school's golden rules.

Children love the weekly coming together to address personal issues in circle time, and recognise that this valuable class period gives them a forum and empowers them in many ways. Sometimes they just need to be listened to. Sometimes they can help and support others, as well as having fun.

Linked with circle time under the whole school model is golden time, a reward for children who have stuck to the school's golden rules. This special half-hour during the week allows them a choice of activities which can range from a class disco to parachute games, or inviting another class in to watch a video.

This is a huge success, as they strive hard not to lose golden time and appreciate the rewards for keeping the golden rules.

Teachers and other staff are pleased because there is a clear structure to work within. If schools have the entire model in place, the structure supports all working within it.

They also appreciate the fact that children do try hard to keep golden time and behaviour improves across the board. Hearing a challenging child make a genuine, helpful suggestion during circle time can be an uplifting experience that can change staff perceptions of the child.

Staff also enjoy the praise culture and golden time provides the opportunity to have positive time with the children without pressure.

The school management finds the model helpful in many ways. For instance, the records of loss of golden time kept by teaching staff can be used to support pleas for additional help for children who have lost their way.

Having a clear model means that if teachers have to speak to a child, they can ascertain how their week is going and how far down the sanction path they are merely by enquiring about their golden time. Analysis of records gives a crucial overview of individuals and classes, which helps greatly. Messages of praise and achievement can be carried throughout the school by display, through assemblies, staff meetings, individual conversations, stickers and certificates.

Parents who love to receive information on a regular basis see all of this very positively.

An environment is created that enables all within to thrive and grow. So, many years later, I know this is no short-lived fad but a marvellous way of life.

When I was discussing circle time one lunchtime with friends who also teach, a comment was made that sums up just how powerful circle time is: "I can't imagine ever not doing it."

Una Gillespie is headteacher of Cramond Primary in Edinburgh and a Jenny Mosley consultant. She is talking on Self-esteem of Children at 3pm on September 13

CIRCLE TIME TIPS

* Have your chairs set up in advance. This gives a positive well-organised start.

* Be in a good upbeat mood. Well, aren't you always?

* Put a sign up outside. This avoids any interruptions which can spoil continuity and atmosphere.

* Have fun: don't always tackle issues.

* If someone is not connecting, ask him or her to leave the circle for a short break. Play a couple of favourite games and watch them try desperately to rejoin.

* Have a system to enable good ideas to be shared and kept.

* Puppets are big favourites. Watch belief being suspended!

* Be prepared. Always have something ready to celebrate success.

* Ask to see colleagues doing circle time as part of your continuing professional development.

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