What was your school like before relational practice?

It was April 2022 when I was sat in our pastoral office at Spire Junior School awaiting the inspectors feedback at the end of a section 5 (2 day inspection). The school is situated in the centre of Chesterfield in an area of high deprivation (It is amongst the top 5 % of areas for crime deprivation and the top 1% for income deprivation, with 55% of children eligible for Free School Meals).

I felt the inspection had gone well and our curriculum based on authentic outcomes had been a strength, but it was the discussion between the two inspectors on behaviour that brought a tear to my eye. “This is a school built on relationships..with practice that should be shared”. I’ve been at the school for 6 years and behaviour at the start was a real challenge..children walking out of class, being rude to staff and physical violence was not uncommon. I remember thinking how do we change this?

What triggered the change?

I firmly believe that if you tell and show children you love them and care for them then this can have a huge impact on behaviour. I remember on my first day sharing the Rita Pierson video “Every Child Needs a Champion” with staff, and I also began my time at the school by introducing a no shouting policy.

It was during my first year when I came across Paul Dix’s book ‘When adults change, everything changes’, straight away I could see our school in his stories and it provoked lots of thinking of next steps.

We built our behaviour policy around his book and theory with our Building Blocks of Behaviour:

  1. Consistent, calm adult behaviour
  2. First attention for best conduct
  3. Relentless Routines
  4. Scripting difficult interventions
  5. Restorative follow-up

What were the expectations/hopes?

We hoped that we could create a calm school build upon kindness and positive relationships.

What happened – what have you done, how did it pan out?

  1. We stay calm
  2. We focus on the positives and praise children. We have our weekly gold award assemblies when we talk about 1 child from each class who has been amazing and their parents are secretly invited into assembly so they can hear the lovely words about their child. These children also then have hot chocolate and cake with the head. We send postcards home every week to children who have gone ‘over and above’. Teachers have 30 minutes a week directed time to telephone parents and most of this is spent using it a ‘putting emotional currency in the bank’ by phoning home to tell parents how amazing their child has been. We start each day with a smile and a welcome at the door.
  3. Relentless routines – We ensure the day is structured well and children are supported, knowing what the day ahead looks like. Classrooms have their own routines such as signals for quiet or tidying the classroom. Calming music is often on in classrooms to support children focussing etc.
  4. Staff deal with things in a consistent manner – and in a way that doesn’t embarrass the children. Timely reminders are delivered as part of quiet conversation to ensure children are on task. If they need time out to finish their work then there is always a space in a partner classroom – where the child will be supported and not judged.
  5. When a child has a crisis, once they’ve been supported to calm down then there will be a restorative conversation to repair the relationship.

There are huge gaps in children’s development as we come out of the other side of the pandemic and we’ve worked hard to support these. Having a ‘Spire Pledge’ where we ensure children will have a residential, a curriculum visit and a wider cultural visit during the school year which last year was fully funded. Children haven’t just missed out on their education, they’ve missed out on their childhood.

We’ve adapted our curriculum to ensure learning leads to authentic outcomes such as taking over empty shops in the town centre to create a pop up museum of our learning, launching our own book showcasing the children’s work, having a market stall, hosting our own pride of chesterfield awards or working with

Chatsworth House and a sculptor from America in creating a piece of art in which every child contributed. We want our children to meet people from other walks of life and other industry sectors so that our children can dream about their own futures and then work hard towards their dreams.

We set up a ‘gameboard library’ where children took a board game home on a Friday to play with their families and practice both their oral skills as well as improving their patience and turn taking.

We’ve set up a nurture group to support those children who require extra support with their social and emotional skills so that they can fully access the curriculum.

What was easy, what was hard?

Was the journey easy? No.

Was the journey and approach worth it? You bet it was.

We pride ourselves on supporting children to succeed – kindness can overcome any barrier. We are proud to work and be part of TeamSpire.

Where are you now?

I’m proud of the way we support our children and show them that we care about them. We big up their achievements and celebrate each other. One of the highlights of my week is taking the children who win ‘Gold Award’ in assembly (with their parents secretly invited) for a hot chocolate and a slice of cake in the afternoon.

All staff have 30 minutes a week to write postcards home to a few children to praise their efforts and to make positive phone calls to build up the emotional currency with parents.

It gives me great pleasure to walk around Spire now, a school where children care for each other, support each other and welcome visitors into our school…the children’s manners are impeccable. I’m proud to say we’ve taken many children excluded from other settings, but have never excluded a child ourselves.

What advice would they give to others?

To persevere…the road can be tough but the rewards are better than you could ever imagine.

Any other comments:

The ‘When adults Change, behaviour changes’ book transformed my thinking and our approach to behaviour management. It has transformed our school and, as a result, the quality of education we offer our children.