What was your school like before relational practice?

Before we adopted a system of relational practice like many primary schools we had a traffic light system, alongside a set of golden rules. Children who followed the rules stayed on green, those who needed a reminder moved their face to amber and then red. Amber and red slips were sent home at the end of the day. Children who had been on amber or red could then not take part in golden time activities and ‘green, prize at the end of term.

We also used dojo points within class, with children earning points for expected learning behaviours and took off points when the rules were not being followed.

We also had a team point system.

Stickers and certificates in celebration worship were given out on a weekly basis. This included –

  • Star of the week
  • Writer of the week
  • Marvellous Manners
  • Team points awards

What triggered the change?

The school was invited to take part in a research project within Lancashire. Our chosen project was to look at the advantages of relational practice and its benefits to improving behaviour in schools.
When the Adults Change was the basis for this project and our guide for our journey as a school.

Within school, we had noticed the children become apathetic to rewards. They wanted and expected bigger and better things each time. Teachers would work down the list for Star of the Week as a matter of course.

The same children stayed on green each day and the same children ended up on the red traffic light. The behaviour of the children did not change.

When we ask the children about our school rules they gave a wide range of responses. From being kind, to tucking your shirt in and not playing tig.

What were the expectations/hopes?

We want our children to be more prepared for life after primary school. The aim was for them to be intrinsically motivated to follow rules because it is the right thing to do, not because they would get a sticker or a dojo point.

We also wanted them to be more reflective of their behaviour. To know that it’s ok to make a mistake (we all do) but that it’s important to fix a broken relationship and be able to talk about why things happen.

In a post-Covid world we also wanted them to be more emotionally literate.

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

We began by removing all extrinsic rewards in two classes across both key stages. Recognition boards were also introduced in each of these classes.

After a trial period, we changed our whole school policy and removed all extrinsic rewards from school. We introduced recognition boards to all classes and now have three simple clear school rules.

Ready, Respect Safe. We now have a celebration worship on a Friday so that the children can share the work they have done in class with their peers and parents. This is not based on “best work” all children have the opportunity to share something they are proud of.

We ensure that messages are sent home each week for children who are recognised as going above and beyond. Proud posts are also shared. We praise in public and reprimand in private.

Our policy highlights the importance of building positive relationships.
We introduced 10-second and 30-second reminder scripts and restorative conversations are used when needed. (This is a current area for development)

What was easy, what was hard?

Whole school has taken time – slightly longer than expected.

It was difficult because it was for some a complete change in classroom practice.

There could be no reliance on the negative ping of a dojo to make sure all the children were listening.

Parents wanted visible punishment.

The children were the easy part. They understood the purpose of the changes. They like the recognition boards and speak positively about them. They also really enjoy having messages sent home.

Where are you now?

We are in our third year (second whole school). It has revolutionised our practice.

We put positive relationships at the heart of everything we do.

Children do behave better when they have good relationships with the adults who teach them. When we speak respectfully the children speak respectfully to each other. We never assume the children know what good behaviour looks like. We demonstrate, model and practise.

Without a doubt, behaviour has become more challenging in all schools including our own. We continue to look at ways for developing our practice further recognising that these changes always begin with the adults in school.

What advice would they give to others?

It is a worthwhile process that is of huge benefit to both children and staff.
The best learning happens in calm classrooms with children who are able to self-regulate.
They do this more readily with adults they trust and have strong relationships with.

It is not a ‘soft’ approach to behaviour.
It is about having high expectations that the children achieve because they understand what good behaviour looks like.

It’s a tough journey but it has revolutionised our practice in school.

Any other comments:

On a personal note, reading the book When the Adults Change changed my whole outlook on educational practice. I have taught for over 20 years, and this has been the most impactful in changing the way I teach and look at behaviour. It has created a new culture of research-based practice and has also enabled me to further my professional career. I recently received myNPQLBC. Equally significant has been the impact in my own classroom. The children have made more progress; they enjoy learning in a calm productive environment. With the hope of not sounding dramatic, it made me love my job again.