Respecting the Learning Culture
Developing a Positive Learning Culture
One of our main roles as teachers is to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to learn. The following process describes how we use our learning relationships to ensure that the culture of learning at Albany Senior High School is developed and maintained across all three strands of our curriculum.
A 6-step process
The following process has been designed to support teachers in developing a positive learning culture at Albany Senior High School. At each step the focus is placed on student learning while giving teachers opportunities to maximise learning for all students in a given context. The process is also designed to be respectful of individuals and of the wider learning culture in a community or learning space.
All teachers at Albany Senior High School use the following process to develop and maintain a positive learning culture. When giving students choices in step four of the process we use professional judgement to make these choices appropriate to both the student and the situation at hand.
A process diagram of the 6-step is available here.
The 6 steps
Explain effects on the learning culture to student.
We identify student(s) who are finding appropriate socialisations for learning in class challenging and explain how what they are doing is negatively affecting the learning culture. We relate this specifically to their own learning and the learning of the other students in the class.
Optional - If it’s something that’s already been discussed (and previous attempts at improvement have been unsuccessful) we may outline past discussions and future process for what will happen around temporary removal from class for disrupting learning culture.
We explain our clear expectations to students in a non-confrontational environment (eg: away from other students). These expectations may be around work output and/or social conduct.
“Jimbo In this period, I need you to be focusing on your work and doing what I'm asking.” “Do you remember what we talked about last week Dennis? How does when you choose to talk affect the rest of the class?”
In an individual instance (or further instance) of non-compliance - we will specify the required behaviour. We may do this in the course of talking to the class or in an individual conversation.
egs: (specific, time-related and link to learning where applicable)
“Takamura, you need to finish this paragraph in the next five minutes.”
“Margery, please don’t interrupt me again. It’s really important that everyone gets these instructions in one go.”
“Calvin, please don’t make noises to put people off while they’re presenting. It’s really disrespectful.”
If a student continues non-compliance we will give a choice and explain consequences.
egs: (using “you” but not “I” - emphasising student taking responsibility)
“Hans, you have a choice here, you can finish this paragraph in the next ten minutes or you'll need to leave class.”
“Molly, you can park your questions for a few moments or if you interrupt while I’m talking to the whole class again, you'll need to move over to the bench at the side of the learning common.”
We will also make sure we do this in a non-confrontational setting.
At this stage we avoid:
- Responding to arguments. We endeavour not to cut students off but also don’t need to respond to arguments because we’ve already given the learning-based reason for things in the previous step.
- Compromising at this step. If we say we’re going to do something, we need to do it.
OR we give student the responsibility of deciding what should happen and negotiating a solution.
“So Pedro, we’ve had this discussion a few times now and you’ve agreed it’s not helpful for you to have your phone out during learning where it isn’t needed. What do you think is a good way of making sure your phone doesn’t mess with your learning?”
We give time to comply. We walk away and ignore any inappropriate grumbles or comments that may ensue and give the student a chance to carry out instructions.
If a student chooses not to carry out the request that adds positively to the learning culture, they will be removed from class.
At this stage we avoid:
- Rhetorical techniques. Only ask questions if you want to have a discussion with the student, otherwise just make a statement.
- “Why won’t you work like everyone else?”
- Stuff not directly related to their own learning.
- “If you’re not going to act like adults...”
- “You’re 18, you don’t need to be here you know!”
- Demonstrating too much frustration outwardly.
- Standing over students to make them comply to requests. This can show we don’t expect they’ll comply with our requests and in the long term reflects badly on our ability to create a positive learning culture.
- Taking the bait with low-level inappropriate responses to requests. This can show students can control us in high-pressure situations.
- Losing it with students. If boiling, park issue for later. If we’re finding it difficult to deal positively with students, it’s better to park the issue to follow-up later.
We always aim to
Try to carry out steps in a non-confrontational setting as much as possible. This can be a simple as crouching down or sitting on a chair next to a student or even sending them out very briefly (good in the case of ongoing issues) to have the discussion away from other students. Minimise impact on other students. Quickly restating desired behaviours during class instruction/discussions to individuals is great. ‘Parking’ a conversation that needs to happen with an individual can also help with minimising impact on others. Encourage student ownership as much as possible. Whenever we can we give students the responsibility of coming up with solutions. This doesn’t mean we have to always agree with their solution but inviting them to take part in it is much more likely to mean they’ll be committed to any processes in the future. Always follow up if this process ends in a removal from class. See stage 2.
What if there's no change over time?
It's obviously not sustainable to continually state the desired behaviour and explain to a student why they need to do it over and over again. Often a more detailed, follow-up discussion is necessary out of class that outlines the consequences for the student's learning and what will happen if they continue to negatively impact the learning culture of a class. If a student has been removed from class by a DP or they've simply been kept back for a discussion at interval, lunch time or after school, the second process for follow-up discussions may be helpful to maximise the possibility of the student learning positive ways of relating and committing to consolidating this.
Restoring the learning relationship - A Process for Follow-Up Discussions
Follow-up discussions are often required to both restore the learning relationship and ensure that some learning has taken place. An ideal discussion around this type of situation would: help the student to understand the effects of their behaviour on the learning culture and help them to identify ways to change this. Requiring a student to accept that a teacher's version of a situation is correct isn't always realistic (or even sometimes desirable) and simply ensuring they've understood the logic or reasoning behind it is enough. Students also need to be able to show some understanding of future consequences for themselves and others involved.
This process does not necessarily have to take place separately from the in-class process and can even be a part of it, particularly with students where this kind of stuff has been covered before.
- Acknowledge student feelings, frustrations and perspective. This isn't synonymous with giving the OK for a behaviour and is more likely to enable a student to engage in decent discussion.
- Acknowledge student needs. Sometimes, interruptions, comments and other various behaviours will be around a specific need that a student has. These can be acknowledged without affirming the way a student has chosen to express it. Even if a student doesn't have a specific need that has led to a behaviour, there will usually be a respectful way to check.
- Make clear the negative effects of the behaviour. This should be focused on learning. With our infinite life experience, it can be painfully apparent to us what the particular problems are with a student's behaviour. To them however, it may appear just like we're picking on them, taking out our frustrations on them or just being plain mean for the sake of it. Clarifying the problem with the behaviour in a respectful way is essential to a student properly understanding the situation and their part in it.
- Get student to re-explain the negative effects of the behaviour to see if they’ve understood it. This can sometimes take a student some time and is designed to help them start taking responsibility for their behaviour. Even if they don't agree with our take on it, we can still check they've understood the reasoning for it. Sometimes, it can even pay to explain this, eg "you don't necessarily have to agree with my reasoning here but I need to check you've understood what my view is so we can move on from here."
- Agree on future desired behaviours.
- Negotiate/give consequences - Ideally, these should be negotiated but sometimes (often in the case of bullying or particularly disrespectful behaviour) they may need to be given to a student. These should always be focused on the desired (future) behaviour and not be arbitrary.
- Explain the situation and follow-up to the tutor This is so the tutor is aware of what has happened and is able to give support to the student, potentially through follow-up during tutorials and in communicating with home.
Still no change?
Sometimes changing ways in which they relate to individuals and the community can be a slow process for students. If, after multiple, ongoing and significant breaches of the learning culture, there has been no evidence of change or willingness to engage with a process of change a student will require further support. This may take a number of forms and will usually involve negotiation with home, a tutor and relevant DP. Whenever this situation arises, whether a tutor, teacher or someone else picks up on it, the issue should be raised and discussed with the appropriate parties. While tutors and DPs often have direct responsibility and/or contact with a student, anyone involved in the student's learning should initiate and potentially contribute to ongoing support for the student.