Changing a culture – Damian Belshaw, Djanogly City Academy

Last February a group of staff went to visit the Uncommon Charter school system based in New York and New Jersey. We had identified this chain as an incredibly high performing group of schools who operated with stunning results in difficult circumstances. The chain was established by Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, author of the titles Leverage Leadership and Driven by Data. These are all titles that we use regularly within our daily practice and have utilised to transform our school from where it was 3 years ago.

We were searching for a clearer understanding of how to change culture rather than fix behaviour. How to build a culture of aspiration, one of ‘can do’ rather than one of excuses. What we found was breath-taking; we all felt that the 8 days we spent were the best 8 days of CPD we have ever experienced. We became immersed in an all-pervasive culture where everyone had a clear job, where everyone knew exactly what they had to do and the idea of team was intrinsic to every aspect of the schools we saw. We were able to see some truly inspiring teaching and leaders who lived the mission of the Charter which was to enable everyone entering the Uncommon System to graduate from College; especially those whom society has forgotten. When we returned we were determined to introduce the same culture to Djanogly.

From February last year we introduced a system of Routines for Learning to try to abolish the biggest hindrance to building positive behaviours. This hindrance is always a perception of a lack of fairness from students, or teachers deviating from policy to create their own rules or interpretations of systems. We also removed any semblance of personality from our sanctions; students would often either flare up when their names were used or actively seek negative attention and so work to play up to teachers so they get a reaction. We also wanted our students to understand WHY they were at school; Djanogly students are incredibly ambitious, but also often not as well versed in the English education system. 80% of our students are EAL and last year alone we had nearly 200 students entering or leaving mid-year; often from a very wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities.

We then introduced a system of very simple rules-8 for inside the classroom (L8) and 8 for outside (B8). Each of these comes with a clear consequence which we explicitly modelled to students; and continue to teach to them as often as we can. Underpinning this has been an adoption of some software to track and monitor behaviour in a way that encourages staff to communicate rather than is clunky or time consuming. This is a device called Kickboard which has an app that tags positive behaviours or negative behaviours in 2 clicks. By using Kickboard we are now able to quickly pick up on the low-level disruption that critically impacts learning. One example of this has been the creation of an early warning system so that whenever a student has 2 L8’s across a day, staff will intercept that student to reset them-if a student gains 3 L8’s in a day they have an immediate consequence. This system links classes together so that students understand that they are responsible for their own behaviour in EVERY room, not just where they choose! Each positive behaviour then credits their Account with a virtual currency (GRAD Coin) and poor behaviours result in a Debit; at the end of the year students will be able to use their balance to fund, or part fund a residential trip to Universities to establish a culture of aspiration.

The main system we have introduced has been one where every part of the day is mapped out with clear resets, and rehearsals for things like how to enter a classroom, or the building. Each day starts with Forum-a place where students can share their ideas about what they want to see in school and teachers can explain to them why the rules are as they are. This Democratic process has allowed students to feel a real part of the school and we have dozens of examples of where their ideas have created policy and changed practice. Every lesson starts and ends with clear and consistent tasks which both help behaviour and also enable teachers to effectively monitor learning. Whilst all of this is still in its relative infancy, we have started to see a real change in students opinions-they are talking about their learning, their achievement and their futures. Our students now have the view that rather than being an option for the few, at DCA Everyone Graduates!


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