Learning behaviours: The Learning Superheroes!

Written by: Heather Madsen | Published:
The famous five: Independent Ivan, Engagement Emeka, Enthusiastic Eddie, Resilient Rose and Perseverance Primrose – Red Oak’s learning behaviour heroes

Learning behaviours are something we are all familiar with, but to children they can seem abstract concepts. Headteacher Heather Madsen explains how they overcame this challenge at Red Oak Primary

I strongly believe that the success of this school, which has travelled a long way to achieve the best academic results it has on record, is the result of a burning drive to ensure the notion of George Bernard Shaw, who said: “What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”

When I first walked through the doors at Fen Park Primary School four years ago, there were a number of changes that needed to be made. Since then, a lot has happened; we have changed our name from Fen Park to Red Oak Primary School, and we are now operating within the Active Learning Trust.

One of the most pressing issues when I started at the school was the behaviour of the children. We had problems with children fighting, fidgeting and displaying a general lack of engagement with their learning. To address this, we split the behaviour into two segments: conduct behaviour and learning behaviour.

They are relatively self-explanatory – conduct behaviour refers to behaviour in the traditional sense, disrupting classes and acting inappropriately, whereas learning behaviours are personal characteristics to be demonstrated by the children that we believe will aid them in their learning.

I believe we have successfully tackled our problem with conduct behaviour. Of course we are not perfect – find me a school that is – but it is no longer a prominent issue in our school. Our focus is now very much on learning behaviours, and integrating them into the children’s day-to-day mindset.

The team discussed over a period of around a year what we felt were the essential learning behaviours for our children to demonstrate. Behaviour questionnaires were produced for staff and pupils and parents’ views sought. As a result, we decided on the following: Engagement, Independence, Resilience, Perseverance and Enthusiasm.

These provided us with a particular range of behaviours to expect from the children. We explained these behaviours to the pupils and rewarded demonstrations of the behaviours with verbal praise, such as: “That’s excellent perseverance, Tom, well done.”

The children now have an idea of the sorts of learning behaviours that we expect, and how that translates literally. The issue we had is that these five behaviours are quite an abstract concept for some of the children, particularly those at the younger end of the school. Even with practical examples and positive reinforcement, there were only core groups who were engaging in the way that we had hoped.

It was decided that the children needed a more visual aid, something that was easier to relate to. With this in mind, we have recently introduced our five learning behaviour superheroes.

So how did we get from five learning behaviours to capes, helmets and superpowers? The original idea came from our dedicated and determined staff.

We decided that the best way to provide that relatable, visual aid was through cartoon characters. It was at this point that we opened the floor to the children. After much deliberation, it was decided that the cartoon characters of choice would be superheroes.

This prompted a “Superhero Day”, whereby we invited the children to come into school dressed as their favourite superhero. As part of the day, we asked the children to design their own superhero character.

We then took all of these designs and passed the key messages on to a professional designer who produced the five characters we now have patrolling our school corridors.

The result was Engagement Emeka, Independent Ivan, Resilient Rose, Perseverance Primrose and Enthusiastic Eddie. These are our own school superheroes. To please the superheroes is something I am hoping will become a priority for the children. To do this, they will have to display the traits that are evidenced in each superhero’s name.

Engagement Emeka

A lack of engagement was one of the issues that I faced early on at Red Oak, and this was something I looked to turn around as a top priority. To keep Emeka happy, children must be seen to engage in classes. This could be demonstrated by asking questions or contributing to class discussions.

Independent Ivan

Independence is, in my opinion, a vital characteristic for children to build as they progress through their youth, but not always one that is encouraged at home. A demonstration of independence could be a Reception or year 1 child coming into school in the morning and hanging up their coat, PE kit and book pack in the correct place without assistance.

Resilient Rose

Resilience is something we hear quite a lot about in the education sector. It is something that 21st century children are often accused of lacking, and something that education secretary Nicky Morgan is very keen to see instilled within children. Resilient Rose would be delighted to see a child bouncing back from adversity, possibly by continuing to display their usual classroom enthusiasm despite receiving some negative marking, or facing difficulties with friendships or home life.

Perseverance Primrose

Not too far removed from Resilient Rose, but the differences are distinctive. Imagine travelling through a tunnel and meeting an obstacle: perseverance would be to remove that obstacle, whereas resilience would be if, failing to remove it, you went back to the start and rather than giving up, found another way to reach your destination. A child could demonstrate perseverance by continuing to practise a certain times table, despite finding it incredibly challenging, until they have it perfected, rather than giving up.

Enthusiastic Eddie

Enthusiasm is key to a child’s success in all things – whether it be sport, music or academic achievement; they must want to do well. Enthusiasm could be demonstrated by going home and doing further research around a topic without being asked, and then sharing that with a teacher or the class.

Learning behaviour booklets

I believe that the introduction of the five characters, demonstrated with life-size prints around the school, will be of huge assistance to those children who are struggling with the learning behaviour concept. It will give them – and the teachers – a visual aid to relate the behaviours to.

From September, we will be further reinforcing the importance of our learning behaviours by introducing booklets for every child. The booklet will be used to record demonstrations of the five behaviours and children will carry their booklet with them throughout their school life.

Furthermore, if a member of staff feels that a child is consistently demonstrating one of the desired behaviours, they are awarded a pin to represent that. There are five pins to collect, one for each behaviour, and then an opportunity to achieve a bronze, silver or gold level. A full set will result in a yet to be determined prize.

It is vital that there is a general level of expectation in place – a standard for the children to work towards – and these behaviours provide that. They form clear goalposts for the children to aim for which, in turn, creates the opportunity for teachers to feedback on work and behaviour.

That feedback can then lead to increased self-esteem and confidence, a vital ingredient for every child’s education and preparation for a successful transition into adult life.

  • Heather Madsen is the headteacher of Red Oak Primary School in Suffolk.

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