Cultivating a Culture Club: A ResearchED Scandinavia Tangent

Posted on April 22, 2017


It’s lunchtime at ResearchED Scandinavia 2017. I’m sat in the gargantuan lobby of a gargantuan school in Norway that is hosting us. This morning I’ve heard some good sessions: one from David Didau that has generated some twitter activity, one from Tine Prøitz that has really got me thinking, and also one from Tom Bennett that has inspired me to write this short blogpost. 

In his session, he made this comment in relation to his DfE commissioned report on behaviour, ‘Creating a Culture’

And for some reason it reminded me of a young man in Y7 who I have had a few interactions with recently. As we are in Norway, I’ll call him Morten. 

I’ve spotted Morten around school over the course of the year. In fact, he first came to my attention on the Y6 Transition Day last summer, which, I’m guessing, speaks volumes. 

A couple of weeks before the Easter break, whilst I was on lunch duty, Morten passed by me in a tear-smudged blur, face set against the world. More pertinently, his face was set against another student and he was on his way to seek him out and turn his tears into something else. 

I stopped him and guided him to our Behaviour Support Team (acronym BeST) who are based in what is known to all is Room 6. There, we ran into the source of Morten’s ire and so I managed to find out, from the horses’ mouths, just what was causing my little man to chomp at the bit. 

Unsurprisingly (and yet I never fail to be surprised by this), it was because the other student had insulted his mum by saying “your mum” to him. And this is the bit that was provoked by Tom’s presentation, as he gave it as an example of the student ‘culture’ we are seeking to mould at schools.  It took at least fifteen minutes of talking with Morten to try and wheedle out of him just why someone saying “your mum” could be considered as an insult. That’s before we even got to the inappropriateness of his response to it. 

But get to the inappropriateness we did. He wouldn’t see my point. Actually, and this is what Tom was saying, he couldn’t see my point. To him, this is what his family would want him to do: defend the besmirched honour of his mum in a ‘duel’. Before leaving the mop up of the situation in the hands of my colleagues, I asked Morten to do me one favour and ask his mum whether she would want him to defend her honour in this was, or whether she would rather he didn’t. 

To my huge surprise, he caught me a couple of days later as I was coming in to school and said to me, “Sir, I asked my mum what you asked me to about whether she wanted me to defend her when other people say stuff about her…”. 

Cue much nervousness on my part!!!  What if she had said she did want him to do so?!?!

“…Anyway, sir, she said that you were right and that she didn’t want me to get into any trouble at school.”

Cue much relief on my part!!!

“That’s lovely, Morten. Thanks for speaking with her. I hope you’ll be able to manage your feelings much better, now that you know that.”

“Yes, sir.”

And he has. He hasn’t been in any more playground arguments since then. In fact, my interactions with Morten didn’t stop there. Having established the link, and being aware that he was on orange report to his Head of Year (the middle tier of our system, above green report to tutor and below white contract to SLT), I asked him one day to show me how report and said I’d like to see the one cross he had changed to all ticks the next time I saw him. 

Again, he rose to the challenge and didn’t wait for me to come and get him. He found me the very next day to show me a report with 100% of ticks. I said that his mum would be proud. The next day he found me again to say that she was proud, but that he was sad that the report would be collected in and the nice comments would be lost from her sight. 

I gave him a spare notebook I had so that he could ask his teachers to write down any positive comments that they have about him. On the last day before Easter he came and showed me the comments he had garnered. And he told me a bit more about his mum and how she felt about it all. And then he came back after Easter and showed me again, and we talked about his Easter with her again. 

It’s been lovely getting to know Morten, and to play a small part in helping him reconcile the culture of being a 12 year old boy in the current era and the culture of being a Y7 student at Canons. Truth be told, they weren’t that far apart once he had cut away the stereotyped expectations of him to find out what those who love and care for him really wanted from and for him. 

I haven’t yet had the chance to ask his teachers whether or not they are seeing an improvement in Morten’s behaviour and achievement in lessons. That would appear to be the case from what I see of his orange reports and the notebook I gave him.

I’m hopeful that we will soon be able to dismantle some of the scaffolding around him (my involvement on an almost daily basis, the report system), because the real success of something like this is when the freestanding individual continues to behave in a way that is aligned with the culture of the school and, if we get it right, of society as a whole. That, I think, is what Tom’s presentation was about today. At the very least, that’s what it meant for me. 

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