By Susie Randel Kneipp, principal at Kedron State School, published in The Queensland Principal magazine's September edition.
In 2015 Kedron State School embarked on a journey to shift the discourse around redirecting student engagement both in and outside of the classroom. The intent was twofold: to unify the community – students, educators, and parents – with a shared metalanguage about student behaviour; and to positively frame redirection that children commonly interpret as punitive. Almost a decade later, this seed of change remains the most critical piece of long-term philosophical and pedagogical change within the school. The result is a whole-school focus on student wellbeing that drives learning.
The cornerstone of the school’s approach to student-centered learning is the fundamental belief that we empower learners, and improve their sense of self and therefore wellbeing, by teaching them self-efficacy, agency, and positive learning behaviours. This premise has been the impetus for professional research and ‘deep dives’ into theory that continue to influence the evolution of teaching and learning at Kedron State School. If schools have a brand, then this has been ours and it continues to drive the number one priority for every student: To find a connection with their learning environment, and with themselves as learners, to reach their social, emotional and academic potential.
The ‘Kedron Kids’, as they are affectionately known are a wonderful group of young people who, almost without exception, arrive at school eager to learn and capitalise on the opportunities provided to them. This undoubtedly justifies why behaviour programs including Positive Behaviour Learning (PBL), whilst extremely successful in other contexts, have not been a priority. Most students enjoy the calm and supportive classrooms they are offered and are eager to comply with well-established school routines. However, in the early months of my appointment – while getting to know the school and its unique challenges of practice – a firm pattern emerged. Teachers and parents voiced similar frustrations about children who did not actively participate in the learning but who instead would adopt passive and non-resilient approaches to tasks that required stamina and perseverance. The ‘Learning Pit’ was not a popular place for them to be. As an educational team, we diagnosed an issue with self-efficacy which was limiting learning potential and impeding the development of positive wellbeing mindsets. Regardless of sound academic achievement in primary school, this would most certainly create a challenge when learning complexity increased into high school and beyond.
Teachers agreed that while much work had been done to ensure familiarity. with curriculum, there was an absence of dialogue around what it looked like to be a successful and engaged learner. The narrative between ‘what to learn’ and ‘how to learn’ was firmly out of sync. When attempting to shift the balance of engagement and encourage the students to take up more of the ‘heavy learning lifting’, teachers found their language to be reactive and unnecessarily negative. Commentary relied on ‘don’t do’, ‘you should do’ and ‘stop doing’ as opposed to offering preferred and positive behaviours that stimulated cognitive stretch and conversations about the learning.
After a semester where a well-respected behaviour expert – Positive Learning Coach, Buffy Lavery – worked alongside the teaching and leadership teams, the Kedron State School 10 Positive Learning Behaviours were developed. These were determined to be the most critical skills and actions that improved learning and learning efficacy across the school for our learners: Choose your attitude; Quiet. Look. Listen; Be organised; Follow directions; Get started; Stay on task; Scan for clues; Ask for help; Complete tasks; and Is this my best work? They were, at their most fundamental, age-appropriate for our youngest students and could be elaborated on and increased in sophistication as our students matured. They became a shared metalanguage in the community, clearly signposting what learning aptitudes would add value and providing authentic individual student goals for engagement to support achievement.
The Kedron Kids began speaking the language of learning and seeing themselves as learners. A platform for a focus on the importance of wellbeing and connection to the learning environment was born. The school introduced a vision statement: Connecting every learner every day in every way for success. This powerful affirmation of the fundamental importance of connection has placed the children and their individual needs alongside academic and system improvement measures. We believe that the Learning Behaviours connect every learner, every day in every way for success, and this makes the difference to drive (and celebrate) consistently high student learning outcomes and individual attainments.
While this anchored the school’s work, our students and teachers continued to investigate language and theories that equipped them to discuss learning and the emotional dispositions that either value-add or constrict their ability to engage in learning both in and out of the classroom. The Zones of Regulation were added to enhance the dialogue around readiness to learn and give children and teachers signposts to flag emotional hindrances or enhancers. The more familiar the school community became with the interweave between wellbeing and learning, the more eager the school was to deepen conversations with children about who they are as learners. This was the next piece in our work around ensuring that differentiation was about tailoring the learning environment for all children based on the highly individualised nature of learning strengths. Not unlike the identifiers of fingerprints, capitalising on the personalised nature of learning strengths and improving lesser strengths was a complement to the growth mindset approach that continued to shape conversations around developing learning profiles.
Recommendations from the school’s 2021 School Improvement Review confirmed that Kedron State School was poised to expand this work based upon the foundation we had paved around learning behaviours, the language of engagement and wellbeing, individualised goal setting and ultimately quality differentiation. We discovered a plethora of products for primary school-aged students developed with positive psychology at the core. Our wish list, though, proved difficult to fill. We intended to continue to deepen the sophistication of the language and understanding around learning, to provide a metalanguage that could be used when triaging ‘where to next’. It was important to us that whatever we added to our wheelhouse of wellbeing also complemented the extensive cultural work accomplished around learning and engagement. Our research led us to two separate platforms – Mindprint and Switch4Schools – that have enabled us to build upon the whole school strengths that have been years in the cultivation.
Switch4Schools (rebranded at Kedron State School as Connecting4Success), plays into our already well-established ethos and is possibly the most significant addition to the school’s daily routines and systems. It provides daily, weekly, and longitudinal data around student engagement. Developed by psychologist Phil Slade and a team of committed educational champions, the program has elevated the language of 10 Positive Learning Behaviours, self-awareness, and learning regulation. Connecting4Success provides students, teachers, and families with a roadmap to unpack the complex emotions we all shift through daily, and strategies to assist us to regulate independently to return to productivity and an appropriate emotional state. The program has enabled us to review and revise approaches to discussing regulation and engagement across the school day – which is reflected in the Connecting4Success Roadmap.
At the same time, and alongside a small number of other Queensland schools, Kedron State School was invited to pilot an individualised student assessment that provides a point in time measure of foundation learning competencies. The Mindprint Assessment is part of a suite of educational offerings from Nvoke Future Learning developed by neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania and used by high-recognition institutions including NASA. The outcomes of the assessment provide a language for discussing cognitive competencies and domains including Executive Functions, Complex Reasoning, Memory, and Efficiency. The power in this assessment is the common language it gives educators, students, and parents to discuss the next steps needed to enhance learning opportunities. These reflect children’s cognitive strengths and grow those that may present as weaker in their global cognitive profile. Teachers are provided with crucial insight when designing curriculum experiences and building accurate learning profiles of the Kedron Kids as they transition through the middle and senior years of primary school.
The Mindprint tool measures areas of student learning that we had previously been unable to quantify, countering or confirming professional hunches about students’ strengths, lesser strengths, and inhibitors to growth. This allows teachers and their support teams to triangulate existing data to build the deeper profiles of students that enable differentiation. Kedron State School uses the Mindprint data at the individual level with 1:1 goal setting for students, and for planning at group, classroom, cohort and whole of school levels.
Whilst the evolution of this work is ongoing, it has injected a level of professional energy to identify how to continue to build on and prioritise the essential work of student wellbeing and engagement that is fundamental to children achieving and sustaining their personal success. We often refer to our moral imperative in primary schools to lay a quality foundation for life-long learning. At Kedron State School we collectively believe that seeing yourself through the optimistic lens of capable, resilient, and authentically connected to your community stimulates the self-belief that we are all designed to be curious and capable learners. How we put the jigsaw pieces of learning together is what makes us who we are.