Thursday, April 14, 2011


As promised, I, like my 2000 plus principal colleagues received a letter this week from Minister Tolley urging action on the issue of bullying. The letter outlines some of the initiatives the current government has put in place to address behaviour problems in schools.

We are lucky to be one of the first schools in Otago to be part of the Positive Behaviour for Learning project, one of the Ministry's vehicles for change. We are also lucky to have a strong culture of positive behaviour at NEV Normal. Our teachers and parents do not avoid the issue.

Sadly school environments do not always protect children from bullying - the ratio of adults to children means that there are many opportunities for children to be unkind and even violent to other children.

Children who are teased or bullied at home accordingly think this is the way to react to a percieved injustice. These are the ones who will lash out or say cruel things.

The job of the teacher is to show that this behaviour is not what society, in this case the society of the school and the classroom, consider acceptable. This 'correction' takes time and while it might start in the new entrant classroom can take weeks, months and years to overcome.

Teachers use good modelling, role play, teaching, behaviour modification, peer suppport and mediation and sometimes expert intervention to show children what good relationships look like. The school also uses its behaviour management system to ensure that for every unacceptable action there is a commensurate consequence.

The temptation for school staff is to come down really hard on children who display such behaviour. The teacher and the senior staff are in danger of modelling bullying tactics themselves if they do over react. This just contradicts the message. We want children to develop new strategies to deal with their temper and their frustration.

Bad behaviour doesn't happen in a vacuum. There is always a reason. We try and get to the root of the problem and then deal with that. If a child is acting up we want to know why so the effort we put into remediating the behaviour has a long lasting influence.

Parents who may want to learn more about this issue should follow Frances Steinberg, A Wellington based educational psychologist:

Regards, John

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

MPs visit NEV Normal

Last Tuesday two senior Labour MPs visited the school to discuss our early intervention work with children and families. Annette King and Charles Chauvel headed our way after a morning of meeting about the Darren Hughes affair. King is the deputy leader of the Labour Party and Chauvel is their justice spokesperson. Ross Leach from DNI, Paul Richardson from Sacred Heart and I spoke about what we are trying to do be engaging with families and the community. Local Salvation Army Pastor Nolan Hill spoke about their committment to partnering with the schools and early childhood centres in the Valley to support our work. The MPs listened with interest to our stories and seemed to be on the same wavelength we are on.

I am a tad cynical about these visits. We have had visits from other luminaries - like the Commissioner for Children, and local National MP Woodhouse - they come and smile and say what a great job we are doing and how interesting it all is but I don't know whether we see any change in the way the world goes round! We certainly don't get any follow up phone call offering us some help!!

Anyway, for an hour we feel someone is noticing that we do things differently in this wee valley tucked away in a corner of this quiet city. That in itself is affirming.