Raising standards through good behaviour

Chris Townsend

Chris Townsend was appointed headmaster of Felsted School in September 2015. Chris began his teaching career at Dean Close, where he was at school himself, and following a three year post as housemaster, he moved to Stowe, where he was a housemaster and head of boarding. In 2010 Chris moved to Felsted as deputy head. He is a Classics graduate from Brasenose College, Oxford.

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Image credit: Flickr // Brad.K. Image credit: Flickr // Brad.K.

In a recent assembly at Felsted School here in Essex, I spoke to pupils about the significance of ‘active good behaviour’. It felt like an idea that must have belonged to someone else, an initiative that I was borrowing from elsewhere, but something that was obvious and really important at the same time.

Most people are good most of the time, and some are good all of the time, especially when your measure of good behaviour is ‘not doing anything wrong’. In “Passive good behaviour is not dropping litter; active good behaviour is picking it up.”a society in which we are encouraged to push the rules to the limit in order to get the best for ourselves, it is not surprising that people are so easily persuaded by this definition. In fact, many would take it one step further, and talk about ‘not getting caught’, but, for a society to thrive, and schools are all micro-societies, you must seek active, not passive, good behaviour.

The difference can be easily demonstrated in a school where passive goodness is likely to lead to a lack of responsibility, and a failure to engage with an ethos of improvement. We would all agree that dropping litter is poor behaviour. Passive good behaviour is demonstrated by the person who does not drop litter, but active good behaviour is shown by the person who sees the litter, picks it up and puts it in the bin (or even better, recycles it!). Passive goodness does nothing to improve the environment, and ends up encouraging more dropping of litter, while the action of removing the rubbish is positive in itself, and is a tremendous influence on others. It is shifting a mindset, and developing a positive culture.

Similarly, take the example of when a new pupil joins the school, and is excluded. This is clearly poor behaviour. If I walk away from the situation, I am not doing anything wrong, so am being passively good. However, if I go up to that person, include them in my friendship group, and help to resolve the problem, I am being actively good. The actively good intervention improves the experience for another pupil, while also setting a standard for behaviour among the rest of the peer group. Again, the culture and ethos are being built around this simple act of good behaviour.

Perhaps most importantly for a school, how does this transfer to the classroom? Well, we would all agree that the pupil that calls out and disrupts the learning of others is showing poor behaviour, while a silent classroom may well be full of people who are being passively good, and just avoiding causing trouble. In the learning environment, the demonstration of active good behaviour is the learner who engages in the lesson, asking and answering questions, engaging in debate, leading the learning of themselves and others, and helping to develop the best learning ethos possible.

At Felsted, developing this culture of active good behaviour is really important. It is really important that we celebrate the pupil who provides emotional support “The actively good intervention improves the experience for all.”to a fellow pupil struggling with confidence. It is crucial that teachers, and other pupils, and parents as well, recognise the efforts of a pupil who represents the community as a youth representative of the Parish Council. Pupils who run fundraising events need to get the same kudos that is traditionally given to the 1st XV fly half, or the lead in the school play. Even the pupil that carries the books for a friend on crutches, who tidies the mess at the end of a lesson, or picks up and returns the tracksuit left by the sports pitch, needs to know that this small additional effort is worthwhile and appreciated.

Within a community, it is relatively easy to be passively good. To avoid being in trouble, and to keep your nose clean. However, the real measure of the person, and of the community of which they are a part, is whether they are prepared to be actively good. To stand up, and challenge those who are getting it wrong. To have strong values to which you will adhere whatever the pressures and expectations of others.

Active good behaviour is not something that just happens. It requires constant reinforcement, at every opportunity, in every assembly, every tutorial and every lesson. It needs to become a habit, a part of the culture of the society. Most of all it, needs to be at the heart of the school’s values, tied in to kindness, tolerance and respect, and once it is established, it can be utterly transformational in the way that people behave towards one another, and their environment.

At Felsted, our aspiration is for our pupils to be to be the best that they can be in all that they do, and for that reason, I believe that they must all seek to display active good behaviour at all times.

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