Addressing disciplinary issues through character values
In 2007 eight students were stood down and over 20 serious incident reports were logged at Pomaria Primary including physical assaults on other children and verbal assaults on teachers. As a result, principal Kevin Choromanski went looking for a behaviour management plan and found a perfect match in the Cornerstone Values of the New Zealand Foundation for Character Education.
Cornerstone Values founder John Heenan came up with the values programme in 1989, following the Government's "Tomorrow's Schools" reforms. He believed teaching character education was integral to a child's development but he was concerned by the fact it had become less of a focus in schools.
“The two reasons to implement the cornerstone values are to restore what you’ve lost or preserve what you’ve got. If you don’t intentionally teach those values then the pressures of the community is such that you will lose,” says Mr Heenan.
The eight Cornerstone Values are respect, responsibility, honesty and truthfulness, obedience, kindness, compassion, duty and consideration. At Pomaria Primary, as Maori and Pacific Islanders make up the dominant groups, the school has attached these values to the Maori concepts of turangawaewae, whanaunatanga, manaakitanga and matauranga.
Teachers are constantly looking for ways in which they can thread the values through the curriculum, says the principal.
“For instance, you might have a kid who needs an eraser and decides to just take it from another child. This is an ideal opportunity [for the teacher] to say okay, let’s stop and talk about the value of consideration. You could bring in what it means to be considerate and how it made the other person feel when the child just took the eraser.”
There is a focus on getting students to really think about their attitude and to realise that change comes from within, says Mr Choromanski.
“It’s not just articulating the value but thinking about how we actually live out what we are talking about. For instance we had a few children decide to raise money for breast cancer to show what compassion is all about. They did the fundraising themselves, collected the money and then sent it off.”
What is also important is a lot of community engagement and that the values are fed back home. “Parents are made familiar with what the values are and what they stand for in the school so there is a common language that goes between the school and the home.”
Pomaria Primary head boy Diamond Tamalua and head girl Pearl Tema have both noticed the difference the values have made to the atmosphere of the school.
Since we’ve had values we cooperate more and it’s really changed how we think, says Pearl. “It’s made us all realise we are responsible for our actions. So if someone gets angry, we think it’s for a reason. We try to help them solve the problem instead of getting angry back. It’s easy to get angry but it’s not the best way.”
Diamond believes the students are more supportive and respectful of one another than they were in the past. “It’s really great [to know] that if you need a favour, someone will want to help.”
Mr Choromanski says the school has received a lot of positive feedback from both parents and the public who have written letters and commented on the behaviour of Pomaria Primary students.
Diamond and Pearl recently flew to Wellington with eight other students to attend a Young Leaders Conference. After their return, the school received an email from a member of the public who had been on both the same flights. This person wrote to the school to praise the students and said they were “beautifully behaved children and did exactly what was asked of them”.
Hundreds of schools around New Zealand use the Cornerstone Values resources but Pomaria Primary is among only 12 which have gone through the accreditation process and can therefore use the trademarked logo on their school resources.
The main benefit of accreditation is it enables parents to know that the school aspires to a culture of respect and responsibility, says Mr Heenan.
“You feel it when you go into Pomaria. Character is not taught through preaching. It’s taught through relationships and being modeled. Those core values must inform and influence everything that happens at school. From the classroom to the principal’s office and a Board of Trustees meeting, it’s about an entire school culture."
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