Since September 2020, Lois Banks has been Assistant Headteacher at Hoo St Werburgh in Kent. Hoo is a large primary school for children aged 2-11 years. It is also part of the Rivermead Inclusive Trust. Lois is also studying for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, where she is taking a close look at young children’s perceptions of moral virtues at both home and school.
I think I have always been quite aware of the importance of character; I just hadn’t labelled it so. Having had a sporty childhood and competing for Great Britain in gymnastics it was ingrained from a very young age that success was through resilience, stickability, the ‘get up and have another go’. It did not focus on the scores, it focussed on the mastery. The numerous falls off of bars and beam didn’t make you feel like a failure, they made you want to get back up and do it again until you were successful. I have always thought sport is such a clear way to show how knock backs and mistakes strengthen your practice, yet this is not always so easy to demonstrate in the classroom. My parenting took the same approach. Encouraging my children in a supportive way. Building trust for them to explore the world. To motivate them to step out of their comfort zones. Once they were off to school, I trained to become a teacher. It was a passion of mine to support and positively influence children’s lives.
However, it was whilst I was completing my MA that I came across the Jubilee Centre and first heard about character education. Finally, the thing I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on, that encouragement, the risk taking, the moral element to decision making was, character! Conferences, readings and resources from the Jubilee Centre were brought back into my former workplace (an infant school in Medway) and the ethos of the school changed dramatically. I became the Wellbeing and Character Lead for the school to make sure it was at the heart of all we did and didn’t just become wallpaper. We started with the Jubilee Centre Framework and adapted it to the needs of the children. We considered the sense of belonging our children had within the community and worked closely with the parents on the formation of character. Everything contributed to supporting our children to have a flourishing life.
How are you implementing what you’ve learnt within your new role?
As I start on my new journey as Assistant Headteacher, and Character and Wellbeing Lead for the School Trust, I am excited for what is to come. Having come from an infant school where the children leave in Year 2, I am delighted to now be part of children’s character development from the ages of 2-11 years. The school already recognises the importance of character education and have introduced LORIC (Leadership, Organisation, Resilience, Initiative and Communication) as the school’s virtues. However, I hope to again use the Framework to offer another perspective on teaching character in schools. I hope to lead a school whose practice is always driven by those building blocks of intellectual, moral, civic and performance virtues.
Initially, I plan to use autonomy, CPD and an open door approach to focus on what the vision and ethos is, and means, to individuals and as a whole staffing team. Teachers are the foundations of the educational system. There are no exceptional schools without exceptional teachers, and it is important this is where our journey into character begins. Teachers need to feel valued to invest and it is up to the senior leadership team to ensure they do. Therefore, time will be spent critically reflecting on the wisdom of teaching – to create conditions where regular conversations are being shared about all learning experiences, not just the best ones. With teachers coming together to solve problems and plan next steps for the whole school.
Next, we’ll look to build relationships with parents in more depth. Relationships need to go beyond day-to-day communications through a newsletter or at the school gates and need to develop and build long term character goals. Parents are the main teachers in their children’s lives. However, it is important we work closely together as they grow. Parents and teachers often have misconceptions of each other’s main focus and goals and therefore it is really important that we reach out to families and have them as an integral part of education at our school.
Finally, child voice will be an intrinsic part of our character journey. Young children should be the ones guiding us to ensure their needs are being met. We aim to ensure that children at Hoo St Werburgh have ownership of decision making in the school. However, it cannot stop there. Teachers need to show the children’s voices are sustained by showing pupils how they have influenced the next steps of the school.