The Positive Behaviour Programme - creating a school culture of caring
4 May 2023
The Positive Behaviour Programme of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has gained much prominence over the past decade as much as it drew criticism where incidence of ill-discipline and bullying were cited across the province, especially after the COVID-19 full-time return to schooling.
School discipline always ranks high among concerns of parents and professionals. Currently, three approaches to “discipline” vie for supremacy: Zero Tolerance, Positive Behaviour Intervention and Support (PBIS), and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Both PBIS and SEL have their own extensive evidence base but differ in strategies for instilling discipline. These two approaches define the Positive Behaviour strategy of the WCED as it is presented for teacher capacity building and in learner intervention programmes.
The Positive Behaviour Programme straddles across a programmatic approach to interventions for support to that of a relational approach. Research shows that the most impactful interventions are relational rather than pedagogical. Natural support in a culture of caring and learning have the most power in fostering growth and lasting change. The Positive Behaviour Programme echoes the phrase: “programmes never change people, people change people.” Children lack resilience to overcome trauma infused experiences within their life spaces. Resilience rests fundamentally on relationships. Hence the role of the teacher that finds themself in the life space of the child is so important. That moment of engagement inside and outside the teaching space is what makes the difference. And herein lies the challenge. It is critical that teachers realize their vital role in facilitating the behaviour change that is required. This is made possible by the Behaviour Support Pathway as it finds expression in the Screening, Identification, Assessment & Support (SIAS) policy.
The Behaviour Support Pathway
The Positive Behaviour Support Pathway presents the learner with behavioural barriers to learning with tiered levels of support to grant the learner with multiple opportunities for behaviour change.
- Low-level support (universal prevention)
This level of support entails the preparation of the learning environment as a safe space to ensure conditions for positive behaviour. This level of support aims to address the developmental needs of the teachers and the learner. Teacher capacity is the driving focus as it empowers the teacher to facilitate classroom interventions to support the child that might respond to learning stressors through acting out behaviour. Training in classroom management, understanding the goals of misbehaviour and classroom techniques in creating inclusive discipline practices is provided.
- Moderate-level support (learners at risk)
School staff (teaching and non-teaching) need concrete methods to build positive connections with challenging learners who disengage from school and distrust adults. Practical trainings are also available for working with this cohort of learner. Learners at risk are often referred to the School-based Support Team (SBST) to provide collective and school-wide intervention and support for the learner at risk. Learners could also be referred to the District-based Support Team (DBST) that would provide deeper assessment and interventions to support the learner, teacher and parents. Training and support in developing Trauma Informed classrooms / schools and techniques to connect with learners in conflict.
- High-level support (intensive interventions)
These are intended for the learners who are in imminent danger of imploding or exploding in school, being at-risk of being suspended or expelled from school. By their very nature, these interventions are not pre-packaged programmes but a thorough assessment of how the learner came to this place in their lives and how to develop positive plans. Planning Restorative Outcomes is an assessment protocol that uses the young person and others in the ecology as data sources in assessing needs and developing interventions. These learners are likely to be presented and discussed at a behaviour sifting meeting to contemplate the most suitable plan for support. Referral to the Positive Behaviour Intervention and Resource Centre (PBIRC), Department of Social Development (DSD) or the Department of Health (DoH) could be considered as options in the best interest of the learners’ needs.
Training and resources
The Positive Behaviour Programme at district level has regular teacher training and support sessions to empower teachers to keep pace with the trends in behaviour challenges. Novice teachers and seasoned teachers are enabled to keep abreast with the knowledge and skills that are required to respond effectively to learners presenting with challenging behaviour. The training focus on the following:
- The circle of courage
- Trauma informed schools
- The role of School Governing Bodies in creating caring school cultures.
- Violence prevention
- Substance abuse
Teachers can also register for the 30 hour online SACE accredited course on Positive Behaviour at https://wcedelearn.westerncape.gov.za/moodle. Teachers who have already completed the course gave positive reviews.
Learner and parent interventions are also presented to targeted groups and the topics range from bullying, teenage pregnancies and positive parenting skills. Support to parents are extended to weekly radio programmes on various community radio stations. The weekly programme on Tygerberg 104FM (Ek en my kind) deals with a range of topics to empower parents on disciplining their kids at home. Education Indaba on Voice of the Cape and School Hour on Eden FM are some of the community radio stations that support this programme through airing regular discussions on discipline in schools.
Positive Behaviour & the Circle of Courage
The Circle of courage encircles two powerful approaches into a curriculum of care. This practice is bringing PBIS and SEL into closer alignment as a needs-based model of leadership and service. The six core needs of the Resilience Compass are included in the methods and messages that the programme teach to both teachers and learners. The Values-driven ethos of the WCED aligns with the approach from bids for connection with learners in turmoil to active restorative practices with traumatized children. The programmes aims to create schools as centres of belonging in equal measure to it being centres of excellence. To achieve genuine reform, schools must address the universal goal of education in every stable society: rearing respectful, responsible citizens. These principles cannot be found in a programme, but rather in relationships. This programme aims to be more than a programme but rather an act to restore the spirit of humanity.