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As a staff, we are shifting our mindsets from confrontation to support.

Peter Langham Principal

Monterey Secondary College is in Frankston North about 50 kilometres south-east of Melbourne and educates approximately 300 high school students. The community of Frankston North contends with many systemic, intergenerational concerns nested in one of the most disadvantaged postcodes within Victoria (Stokes, Hurst, Farrelly, & Forster, 2020). From their student profile, 65% of students are in the top 20% most at-risk students in the state. The school and its community work tirelessly towards increasing low levels of educational achievement by supporting families often experiencing high levels of family instability, violence, substance abuse, out of home care, youth justice and poverty.

To leverage the many strengths within the community, including increasing levels of family engagement in education, the Victorian Department of Education initiated the Frankston North Education Plan (2018) a 10-year plan to transform the community through education and provides much-needed improvements to campus infrastructure, teacher and staff supports, family outreach, and coordination between the community’s schools.

Since 2019, Berry Street has been proud to work side by side with all Frankston North Schools due to the generous philanthropic support of the Jacobsen Family Foundation Partnership through an integrated community services approach. Through the last two years, the staff at Monterey Secondary College completed the initial four days of Berry Street Education Model (BSEM) training in early-2021 and are well on their way towards successful implementation of Berry Street’s trauma-informed wellbeing strategies for teaching, learning and student engagement.

BSEM is proud to spotlight Principal Peter Langham along with Junior Sub School Leader Bryan Field and their reflections on the last three years of Monterey’s BSEM journey. Peter’s vision begins by mobilising every school resource to serve the students and families specifically living in Frankston North. Monterey is often the last stop for many vulnerable students, particularly those at risk for dropping out of education altogether.

This year, Monterey’s core priorities have been doing everything possible to ensure a calm, welcoming environment in the classrooms through consistent routines enacted by all staff members, as well as safety in the yard. A strategic effort has been the staff’s intentional planning to ensure that each part of the day has a purpose from students’ perspectives. In the past, the days were too unstructured, there was often unhelpful social mixing (between older and younger students) and there were not enough reasons for students to feel healthy ownership of their campus. Successful interventions have already included the addition of lunchtime clubs and the extended school day to give the young people safe and purposeful reasons to be on campus, connect with their friends and keep working towards their learning and pathway goals.

Along with the many BSEM strategies the staff are enacting to increase student engagement, the staff has also been utilising BSEM strategies to support teacher capability to increase on-task learning and the effective use of restorative practices throughout the campus.

Principal Peter Langham details the Monterey journey in his own words in conversation with Dr Tom Brunzell, Berry Street’s Director of Education.

The Need for BSEM’s Trauma-Informed Wellbeing Strategies

The biggest thing in our BSEM journey so far has been helping staff understand what trauma-informed practice is and how trauma impacts students. Certainly, for myself, when I was first thinking about trauma, I initially thought about high-level traumatic events; and now our staff and I have learned about the cumulative impacts of daily adversities that can definitely undermine a young person’s ability to stay engaged with school.

We have understood how to work with our kids by making the classroom safe with routines and expectations that are consistent every day. We are getting better at recognising micro-moments and preventing the adverse classroom events that can trigger students, inhibiting learning and often turning the classroom into an unsafe and unpredictable place.

A key thing that the BSEM has done for us is to provide Monterey with a common language for all staff. We are now using the terms: unconditional positive regard, regulation, stamina, tracking the speaker, being ready to learn or not being ready to learn—it’s all being used consistently within our school to help us talk about the things we are doing each day. Now that we have a common language, we talk as a staff on how to improve on what we’re doing, and it’s totally changed the way we interact with each other as staff and how we speak to students.

Increasing Staff Support and Retention

We’ve been quite pleased that in 2021, our staffing group remains stable continuing from last year. One of the unexpected benefits of BSEM, in combination with other school initiatives, is that we’ve had a significant drop in staff absenteeism. We think it’s because staff can now expect and keep working towards calm classrooms most of the time and feel renewed to keep building on that. We’ve also focussed on restorative practices and restoring the relationships with students when they’ve had a blow-up in the classroom. We have observed a significant drop in critical or extreme incidences which support everyone. We are seeing observable and positive changes in teacher wellbeing across the campus as teachers enact BSEM strategies to maintain focus on student wellbeing.

Goals to Prioritise First on the BSEM Journey

The first thing we did was to leverage the strengths that we already had at Monterey. Our staff holds deep values for care and compassion for the families in our community, and we wanted to build on that. The first big change that came for us was understanding trauma and then starting to deal with heightened students in a better way.

We then realised we didn’t have a consistent system in place to manage staff support for adverse behaviour. Back then, our systems were paper-based and too slow (e.g., teachers would give students coloured slips to show school leaders; there was too much lag time between the incident and restorative intervention support). Too much time was spent not learning.

Calming our environment went hand-in-hand with streamlining our systems for behaviour management, triage and restoration. Now, teachers have clear expectations for how to electronically (and immediately) communicate to leadership team members rostered to support throughout the day; and we are now successfully tracking the daily data for who, what, where and when to tailor our support rosters and provide much more informed intervention strategies for the students.

It’s a system that constantly evolves over time now. It’s intentional and teachers are definitely using the new systems well this year.

The Importance of the Ready to Learn Plans

For Monterey Secondary College, the Ready to Learn Plan is a forever strategy for us and our school culture. It’s how we are teaching our kids to stay with it—and keep learning.

Peter Langham

At Monterey, we’ve noticed positive shifts as teachers are remembering to use students’ Ready to Learn Plans to intentionally assist kids to self-regulate and then get back to learning. I’ve noticed many teachers stepping in proactively and before the student blow-up now saying, “Hey—we’ve got the plan and you can definitely use your Ready to Learn Plan now.”

I see students taking five minutes to walk around, calm themselves, which further reduces the blow-up. This process is building the capacity of teachers to proactively do what they want to do: calm the classroom climate and teach.

We started work with the Ready to Learn Plans in 2020, we put the systems in place, and we’ve been able to refine them into 2021. It’s now that we can really see the results of these changes. We’ve seen a significant drop off in heightened behaviours and disruption to learning.

As the Principal, I’m noticing a big change in the kinds of conversations that I’m having with students. Before BSEM, I would be saying to kids in the hallway: “Why are you out of class?” Now, I can say: “What’s on your Ready to Learn Plan and how can I help?” Every student now knows exactly what these prompts mean and what our consistent expectations are if you need a moment to self-regulate. They have permission to take care of themselves and their own learning needs. As a staff, we are shifting our mindsets from confrontation to support.

Like all members of our leadership team, I am on the ‘classroom support roster’ walking the halls, and I’ll see kids stepping outside their classes to use a calming strategy, and they’re telling me: “I’m heightened and not ready to learn and can’t be in this room right now.” This is the valuable insight they definitely could not articulate before BSEM and leads to a much more proactive conversation with them. I notice many more students are focused on what they can proactively do to get ready to return to classroom learning, and students now have their own words to request things I can do as the helpful adult to help them back into class.

The students have a better language for expressing their needs: The seating plan isn’t working for me because that kid is a trigger for me, and I think I learn better in the front of the classroom. We can helpfully negotiate and problem-solve together.

It’s not always perfect. For sure there are a small number of students who will take advantage and overuse their Ready to Learn Plan as a further distraction from learning. Because of our new electronic systems, we’ve gotten so much better at tracking and coding the behaviour data. We now have over 4,500 points of data to analyse just from the first two terms.

We note in our systems when a student has misused their Ready to Learn Plan; as in ‘student chose their Ready to Learn Plan five minutes ago, and it’s now 15 minutes and they’re not back’ or ‘student is not using their Ready to Learn Plan and is distracting others.’

That requires immediate follow-up and adult support, and we can track which plans for which students need revision and co-design with the student to ensure it works for them next time. It’s also a valuable opportunity to build relationships with the students and get their own voice in deciding their own de-escalation strategies.

We are noticing that students of concern are staying in the classroom far more now than they had been previously, but we can do more for next steps.

Tracking the Ready to Learn Plan data has helped our staff become more aware that we need more in-class strategies for students to self-regulate in the classroom before they step outside into the hallway or ‘go for a walk’.

For us and for our kids, the Ready to Learn Plan is a forever strategy. It’s how we are teaching our kids to stay with it—and keep learning.

Advice to Future Leaders on their BSEM Implementation Journey

We needed to ensure that BSEM was far more than just a strategic leadership priority. Yes, we ensured BSEM was in our strategic plan. But we needed to ensure staff buy-in. We immediately noticed that our staff enjoyed and were open to the BSEM training days. They loved the messaging of BSEM and were engaged to learn it.

But that was not enough. We needed to ensure that each staff member was enabled to make it their own and enact it in their classrooms.

We created an action team we’ve named: the BSEM Implementation Team. This team is composed of interested staff members who are working towards ensuring that the BSEM strategies are adapted to staff member’s individual classroom contexts and teaching styles—in a consistent enough way from our students’ perspectives.

The BSEM Implementation Team has representation from across the college—various levels of roles and leadership and representation from literacy, numeracy and subject matter faculties. They have created our great posters (showcased in this article) for all-staff reminders of our vision. This has been a valuable working group because initially, some staff members felt “I can see the importance of BSEM, but it doesn’t fit my style of classroom management.” These staff members just needed more opportunities to reflect together to understand how to leverage the strengths in their own practice for what was already working—and to create better efficiencies for communication and support within their instructional and year-level teams.

Expressions of interest for the BSEM Implementation Team led to our Junior Sub School Leader, the Re-engagement Assistant Sub School Leader, a member of our Wellbeing team and a Graduate teacher attending the Berry Street Educational Leadership Masterclass . This team, along with our Numeracy Leader, and an Education Support staff member are our guiding coalition. The strength and breadth of this team has helped raise awareness and spread consistent practice across the College, providing valuable insight and experiences from a range of different leaders, roles and experience levels. We’re only just scratching the surface of our implementation of BSEM but the impact this work has had is already so significant.

Click here to download the full-set of Monterey Secondary College’s posters

Future Goals in BSEM Implementation at Monterey Secondary College

Although we had very limited turnover in staff from last year to this year, we are now prioritising how to get new staff (teaching and non-teaching) on board to BSEM and our new ways of working quickly; and to ensure better supports for staff who need additional coaching for consistent routines and strategies.

We now have teachers who are lighthouses for this practice, and you can visibly see the strategies in classrooms when walking through the school. We have teams of staff working together and are using the BSEM language, routines, processes, and Ready to Learn Plans—and priming their classrooms for learning through positive emotion, fun and rigour.

Another piece of advice that I have for leaders is to consider how to communicate the journey to different staff members at different access points. The BSEM lands with individual staff members in their own unique ways. Lately, I’ve been saying to some staff: We’re not asking you to do a lot differently—but to look at your entire approach through small changes. The change needs to feel possible, accessible and truly useful to what teachers want for their students.

Finally, I need to add: Find the individual staff in your school who are the most likely drivers of BSEM in their own classrooms and get them talking about it and sharing their successes. Get other people in watching them, and then empower others to find their own voices within the practices.

BSEM thanks Principal Peter Langham and Monterey’s hard-working staff for their partnership with Berry Street. We also recognise the generous philanthropic support of the Jacobsen Family Foundation Partnership. We encourage you to learn from their journey and messages regarding sustaining practice change and support for their young people. We celebrate Monterey Secondary College and the many like-schools across our country working towards educational equity each day.