Warm/Strict: how to help every child be their best
PTE, and the educational movement it seeks to support, wishes educational excellence for every child. We believe that this is achieved when all schools have a strong culture and a great curriculum, underpinned by four key mantras: Warm/Strict; Knowledge Rich; High Ambition; Wide Curriculum.
What do we mean by… “Warm/Strict”?
We say ‘Warm/Strict’ to encapsulate what all at PTE, and those many teachers and heads who think the same way, see as the best approach to how children should be treated in the classroom. Although there is seemingly dissonant contrast between the two words, in reality they complement each other; neither works without the other.
First, the way the child is treated must be Warm because children cannot flourish if they are not loved and truly cared for; children are at their best only when they feel secure and protected. Every action a teacher takes in front of, or for, a child must therefore radiate compassionate concern, and a clear message of caring.
Second, however, children need boundaries to be set, or their behaviour will not conform to what is needed for knowledge to be imparted and absorbed. The clearer the boundaries, the easier it is for the child to relax within them and settle down to the process of getting a good education. The Strict that comes in here is a function of a belief among educators that the simplest way to achieve a comfortably structured environment is through a ‘No Excuses’ set of policies that lay out how students must behave in that school, and what happens if they don’t; after which the school has to follow through rigorously, always sticking to those rules and structures. ‘Warm and Strict’ then become two sides of the same coin, where clear rules and structures for children work, but only if the children know they are imposed not out of dislike for, or fear of, the child, but out of care and concern. Schools that achieve such a structure are happy places.
As the legendary teacher-trainer Doug Lemov says in “Teach Like A Champion” :
“You should be caring, funny, warm, concerned, and nurturing – but also strict, by the book, relentless, and sometimes inflexible.”
Warm/Strict means that you would say to a pupil “because I care about you, you must serve the consequence for being late” or “as I want you to master this topic, you’re going to stay back and redo your homework.” ‘No excuses’ means that there is never any need to argue with the child about ‘why’ something has happened, or whether a sanction is deserved or not; when an infraction happens, for whatever reason, sanctions are automatic and aren’t argued over. It’s more, though, than simply explaining to students why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Warm/Strict schools distinguish between behaviour and people (“that action was unacceptable”, not “you are out of order”), showing that consequences are temporary, after which the behaviour is forgiven; and they accompany it all with reinforcing warm nonverbal behaviour.
Great Warm/Strict schools ensure there are clear structures for pupils and staff to thrive within. Rules and routines are made explicit, so everyone understands what the rules are and why they exist: to enable pupils to be the best version of themselves all day, every day. Schools that do well at this do it by sweating the small stuff on each and every rule, because they think it matters. This means that pupils always know where they stand and how to succeed, and do well at the school and beyond the school. The school always supports them to succeed – in particular those who are finding it hard.
A sign that Warm/Strict principles have been successfully embedded is when any pupil in the school can explain to someone how things work in practice at the school. Another sign is when policies and techniques have been systematised such that they are successfully and consistently used across the whole school, and are easily and explicitly picked up by new staff, or even other schools.
Perhaps most importantly, all of this is based on the belief that everyone – pupils and staff – can always do better, and that it’s the job of those in charge to ensure this.
Leaders at Warm/Strict schools don’t talk or think about “good” or “bad” teachers. They don’t think that a teacher’s performance is primarily down to ‘character’, or that it’s for the individual teacher to win the class by building relationships with kids or ensuring good behaviour through their own set of rules. Rather, they see it as a matter of a school-wide shared teacher mindset, coming about through training with the right tools, and that it’s the leader’s responsibility to provide these, in order to ensure the whole teaching team support the Warm/Strict approach, and win with it.
The same attitude should also be used in the way the pupils at Warm/Strict schools are seen. Both Leaders and Teachers must believe that given the right circumstances – rules, rewards, curriculum, support – every child can achieve incredible things. Poverty, SENs or other challenges aren’t barriers that block success, but hurdles to be overcome with Warm/Strict help, with the ultimate goal of pupils becoming more independent and resilient over time and leaving the school with the potential to become great, productive citizens.
Getting Warm/Strict right is the very first step in a great school – and this is why so many, including us at PTE, believe it is so important.
Questions for parents to ask a school about Warm/Strict:
- What are the policies on Phones?
- What are the policies on school uniform/dress?
- What are the policies on detentions?
- What are the policies on exclusions?
- Is the approach taken on policies a ‘no excuses’ one?
- Has the school heard the phrase ‘warm/strict’? what does it think of it? What does the phrase imply to the school?
- Can you ask any child at the school to explain various policies (say, on phones, on homework, on detentions) and get a uniform, comprehensible explanation?
We want educational excellence for every child, and believe that this is achieved when all schools have a strong culture and a great curriculum, underpinned by four key mantras: Warm/Strict, Knowledge Rich, High Ambition, and Wide Curriculum.