Making Sense of Managing Self

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Rod Galloway | 2008

Teaching Responsibility to Improve Student Learning and Behaviour in New Zealand Schools


How do busy schools implement the Key Competency Managing Self? This publication has been prepared in the hope that teachers who are already over burdened won’t need to reinvent the wheel. Schools looking for evidence based, teacher friendly and successful strategies for improving student engagement will be interested to know ...

Four appendices are offered for photocopying without restriction to assist teachers in developing character education approaches in their school.

Rod Galloway


School photo day is always a bit chaotic. Groups of children are asked to be suitably turned out, wait quietly, stand closely together and of course smile sweetly at the appropriate moment.

One class photo taken at our school in 2006 captured the teacher with a rather strained look. Standing beside her was a six-year-old who wouldn’t even look at the camera, let alone smile. Moments earlier a simple instruction to move into rows and face the camera had become the catalyst for a major confrontation. Then without warning the six-year-old suddenly declared he was not taking part. An experienced and understanding teacher reasoned with the boy to join the class. This confrontation with a strong-willed and defiant child led to the teacher being physically struck. While she was trying to restrain and calm the boy, he spat in her face.

Clearly this was not the behaviour our school expects, deals with often or tolerates. Nor was it the photo opportunity the teacher had been hoping for! During the days that followed this incident, a familiar pattern of events and discussion occurred. When students cannot manage their behaviour they are often stood down from class, parents are spoken to about rights and responsibilities and the children may even, as in this case, change schools. Sadly for this child, as with many, disruptive behaviour means disrupted learning.

The recently released Ministry of Education report, Student Engagement 2007 celebrates a combined reduction in the number of student suspensions and stand-downs (temporary suspensions) in the last seven years. But within the range of statistics presented it is evident that in primary schools alone there has been a large increase in the number of disciplinary actions since 2000. It has been surprising to some that the increase of 37% in primary school suspensions and stand-downs during this period has received no official acknowledgement or comment.

In addition, the key findings of three sector group reports on student behaviour in New Zealand schools released over the past year provide background to the Ministry of Education figures. These results also show that the numbers of disruptive students were higher than had been previously reported and that children spitting at their teacher was not uncommon.

The ideals and direction towards a knowledge society are well documented and accepted in New Zealand, and for many countries, including ours, lifelong learning has become a priority. There is clearly an economic rationale for this, but we must also measure the success of any nation by its social capital. For without a well-functioning society in which each member contributes, cares about others and follows agreed rules, any economic success will be shallow if it happens at all.

Is there a common set of behavioural and learning competencies that all children should have? If so, what is their relative importance?

If the foundations of building social capital begin in the family and then more formally in larger groups at school, how do we decide what priorities and approaches will best succeed in New Zealand classrooms?

Why Key Competencies?

When New Zealand’s Minister of Education launched the revised national curriculum in November 2007, he claimed the document was a major milestone for the nation’s education system.

He may have claimed this because the revision of the content had taken so long. An unprecedented five-year investigation had begun with a wide ranging curriculum review and finished with nine comprehensive consultation processes, involving input from more than 15,000 New Zealanders. But perhaps the minister was also referring to a new direction in the curriculum.

In outlining the essence of the new document, the Education Minister of the time, Chris Carter mentioned five Key Competencies that students would be expected to develop at school. Where did these five ideas of competency come from, why would they be included in a national curriculum and what is their significance?

The Curriculum Stocktake

After twenty years of curriculum updates and implementation models that left New Zealand teachers exhausted and frustrated, the government undertook a major review known as the “Curriculum Stocktake”. Included in its final recommendations were several suggestions for the reorganisation and prioritisation of the 1993 New Zealand Curriculum Framework’s list of Essential Skills. Fifty-seven skills, in eight groupings, had been deemed important if primary and secondary students were to achieve their potential and take full part in society. Perhaps because they realised this set of skills was not being implemented, that there was still not enough social cohesion, and that students needed to be better prepared for an unknown future, the government came up with these recommendations:

(Ministry of Education, 2003)

Which Skills?

Throughout history we’ve seen many attempts to identify, list and describe what individuals should know and be able to do in order to lead a successful life in a well-functioning society. For some, the commandments listed in Exodus sum up the skills needed; while others have looked for direction to the thinking of the ancient philosophers.

But after studying a number of civilisations, CS Lewis (1978) may have been the first person to suggest a framework of eight objective values common to all successful societies. Regardless of debate over racial, religious, traditional or historical contexts, this objective natural law or Tao according to Lewis (Lewis as cited by Heenan, 2002) is the way in which the universe continues and the how things finally work out. Successfully implemented in a growing number of schools, Cornerstone Values (see appendix 1) which are based on Lewis’s research provide a well-resourced, no-nonsense and effective approach to building strong character that is appreciated by both teachers and community.

The Lutheran-based Search Institute in the USA has also looked at the question of what young people need to achieve their potential. Their initial survey of 350,000 6th to 12th graders in 600 American and Canadian communities from 1990 until 1995 has now extended to two million adolescents. From the results of this survey, a list the Search Institute describe as 40 Developmental Assets was generated. They suggested there was a strong and consistent link between the number of assets a person had and the degree to which they would develop healthy and positive lives. The fewer assets young people had, they said, the more vulnerable they became. Their major finding was that across this large sample, the average number of assets for American youth was only 19 out of their ideal 40. This, they asserted was cause for much social concern.

The 1996 UNESCO publication Learning the Treasure Within, prepared by an International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, also promoted ideas for positive and productive lives. Education throughout life, they suggested, consisted of learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.

Adding to these examples of possible ways to equip our children for the present and prepare them for an uncertain future, is the work of member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 1997 the OECD established the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to monitor the extent to which students in member countries were acquiring the knowledge and skills to fully take part in society. PISA assessments in a range of curriculum areas have been used since this time to evaluate relative progress by several countries. But these assessments have happened with an understanding that success in life will depend not just on academic achievement, but also on a variety of influences and the adoption of skills or competencies (OECD, 2005). Further investigation was needed and the OECD’s Definition and Selection of Competencies (DeSeCo) project was set up. The project directors were charged with reporting to member countries the answer to a central question: What competencies are needed for a successful life and a well-functioning society?

Three broad competency categories were nominated:

  1. Using Tools Interactively:
    • Language and texts
    • Knowledge and information
    • Technology
  2. Interacting in Heterogeneous Groups:
    • Relating well to others
    • Co-operating, working in teams
    • Managing and resolving conflicts
  3. Acting Autonomously:
    • Acting within the big picture
    • Forming and conducting life plans and personal projects
    • Defending and asserting rights, interests, limits and needs

(OECD, 2005)

The DeSoCo report admitted that identifying a set of common competencies for a group of countries diverse in culture, and even for diverse cultures within a single country, was a significant challenge. However their set of conclusions has provided a contemporary framework that countries and cultures could conceptualise for themselves. There were also several connections that could be made to other lists such as the Cornerstone Values, the 40 Developmental Assets, and even the Ten Commandments.

A potential match to a New Zealand context and some of the Curriculum Stocktake recommendations was quickly recognised. Apart from a change to one draft competency name, the following list was generated.

DeSoLo Project Competencies
Key Competencies of the Revised
New Zealand Curriculum
Using Tools Interactively Using Language, Symbols and Texts
Acting Autonomously Managing Self
Functioning in Socially Heterogeneous groups Relating to Others
Participating and Contributing
Thinking (listed across Competencies) Thinking

(Hipkins, 2006)

These overarching and interconnected competencies were intended to replace the list of Essential Skills from the 1993 Curriculum. It was also hoped that by implementing the Key Competencies, teachers would more easily integrate all aspects of learning, offer an alternative view of the curriculum, and have a clearer focus for teaching practice. But just how schools choose to interpret these headings remains to be seen. Schools are deciding the ways in which the revised curriculum might be delivered, assessed and reported on under the Key Competency headings.

Although no priority order has been suggested, schools will consider their needs, making professional development and resourcing decisions based on what they perceive to be most important. One of these Key Competencies is likely to take immediate precedence.

A Case For Managing Self

According to the revised New Zealand Curriculum, the Key Competency of Managing Self is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude and students seeing themselves as capable learners. The thinking behind this competency is linked to the DeSeCo work around developing autonomy and therefore lifelong learning. Developing identity as a learner encompasses a broad set of behaviours. These can include aspects of personal health and fitness, organisation, goal setting, reflection and identifying strengths and weaknesses. In managing themselves as successful learners, students need to become enterprising, reliable, resourceful and resilient - behaviours most students cannot develop on their own.

Zimmerman (Zimmerman and Kitsatas, 1997) argues that self management is something to be taught, and describes the following four stage process that helps students to become self regulated learners.

But it’s not just learning that needs to be self-managed. Increasing autonomy requires appropriate behavioural outcomes to ensure positive engagement. Co-operation and participation are essential in most successful learning environments. Managing Self, then, is also about equipping students with strategies for meeting challenges and knowing when and how to follow someone else’s lead or make their own, well-informed choices (MOE, 2006). While Managing Self should not be reduced to a simple behaviour management tool, it is clear that if students are being stood down from school because of their behaviour, or disrupting their own or others’ learning in class, behavioural aspects of Managing Self will be vital to the overall success of this and other competencies.

How much weight different schools will give to the various competencies may depend on a number of factors. For example, the key findings of three sector group reports on student behaviour in New Zealand schools, released between July 2007 and March 2008, show why for some schools Managing Self (and especially the behavioural aspects of this competency) might become a first priority as a way to improve student engagement.

1.Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA)

Concern over the increasing incidents of challenging behaviour in New Zealand secondary school classrooms has been raised in a variety of forums since 1995. As a result of this growing concern the PPTA report Best Practice Behaviour Management – A view from the literature (Towl, 2007) sought to describe problems and possible solutions.

Key findings in this report (Towl, 2007) include:

2.New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI)

NZEI is the largest union in New Zealand, with a current membership of 45,752 primary and intermediate teachers and support staff. In 2006 NZEI became aware of an increase in the instances of reported physical assault and aggressive verbal confrontation by students and parents or caregivers. The results of a national survey commissioned by NZEI were released in the report Physical and Verbal Aggression towards Primary and Intermediate Staff prepared by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Key findings of this report (Croft, 2007) included:

3. Hawke’s Bay Primary Principals’ Association (HBPPA)

In 2007 the HBPPA asked the New Zealand Council for Education Research to survey teachers in their region to find out the extent of disruptive behaviour, the impact these students had, and the support available. Responses were gained from 525 teachers working in 79 schools.

Key findings of this report (Wylie and Hodgen, 2007) included:

One in five of the students represented in the schools surveyed displayed behaviour that led to at least one of the following results:

Eighty-four percent of teachers surveyed taught at least one student in their class whose behaviour had one or more negative outcomes in their day. The range of students displaying these outcomes was from none to 29, with an average of 5.5 per class.

The combined results of these three reports, all published around the time the revised New Zealand Curriculum was released, present a potentially serious and growing concern in New Zealand schools. While the extremes of stand downs (temporary suspension), suspensions, exclusions and expulsions amount to one percent of the student population, with another four percent who are often violent and difficult to handle (NZEI, 2006), the broader picture of behaviour that disrupts learning, according to the findings of these three reports, could be as high as 20 percent.

According to Hipkins (2006) a compelling reason to value Managing Self is that it is “highly correlated with learning success in school and in tertiary study” (Hipkins, 2006, p34). Life-long learning is a widely-held objective of the revised New Zealand Curriculum and articulated as a focus for the Key Competencies. It will rely on students actively managing their own learning and behaviour. Teaching Managing Self may be viewed by many as essential for lifelong academic and social success.

Successful teaching outcomes will, however, depend on foundations laid in the home. Indeed changes in parenting styles are a barrier to learning that many schools encounter.

Trouble At Home

New Zealand principals claim disruptive behaviour is the most common classroom barrier to learning that they have to deal with (Ministry of Education, 2006). According to New Zealand Ministry of Education statistics, since the introduction of stand-downs in 1999, the number of primary aged students involved has risen significantly. Violence and continual disobedience feature as the most common stand-down violations (Ministry of Education, 2007). Whether the rise in these figures means schools have become less tolerant of these offences or whether it means an actual increase in disruptive behaviour, some important questions emerge.

Asked whether schools were well enough resourced to cope with the increasing demands of disruptive behaviour, former Minister of Education Steve Maharey pointed out that these were also parent and community issues (NZEI, 2007). He suggested it was time to say to parents in this country “It’s your job to parent” (p5). Few would disagree, but improvements are unlikely if we rely on the job some parents are doing based on the overwhelming evidence that the differences between behaviours in many New Zealand homes and the behaviours that are expected for successful engagement at school are greater than ever before. Several writers point to some dramatic shifts in parenting styles that may contribute to this widening gap.

Mary Grant, one of New Zealand’s most well-known parenting commentators, believes modern parents struggle with exhaustion, high expectations and financial stress. Clinical psychologist Patricia Dalton (2007) suggests there are two possible outcomes of such issues that often arise together. She describes one of these outcomes as “over-parenting”.

In his recent book Under Pressure: How the epidemic of hyper-parenting is endangering childhood, Charles Honoré (2008) claims children are besieged by more parental anxiety and intervention than ever before. Parents are feeling the pressure of high expectations promoted through the media, schools, other parents and governments to micro-manage children’s lives for success in everything. He claims that in various parts of the world these parents are known by a variety of names such as:

Another possible outcome of parental exhaustion is what has been described as “under-disciplining”. While it would seem every generation has had concerns about the behaviour of the next, the continual increase in the number of New Zealand’s disruptive students raises the issue of parental discipline. As many families have moved away from a stay-at-home parent model, age-old traditions of child rearing passed on through extended family members may no longer be working. This might help to explain the popularity of a global parenting industry that seeks to provide quick fix solutions for busy, tired parents. The online retailer, for example, currently lists 87,709 books offering parenting advice from a wide variety of philosophical views. While it seems an entirely natural right of any parent to investigate and ultimately raise a child in a manner they deem to be appropriate, sooner or later societal norms, such as behaviour at school, will emerge.

Dalton does not advocate authoritarian parenting, but claims the level of respect children have for their parents is not as it once was. In response to children wanting their own way, colourful phrases such as “Do you think I am made of money?” or even a simple “No!” have been forgotten by some modern parents who seem to need their children to like them. It is hard to imagine for example, children appreciating a piece of fruit as a Christmas gift as they once did. New Zealand families with children now spend an estimated average of $1,100 at Christmas

Another clinical psychologist Stephen Poulter (2007) also believes the number of mothers who want to be best friends with their children is on the rise. This is supported by a recent American poll that showed 62 percent of parents surveyed claimed their children considered them to be their best friend (Smiley, 2006). Poulter points out that the roles of best friend and parent often conflict, with possible long term and negative consequences. Children who lack respect for their parents, shown by physical and verbal abuse and repeated disobedience, can potentially bring this set of challenges to the classroom, especially upon entry to school. This may explain why the biggest group who physically and verbally abuse teachers and support staff in New Zealand schools are five, six and seven year olds

With New Zealanders working the second longest hours in the OECD and 30 percent of our mothers with school-age children working full time, it might also be that many parents are just too tired at the end of a long working day for major conflict

It seems ironic that although the discipline required for Managing Self is fundamental to the notion of lifelong learning, some parents who want the best for their children could be the greatest threat to this outcome. If unrealistic, high expectations result in over-parenting, and exhaustion contributes to under-disciplining, Poulter suggests families consider returning to traditional roles. In the meantime, New Zealand schools will be exploring ways to meet these ongoing challenges, perhaps through evidence-based models of delivering Managing Self

Successfully Implementing Managing Self

One of the reasons suggested for the apparent failure of the 57 Essential Skills that preceded the Key Competencies was that there were too many of them in an already crowded curriculum. Despite the reduction to five and the perception by some that they may already be covered, we cannot assume there will be an easy and seamless fit of the Key Competencies into classroom programmes.

While there will always be many ways to integrate this learning, and clearly that is the intention, there is a risk that a tick-box called Managing Self placed at the bottom of a unit plan could dilute any explicit outcomes. The Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling - Best Evidence Synthesis (Alton-Lee, 2003) nominates self-regulated learning as one of the ten characteristics of quality teaching. This suggests that this competency must be specifically taught (p79)

A fuller exploration of what could be taught as part of Managing Self illustrates a potential complexity of how teachers will for example, provide opportunities for students to:

While the New Zealand Ministry of Education has given schools until January 2010 to consider how they might do this, New Zealand Normal schools were chosen to take part in a Ministry of Education sponsored Extending High Standards Across Schools (EHSAS) project exploring the Key Competencies. As we were one of these early adopter schools, teachers at our school have successfully implemented the following strategies over a three year period:

In light of the reported success of these strategies we support the Ministry of Education’s suggestion that three curriculum design questions be asked in every New Zealand school:

Educational change expert Michael Fullan reminds us that issues of overload have to be considered when schools are trying to transform any part of their culture. As with all curriculum initiatives, concerns around leadership, professional development, ownership, sustainability and resourcing need careful negotiation and monitoring. When this happens, according to Hipkins, Boyd and Joyce (2005), there will be a well supported and appropriate implementation of the Key Competencies.

Fig 1 A Code of Responsibility

If I open it I’ll close it, if I turn it on I’ll turn it off, If I make a mess I’ll tidy it, if I did it I’ll own up to it,

If I borrow it I’ll bring it back, if I use it I’ll put it away, If I start it I’ll finish it, if I make a mistake I’ll learn from it,

If I hurt someone I’ll apologise, if I want a friend I’ll be a friend, If I don’t understand I’ll ask for help, if I want to improve I’ll ask where to next?

If I manage my own behaviour and learning I’ll know what being responsible really means.


The New Zealand Government claims that the revised New Zealand Curriculum has received widespread support. This may simply be due to the reduced prescription. But it may also be because its future focussed ideas will lead to New Zealand becoming a more knowledge based society by encouraging lifelong learning.

In order for students to develop this set of nominated competencies, schools may need to shift toward evidenced based approaches that are more student centred and use specific character traits. Why not call them what they are? For example if we are to help students to self regulate their learning and behave better in the classroom and playground, we need to teach, resource and model a greater sense of responsibility.

Will this be enough to prevent children from spitting at their teachers and refusing to obey simple instructions? Experts and the media have repeatedly documented descriptions of these problems and the statistics that accompany them. By contrast, few real answers are ever offered. But for our school and an increasing number of other New Zealand schools that have implemented Character Education, there have been very positive results well documented by the Education Review Office (see These results only occur when a whole school community agrees to proactively teach, resource and model a greater sense of respect and responsibility. This in turn becomes an educational environment that allows good teachers to teach and good children to learn.

Successfully implementing the Key Competencies through the Cornerstone Values approach to building character is an answer to more social cohesion in a time of need. Managing Self taught as responsibility must find a more important place in every school as a context for building good character. For as long as children cannot make good choices, act appropriately and take responsibility for their actions, little else of substance will be achieved.

Appendix 1 to 4

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