In September 2015, ICHK Secondary adopted the 5+1 Model.
As its name suggests, 5+1 is a way of conceptually modelling students in order to support them better as learners in the school environment. Again, as the name suggests, it has five core parts, plus one additional component. The five parts relate to the work of five thinkers in education, psychology, human relations, and child development. The plus one, meanwhile, relates to the reality that, despite their similarities and the things they have in common, all children, as with all human beings, are unique and, if they are to flourish, need to be respected and treated as such. A good school will be designed as far as possible to manage this challenging task – that is, it will be designed, organised, administered, and run so as to take benefit from useful insights into common human traits and tendencies, while yet remaining mindful of and responsive to children’s individual living and learning profiles.
The five thinkers referred to in 5+1 are Carol Dweck, Lev Vygotsky, Kieran Egan, Erik Erikson and Eric Berne. The headlines associated with the work of these thinkers, which the model encompasses are:
- promoting growth mindsets,
- accessing and extending endurance in the ‘learning zone’,
- honouring phase-related psychosocial development,
- appreciating cognitive dispositions and their significance for curriculum design,
- and encouraging honest, purposeful communication across the community.
The strength of the model, we believe, lies in the dynamic and iterative relationships between the individual parts. When combining variously together, as is the hallmark with any complex model or network, novel features emerge from the different components’ layered interplay that strengthen their overall impact and effect.
Six years after its introduction, the 5+1 model is particularly on my mind because, during our recent CIS re-accreditation visit, not for the first time, a question was put to me that, partly by virtue of its being repeatedly asked, is worth spending a little time to consider: the question being, Why 5+1? Why not 6+1 or 22+1 or 50+1? The inference being, Is there really nothing further to add – can just five components truly offer a definitive guide to teachers working with secondary school students?
The answer, of course, is no, they can’t. And nor are they intended to. What they are intended to do is encourage a first step on a journey towards gaining a more thoughtful understanding of students’ learning needs and learning potential, and, in doing so, to help establish a set of grounding principles that promote a climate of purposeful growth and positive development. In structuring the model what was sought, then, was as portable and elegant a series of mutually-supportive insights as possible, one that would engage usefully with the following assumption:
Students attend school in certain attitudinal states during a particular phase of their lives in order to learn (in the widest possible terms) in a social setting. They accomplish this via recourse to variously formal and informal curricula under the supervision and guidance of adults, with whom they will ideally enjoy strong relationships built on trust founded in honest, clear and sympathetic communication.
At a minimum, then, the aim was that the model should address these elements: mindsets, openness to learning, psychosocial development, curriculum design, and strong interpersonal relationships. Clearly these are substantial topics and have been explored extensively by many thinkers, so that the challenge becomes not an exhaustive review, which would be impossible and self-defeating, in any case, but a manageable way-in to areas of concern. The presumption is that even a limited journeying along these lines of interest and enquiry is better than no journeying at all.
The 5+1 Model, consequently, was structured so as to optimise the benefit taken from a limited set of theories and insights, while retaining the genuine aspiration that, with carefully calibrated professional development, teaching staff might genuinely access, internalise, and draw on its lessons. In this respect, five seemed a magic number in that it was large enough to be properly accommodating, but not so extensive that it became unwieldy and impractical.
In short, in line with our understanding at ICHK that scripts and strategies, routines and recipes, methods and blueprints are all technologies, developed and shaped in culture to be relied on by individuals, the 5+1 model is itself conceived of precisely as a technology – a tool designed to support effective thinking and impactful action, which might have been fashioned differently, and which, as well as its strengths, has its constraints and limitations.
So, to answer the earlier question, yes, it might have been the 6+1 Model or the 22+1 Model – for there is plenty more of value that we could add. But, by adding more, we must ask: would we have reduced the chance that its insights would actually be implemented; would we have relegated its importance to hypothetical rather than active status? Would we have got the balance wrong and, to coin a phrase, let the great get in the way of the good? Or, to put it another way, as Confucius is reputed to have said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
And, in any case, 5+1 was never intended as the fabled “silver bullet” for “managing behaviour” or “enhancing performance”, as if such ends were in only the teachers’ hands, but rather as an opening gambit (albeit a rich and meaningful one) in a conversation about the physical and psychological welfare of children – one that encourages a deeper capacity for concern throughout the school community.
By way of closing, I’ll note that CIS’ follow-up question was another that’s been put to me repeatedly, How can you know that your teaching staff understand the model and put it into practice?
The answer, of course, is that I can’t know, I can only sense and hope.
The hope is based on two factors. First, the explicit introduction to the model’s five aspects that each new member of staff receives in their first year at ICHK. Second, the extent to which 5+1 infuses the general culture and climate of the school, so that newcomers are simply immersed in its effects and come to assimilate its teachings.
The sense is based impressionistically: on the changes that become noticeable in teachers’ demeanours as they spend more time at ICHK. As they come to appreciate the degree to which our students are committed to and on-board with the project of their own learning, teachers are more able to relax into being the truest and most authentic version of themselves as educators, bringing the fullness of their energies to the vital, constructive, positive-minded aspects of teaching rather than the more wearisome demands of ‘classroom management’. For this to happen, it is imperative that our students conceive of themselves as co-creators of the classroom experience and not as mere recipients of the teacher’s dispensations. And this self-conception itself arises from the culture and climate promoted by 5+1.
So it is, in this way, the system benefits from the virtues of a positive feedback loop, with each active element – students, teacher, class experience – consolidating and strengthening the potential of the others. The energy that is freed up in such a loop is the life-blood of learning and the basis on which both personal and community growth depends; it is to be fostered, nurtured, safeguarded by all means available.