A recipe for a happy school

Students at the Gozo College Rabat Primary School make a music video (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

Students at the Gozo College Rabat Primary School make a music video (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

Lelio Spiteri is the principal of the Gozo College Rabat Primary School, the largest primary school on the island of Gozo. As the principal of Rabat Primary, Spiteri is determined to make learning fun, he says at TEDxUniversityofMalta, unlike the school life he experienced as a child.

“When I was young … all that schooling was about was books and exams,” he says. Spiteri liked learning, but found the regular routine uninspiring. So, when he became a teacher — and eventually — a principal, he decided to shake things up. At Spiteri’s school, the motto is “We are a happy school.” Assemblies include dance routines and facts of the day; exams are seen as a means to an end, not the consummate marker of a good education; students have outdoor fitness sessions to mitigate stress; the school takes on volunteer projects in the community.

“I don’t care about exam marks,” Spiteri says, “I care about children … Children should come to school because they enjoy being at school … a place where they feel happy.”

Spiteri says small gestures can transform a child’s attitude toward education. After mid-term exams, the school delivered a letter to each child in the fourth, fifth and sixth grade. The letter encouraged the students to remember the school’s values when considering their mid-term grades –  that  “your attitude and who you are as a person is much more important than any mark on a test” and “don’t give up easily when the going gets tough.”

The mid-term letter by staff at the Rabat Primary School (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

The mid-term letter by staff at the Rabat Primary School (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

The school also organizes big, school-wide projects and activities — whether that’s creating a music video about sustainability or taking part in an educational charter flight from Malta to Sicily or organizing a food drive for a local animal rescue.

Students from the Gozo College Rabat Primary School collect food for an animal rescue (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

Students from the Gozo College Rabat Primary School collect food for an animal rescue (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

From the Gozo College Rabat Primary School's sustainability music video (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

From the Gozo College Rabat Primary School’s sustainability music video (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

It is crucial for a principal to get to know kids — to get in the classrooms, participate in activities — to run a happy school, Spiteri says. “Knowing the names of all [the students] is no easy task,” he says, “but it does make a difference. Showing children that they are not just a number, that, ‘I know your name; I know who you are; you are important to the whole school community; you make a difference in all that goes on at school.’”

A morning assembly at the Rabat Primary School (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

A morning assembly at the Gozo College Rabat Primary School (Photo: Lelio Spiteri)

“I believe in child-centered schools where the children are protagonists, not spectators,” Spiteri says.

To learn more, watch his whole talk below:

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