The Penguins

A student  transitions into the Penguins when they start to realise that there is value in considering and connecting with others. This means that they are developing a second person perspective, where they understand that someone else may see something they can’t. This is huge perspective leap as suddenly you realise that your direct senses do not always tell you everything you need to know!

This new perspective means that the Rule Oriented Penguin starts to look at what others are doing to help them see the value of their own choices. The Penguin begins to compare themselves to others, mainly their closest friends and starts to want to be “like” this other. This is the developmental point where a child starts writing and making things to amuse their friend, to impress their “bestie”, to draw a house just like their friend or want the same toy as their best friend.

They also begin to remember the past for the first time with clarity and can subsequently hold impressive grudges. They may bring up an issue from three weeks ago as the reason they are sad today. They are still not focused on learning for any long term goal but if their friend is into doing it, so will they be! This is also the stage when the teacher becomes a significant “other” and they will try to learn to impress them or you as the parent. It is still all about “me” but now they know that “me” is best served by connecting with another and making “us”. As a Penguins teacher you have to be prepared for a hungry validation of the correctness of what they have achieved; tell me it is “good” against these rules you judge by. This is the stage when they may say things like, “I just want to make you happy” as they are learning that you have feelings too and that your response will elicit a response in them.

This means that the teacher needs to take into account two key and sometimes conflicting points:

1)      Accepting that they are at a point when they want to focus on the immediate impact of their choices on the friends much of the time, they do not see the group or the class. They will focus on rules and working to them but can not extrapolate beyond the specific rule application, they can group actions ( hitting, slapping and punching all fit in “hurting”) but they still find it extremely hard to imagine that a friendly tap on the arm to them can be perceived as a punch by their friend.
2)      Aspiring to connect them to a world bigger than their immediate experience so they can expand their connections as this is the movement to the Otter room by seeing the beginning of the small collective, their gang or small group. The Penguins are all about pair behaviours, working “with” another.

Behaviour expectations

Developmentally the Penguin student is able to remember what happened at break and who was there (a bit) although most of the time they were only focused on what they and their friend were doing. This means that “the truth” can be difficult to glean as it can literally depend on their perspective and what they saw. Lying will often start to emerge as they try and protect their friendships and anxiety over being “liked” becomes hugely important. Taking another perspective is only just developing and when stressed they need support from an adult to do this. For example, the same instance can elicit both these statements as true:

James : “She thumped me on the arm and grabbed the ball!”

Jill: “ We were just playing a game with the ball and I tagged him!”

Therefore the teacher’s role is to facilitate empathetic listening and perspective taking by asking questions and refocusing the roles the participants are taking.

Teacher; “So did you ask him if he was playing a game?”

Jill: “No.”

Teacher: “If you had asked him what may have happened differently? Do you want to ask him if he was playing now?

Jill: “Ok, were you playing?”

James: “No!!! I didn’t even know you guys were playing a game!”

Teacher: “Ok, so if James didn’t know you were playing a game it would have seemed like you were just thumping him. Do you want him to think that you would have thumped him?”


Conflict negotiation becomes very important at this developmental level as it is a very effective way for the students to learn to “step into another’s shoes” and empathise. The negotiations are very teacher led to make them fairly swift so that student’s limited attention spans can stay focused for participation.  The teacher must also ensure that everything is “fair” as an often heard phrase at this level is “its not fair!”, they mean that it did not follow what they thought were the rules.

Completing focused tasks

Penguins are interested in learning about the rules of the “world” as presented by the teacher and their friends. Teachers often need to work one-on-one with students during this stage, if the topic is not a popular one with their friends. Once the child is removed from their friends they are usually more than happy to work on whatever they need to with the teacher or aide. OMINI projects (own choice projects) tend to always be small group plans or individual ones that “happen” to be just like their friends.

However, the bulk of learning happens in small groups or pairs. The teacher’s role is to keep everyone on track and buoy along the individual child to complete tasks to an ever improving level that fits their goals. This is often the first time that we start to hear the phrase “this is boring”, which is secret Penguin code for “I am not sure how to do this.” The Penguin learner is eager for feedback wanting to know how to do “it right”. The teacher needs to ensure that the classroom environment remains emotionally safe for students to share confusion or lack of understanding. Lots of enthusiasm and encouragement is heard from the teacher in the Penguin room:

“keep going you are almost done.”

“I can’t wait to see what you wrote.”

“I am so impressed that you have got your work finished.”

This stage is desperate for feedback so the teacher has to give them a judgement response when they show their work otherwise they may assume you don’t like it. This is the stage when as an adult giving feedback you learn to own your response. This means that you are not saying “great work!” ( an externalised judgement) rather you are saying “I love that you made that blue because I love blue!” (an internalised feeling based judgement ) followed by “How do you feel about it?”. Sometimes this age group will need to know some aspect of their work is incorrect. This is fine as long as we don’t give it an arbitrary grade or mark that they can not see how to improve. The Penguin is fine with knowing that they need to change something as long as they have the chance to get it “right”.

Transitioning to caring about others

The Penguin student is beginning to feel empathy, as they get a taste of it when looking to see the feelings on other people’s faces or in learning to listen to their stories. The Penguin is just beginning to understand consequential thinking and to reflect on their choices. They are beginning to look for feedback and often need explicit help to understand the behaviour of others. Taking into account where they are in their development and the perspective we want them to move to; seeing the other’s perspective as different to their own,  the teacher’s role is complex. The Penguin teacher must focus experiences for this growth into thinking about others whilst helping the individual student to still hold onto their sense of self, rather than give it up to be accepted by others. This is a difficult balancing act and the ability of the student to begin to do this indicates their readiness to transition into the Otters.

A Snapshot of the Penguins

Every morning at BIS starts with a morning meeting, for the Penguins it is an opportunity for the days plan to be shared, recorded and discussed. The agenda is written up on the board for students to track and referred back to throughout the day. The agenda always includes lunchtime club events, extra curricula opportunities and any self directed learning goals. At least once per week this is also time for “show and tell”. Students practice being silent during this agenda setting so everyone can jump into the morning Lab Session quickly, this can be tricky at this stage but the Penguin aspires!

First session – Lab 1

Every morning begins with these focused academic tasks but the developing ego means that individual is still at the centre of the planning.  The student will work with the teacher, teacher-aide and parent helpers to achieve regular progress. The Penguin teacher will often have a one- on- one lesson during this time or small group activities with their Teacher-aide working with the other group. Standard activities cover academic essentials of spelling and maths facts, reading and grammar with weekly writing tasks.  The Penguins love playing learning games with friends and sharing their published works.

Morning tea

Second Session – Lab 2 or OMNI Project

Depending on the day of the week, the Penguins are working on science, history, geography, technology or the arts. The design of these sessions is through an exploratory model that allows students to deeply explore concepts through their own prism of interest. Therefore during these Lab sessions the Penguins may work on a variety of tasks, depending on their skill level. This is a busy session with students moving around the class to work  topics they need, going out on mini excursions, researching and making.


Lab Session 3 – Cultural and Individualised Program

After such a busy morning the afternoon session gives the Penguins time to relax and take a back seat as their teacher enjoys quiet reading or relaxation with them. Students begin to learn some relaxation techniques and may play some games to highlight kindness and sharing,friendship skills are paramount! This is also the time of the day when the BIS values are discussed and work on the“Who Am I” book occurs to help develop compassionate communication skills. Some days there will be Whole School Meeting or an afternoon sports session with the whole school. This part of the day is always about connecting to self or connecting to others. It is the chance to review the day, think about tomorrow and dream.

Home time

Now that you have explored the Penguins you may like to visit the Otters or the Dolphins or go back to the Home Page.

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