Former Hamilton principal teaches virtues programme in Cook Islands

Former Frankton School principal Judy Dixon has been teaching virtues in Rarotonga.

Former Frankton School principal Judy Dixon has been teaching virtues in Rarotonga.

Judy Dixon has been enjoying her retirement in the Cook Islands. 

The only problem is, the former Frankton School principal hasn't quit working.

Dixon has been teaching schools strategies that encourage kids to be accountable for their behaviour.

The programme has been a success at Frankton, Hamilton, with recent data showing children no longer showed anger in the playground. 

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"We know it works because it had results in Frankton," she said.

"It's an educative programme because it ensures the child takes responsibility for their own social and moral conscience."

Since 2005, Frankton School has had a focus on virtues, based on the Virtues Project by Linda Kavelin Popov, Dan Popov and John Kavelin.

It teaches kids with examples instead of focusing on blame.

"I was sitting in my office one school holidays and this piece of paper come across my table. It said, would you like to find out about a programme that would bring out the best in children and adults by using just five strategies, and I thought, oh yeah," Dixon said.

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"Everyone has all the virtues inside - it's the matter for the educators to bring them forth.

"It's not the blame and shame that we were brought up with.

"For example, instead of saying to your kids, 'Don't be noisy and loud when nanna comes to the house you kids like you always are', you say, 'I'm looking for peacefulness when nanna comes to the house, she's not used to noisiness'.

"It's calling for the best in children."

Dixon just returned from a month in Rarotonga, where she held workshops with teachers, principals and teacher aides.

She didn't want to make a big deal of it, but Dixon does the workshops for free, as long as she has somewhere to stay.

"The Cook Island Māori is similar to New Zealand Māori. I've had predominantly Māori students in my schools so it's been quite easy to connect with the people over there," she said.

"I've got over 40 years' teaching experience so I have plenty of examples.

"One school had 30 teachers and the principal and you get change if everyone is on board because they're all hearing the same language."

She taught five strategies, which are: the speaking language, putting in firm boundaries, looking for teachable moments, honouring the spirit and spiritual companioning.

Dixon retired as Frankton School's principal in April 2015. While there, she was always big on behaviour modification but it didn't really address all issues.

It wasn't based on restorative justice - which is what the staff were trained in.

"It externalises the language and the child is still left whole and that is really important," she said.

"It says, the problem is the problem and the child is not the problem, but by sorting it out with the kids, we can come to the answer to the problem.

"I found with boys, when I say, I'm looking for accountability guys, and they think, 'yeah she thinks I've got it, I don't know what it is but it sounds good'."

The Virtues Project is now utilised in over 100 countries and in several schools in New Zealand.

Dixon and Glynis Knox have written a book, Tending the Field - Growing good character from within.

The book is based on the character programme and was written to assist schools. 

Anyone can purchase the book by emailing


 - Stuff


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