Responsibilities and compliments ensure a good atmosphere in the classroom

Pupils with more initiative, a sense of responsibility, involvement, positive behaviour, and less bullying and exclusion. The promises of the ‘SterkWerk’ (Strong Work) programme are certainly grand, and the preliminary results are proving to be very positive.

Leerkracht Romke Talsma van CBS De Springplanke in Engwierum bij de complimentenmuur. Foto: Pepijn van den Broeke

A boy known for teasing now helps to maintain order as a playground monitor – with the aid of a whistle. Two girls who can’t play a prominent role in studying subjects, now organise craft activities on Friday afternoons. A boy who doesn’t give out compliments easily must now see to it that others do.

“It’s about the children portraying themselves in a positive way,” says Romke Talsma, a teacher from groups 6, 7 and 8 at a primary school in Engwierum. His school, CBS De Springplanke, took the decision to participate in the project SterkWerk, a way to meet primary school pupils’ needs for status. Sociologists from the University of Groningen are investigating whether this approach helps to prevent bullying.

Professor René Veenstra is the programme’s initiator. “We are seeing more clearly now that many forms of bullying are linked to popularity. If the bully is a popular figure, then it’s difficult for the other children to form a front. You want to be with someone like that.”


Telephone assistant, silence monitor and storage cupboard supervisor

The secret then is to link popularity to positive social behaviour. This is what SterkWerk aims to do. All pupils are given a job in the classroom, which has been carefully devised for them. Romke Talsma: “We drew up a whole list together with the trainers of SterkWerk, and I came up with even more roles with the children themselves. It works very well, and they are very serious about it. You see their self-confidence growing, as well as their enthusiasm, involvement in the school and the classroom, and personal responsibility. It’s not just about preventing bullying, but also about letting all pupils grow. Certainly, also the quieter perhaps more isolated children.”

The spelling coordinator, the interior adviser, the timekeeper, the silence monitor, the repairer, the editor, the safety inspector, the green fingers, the telephone assistant, the sports manager, the messenger, the storage cupboard supervisor, the bin man, and so on, there are many more roles. Talsma: “The idea is that popular children are given roles with a slightly higher status. It sometimes occupies them for several minutes a day.”


This system also functions well during the classroom’s weekly meeting. With most of the talking done by a chairman, a treasurer and the head of compliments, positions with status. René Veenstra: “This meeting enables children to directly influence the ins and outs of the school. Bringing with it a great sense of responsibility, and it gives the opportunity to award special attention to various children.”

The compliments form an important part of the methodology. Every child should have them, something that the pupils themselves see to. Colourfully painted coffee filters hang on a cupboard in the learning lobby of the primary school De Springplanke, one for each pupil. They contain notes with the most beautiful compliments from classmates. Romke Talsma: “It is unbelievable how quickly SterkWerk has become commonplace with us. We’ve only been doing this a few months and already the children are monitoring the process themselves.”

SterkWerk can be used in addition to existing programmes concerning social safety, such as Kanjer and Kiva. “This is its appeal. It doesn’t take any extra time, you only have to train for two half days”, says Romke Talsma. “In fact, the kids will just take over your duties after a while.”




The basic idea of SterkWerk is flown in from the United States. The model has been used there for some time, but then in secondary schools. Sociologists from the University of Groningen have been working on the development of the programme for Dutch primary schools since 2016. A pilot was launched at two schools to put the theory into practice. This number has now been expanded to fifteen primary schools. The first results are expected in a year’s time.

The website of SterkWerk