I've been reading Ten Big Ideas of School Leadership by Mike McCarthy in Edutopia today. Mike reflects on his 30 years as a teacher and principal and what he has learnt. One of his ideas is:
If you wait too long to make changes to a school culture, you have already sanctioned mediocre behavior because you're allowing it. That's when change is hard....
This week we had an in-service day devoted to the PHSE programme and behaviour. This last session was extremely interesting as teachers from all areas of our school, from Early Years to Grade 12, were asking for some sort of policy or guidelines about what is (and what is not) acceptable behaviour from our students. We don't want a situation where one teacher reprimands a student who is behaving in an unacceptable way, only to find that other teachers allow it. A good example of this on our campus is snowballing. As we are in Switzerland there are many months when snow is on the ground - is it acceptable or not to have snowball fights during recess? Sometimes students want to pick up some snow and throw it at their friends - it is very tempting - but sometimes this can get out of hand. Obviously we don't want to spoil anyone's fun - but fun has to be enjoyable for everyone and the distinction between a soft snowball and a hard iceball is hard to describe to everyone's satisfaction.
When we lived in Bangkok, we first lived on the 9th floor of an apartment block and had big balconies all around. Our children spent their teenage years in the city, and I remember having a conversation with my son when he was about 14, standing on the balcony. We were both leaning on the railings and looking down at the pool below. On this particular day I remember having a discussion with him about limits - the railing was the limit we could go to - it was there to stop anything bad happening to us. We liked having the railing there as we could go right up to it and look over, but we couldn't step over it. Actually without the railing we wouldn't have gone right up to the edge of the balcony as it would have been too scary - but we felt safe with it there. Our standards and values as a family were like those railings. Our children knew where the limits were and could go right up to them and even peer over, but they knew not to step over the lines. Looking back at this now, our son, who is 19, says he's glad we set these limits as they allowed him to make the most of his experiences there.
Our students want the same limits and guidelines from us as teachers so they know how far to go with us. They don't really want a different rule or boundary for each teacher - they like to know where they stand. As teachers we do need to deal quickly with mediocre behaviour (and work) to let students know it is unacceptable and that we expect more of them. If bad behaviour is allowed to continue it becomes the norm, then it is hard for us to raise the bar and tell them we expect better. We can't allow ourselves to become complacent, we can't allow our students to drift, every day is precious to them and shouldn't be wasted.
As a teacher and as a parent of a 16 year old at the same school where I work, I want a behaviour policy to be put in place. I hope something good comes out of our in-service - certainly my impression is that the teachers themselves want to see a positive change in this area.
Photo Credit: Mood Playground by Nonac