The trouble with schools is that their staff could run the world if they put their minds to it.
From the outset, I accept that I might be over stretching it with this one, but I hope you’d all agree that there’s quite a bit that needs sorting out in our world and who better than those with the skill set of workers in schools. Allow me a few minutes to explain why . . .
It’s incredible how so many of the traits we had when we were young stay with us; possibly toned down as the dopamine that floods a young person’s system eases off and our neurons finally begin to connect, but the traits remain. We all try to supress them as we move through adulthood, but we still have those bouts of jealousy, the fear of loneliness, feeling left out and not fitting in. We like to get our own way and hate it when we’re proved wrong. Most of us can probably give examples of workplace bullying they have witnessed or experienced, and how many of you at times wanted to destroy someone who is a constant irritant, or who is blocking you in some way. Let’s not forget cliques, gangs, alpha males and queen bees (Apologies if the last two examples offend), and the possible intimidation, sense of inadequacy and fear we might feel from these people, but at the same time the desire to be noticed by them or be part of their group. And underpinning all of this, a deep sense of injustice when things don’t go your way, be it right or wrong.
We do well to hold this all in, but occasionally they leak out and that’s when we see the child in us come to the fore. Hence the reason, almost every time yet another political furore, blunder, fiasco, falsehood comes to light, I can see a clear line from the incident to adolescent behaviour in schools. So, who better to put in place measures to prevent this behaviour or deal with it appropriately when it occurs, than school employees who have to manage these behaviours on a day-to-day basis?
As school leaders we encourage staff to model not only methods of learning, but appropriate ways we ought to behave in a social setting or in relation to particular circumstances. I wonder how many staff in schools partied together in the staff room during lock down? And unlike a certain government minister who brought in the social distancing rules but exhibited negative distancing in a cupboard somewhere in Westminster, I’m sure we all tried our best to exhibit exemplary social distancing when schools were open, regardless of our views. There are around 2000 people working for the Government in Westminster, but almost two million employees in schools. Has anyone heard of any lockdown infringements by school employees? Possibly a few, but hardly on the same scale and – we didn’t write the rules.
So, in terms of modelling good practice, I’d like to think we do better than those in power.
In schools, how many of you have had to deal with adolescents who can’t lose face. I remember fairly recently sitting in a room with a 15-year-old boy who had just had an argument with another boy of the same age, and which had escalated to hard staring and pushing back and forth, all with an audience loving every moment. Our conversation went along the lines of:
Me: Okay, so we’ve agreed that there is going to be no more trouble in school, but how do know there won’t be a fight on the way home?
Boy 1: There will be a fight, maybe not on the way home, but probably tonight sometime.
Me: But why, I’ve just had the two of you in here and both of you agreed not to fight.
Boy 1: Yes, we agreed not to fight in school, but we will have to fight. I can’t lose face, he pushed me and insulted me in front of my friends.
Me: So that means you are both going to do damage to each other, with the chance of one of you being seriously injured, all because you don’t want to lose face in front of your friends?
Boy 1: That’s how it is sir, and no matter what you say, we will have to fight. But I promise you we won’t fight in school.
The discussion went on in a similar vein and it was replicated with the other boy. We therefore pulled out our ‘restorative practice’ big guns which eventually, after much negotiation over several days with both families (who also didn’t want their sons to lose face), we resolved the issues and the boys agreed to go their separate ways. I did hear rumour that they did fight a few months later during a school holiday, but they were adolescents. It shouldn’t have to happen with adults, but it does.
The war in the Ukraine is costing Russia a fortune, but will they lose face by backing out. I don’t think so. Nor will America or the UK stop supplying weapons to the Ukraine. Their own rhetoric won’t allow them to lose face either, they’d prefer to keep supplying the weapon until the last Ukrainian is standing.
While we’re on the subject of the war. What about Putin? Did we exclude him to quickly, before negotiating? We all know what happens at school when we exclude a misbehaving child from the class; another one steps in to take on the role. If we temporarily exclude a child from school, there is enough research to show it has little effect. Now here’s someone (Putin) that schools who are ‘Trauma Informed’, can work effectively with. We would listen to the child in school and try to understand their behaviours before working out what sanction is appropriate. What if we find the child went to tell a teacher that his friend was being picked on (as Putin allegedly did when he asked the United Nations twice to do something about the Russian people being persecuted in the Donbas region), but the teacher ignored him, so he decided to sort out the problem himself? Perhaps the United Nations and nation states would do well to look at the expertise and experience schools have in listening to the voice of the communities they serve and of the staff who work in schools
We might know that the boy has done something similar before and so work with him to see if we can get to the root of any possible insecurities. Everyday school’s work wonders with young people who have many adverse childhood experiences. In cases where the child’s damage is beyond repair (certainly in a school setting), then we would refer on and try to secure a more appropriate setting and more specialised support. Hmm, this is a difficult one, is the current situation beyond the capacity of the United Nations? Don’t criticise my political naivety, I’m just playing with thoughts here!
On another matter, 19 children and 2 teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman in Texas a few days ago (at the time of writing this). The US Government knows only too well that their gun laws need to be radically changed, but for years pro-gun lobbies have argued against change. By capitulating to these lobbies, the Government is putting political gain over the welfare of young people and employees in schools (not to mention shopping malls etc). Our government closed schools down and allowed learning to be severely disrupted over a two-year period resulting in immeasurable damage to young people, not only in terms of learning, but their welfare at home (child protection rates doubled in my school) and future lives (exam results). The Government again put political gain first, by appeasing the masses that these ‘vectors of transmission’ (they never were) would be better off at home isolating. Schools are not concerned about political gain. They put the welfare and wellbeing of their students first and with that principle in mind ‘good’ decisions can be made. Can you think of any situation where a government in the past has put the interests, and health of adults before children?
Think about it, every day we bring together upwards of a thousand adolescents with all their hormones and neurons in total turmoil, into fairly closed in environments. Even in the most challenging schools, by and large we manage it fairly well and as a result have developed a rich expertise in managing and leading fairly awkward people. Perhaps it’s just my age, but from my perspective the world is not being managed or led well at the moment. Can schools take over??
Disclaimer: I do not want to take over the world – honest!