“Nicola has not reached her full potential”, “Nicola could have tried harder”, “Nicola does not apply herself as she could” – anyone else recognise these remarks from your school reports? Yes, not unusual I’m sure. I’ve been pondering the messages we try to give out to children and young people in schools through the things we say and do and I’ve come to some conclusions.
We think that raising the standards and aspirations of our children will encourage them to achieve more. If we talk about fulfilling your dreams and potential through perseverance, then those children who are disadvantaged in some way will all of a sudden overcome those obstacles and become Prime Minister. I’m being a bit facetious I know, but I do think we’ve got so many things upside down in our educational system.
What about the values we have in schools too? We see this a lot in Primary Schools but also Secondary where there may be a set of values that we promote within the school. These are usually three values that roll off the tongue and I understand the importance of emphasising these things to our children. However, many of these words are presuming that children either have a solid family life with good role models, do not have learning disabilities or other conditions that prohibit some of these things, or slot nicely into the mould of the cookie cutter approach to education.
Here are some of the words we’ve come across recently to give you an idea. Before I tell you them though please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying these words are bad, or that values are bad in themselves. What I am saying though is that maybe we could consider alternative words that focus on emotional development too (I’ll come back to that later).
- Happy, successful and hardworking.
- Education, motivation and aspiration.
- Consideration, attitude and respect.
- Experience, excel and enjoy.
- Dream, believe and achieve.
Again, all good words and great things to aspire too. BUT what about if you’re the child who’s had trauma in your life that makes it hard to be happy and have a good attitude. Maybe you can’t see past this week let alone to dream for the future. What about if you are too hungry or worried about being safe to be able to excel? If you are in a constant survival state, then being hardworking and motivated might be a problem for you.
How do we encourage children to reach beyond themselves then? Can we teach them to change their behaviours and treat others with respect as well as themselves? I believe we can BUT we need to have a completely different approach. We need to acknowledge that not being able to demonstrate these values may actually be due to unmet needs, instead of bad behaviour. We need to look at meeting those needs and in time helping the child to find their own values and individual dreams and aspirations.
So, as we were discussing this whole are in our office this week we came up with our own three words for children and young people. These are what we think would really help children and allow them to be individuals as they learn to be part of a community. I’m sure there are more that you could come up with but we liked the fact that these focus more of encouraging individuality and building emotional resilience.
Character – this is a hard one as of course it does rely on the right environment to hone good character, but it’s about looking at the whole child’s development not just the academics. It’s about valuing those little steps of progress and seeing the uniqueness of every child.
We also need to think about our character. If values are something everyone in the school adheres to that means us as adults too. I’m amazed at some of the things I hear children say about how they are treated in schools. Shouted at, shamed, made to feel small, laughed at, not taken seriously when upset. These are all signs of a culture where focusing on good role modelling is missing. Maybe we need to step back and look at our own characters too.
Compassion – we strive to get children to respect each other and rightly so. BUT, what about those children who have not experienced kindness or been treated well by others? In our schools we need to be encouraging tolerance and a compassionate approach to difference. Inclusion is not just about being in the same building, it’s about recognising difference and celebrating it.
For us as adults too – are we compassionate with each other? Do we make allowances for those days when we’re just too stressed to listen? Are we stepping back and considering what challenges the children may have in their lives that lead to the difficult behaviours we see?
Creativity – one of my favourite values, and the older I get the more I want to see this in myself and others. Wouldn’t it be great to have children who come out of school excelling in something unique? So they didn’t get 5 GCSEs A-C’s but they have a social conscience that will make a huge difference someday. Or maybe sport is something they excel in, or drama, music, animal care. I know we do these subjects but do we put value on them and the way children may learn in completely different ways?
Adults too – when was the last time you took a risk in a lesson by delivering something in a different way? Being aware that each child learns differently and experiences the world around them differently. Being creative in our approach to children and their personalities could release them to achieve in ways we’ve never even considered before.
So, I hope in my ramblings today you have gleaned something for yourself – whether thinking about the students and the messages they receive, or about your own values and the assumption you may make. As ever I’m open to any comments you may have on this subject – feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.