Thursday, 29 March 2012

Building an Ethos for our School

I have had this one email in my inbox for a while.  Normally I would respond immediately and delete it, but I keep looking at it and wonder what to do about it.  It was a simple suggestion to copy another school's ethos, "christianize" it, and adopt it as our own.  In itself, the suggestion is a good one.  Anything that will help us develop a moral culture for a child can't be bad, right?!

Yet, there was something that didn't sit well.  It was a simple suggestion that made lots of sense, but it left me with a nagging feeling.  After processing the suggestion for two weeks, I think I finally know what it is that bothered me.

It's not "us."  Encouraging generic moral behaviour is good, but they don't match the Christian character themes that we have been working on and emphasizing.  Of course, I see moral qualities in our students, and it wouldn't be harmful to build and improve on them.  But for the sake of a cool Christian themed acronym, we would be going a different direction.

Our school has a number of qualities that make us who we are.  It is in line with all the Bible lessons, teaching, discipline and playground themes that we have built on.  It is obvious when others come to visit.  Parents comment on them regularly.  They are pointed out in all of our government evaluations.  We need to emphasize these particular community themes, not start a new culture.

I had to first determine what distinctives are already there.  These are the themes I'd like to build on.  We can find ways to make them even better.  Then we can use an acronym to make our community even more distinctive.

As we develop the idea, things will obviously change, but here are my thoughts about encouraging and building on the strengths that are already in our culture.

1)  We are firmly dedicated to discipleship.  Our goal is to have our students ultimately become disciples of Christ.  Not only can every teacher readily comment on how they are teaching it, they can give you recent examples of how it is evident in their students.  Hand in hand with this is the student's responsibility for stewardship.  It is a common word in our community vocabulary.

2)  We have a strong feeling of community in our school.  People comment on it when they tour the school,  When speakers come in or evaluators spend time here, they cannot help but notice it and mention it. 

3)  Technology is a way of life here.  We are always looking at ways to fulfil the great commission with our "teckie tools."  Students are digital natives; they live and breath ways to communicate in ways that an adult has to take time out of their day to learn.  Our online school grew to mammoth proportions because of this knowledge.

4)  We are adaptable.  Our fearless leader has a quote that he uses in times of inevitable change: "blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken."  Though it is not an actual Biblical quote, it has become part of the culture here.  We find creative ways to educate.

Adaptability, Community, Technology, Stewardship.  "A.C.T.S."  Let's find a way to improve what we already have.  Let's build on these distinctives.  Let's trumpet it to the world.  This is "us."  This is who we are.  This is the culture we need to delve into, develop and grow.  This is the culture we need to celebrate. 

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."  Acts 4:31

In retrospect, I recognize now that my simple checklist reports to the community overseers don't do justice in representing what we educators are doing in the school community.  I'm sure that because of my lack of vitality in a long meeting for describing the wonderful programs and themes going on in our school, they are not getting a balanced picture.  They are focusing on the behavioural issues, not the triumphs.  I have learned that I need to let them know about the things we are doing well.  They should hear about the chapel themes and messages we are instilling in the minds of our students.  They need to watch the "Catch them being a Disciple" program and rewards in action.  They need to hear the excited students reciting their memory verses for all the office to hear.  They should see reports about how our students are volunteering in the community.  They should be aware of the charitable acts our students embrace to reach out to other communities.  They need to hear how community is bringing out the strengths of our students.

Hopefully, I can change my reporting to encourage our committee members in what our school community is doing for our children.  Hopefully, they will no longer look longingly at another school's ethos, but celebrate ours.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

More No-Nonsense Questions About Bullying

As a parent, I know the tendency to want to step in and immediately rectify any complaint my child might have against another. I am tempted to go right to the child in question and “enlighten” him… suddenly becoming a big bully myself. Unfortunately, when we take the solution out of their hands and put it in our own, they have not gone through the somewhat painful but empowering steps in learning to deal with the situation themselves. I may even be grooming him to be dependent on me for minor cases in the future as well. In extreme cases, immediate intervention is necessary, but in most cases, a few timely suggestions and support will help your child feel enabled to deal with the situation both now and in the future.

When my child comes home with a complaint of unkind treatment by others, what should I do?

Education begins immediately. Help your child to take the correct steps to stopping the behaviour the very next time it happens. Following the Matthew 18 principle we have discussed in the earlier articles, the first step is letting the intimidator know in no uncertain terms that this is not pleasant and the action should stop. If it continues, the next step is to loudly tell the intimidator to stop. There are now witnesses and other eyes apply the pressure to stop. Continuing unwanted behaviour past this point will be seen as a decision to bully. At this point, tell your child to seek an adult who will stop the behaviour and take steps to ensure it will not continue in future. Tell the teacher about the complaint the next day so he/she can be aware of in-class and playground interactions. Your child is now equipped to stop the unwanted behaviour on their own or can sit back and watch the system at work protecting them.

At what point do I as parent step in and approach the school? Do I speak to the teacher or the principal?

As a parent, step in immediately. Give them tools to deal with the situation the very next time it happens. Approach the teacher as soon as possible so they can be aware of any repetition or escalation. If you feel little change has occurred, feel free to approach the principal. The principal is not “in the trenches” so is not as capable of keeping a watchful eye out as the teacher. He will, however, be able to look into the situation and try to discover where the breakdown might have happened. He can then map out any further steps or intervention necessary.

I know that some parents don’t approach the school because they feel as though they would be making a mountain out of a mole hill. How would you respond to this?

A good question to initially ask your child might be: “What other problems have you had with this other student?” This question may help you decide if you need to intervene. Find out if this is a typical spat with another student or it is part of an emerging pattern with this individual. You know your child and how they interact with others. For example, is your child timid and the other aggressive? Does your child have a tendency to instigate reactions from other individuals also? You will have to cut through the emotion and determine if your child has truly been a victim in this case. Your parental instinct is critical here. Step in if you are convinced they are being bullied. If there seems to be no particular pattern, your child may have some relational issues and is in need of more intentional training in social interaction.