Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Jumping up and down in muddy puddles

I chaired the first meeting yesterday of a working party to rewrite the behaviour policy. I randomly selected parents, staff and governors and will be meeting with children as well. Three years ago the staff and I decided on the policy, based on the model one. The governors ratified it and that was it. This is going to sound daft, but I'm not entirely sure the children and parents were all that clear on what was in it!!
This often happens with policy making. Leadership is needed, of course, otherwise nothing would actually happen. However, sometimes that ends up bypassing the very people that are within the system. The people the system is for. Whom we, as leaders of public service organisations, are there for.
When I started the meeting I spoke about wanting them involved and gaining clarity about everyone's views. However I also said that our policy is based upon the assumption of good parenting. We may be in loco parentis but we are not their parents. To come back to one of the strap lines within the every child matters policy several years ago 'schools do not raise children, parents do'. We accept fully our responsibility to educate, and in a far wider remit than purely the academic. However, the effective teaching of basic manners and social skill begins a long time before they rock up at the school gates aged 4. The bottom shaped indent at the foot of our stairs from my 2 year old son is testament to this! He tests all of mine and his father's considerable behaviour management skill by the way, but that's for another blog!
In every school in existence the issue of bullying raises its head. I think this emotive issue has so much linked to it within our own consciousness that it is almost impossible to remain objective and calm about it sometimes. Especially for parents. I can be calm and objective until the cows come home...until my child is scared or upset. It is natural as a parent to fight tooth and nail for your child. This is instinct, it taps into the rhombencephalon part of our brain. The fight or flight bit, which is based on reaction and incapable of reasoned thought.
What was encouraging about yesterday's meeting was that parents feel children are well taught within the curriculum about what bullying is. They know the difference now between unpleasant incidents and systematic bullying. They know we will listen as adults, and that we don't ignore bullying. We know it can happen in any school.
Sometimes though, we find that children fixate on blaming another child for things. They constantly tell parents about that child's behaviour and how upset they are by it. And when we really look at it, they are enjoying the attention that gives them from that parent. This is a tough one to accept folks, but sometimes as parents we feed the problem.
I say we as this happened to me a few years ago when my daughter was in reception class. She constantly talked about being afraid of a certain boy. She talked a lot about his behaviour, chair throwing for example. It was hard to deal with. I found myself feeling concerned for her, I have worked in a few different schools and I know what schools have to deal with when there is a difficult child in the class. But now my inclusive views were being tested. At the expense of my child? It's not quite so easy then is it! On top of that my mum was in my ear about it as she does a lot of the dropping off and picking up.
Then I realised that this talking about the behaviours of this certain child was becoming a little habitual for my daughter and for my mum, and for me!
We decided to stop allowing her to talk about it. Of course we didn't put it to her in that way. You need to tell your teacher about that we said if she started, then we changed the subject swiftly. Slowly but surely she chatted more happily about school.
A couple of weeks later we saw the boy and his mum in the supermarket. My daughter rushed over to him, they said hello to one another quite happily and laughed and messed about while the shopping was packed. I'm guessing perhaps she wasn't as terrified of him as we had at first assumed.
As parents we don't always acknowledge our own feelings, pressures, guilt, worry when we are dealing with our children.
Bullying is a real and worrying issue in many schools and, particularly with the steep rise in social networking, an increasingly difficult issue to tackle. My view is that awareness, calm and pro activity are key.
In order for us to effectively tackle bullying issues in school we need to be allowed to. We need the child to be there, not absent. We need parents to communicate faith in the school and the system to children. We need the two way communication to be good.
Schools though need to remember how it feels to be afraid that you might be letting down the most precious person in your life. Because that's how parents feel in these situations. Schools also need to remember that sometimes that fear becomes instinctive and the strong urge to protect your child can override anything. We would wrestle bears for our children so, in the face of that, what the teacher says isn't always regarded highly if the child still seems afraid.
To return to the assumption of good parenting I will finish with this. Yesterday evening my 2 year old son and I had to go and pick my daughter up from gym club as my husband was late home. My son was dressed in his pyjamas, coat and wellington boots. It was pouring with rain. It had been a lengthy, busy day and I was shattered. As we left the sports centre he ran into the middle of a huge puddle and began to jump up and down for all he was worth laughing his head off. He refused to come out and my weak attempts to persuade him failed. In the end I bribed him with a 'yummy frog' (aka Freddo)that I happened to have in my pocket. I had to wonder what would have been thought of my parenting at that moment as this pyjama clad, wet, chocolately 2 year old was persuaded out of a puddle into the car after his bed time!
Parenting is hard, most of us are doing our best. With support from wellington boots and bribery! It isn't always perfect and we are always learning. Teaching, and leading in a school is just the same.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Brave New World

'A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.  Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.'

The opening to one of my favourite ever books, Brave new world by Aldous Huxley.  Part of the list of essential reads given to me by my father when I was little more than a kid and he knew he probably wouldn't see me into adulthood.  To be fair, I'm not sure I'm there yet. 

The motto is not disimilar to many of the mission statements and straplines I have seen in education in my 14 year journey so far.  Similarly to Huxley's context though, I'm not sure that 'identity' is defined in the same way as I would define it.  To me identity is my central core.  The lines I won't cross, the values that get me up every day and keep me going when things are tough.  Also my daft sense of humour, penchant for chatting to strangers, and tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve. 

I sometimes wonder if, with social networking as it is now and my love of it, I will get myself into trouble at some point.  However, before twitter I chatted to people on trains, buses, in toilet queues and at festivals. I also feel that this is the me-ness of me.  It tops up my love of people and reaffirms my belief that people are good.  The vast majority of us all want the same things, the rest is pressure and media camera angles.

Individuals, eccentrics and those with their own identity didn't really fit into the 'Brave New World' as Huxley depicted it.  The impression sometimes is that they don't into education either.  However, surely sense would suggest that the opposite should be true.  I'm not even sure that the opposite ISN'T true!  If you look at outstanding schools one of the common similarities is brave and different leadership.  The government want innovative leaders, Ofsted like that and much more importantly, they get great results. 

A formula for success in education has been the suggestion since I have been in it.  However, what actually works in my opinion, is the opposite to that.  Breaking the mould, daring to be different, trying new ideas.  Whenever I go to a local authority briefing there is a new grid with steps to tick to get to success.  The last one raised a wry smile with me as ours have inserted a new level above outstanding which they have entitled 'world class.' Ironically I was world class a couple of years ago, but at the time it meant I was rubbish and in need of support!

When my son wants to perfect something he has a go, messes up, then has another go.  He adjusts his approach tries new methods and perseveres until he achieves success.  When he first rode in one of these cars he caused a furore at the toddler group his grandma takes him to as he disappeared into the bit under the front and got himself stuck!  He is pretty good now though, he can steer and pick up speed.

In this brave new world we need to be brave enough to have a go, believe in what we are doing and speak up for ourselves.  We need to refine our skills and knowledge so that we have our impact evidence at our fingertips.  This is what leaders have done in the business world for years.  This is already rewarded by inspection teams and it gets results.  Obviously we are not in the business of hatchery, but we are conditioning the future population.