May 28, 2011

What Parents want Teachers to Know: 7. Defence

Defence: Do not fight. Its one of the big rules at school. However, this rule can’t stand alone, it has to be part of a coordinated set of responses to aggression. And, as aggression is a frame of mind, its overt manifestation in violence is the end of the road, not the beginning!

If children can’t seek help when being made uncomfortable in the classroom, or when lining up, or when playing, when can they? I’ve had experiences of my child being actively prohibited from raising the alarm and then thinking he was ‘in trouble’ for attempting to report another child’s aggression against him during class!

Should I train my child to forget the rules and retaliate? My own experience says…well, yes. As a child I was victimised by a larger boy who didn’t seem to understand ‘no’. There was no culture of dealing with bullying in the 1960’s so it was a tough time. However, I found that one vigorous knock on the konk with my recorder did wonders: (a) it broke the recorder so I didn’t have to play it for a while, and (b) I experienced absolutely no aggression from anyone at all for the rest of my primary school life! All I can say is, if teachers don’t get involved, a child is left with retaliation; and while it can work, it is dangerous and its results can be patchy.

May 10, 2011

What Parents want Teachers to Know: 6. Instructions

Instructions: Children by and large seek to do the right thing. I say this as having observed many children, from many different backgrounds working as a volunteer in community child services organisations (hands on stuff, not mucking about with the printers in the office). So when I hear of a child penalised peremptorily for apparently not following instructions, I bristle.

Listen, teacher (to quote Pink Floyd), if there’s miscommunication, it is the sender’s fault, not the recipients. That’s a basic rule of any communication. If your message hasn’t gotten through that illustrations on blue paper won’t be part of the Christmas display, and you don’t guide a child to the right paper (given the waves of excitement that might be distracting, the noise that’s prevented understanding, or the long queue for the red and green paper piles)—and why do you have the wrong colour paper available anyway—you’ve muddled your message.

To then let the child do their work on the wrong colour paper and announce their exclusion after the fact, you’ve modelled a strong message that ‘we’re here to trip up, not to help’. Wait for that to play out in real life!