Rules of Engagement – in Education and Beyond

Some mystery person has been looking through many of my old posts this last week.  It’s encouraged me to revisit some of my older jottings.  

Rather short of time this week, so I’ve decided the article below is probably worth a second look.  Sadly, I no longer work at GLOW, but this should serve as a fitting tribute to the amazing young people I knew there.

 

Back when I was a schoolteacher in Essex, I’d greet my new cluster of 10-year-olds on the first day of the school year with their first task – to write our class rules.

Rules for Students Fall 2009-2

It was a depressing and arduous process.  I’d start by writing up my own contribution: Have Fun.  The children would look sideways at each other with that, ‘yeah, right!’ expression and proceed to make their own suggestions, gleaned from six years of experience within the education system.

No swearin’.    No spittin’.    Don’t hit no one.    Don’t rock on yer chairs…….

Patiently and gently I’d encourage them to transform their list of negatives to positives – aspirations rather than prohibitions.  They’d look bemused, try hard to please me, but be far more comfortable with their familiar set of regulations – they were much easier to break.

I should add that all the teachers who had encountered these groups of children before me had made similar attempts to foster positivity.   Perhaps we made limited progress eventually.

 

At GLOW, there is a shifting population, so the rules are ready and waiting.  New arrivals either agree to our code of conduct or decide this place isn’t right for them and leave.  We have only four rules, but they are binding and non-negotiable.

The first I brought with me: Have fun.

The other three were lifted from Conversations With God:   Be Honest.    Be Responsible.    Be Aware.

They work.  Conflicts are rare within the group, despite widely differing backgrounds and ages (currently 7-14).

When one child approached me this week to tell me he was becoming frustrated that a smaller child was repeatedly breathing right in his face, I took the younger one aside and reminded him of the rule of Awareness.

“Being aware means watching how your behaviour is affecting others in the room.  If the other person is clearly enjoying this game – laughing and joining in – by all means carry on.  If he’s looking annoyed, unhappy or asking you to stop, then you must decide whether it’s a good game for both of you.”

He looked surprised, thought for a moment, then nodded and stopped.

We’ve talked a lot about bullying.  Many home-educated children have experienced this in the past at school or within their neighbourhoods.  We’ve reached an agreement that’s it’s an unfortunate affliction affecting those who feel powerless or fearful, and therefore choose to boost their own self-esteem by attempting to lower that of another person.  Once the children are able to recognise the neediness of the bully, they can move beyond fear and towards some level of understanding (while taking steps to keep themselves safe, obviously).  However they are in agreement that bullying in any form is not ok.

Activities are provided but participation is optional.  If someone prefers to sit out, that’s fine, as long as they remain responsible and aware and don’t stop others from having fun.

Sometimes there is an element of striving to excel at a task – making paper aeroplanes, for example.  Each child works to improve upon his or her prototype.  We then come together and decide on the best features of each.  ‘Put-downs’ and bragging are absent.  The children have reached a consensus that ‘I win’ necessitates ‘You lose’, and that doesn’t feel too good.

When an activity is finished, everyone takes joint responsibility for helping to clear up and tidy the room.

All sounds quite utopian, doesn’t it?  It certainly feels that way.

 

Last night, though, I found myself wondering whether GLOW’s rules are preparing these children for life in the outside world.  Let’s take, um, politics, for example…

I’m a resolutely apolitical person.  I have no particular allegiance to any party or dogma.  I think life is far more complex than that.

I do however feel deeply saddened by the adversarial system of politics that currently holds sway in my country (the UK) and many others.

Let us, if we can, suspend judgement for a while and accept that those who have chosen to become politicians have done so with at least some intention to provide fairness, protection for the weakest, controls over the most powerful and a ‘decent’ society for all, in whatever way they feel that should be done.  Is it not a shame, then, that their only recourse, once they have entered the political arena, is to score points off others and shout them down?

The House of Commons at Westminster: This engr...

If a spokesperson for the blue party suggests solving a problem by doing A, B or C, the corresponding member of the red party is duty bound to berate this idea, to roundly insult the ‘honourable member’ in as snide and unpleasant a way as possible and to give a range of reasons why A, B or C is completely ridiculous.  This happens regardless of the merits or demerits of the original idea and often in spite of that individual’s personal feelings about it.

Should a member of one party publicly agree with something suggested by their opponents, a bevy of spin doctors will hastily point out that their representative didn’t actually mean to appear to sanction what must, of course, be a bad idea, given its origins.

Have you ever thought how much time and money this unpleasant and pointless haggling and bickering wastes?

I understand that groups called All Party Select Committees manage to sit round a table, put political allegiances aside and debate the actual pros and cons of particular matters.  How pleasant it would be (and – still better – how unappealing to our media moguls) if all politics could be conducted in such a way that consensus, not the outmoded whip system, became the norm.  Individual politicians from different walks of life and with varying points of view could look dispassionately at a range of options, debate them quietly and respectfully and vote for the ones they felt would best serve the country.

The braying, squawking and old-school playground behaviour could cease and we’d have a political system fit for purpose in the twenty-first century and worthy of the young people who are discovering a better way of being.

The GLOW kids could even suggest a suitable set of rules for such a political system…

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5 comments on “Rules of Engagement – in Education and Beyond

  1. Reblogged this on Looking at Life and commented:

    Some mystery person has been looking through many of my old posts over the last week. It made me want to check back over what I’d written in a few of them.
    I decided this one was worth another read. Sadly, I no longer work at GLOW – one of the things that had to go when I took on LIME Cottage – but this post is a fitting tribute to the wonderful young people I worked with there, and perhaps a fitting comment in the run up to the next UK general election…

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