I’m assuming everyone reading this has made a mistake at some point in their life (if not -Ha! You’ve made one now, reading the blog of such an imperfect person!).
Have you ever realised you’ve made a bad one? You know, the sort of thing where you feel a bit sick, want to tell yourself it can’t actually have happened, and want the ground to swallow you up? Happened to me recently. (I’m not going into the details, but don’t worry, it was nothing illegal!)
It actually wasn’t totally my fault, though a fair part of it was. However, it was 100% my responsibility. In any other place I’ve worked, my line manager would, as my granny used to put it, “have had my guts for garters”. In fact, if I were my own line manager, that’s how I’d have reacted too! But guess what? The Head didn’t react like that. When we discussed it, she was entirely constructive, no cross words, calm, and even kind and reassuring.
Now our Head’s approach is part of her philosophy on how you treat other people. But even apart from that – do you know what? It really works much better than ranting and raving. If I’d had someone tearing my head off, I might have reacted by looking to make excuses for myself and trying to cast the blame elsewhere (and so fallen out with a colleague). Or I might just have got too upset to be useful in trying to put it right. And though I’d have acknowledged that a b*****king was entirely merited, it would have changed my relationship with the Head. As it is – well, I’m still kicking myself about the mistake, of course, (and have ensured it’s impossible for it to be repeated), but I do still feel like I’m a valued colleague (albeit one with occasional moments of idiocy) and definitely that I owe the Head one (or indeed, several!).
It’s also made me think about how I deal with kids when things go wrong. I’m not generally one for shouting – it’s not really my style, and I don’t want kids to feel unable to admit to things, or to say what they think I want to hear, rather than the truth. But there have certainly been times when I’ve made it clear that I was angry – usually when the kid didn’t seem to understand that what they’d done was an issue – though looking back I’m not sure if it got the point through; it probably just got them thinking “I better not get caught doing that again as I don’t want Miss having a go at me”.
Most of the time, I think kids know when they’re in the wrong. In terms of dealing with them, I think it’s crucial to try to get the distinction between when they wish they hadn’t done whatever it was, and when they know why they’re in trouble, but like doing whatever it was and will carry on if they can get away with it! A lot of the latter involve things that are a matter of school policy, but are not “moral” issues as such – eg wearing nail polish, incorrect uniform etc; these can almost become a bit of a game between teacher and pupil, with the pupil enjoying risking it, but acknowledging “fair cop” if caught. (At a previous school, a colleague and I used to compete to see how many items of jewellery we could confiscate by the end of the week!).
However, for the more serious issues – if they let themselves down in their approach to work, or don’t behave appropriately to others – we really want the kids to understand the problem themselves, and be engaged in putting it right, rather than just doing what they’re meant to for fear of getting in trouble. I know that’s an idealistic way of looking at things, but I don’t think it’s wrong, for the majority of kids. Sure, consequences can be a simple way of dealing with problems such as the conflict between immediate gratification and long-term benefits, or with being weak-willed or thoughtless. But they are only a short term solution. We should be trying to produce young people able to make good decisions for themselves, rather than those who are only conforming to rules from fear.