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Principal's Blog

2015 Term 3


At the start of each school year, when the staff get together, I have a couple of mantras. One of them is: if in a day's teaching, you (the teachers) encounter an issue where social or emotional growth is needed, then this should supersede the planned lesson. That is, addressing issues that place the child's future personal and social success (and therefore happiness) should come before all academic or artistic or other school type pursuits.

I was involved in a stand-off a while ago, which I think makes clear what I mean. It was a sports class, and the children had all gathered to go out. They were waiting in the hallway, chatting happily amongst themselves. I arrived and asked, 'So, what do you want to play today?'

Many opinions were shared - suggestions were made by most of the group, but I chose a child who had not offered a suggestion and asked her what she wanted to do. I did not receive a reply. After a few seconds, some of the others offered hints and suggestions, but I gently cut them off, and said that while that may be what they wanted to do, I was in fact asking her what she wanted to do. The wait ended up being between 20 and 25 minutes, with a couple of children asking if they could go to the library to read, another making a sandwich, someone else grabbing an apple, one helping hear a Tiny read a book and the final two just sitting around waiting, clear now that I wanted this particular child to answer. I was more than pleased that most of the children disappeared, as this lessened the pressure on her. We were not now all hanging on her decision. After most of her classmates had disappeared, I added that there was no wrong answer, as it was simply what she wanted to do, and that we could in fact not help her with the answer, as we were not her.

In the end, the answer was Zombie Tiggy (albeit, a shortened game of Zombie Tiggy!)

So, why did I persist? Well, I felt that missing a game of Zombie Tiggy (or whatever was nominated) was less important than this girl knowing that it was ok for her to voice her opinion, that her opinion was as valuable as everyone else's, and that her expressing her desire for the group would not result in a scary (or bad) consequence - but that this was a perfectly normal thing. If I had given in at any point, she may have believed that she was incapable of voicing an opinion or that others' opinions held greater value than hers. Or, that somehow it was not right for her to have the group hear her, and act on her will. It is quite possible that had I given in, she would have remained a child (and possible future adult) who felt unable to offer her opinion, or perhaps felt that her voice had less value than others. I was not willing to risk this being the lesson that she took away from my sports class. So I had to persist.

A non-fussed, easy-going manner was important, I had to be entirely comfortable with the situation. If I had become stressed, or pushy, or anxious, these responses would imply that something big was at stake. While this is true (in the long-term), in the immediate instance it was choosing an activity or sport - not a big deal at all. My personal challenge was keeping this in mind, in order to remain as nonchalant as possible.

In teaching, most success is incremental, in that you go along giving what you hope is the right feedback, telling yourself that in the past this has eventually brought success. Much of the time it can feel like nothing it happening, and it is only when you look back to the start of a year, or perhaps even back to when a child started with you, that it is clear that things have moved. Moments like this - our girl voicing her opinion for the first time - are few and far between. These are the moments after which you cry.

Timothy Berryman (Principal)


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