It would be nice to think that all pupils would get on well together all of the time. However, a school community is a microcosm of society at large and thus will contain a multitude of characters and it is a harsh reality that not all of them will get on or get it right all of the time. We do our utmost to develop the skills, provide the underpinning values and set the tone so that pupils can learn and develop the social skills needed to cope. But it does take time and, ultimately, is a long journey during which mistakes will be made. During this time peers can be unkind towards each other, sometimes startlingly so.
In a sense, this is a reflection of the adult system within which children live. Since time immemorial, the barons were tough on the knights, the knights took it out on the peasants and the peasants had no one to turn on except themselves. So what can we do to break this cycle? Well, it is by no means a desperate situation. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that the answer lies in our school values. With kindness we can address the problem and create a new paradigm. Those children who are getting it wrong should be dealt with firmly but kindly and thus allowed to keep their self-respect. Those children who are on the receiving end should also be treated with kindness and sympathy by being listened to by someone they trust.
It’s not unusual when talking to a group of pupils to need to explicitly define what constitutes kindness. Our school values say, “We wish to be a welcoming, caring and inclusive community where children and adults alike can feel valued and grow in confidence”. In practice, what this means is that everything that we say and everything that we do should make another person feel better. This is a simple benchmark and thus a test that we set the children is for them to consider whether what they are about to say will make the person that they are talking to feel better.
Of course, this sounds simple in theory but it is surprisingly hard to achieve in practice, and this is why it takes time to get right and why I often take the time to remind our young people that it’s so easy laugh and so easy to hate but it takes strength to be gentle and kind.
John F Gilmour