Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N: What is it about NO that you don't understand?!

No running in the halls.
No speaking while others are speaking.
No chewing gum.
No hitting.
No leaving the classroom without permission. 
No daydreaming during class time.
No doodling on your work.
No passing notes.
No pushing or shoving or hands-on rough play at recess.
No peanut butter.
No, one hundred million others things, too!

Yet, despite the clarity of the rules, students still run in the hallways as if there is a fire. They still delight in, occasionally, chewing gum in class.   They still like to rough house at recess time.....and, one hundred million other things, too.  

In schools, as in a society, there is a spectrum of control models at play at any one time.  At one extreme end, there is the dictatorship model. In this organizational model, one person; be it the teacher or the school principal, rules with absolute authority. He or she makes all decisions without any regard to the opinions of others. Failure to abide by the rules usually results in strict punishment. Some people like this model because it removes the burden of decision-making from them. To these folks, there is a type of freedom associated with having someone else make all the decisions. All they have to do is follow along.  Some people do not like this model because it restricts personal freedoms and creative expression.  They chafe against the yolk of what they perceive to be unfair and unjust treatment.

At the other extreme end we have the organizational model known as anarchy. Anarchy is the complete absence of rules. Anything goes. Everything is up for grabs.  Some people like the anarchy model because there is absolute freedom to go anywhere and to do anything.  You are completely in control of your existence. Some people dislike anarchy because they are fearful of the consequences that could arise from the lack of external controls.  They fear potential violence and an inability to protect themselves and their possessions of value. They dislike the anxiety of never truly knowing what is going to happen next.

Somewhere between the extremes of dictatorship and anarchy, we have the rules, in schools and in society, as we know them.  When it comes to discussing and understanding the need for rules and the impact of having rules in the first place, it is important to know that there is no real right or wrong answer.  There are pros and cons, good things and bad, depending on one's perspective in the hierarchial power structure of the school.

For me, as a teacher, I understand and appreciate the need for some rules.  To people in my position, rules help provide an organizational framework for what happens in a classroom. Rules help give me a sense of authority in the classroom so that I can direct the flow of learning without defiant opposition taking the day.  Rules provide a measure of safety so that everyone, teacher and pupil, can meet and work without fear of injury to themselves or their possessions. Rules, in essence, allow me to do my job as it presently exists.

It has been my experience that most students appreciate the presence of rules that are fair.  They appreciate knowing that there is a daily schedule in our classroom because it helps them plan, in their minds, what is going to happen to them throughout the day and adjust themselves accordingly.  My experience has been that most students understand my role as classroom leader and accord me the respect that comes with that position, right from the first day of school.  It has always been my contention that the respect of the class is always there and that it is the teacher's to lose by way of unfair treatment of students, unimaginative teaching practices or incompetent management of the classroom affairs. Finally, my experience has shown, again and again, that the students want their school to be a safe environment.

One of the ways I help my students to develop a deeper appreciation for the rules themselves is by providing them with opportunities "to be the teacher".  I give them the chance to develop a simple lesson, such as a craft, and teach it to their peers.  In the process of doing this, the student is required to develop a lesson plan, gather all necessary materials and resources ahead of time, practise the lesson/craft prior to teaching the lesson. Then, on Teaching Day, they have to demostrate how to do their activity, have a finsihed product to show the class and then, they have to manage the class during the length of the activity and provide feedback to the class at the end of the lesson........just like a real teacher is tasked with doing.   While most students find the prep. work tedious, it is when they have to manage the class during the lesson, that the appreciation for rules becomes clear.  For instance, as the class begin to work and the student-teacher suddenly find themselves being bombarded with questions from all over the room, my student-teachers suddenly realize the benefit of a rule like Raise Your Hand if you have a question. :)

When the students develop their own understanding of the need for rules then, the whole notion of fair and unfair tends to cease being an issue at all. 

The downside to the need for rules is that, often by their very nature, rules limit personal freedoms.  Depending on the person in charge fo the rules, the imposition of them can act as a demoralizing influence in the lives of young chidlren.  For example, if students are constantly told to not talk, to sit still, to only colour inside the lines, that all trees are green and so on then, their willingness to express their true selves slowly disappears and it becomes possible to extinguish that flame of light that exists within each of us.  It is easy, as a teacher, to break the spirit and the will of the students in the class; much the same way that parents can at home if the family rules are built upon a foundation of My way or the Highway.

As is the case with so much of life, striking a balance between erecting boundaries and limitations of a constructive nature and ensuring that the act of doing so still provides avenues for each child to take their personal journey that they are destined to do, is the key.  And, striking that balance is not easy.

Our present model of education tends to be structured hierarchially, with teachers in charge and students following the rules.  Hopefully, advances in technology and in the thinking of the people in charge will change and more Schools in the Clouds type models will become the norm for all learners.  Becoming self-actualized learners and people is the ultimate dream. While the potential exists for education to follow a more user-friendly model, we are left, for now, with a model that requirs constant tinkering in order to help maintain that healthy balance between constructive and restrictive rules. 

Sorry for the cliched song choice but.............:)

What are your thoughts on school rules?  Have you had positive or negative experiences, as a student or as a parent, with the lack of rules or the over-abundance of rules?   Let me know in the comment box below.  Thanks, as always, for reading and for commenting.  :)

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