Students First? Let’s Calm Reactive Behaviour.

We are undergoing immense change and uncertainty.

Certainly we all want to put students first. Yet look around and it is easy to recognize an escalation in the pace of change and uncertainty that is resulting in a shift in focus away from students. All of our systems are feeling the pressure of adapting to intense uncertainty and the external demands often exceed the ability to cope, resulting in breakdown. Schools feel the intensity every day, as children arrive with tensions from home, as parents react out of fear and frustration and teachers, politicians and bureaucrats look to improve the longstanding issues. As demands increase, reactive behaviour increases. Reactive behaviour results in closed, exclusionary and contractive thinking and actions.

We all play a role in putting students first:

We are all vested in the success of childhood education and we all tend to look outward for solutions to the problem. If we can raise our awareness of the role each of us play and focus on identifying, isolating and neutralizing the triggers to our reactions we can create a better space to influence change:

  • Family is the nucleus of safety and trust for a child:

Family is the most important container in which children grow and develop. When the container breaks down, children are vulnerable. They feel the stress of strained relationships, finances and employment. And they feel panic to do more, do better and be the best. To fix the school system, we all need to acknowledge and be accountable for reducing levels of stress and tension at home.

  • School environment needs to create a safe space to learn:

We can all debate what schools should provide for our children. School provides a foundation for learning, mentorship and peer relationships. We look for it to support and challenge each student to build competence and achieve potential. Both students and teachers have different levels of personal resources to support this task. We need awareness to meet students where they are to provide a safe environment to explore learning.

  • Parents and politicians’ reactions increase demands on schools.

We all want our children to feel included and have the ability to succeed. And certainly, we all want our children to be treated with respect. When something happens that contradicts, it activates old hurt and our tendency is to take action and fix things. We believe we are being rational and justified, but our energy often distracts those operating the system. By neutralizing our reactions and beliefs first, we can create a better space to influence positive change.

  • Unions were formed to protect members, not students.

The energy of any union is first and foremost to protect the membership. Teachers are professionals and many have chosen their career based on a desire to support students. Yet, as a member of a union, there is a collective energy that is often beyond their individual awareness. Positioning statements may be altered to the given situation, yet the underlying motivation is closed, reactionary and contractive. All parties, including union members, need to be aware of this to influence positive change.

  • Leaders need to hold a safe space for others to fix it.

In our society, there is a belief or expectation that leaders need to take charge and solve our problems. I have come to appreciate the importance of leaders who are strong enough to hold a safe space for others to work together to fix our problems. The work is about trust, security and empowerment. We model leadership from an early age, at a level that is often beyond our awareness. Depending on our individual and cultural experiences, we may need to let go of some beliefs to further develop leadership styles that are necessary for success in the current environment.

  • Creating calm within can hold uncertainty.

There are leaders at many levels of childhood education and we can do better each level. If we acknowledge our own reaction points, we can begin to disarm and create a space for better choices. It is often not the intended statement that derails but rather the unintended reactions, the underlying tone and the fleeting expressions. At all levels – parents, caregivers, teachers, principals, administrators and politicians – we have an opportunity to calm our individual reactions and beliefs so that we can create a space to better support the inevitable change and uncertainty that we will face moving forward.

Ironically, we all say ‘students first!’ yet our reactive behaviour is creating the exact opposite result.

We are quick to take sides based on where we sit. We are quick to point fingers at individuals and groups who we feel are responsible. It is common and easy to offer commentary to correct the issue. If we can step back and calm our reactions and soften our beliefs to the situation, we can better appreciate the underlying interactions in the systems. We can better influence change to put students first. For further information, contact me.