It is commonplace to walk the hallways of different schools and see certain core values and essential elements displayed within the hallways and on the walls of the classrooms in which young people learn. Most schools have well-worded mission statements that are meant to be lived out, on a daily basis, in all of the teaching and learning that takes place. In saying this though, I think that there is a massive difference between simply posting these core values, essential agreements, and mission statements and actually embracing the essence of what they mean in our lives as teachers and in the lives of the students that we teach. When filtered down to the bare essence of what all of these core values, essential elements and mission statements represent, it should be the concept of ‘peace’ that is firmly rooted in the basic building blocks of any school community.
As I continued on with my run, I thought of Justin Schleider’s recent blog post on ‘Fear’ which I highly recommend that you read. It made me think that when there is a lack of peace that it’s fear that is the replacement value and it’s this fear that manifests itself in a multitude of hurtful ways. Justin’s post highlights how fear is manifesting itself in schools across the US and the harsh impact that it’s having on some students.
During the run, I also thought about how convoluted and wordy some school’s mission statements are and whether or not some learning institutions busy themselves by creating way too many core values to live by. I’m a firm believer that the fewer core values a school has, the more meaningful that they become. And when unpacking and breaking down the simplest of core values, other important values are inevitably addressed in the process.
However, regardless of core values, essential agreements, or mission statements, the ultimate responsibility must be on the teachers to consistently role model and put into action the values being embraced by the school. Good teaching is dependent upon modelling peace and putting into practice self-awareness, empathy for others, and non-judgement.
I believe these 3 areas to be of fundamental importance in every school. Without question, it is much easier said than done, but we must always strive toward taking action in these critical areas and in doing so, peace will always prevail. Peace is the ultimate intersecting point where non-judgement, self-awareness, and empathy of others meets. There will be times that this ‘peace’ is a negotiated process where different perspectives clash yet are still able meet halfway in their understand of what peace represents.
Several years ago I was the homeroom teacher for a split grade 7/8 class of about 20 students. This was when I not only taught PE but also Humanities and English. It was the last week before Christmas holidays and I told my students that I would treat the class to lunch on the last Friday before our break, but that they all had to agree on the food that they wanted. The class unanimously came back to me saying that they wanted McDonalds. Although I didn’t agree that that was the greatest choice for obvious reasons, I reserved judgement and took their orders so I could go and pick up their meals on the Friday before we went on holiday. I had a prep period on that morning and left school to go and get lunch for my students.
When I came back into school, some students saw that Mr. Andy was carrying bags of McDonald’s food into his classroom and must have said something in passing to their teachers.
Back in my classroom, I handed out each student’s requested lunch, put on Christmas tunes, and grabbed a seat. It was at this moment, that one of my fellow teachers came into my classroom and without saying a word grabbed a marker and wrote on my whiteboard the words, “SUPERSIZE ME!!!!!!!!”. The teacher then looked right at me and said in a loud voice that my students could hear, “ I can’t believe you would do such a thing!!!” and walked out slamming the door shut.
To say that I was upset was an extreme understatement. Regardless of my own views on fast food, I allowed the students to decide upon their lunch and followed through on my promise to treat them. Was it wrong of me to buy them McDonalds? Well, it probably wasn’t the best choice. Would I do things differently now? Probably!
However, the point of this post is not about whether or not buying McDonalds for my students was the right or wrong thing to do. It’s more so about the need to put into practice values such as self-awareness, non-judgement, and empathy for others, regardless of our own personal beliefs or moral stances that we hold on different issues. And that it’s the teachers who need to be the very first ones to model these values.
"Children learn more from what you are than what you teach."
~W.E.B Du Bois
The story I shared about the teacher who wrote ‘SUPERSIZE ME!!!!” on my white board is just one example of how teachers carry certain biases with them in the environments in which they teach. And in saying this, I’ve been just as guilty of not being the role model I should be with my students in the past. It’s not always easy to live out certain values and to consistently demonstrate them on a daily basis. In fact, it can be extremely challenging, but it's our words and our actions (even our non-verbal communication as well) which can have a profound impact on the way students learn and treat each other.
If I am to be as effective as I want to be as an educator, I must better practice non-judgement, empathy for others, and self-awareness not only with my students but also those who I teach and work with. There is no greater place that this applies more than with leaders in education as well.
Thanks for reading.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.