As a long-time teacher and school administrator, my three R’s were respect, responsibility and restraint. Most people understand, even accept, the first two easily but often stumble over the third. We used those criteria to evaluate the behavior of students and adults, and most often included teachers and parents in the conversations about our values, our expectations and agreed upon standards of behavior. In some schools we had students and parents sign contracts. Those agreements spelled out our responsibilities to one another to provide a safe environment where people followed the “rules” and helped build a community of trust and mutual respect.
At every turn in the road it’s important to help people understand what it means to take responsibility for their behavior. We and they must come to know that with every choice there is a consequence and that result can be either desirable and good or undesirable and not so good. The lessons learned reveal whether or not the choice was positive and constructive or whether the choice was negative and possibly destructive. Choice and consequence are inextricably linked together.
Restraint was perhaps the most difficult to implement. Getting people to think before they speak, wait before they act or react, pause before they make an important decision seemed like a challenge in these times of speed as a virtue, acceleration, instant and constant. Pico Iyer said it best: “In an age of acceleration, there is nothing quite so exhilarating as slowing down.”
When parents and schools work together in the best interests of students, whether in academic, athletic, artistic or social endeavors, we have the best chance of success for all. When we are at odds with one another, in conflict about our values and priorities, and disagree with what unacceptable and inappropriate behavior is and how it should be dealt with, the end result can be frustration, disappointment and even anger. Emotions get in the way of rational decisions and then we have to spend precious time and energy cleaning up the residue in order to move forward.
The foundation for many patterns of behavior are laid down in the first six years and kids bring those behaviors with them to school from the beginning. What they may have to learn is that there are expectations at school that might be different from those at home, and vice-versa.
I know it was in a previous century, but when we went to school, we were afraid of getting into trouble there because we would be in even more trouble when we got home. It’s just the way it was. It was not an atmosphere of fear. Rather it was about places that were clear about what would happen if you got too far out of line. We had to test it from time to time and sure enough, they meant exactly what they said and erased all doubt about who was in charge.
I agree that raising children takes a village and that the village has become more complex. We now have to deal with social media, a greater division between income groups, an atmosphere of conspicuous consumption, and broken systems in politics, health care and education. In spite of the challenges, families and schools have tremendous opportunities to prepare children for an unknown future by helping them to distinguish between what is important and what is trivial and non-essential.
Much will depend on your values and how you demonstrate those every day. Kids need limits and they need consistency. They are watching and listening and they will eventually figure out which path they wish to follow. It is a cumulative process over time and one event can teach an important lesson but it does not need to determine the final outcome. Respect, responsibility AND restraint. These are among the most desirable characteristics of a healthy and safe school environment.