The staff room and the school gate are 2 places where reputations are made.
Here’s what I have noticed.
A child, (who for whatever reason – and there WILL be a reason) crosses a boundary and hurts someone. The adult feels shocked, surprised, hurt, angry and many other possible emotions, and seeks comfort in regaling it to colleagues in the staff room, or peers at the gate.
The story that gets told though may or may not include the WHOLE story, and is often abbreviated to just the adults’ perspective and the fact they got hurt. “He hurt me.” “She hit me!” “He kicked me.” “She threw scissors at me…”
Do you know that distinct feeling someone knows something about you that makes them want to keep their distance?
Do you know what it’s like when someone has heard a rumour…and it’s about you?
=> Imagine being a child in a school, maybe one who struggles with being calm, maybe one who might hurt people now and again, or one who does a runner across the field when things get too much.[There is ALWAYS a reason for behaviour we don’t like. There may not seem like one to the on-looker, the all-knowing adult, but there will be one. There will be a reason, a trigger, even if the child himself can’t articulate it yet.]
=> Now imagine being the child’s new teacher. They only things you will have heard about this little one, is how far and how fast he can run away. Or how hard he can kick. Maybe how she doesn’t show any remorse when she hurts an adult.
It worries me how much a child’s story can be formed by staff in the staff room or by parents at the school gates. When we only speak out the things that are ‘out of the ordinary’, that we don’t like, or find hard, the things that actually show a child is struggling (although it is rarely acknowledged as that – more often just ‘bad behaviour’) then that is all others hear.
That is all they have to go on – the only picture that fills their head when they think about that child.
It is not fair.
It is not true.
It is damaging… more than we realize.
It changes things.
If the image of the behaviour we have heard about makes us feel at all uncomfortable, worried, fearful, unsafe or judgmental, those feelings (sometimes so quietly nestled in our subconscious that we don’t/wont consciously realize/admit they are playing hide n seek within us) change us. They change our neurology and that changes our physiology. We cannot help it. It just happens.
It means though that when we meet the actual child – on the playground, in the dinner hall or our new classroom, they meet our changed physiology – and they will notice. They will subconsciously notice we are defended, we are guarded, we are on alert. They won’t know why, but they will get a sense from us that our body and subconscious portrays.
How might they behave in response to that?
It’s not rocket science, eh?
Would there be any children you know who don’t need understanding, need protecting, honoring, and to be respected enough not to have their worst moments broadcast across a network of professionals or parents?
Am I suggesting a ban on staff being able to talk about what has happened to them in their day?
Am I suggesting that staff don’t widely communicate the details of interactions with a child?
Maybe – just to the people who need to hear it.
I am just wondering if we could be aware of the power of our words in shaping children’s reputations?
I’m wondering if we could consider if we might be shaming a child in their absence by how we communicate about them?
I’m wondering if we can acknowledge that what we share as truth is rarely the WHOLE truth?
So help us…