Schools are complex organisations. In order to have them operate in an effective manner they tend to have an array of policies, procedures and rules. There has been media coverage recently focusing on disagreements between schools and parents regarding school rules. There is often a broad range of opinions about the validity or importance of particular school rules.
At one end of the spectrum are rules that are in place to meet legal requirements, such as enrolment rules. Some rules are in place for safety or management reasons, such as areas of the school being ‘out of bounds’. At the other end of the spectrum are rules that the school community, as represented by the Board of Trustees, put in place, for example, uniform. Such rules are established to reflect the societal expectations at the time they were made. As society changes so do school rules (although often somewhat slower). When opinion is strongly against a particular rule then it may be changed.
For some rules there is little evidence that the rule makes a difference to learning, for example we have rules that cover aspects such as, hair colour, hair length, jewellery, chewing gum, smoking, alcohol advertising and weapons. Some of these rules there will be strong support for in the community and for some of them opinion will be divided. With adolescents we are continually balancing the desire to develop independence and individuality with a need for conformity, consistency and routines. As with any balance there is no ‘right’ answer.
When hearing of a situation that seems unfair there is a risk of jumping immediately to being indignant and insulting rather than asking questions and seeking perspectives. This is possibly supported by the way media thrives on conflict and the way social media (e.g. facebook) encourages instant responses rather than considered ones. Protest can be a legitimate strategy to communicate dissatisfaction however it also has a tendency to be polarising of opinion rather than inclusive.
At Darfield High School, as part of developing student self-efficacy and leadership skills, we endeavour to support students to understand how to make change in a positive way. Some rules do become out of date and need reconsidering. Rather than trying to make change though conflict such as refusal to comply with a rule we encourage students to use democratic process to make change. This may include gathering support, surveying opinion, presenting findings, looking for compromise, developing arguements, and putting proposals to management and the Board. The school council is one forum where changes and developments are discussed and actioned. In the past five years a number of changes have been made through positive student action, for example use of mobile phones , some uniform rules, and junior social events.
If we want students to become good citizens then we need to support them to learn the rights and responsibilities of participation in our society. Our children will follow the lead of parents and teachers. They need to see us acting in a positive and considered manner to deal with conflict and disagreement.