Relationships: Strong relationships are fostered as a priority in a predominantly boarding community. Children flourish within safe, supportive environments.
This is the second of a series on the school’s values and looks at relationships.
In many ways, ‘relationships’ is the value that stands at the heart of the school’s values, for service and leadership depend on them. In other ways we could argue it is not a value at all (we might expect words such as respect, integrity, humility, love, tolerance etc.). However, these are all the things that make for good relationships so as we explore with students what sustains and enhances relationships, we will inevitably encourage these values.
For me, relationships are both conceptual and practical; conceptual because they are an essential of the human condition and practical simply through interaction. I see the purpose of education as being about human flourishing and I have written many times before that a significant part of that purpose is to enable children to learn to answer those essential questions about who they are and why they are here, to gain a sense of identity and purpose. Whatever they decide for themselves, we will encourage them to see their identity in terms of relationship with others.
Two quotations from two different cultural traditions provide an insight into why conceptually I think relationships are at the heart of what we are about.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if the promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends, or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and Severall Steps in my Sickness, Meditation XVII, 1624.
Ubuntu is very difficult to render in Western language. It speaks to the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, ‘Yu, u nobunto’; Hey so-and-so has ubuntu.’ Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, ‘My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours’. We belong to a bundle of life.’ Desmond Tutu, No future without forgiveness, 1999.
For all the joy and wonder and bumps and bruises of boarding school life, developing a sense of a shared not selfish perspective of each other and our influence on the world and it on us is absolutely central. It also means that as a school we do our best to value children for who they are before we layer on levels of appreciation for the talents they demonstrate and achievements they gather.
Importantly, there is a growing understanding that the ability to foster and sustain relationships is seen as essential in the work place, even though it cannot be measured. Amongst the skills The World Economic Forum identified in 2016 as the top 10 that would be required for 2020 half of these are concerned with relationships: people management, co-ordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation.
If this is so vital, then clearly governments and schools will want to teach relationships in formal ways, and there has to be some merit in this as it cannot be all left to the accident of living and experience. However, so much of what we learn must come from living and working alongside one another.
When I was working towards qualified teacher status, I had a meeting with the Head of Geography at our placement school who talked about how the school was implementing the teaching of citizenship within the curriculum. He excused his early departure to hold a break time detention. I joked half-seriously with him that he was involved in a citizenship exercise: detention is about rights and responsibilities. Being a citizen, learning about relationships and being part of a community is not something you learn as a subject, it is something you are and something you become.
One of the joys of working in a boarding school is that we have the time to foster those relationships. The teacher:pupil relationship must always be formal and professional. We are in loco parentis, and like good parents we should be friendly but not a friend. Yet when they see us in our home environments, on pitches and in concert halls, in extra lessons, the relationships are stronger, more trusting. We know each other better.
When I moved back to boarding from being in a day school, the one thing I cherished was the time to seek out a child I had perhaps had to tell off earlier in the day to find something positive to praise or to say a kinder word so that they learned it was what they had done not who they were that was the issue.
Pupils learn to love each other and support each other, even if they do not always like each other. Boarding houses have clear boundaries and routines, not to hem them in but to give them freedom to make choices within safe parameters. They get it right, wrong often, experience shared pain and joy and frustration and learn to navigate through.
I am often asked what makes a good school. And I have a very unscientific way of coming to a judgement. It is the ‘Hi Sir’ or ‘Hi Miss’ test. If, as I walk around I hear ‘Hi Sir’ or ‘Hi Miss’ I know I am in a good place, a community where relationships are working well.