Across all of the Queensland schools in which I have worked, there have been a myriad of differences in the way in which schools are run with wide variances in policy and action across a multitude of curriculum, pedagogical and administrative practices and expectations. However, the one area of common ground that I have encountered is the dishonesty, hypocrisy and double standards that are dished up to students on a daily basis. It is almost as though school administrators are not capable of engaging honestly with their students, preferring to engage in actions and behaviours that only serve to make them objects of ridicule, rather than respect.
Examples of such instances are numerous and there is hardly a day goes by when a school Principal or Deputy Principal or Head of Department or Year Coordinator or some such similar role by any other name makes a very public proclamation about some behaviour or action before failing to follow through. As a teacher, it is very difficult to convince students to respect those who continually lie to them and treat them as fools. Don’t say you are going to do something and then fail to follow through, because that destroys your credibility and the likelihood of students taking anything you say seriously. If you get up on a school assembly and tell students that a particular action brings a particular consequence, you must follow through every time otherwise it is reasonable to expect that students are not going to take anything you say seriously. For teachers it becomes particularly problematic when the powers-that-be instigate some new initiative but then fail to lead by example in ensuring it is implemented consistently.
The school at which I am currently appointed and their policy surrounding mobile phones and other mobile technologies is a perfect example. The school has decided that, for whatever reason, mobile phones, MP3 players, tablets, portable gaming devices and the like are not permitted at school. Now, establishing such a policy is fine as many schools do it (although would be good to think a logical explanation could be provided – to teachers at least – to justify the policy), however a policy is meaningless if it is not implemented in practice. Throughout the year, various representatives of the school administration get up on assemblies and other forums and drone on and on about these technologies not being permitted at school. Furthermore, at staff meetings teachers are reminded of the policy and instructed to confiscate these items each and every time one is seen. Putting aside that most teachers fail to follow these instructions, which only makes life harder for those teachers who do (including those who don’t agree with the policy but follow the directive as expected), the biggest problem is that those who develop and introduce these policies don’t enforce it, which thereby renders it meaningless. There have been innumerable occasions where a member of the school teaching staff and/or administration team will be engaging with a student who has one of these items clearly on display or in their possession or, in many instances, in use. When no action is taken, the student quickly realises that the prohibition of such items is, in fact, just rhetoric that has no substance. This may seem a somewhat petty quibble (and it could be argued that banning such items in the first place is petty) but the problem is that once students realise there is a disconnect between what an ‘authority’ figure says and what they do, it is only to be expected that they will start to question the validity and credibility of these so-called rules and those that espouse them.
This is merely one example of such a scenario, as there are myriad other polices that schools introduce for which breaches supposedly carry consequences. Whether it be uniform, attendance, assessment or any other aspect of the daily school routine, there are an abundance of rules and regulations that are espoused infinitum to all and sundry, yet never implemented with the level of certainty that is threatened/promised. I understand that schools feel the need to have such policies in place as part of their marketing strategy to entice parents, but ultimately it is pretty pointless if the school has no intention of actually implementing them. The problem is that schools develop strategies for dealing with various issues without necessarily thinking through the practicalities that go with it. The aforementioned example of policy surrounding technology is a perfect example where a school (and this isn’t limited to just one school by any means) has a vision for what they would like the school environment to be like without actually thinking whether this is possible or even practical. It isn’t surprising that teachers don’t follow through in confiscating these items when they see them because this would take up a large portion of the day and it only encourages students to become sneakier and less overt in their use of these devices. A much more logical approach would be for schools to develop policies that can be implemented effectively to ensure that students have reason to believe that what they are told matches the reality that they encounter on a daily basis. If, for example, a school cannot in all practicality enforce a particular course of action then they shouldn’t pretend otherwise as it only serves to tarnish their credibility in the eyes of the school populous and the broader community.
I am not suggesting that schools should, or shouldn’t, develop policies/procedures/rules that they believe are in the best interests of maintaining order and maximising student educational outcomes. I personally believe that new technologies can actually be extremely beneficial in a learning context, but I also accept some of the reasoning offered by schools who wish to ban these items. However, what is important is that when a school says it is going to do something, it needs to follow through consistently. It is pointless, for example, banning the use of mobile phones in a school and then having some teachers following the expected course of action by confiscating the items while other teachers allow students to use them, whether in a classroom context or otherwise. There needs to be consistency, which is best achieved if the policy is both logical and reasonable in the first place. It is dishonest for schools to proclaim in their marketing material or enrolment documentation that, for example, ‘mobile phones are not permitted’ when that is not the case in reality (and may not actually be possible given the way such devices are so deeply entrenched in our culture, for better or worse).
I am not advocating the banning, or otherwise, of technology in schools. I am simply drawing on this particular issue as an example of the way in which schools engage in dishonesty and hypocrisy on a daily basis and there are a multitude of other examples I could have explored. Uniform policy is one which springs to mind as I cannot think of any day that I have attended a school in which every student has been attired in the correct uniform, even in schools who claim to have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in this regard. Once again, don’t make claims that aren’t supported by what we see in the school grounds every day. There are arguments to be made on both sides of the uniform debate, but that is irrelevant. Once a school has made a decision and declared what the expected standards are, they must follow through to maintain the credibility and validity of these expectations.
Surely, two of the key virtues we should be trying to instil in young people are honesty and respect. When schools administrators continually fail to deliver on the promises they have made with regard to student – and teacher – expectations, they are acting dishonestly and therefore cannot realistically demand the respect of the students or their families. Once that credibility is gone, it is very hard to get it back, so maybe those charged with establishing the framework within which a school will operate should think long and hard about the practicalities of the various policies, procedures, rules and/or regulations before implementing them. Too often, a knee-jerk reaction leads to the development of initiatives that ultimately prove to be impractical and unnecessary and I think our young people, for whom high school is such a critical time in their life, deserve better.