It is interesting the things that make us unite as a people.
Take Cecil the Lion.
People around the world are angry and upset. I'm not going to rehash that here, I'll leave that to others. I will however say this. By all means be upset about the situation. I understand and I too mourn the loss of a beautiful creature - and for what? To be hung on a wall as a trophy - seems wasteful.
But actually, far more pervasive and concerning, I mourn something far closer to home.
I mourn the loss of potential.
Everyday, all over this country, and I'm betting yours (if you're not from here), students are being stood-down (suspended) and excluded (kicked out) of our schools.
I don't have the statistics of every country at my fingertips, but I would hazard a guess to say it's staggering. The majority of students that are stood-down in NZ are between the ages of 13 and 15. More often than not, these students are Maori and they are boys. Primary schools (Elementary) are less likely to stand-down students than High Schools. You can find more information about New Zealand's 2014 statistics around stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions here. 'Student Engagement' is the name we give to the collection of this data. Ironic really.
There are many elements that sit behind the whys and wherefores of students being removed from schools, and I will explore them in later posts. For this post I want to focus in on just one. It came up as part of a discussion at a Inclusive Practices workshop, where we discussed how the issue of extreme student behaviour as a 'special need' is not often recognised.
Warning - this may be a little controversial and may cause the reader some heart palpitations - this is your chance to stop reading. (Disclaimer - it is most certainly not intended to cause grief, just something to reflect on)
We talked about parental expectation.
Schools are under immense pressure to 'deal to' the child who lashed out and hurt their little Johnny or Johness
Fair enough too - I'm a parent and I would want to be assured that if another student hurt my child, that justice was in place.
However, kicking a child out of school or sending them home for a 'holiday' for a couple of days is not justice. It teaches the other child only one thing - that school, like the rest of their life, will just give up on them.
But I'm lucky.
I am an educator with far too much experience working with vulnerable students, and I have a deep passion to look for alternative options around social and emotional welfare, so I understand the bigger picture.
I understand that a child that lashes out is more than just the behaviour they exhibit, and that the behaviour is part of a much more complex situation.
I understand that sending a child away (exclusion) is not a solution but a shifting of the problem to another school.
I understand that something like a restorative practices process is more effective because it helps all parties work through the situation and allow for healing. It teaches a lesson and it allows for closure. In short, it grows compassion and teaches what it is to have humanity.
I understand that students that behave inappropriately are complex. When they lash out we see only the tip of a much larger iceberg: we only see the behaviour. Underneath is most often a seething mess of hurt, dysfunction, vulnerability, abuse, anger and neglect. Sometimes it is a mix of these things, sometimes all of them.
I understand that these students have already been let down and betrayed by society.
Most importantly, I understand that to be an inclusive society we need to include those with behavioural needs. It is easier to understand and support students with wheel chairs or a physical disability because these special needs are more obvious. Behaviour is part of this. A students behavioural needs impact on their social and emotional wellbeing and they are just as in need of inclusive practice as other students.
I appreciate that parents are concerned about the safety and welfare of their child, and I agree it can not be just left. A system that ensures the situation is dealt with must be in place because all students have the right to be safe. This is a given. There is no doubt that it needs to be dealt with - but throwing students out of school is not the only answer.
The answers to the alternatives are varied and rely on a multi faceted approach to supporting both the child that lashed out, and the child that was the recipient of that. These are things that schools need to co construct with their communities, and it is vital that there is adequate resourcing in place to support everyone. (That issue is at least several posts in itself!)
However, If I had one wish around parental expectation, it would be that they understood the issue as I do, and that a school that chooses not to exclude does not mean that the school is not doing something about it. On the contrary, they are most likely putting in an 'above and beyond the call of duty' effort to support all students, and if it was your child they would do the same. Sometimes you can not see the Herculean efforts that a school leader and the team are putting in place in order to support all the students in their school, and sometimes, you won't know because they are unable to discuss them with you. Being bound by a code of confidentiality means that you may never know what is happening.
So, by all means be upset about Cecil the Lion, but I wonder if you might find some room in your heart to be as equally outraged on behalf of all the kids whose potential is lost. I appreciate that when they are angry and hurt, lashing out at all in their path, and your child gets caught in the cross fire, that they are not as cute and loveable as Cecil. But I implore you to understand that they are just as vulnerable. It is not a hunters gun that kills them, but societies lack of understanding and empathy that sees their potential killed off.
The loss of any students potential is ultimately a loss for all of us because at the end of the day, it is society that pays.
Let our compassion encompass those things just a little closer to home.