Another Shirt Day
Democracy works best when we have the leisure to do some hard thinking together. ~Deborah Meier~
Of all the issues we deal with as a school bullying is, by far, the most volatile and and delicate. In the range of issues I manage as our principal it fits into that box labelled ‘important and urgent’. The reasons for this can be rhymed off by most of us, parents educators and students, with fluency; perhaps not with the urgency and potency of the poetry that is linked to this post.
We all know that ‘bullying’ is an issue in schools. We know this because bullying is an issue in our society and schools are nothing more than a DNA samples of our communities; with one important difference, of course. Unlike our communities, in schools our children co-mingle and co-exist in very close proximity, sorted by age with adult supervision that is far different, in both ratio and role, than they experience in their families and homes.
It is in our public schools that our children receive their first, and longest lasting, impressions of what the ‘real world’ is all about; struggles, joy, despair, triumph, cruelty, justice and injustice- all played out on a daily basis. I’m pretty certain that each of us has as a goal the elimination of bullying, it would be pretty hard to advocate for this type of behaviour. But, this goal is both complex and demanding- and achieving it will require that we make some significant changes to the way we operate our schools.
Many of our most deeply and dearly held school traditions will need to be examined if we really wish to tackle this issue here at Park Ave. PS. The emphasis on competition, incentives and rewards; reflected in practices like honour rolls and awards; though greatly appreciated by the ‘winners’, do need to be examined. If we set as our common goal the creation of of a school that is truly inclusive; then we will need to take a hard look at all our practices and ‘do some hard thinking together.’
For me, bullying is a manifestation of the absence of empathy- the cold, hard application of ‘me first’. As a father, I know too well the protective instinct I have for my children- and how easy it is for me to place the interests and needs of my children before those of others. It is the struggle I have to find a place in my heart for the children of my neighbours that is tested when my children go to school. These are the conversations I have as our principal when I am working with families inside that ‘important and urgent’ box. I know that each of our parents send the best children they have to our school every day. And I know that these children struggle to learn who they are, make mistakes and, as a result, often hurt one another in many ways- the poem by Shane Koyczan illustrates just how impactful those hurts can be.
Our staff know I’m fond of using witty, pat phrases and one of my favorites is ‘I don’t just want to take the skeletons out of the closet, I want to dance with them!’ I’m proud that we will be focusing on bullying awareness, inclusion and the issue of homophobia on Pink Shirt Day this Wednesday and I’ll be wearing pink with pride.
I want more than another shirt day though, I want us to have a real conversation about how we can work on this in a democratic, inclusive and impactful manner- do you?