Developing standards and relationships to engender student empowerment

Chris Ivey / Academic

‘Rules and consequences imply a desire to control.

05 June 2020

Developing standards and relationships to engender student empowerment

‘Rules and consequences imply a desire to control. Expectations and growth plans develop positivity and ensure a focus on students’, an insightful quote from PJ Caposey. The assumption here is that expected behaviour is more effectively achieved through the use of standards than rules. It’s great to work in an organisation that aims to focus on mutually agreed expectations. However, we know this is a challenge. Many schools who lack the relational base between students and staff rely on rules and consequences only as a method to ‘control’ student behaviours.

We know that rules are necessary in games, but in relationships rules are counterproductive. Although the establishment of rules has good intentions, their implementation often produces detrimental effects. Great schools who are willing to work on developing students and not just controlling them understand that to allow students to achieve their personal best, a positive relationship must exist between students and teachers.

As human beings we know that rule making breeds enforcement, which promotes punitive attitudes and results in a teacher moving from the role of a coach or mentor to the role of an enforcer. School rules often work against the very reason for their existence: to have students self-discipline and maintain decorum. Quality schools and quality workplaces do not rely heavily on rules; yes, they exist but students are taught the expectations and are guided to meet these. Obviously, there will be slip-ups, but the long-term goal is that students will be able to meet these expectations with self-regulation and understanding.

Rules are not effective in teaching moral development, and when a student does not follow school rules, the tendency is to think in negative terms. Many parents and teachers find out too late that a concentrated or exclusive focus on rules is problematic. Using rules and attempting to enforce them as the principle method of producing compliance has in the long run never been successful. In fact, it often creates defiance. Think of all those rule-dominated schools where students ‘break free’ and at the end of their days at the school they take pleasure in graffitiing, vandalising or destroying school property just to ‘get back’ at an institute that has controlled their behaviour and thoughts through rules.

I am proud to say that after 14 years of graduating seniors at St Andrew’s we have not once had to deal with these end of year ‘pranks’. All we have had to do is provide tissues as the students leave a place they know has provided them with a positive grounding for their future.

What if we consider a move away from the notion of rules to the concept of standards? The term, standard, connotes a positive orientation. When a standard is not met, a helping mentality is engendered, rather than an enforcement mentality. The use of the term also implies consideration for others. A standard fosters a ‘We are all in this together’ attitude and counters a major finding of the Johns Hopkins study, namely that many students believe ‘rules’ are mandates that adults put on students, but do not apply to adults.

Standards engender student empowerment. They promote an esprit de corps in a school, similar to what occurs with any team. They tap into internal motivation and foster commitment, rather than compliance.

At St Andrew’s students are taught and encouraged to treat others with respect. Yes, sometimes they mirror the bad manners prevalent on social media sites but at St Andrew’s we take the time and energy to redirect and educate children about common courtesies, manners and respect.

It is far easier for schools, for teachers and for parents to implement rules and regulations with punitive consequences but in these institutions and homes, students do not learn to self-regulate or maintain self-discipline, in fact they rebel against such constraints and do not learn how to successfully lead self or others. They comply through fear. At St Andrew’s we take the more difficult and time-consuming expectations approach. Ultimately the student who graduates from St Andrew’s has a greater well-developed sense of self and is understanding, empathetic, responsible and self-assured.

Our expectations are clearly identified, and we enthusiastically work with both parents and students to ensure that these expectations are met for the betterment of our community.

Mr Brad Bowen
Head of Secondary/Deputy Principal

Author Profile

Chris Ivey

In his own words, Chris “enables things to happen” at St Andrew’s. As Principal of the College, he leads the development and progression of St Andrew’s by enabling staff and students to achieve their personal best. Chris is a Reverend and has been the Principal of St Andrew’s for more that 15 years. He also represents and advocates for Independent schools across Australia as the National Chair of AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia).

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