By Richard Goodyear – Kawakawa Head Teacher – High School
In the wonderful book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice has many encounters with the Cheshire Cat who baffles and amuses, confuses and helps and at one stage disappears to the point where only a grin is left. Alice remarks, “I have seen a cat without a grin, but never a grin without a cat”.
Those tendencies to amaze, adapt, amuse, push boundaries and occasionally perplex us, can also remind us of our wonderful teens. They are inconsistent but not untruthful, frequently helpful, often mischievous. In equal measure sincere and sarcastic, robust and fragile, bumbling and straight talking, watchful and oblivious.
Dr. Montessori put it like this. ‘It’s a delicate age…an age of doubts and hesitations, of violent emotions, of discouragements.’
As educators, our job is simple (but not easy). Understand the characteristics of the age-group, prepare the environment and remove obstacles for normal development. Considering the flip-flop nature of the adolescent as outlined above, what environment is needed?
Dr. Montessori named it ‘a school of experience in the elements of social life’. This is one of the ways we think about what we do in the high school. A place where our rangatahi (young people) can try out aspects of the ‘real world’, but where it is safe to make mistakes and where they will have a strong community around them. There are many aspects to this. I’d like to highlight some of the ways we address the need for a healthy emotional environment.
We place a huge emphasis on relationships, and on building a strong, supportive community. We consciously provide many layers to this approach, some visible to the students, while some work away in the background.
Each student has an ‘advisor’ who is their key person for any pastoral issues. That teacher builds a strong relationship with the parents, who are another vital element. If things get too much, a counsellor is provided by the school.
We provide many opportunities for issues to be resolved including restorative meetings. We meet in groups once a week where all those students who share an advisor can discuss what’s going on in the classroom, in a slightly more public way. Then we have our weekly community meetings where students acknowledge each other’s efforts and where class issues can be discussed and resolved.
In the background are regular advisory teacher meetings where we discuss how the teens are going as individuals and how the community is ticking (or spluttering) along and what needs to be done in the coming week as a response. In our full high school meetings (which regularly include specialist teachers) we can have similar discussions but with the full teaching team.
All of this can seem like hard work, but actually what’s happening is that our adolescents, like the Cheshire Cat, are reminding us that life is rich, unpredictable and varied. The more we work to provide an environment that acknowledges this, the more interesting our job is.