This week, George Couros posted a blog inspired by a TED talk by Barry Schwartz. I really enjoy reading George's stuff so I took the time to watch the video. It got me thinking about a lot of things and my brain overloaded so far that I actually took some notes while I was watching it.
I have a bit of an issue with 'rules'. In fact everytime someone asks at staff briefing "What's the rule on that?", the hairs on the back of my neck start to bristle. I know rules are necessary for many things, however I believe most of them could be left unwritten if everyone followed my favourite rule, Rule 33.a, the Rule of Commonsense. My dad coined that rule when he was the president of the local football league. He said that meetings often got bogged down with trivial discussion and when that happened he would just tell everyone that it was covered by Rule 33.a and move on. So when I was watching this video of Barry Schwartz, it occurred to me that this was exactly what he was talking about. If we teach our kids to be wise moral citizens, who act in a particular way because it's the right thing to do rather than the mandated thing to do, they will understand Rule 33.a and the need for a lot of our rule making will be over. If kids learn character and to respect themselves and others, then the rules will be redundant.
A few years ago we instigated a one rule fits all approach. The rule is ' In this school, every student has a right to learn and every teacher has the right to teach. Anything that interferes with that is against the rule." Backed up by Rule 33.a, and in an atmosphere of shared respect and accountability, this stands us in good stead in our Yrs 5-7 unit. Pretty much all behaviour can be bought back to that one rule and Restorative Practice helps to point any wrong doers back in the right direction. Unfortunately, outside the immediate classroom, we still have a fair few rules. Take the hat rule for instance. The Rule says you have to wear your hat when you are outside during terms 1 and 4. All very well unless you get an extreme UV day in term 2. And what happens when kids don't have a hat? Can they sit under the shade sails? Can they just take the hat off while they play sport? What if their little sister stole their hat and sold it on the black market? Here's the thing. When the UV is over 3, you're going to get skin damage from sun exposure. Respect yourself and wear your hat when the UV monitor tells you it's 3 or more, or stay inside.
How about the uniform policy? Boys must wear grey school socks. You know what? I don't care if they wear pink socks (actually I'd prefer it) but the policy says grey, so just get your kid grey socks! And if on rare occasions they have to wear white ones (which are generally grey by recess anyway), should I rant and rave and demand detention from them? Rule 33.a. Don't sweat the small stuff.
Anyway, I digress. What really struck me about this video was the notion of how 'wiseness' relates to use of social media. I'm a great fan of social media. I was an early adopter way back in 1997 when ICQ was the way to chat online and the Teachers Net lounge was 'the' collaborative space for teachers. These days I'm an avid facebooker and I'll write another day about all the useful ways that I use the application. But what I'm thinking about today are the rules that the digital dinosaurs keep inventing to cope with new technology like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter etc? The front line defence rules are the 'block' and the 'ban'.This might work except the kids are a lot smarter than the grown ups when it comes to social media and they can get around every techno wall I've ever seen. The other problem is, these applications are full of learning opportunities. How can we teach our kids to be moral and ethical digital citizens if we don't model and scaffold the correct behaviour in our schools and in our own lives?
Many schools (thankfully not mine) have a rule that says teachers may not friend students on facebook. I just really don't understand this. I live in a very small town. I'm friendly to the kids in the supermarket. I'm friendly to them at the football. In fact I get along pretty well with most of them at school! I don't request access to their pages but if they invite me into their space and they are of legal age to have a facebook account then I am more than happy to be friendly to them in an online environment. I don't stalk their pages looking for private information about them. If I were the type to conduct inappropriate relationships with my students then I certainly wouldn't do so on a public forum like facebook! Just like when I see them out at any public event I interact with them in a friendly and professional manner. I take notice of the things they choose to show me and I comment positively on items they present to me. As teachers, within our community we are always teaching and someone is always watching. Therefore, rule 33.a would tell you that as a teacher I need to have the same awareness of my digital profile as I do my public profile in the community. As Schwartz says in this video, " As teachers we should be ordinary heroes - we should strive to be moral exemplars to the people we mentor", and if ever there was a place that needed moral exemplars, it's social networking.
So, I think we should worry more about how we teach our kids to become great citizens and less about how many rules we can put in place to tempt them to become bad citizens. Rules get in the road of respectful relationships. As Schwartz quotes Scott Simon from NPR, "Rules and procedures may be dumb but they save you from thinking."