I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the importance of effective communication and understanding between adults in a school and the young people. This is a vital area for any school to work on if they have any aspirations towards solid and sustainable participation, the engagement of young people in the decision making processes of the school and forming a successful collaboration towards school improvement.
An environment whereby adults and young people can be open and honest with each other, support each other and work together will breed a space in which everyone is comfortable and at ease. An environment of this type will enhance learning and impact on behaviour, as well as support the young people to develop those essential life skills that are often perceived to be lacking in so many youth, i.e. the ability to form effective and stable relationships, communication skills, confidence and assertiveness (rather than inappropriate aggression).
This has been a working philosophy of the youth sector for decades, but it is still relatively new within education. Gone, (or going), are the didactic and authoritarian pedagogy, and growing is a participative and inclusive youth orientated andragogy. Initiatives such as restorative justice in schools, student governors, school councils and peer-mentoring projects have come a long way and certainly support the development of effective communication, but very often these progressive initiatives can mask the truth, that pupils and teachers are in reality on a very different page and do not understand each others opinions or motives for what they do and how they do it.
Go in to any school and it is likely that the majority of teachers will feel that they have a measure of the young people, what it is they like and don’t like in the school, what they want to change and what they want to keep. Ask the young people if they feel that the adults know and understand the pupils views and opinions and it would it not be abnormal for the majority to answer a definitive, ‘No’.
What are the concerns of the pupils? What is important to the pupils? What are they unhappy and happy with at school? What would they change? These are key questions that any teacher and SLT hoping for the young people to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their school and their community must be able to answer.