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Dear Kairosians

Managing a system of discipilne in a school is always an on-going conversation in all schools. And instilling an ethos of discipline in a school — not the same thing! — is seldom a conversation in schools.

On the one end of the discipline spectrum there is a “Lord of the Flies” school culture where the adults in the school are absent, either functionally or physically. On the other, there is the militaristic style of school which is dictatorially authoritarian. As always in Kairos, we seek a conscious and educational balance. 

The issue is delicate and highly complex. We have an adult society “on show” for the children, a society which represents an arguably functional model of the future, from our children’s point of view. “I will be like that one day,” is the implicit message a child tells him or herself. “We want you to be like this,” is the implicit message we teach a child — through our actions and our words, as well as our more subliminal attitudes, beliefs and aspirations. These messages are unavoidable, and largely unconscious. They are known as the “hidden curriculum”. 

The hidden curriculum is inevitably flawed, because we are fallible human beings who make mistakes, often unconsciously. How we respond when we discover we’ve made a mistake is a vital element in the implicit message system we present our children. The authentic flexibility and vulnerable honesty with which we talk about our mistakes in front of the children has probably a lot more impact than the content of our words. The children will forget the details of the incident and the details of the parents’ and teachers’ responses in managing it, but they will most certainly absorb the beliefs and attitudes that underly our actions and our words. 

Our school curriculum is designed fundamentally on the ideals of integrity, implying a growing self-awareness in ourselves as adult learners; of harmony, implying a dedicated commitment to non-violent communication; as well as a passion for aspiring for mastery in all that we do. Let us consider integrity and harmony for now, one at a time, for it is these two that are simultaneously relevant to the management of discipline. 

Our growing self-awareness towards becoming fully mature, wise adult mentors for our children implies learning from our mistakes, and inviting collaborative feedback from each other about such mistakes, in a supportive community. Being open to such feedback, and being willing to be seen to be learning, often entails much courage and humility, and sometimes a good dose of forgiveness too. At Kairos, we have valuable tools such as Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, Dan Siegel’s Whole Brain Child methods, and Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication. (Parent enrichment sessions intended for Term 3 — please express your interest so that we can find a suitable time for most.) 

All well and good, but how do we grow ourselves as a school such that our children will feel empowered enough to model integrity for each other, and speak for justice no matter what? Recent incidents in the school have highlighted just how difficult it is for bystanders to speak out against nasty or unconscious behaviour. Even when it is clear to them that actions are wrong, they would rather avoid involvement, hoping to absolve themselves of responsibility. 

Underlying this avoiding behaviour, must surely be fear. Fear of “getting into trouble”, fear of punishment, fear of authority. In the school enviornment, teachers necessarily represent authority, and therefore children fear us to some extent. The best case scenario, therefore, is for children to be able to collaboratively manage discipline issues amongst themselves — non-violently. This is not a particularly new idea: for example, both the renowned Finnish anti-bullying system (called KiVa) which emphasises the responsibity of the bystander, as does South African author Gail Dore in her valuable book “Bullyproof”. 

At Kairos we endeavour to empower the bystanders — and indeed all our children in any role — to speak their truth. We foster an ethos of discipline by asking them to make agreements instead of rules; to acknowledge breaking an agreement when a mistake is made; and we negotiate with them appropriate acts of accountability to restore good relations with each other. And we employ various kinds of reminders of this point.

Alongside this we need to bring parents on board timeously, and there’ve certainly been occasions where we have neglected to do so. (Here I say “oops”. I acknowledge being hasty in working with the children for a workable solution while not inviting input from parents soon enough. I have made several acts of accountability in this regard, as a public model in line with this ethos. — Marc)

The children are not alone as we see this in our own lives: the world is full of adults who don’t speak up — don’t vote, don’t speak out against injustice, abuse, xenophobic attacks, and so on. Speaking out is a real conundrum. Does it require sustained, public activism to speak up against injustice? Are we lazy? Apathetic? Are we afraid? 

We don’t have answers here, only hopes for a more harmonious school, and a more harmonious world. We would appreciate your engaging us on this issue.

In service, sincerely

Maya and Marc

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