The importance of Standing Together
by Tara McVey
Our Principal has used a mantra frequently when talking to parents: “If it’s not good enough for my children, it’s not good enough for yours” and I think this is our starting point for expectations. What do you want for your children? I want mine to be well behaved, to be nice to people and to work hard. But, if I’m honest, I want more than this: I want them to be articulate and eloquent and to care and I know they will only become like that, if that is what they are taught, if that is what is expected of them. At Towers, we are strict because we care.
Why do teachers do what we do? And I know it is not a fashionable response perhaps - or it’s a little cheesy for some - but we do it out of love. We love our students and our school. And we believe. We believe in our school, in our children, in our teachers, in ourselves.
In a meeting at school, we talked about the ‘The Straight Story’. This is a film about a man who rides across America on a ride on mower to see his estranged brother (more heartwarming than it sounds!) Anyway, on the way he encounters a runaway and talks to her about family. As one person, you are like a single stick: vulnerable and easily broken, but a bundle of sticks - that’s family. You can’t break that. That is what our school is - the bundle of sticks who together cannot be broken.
On a visit to Michaela School in London, we saw in action their sense of purpose, the idea of all the staff rowing together in the same direction. This clarity of vision is not simply about words, or a ‘big picture’ ideal. Their clarity of vision feeds right down to the detail. In the school’s recently published book, Sarah Cullen has written a chapter entitled ‘The Devil is in the Detail’ seeing details as ‘thousands of tiny opportunities to question the status quo and possibly do things better.’ Rather than seeing detail and relentless consistency as bureaucratic or unnecessary, she states that, ‘when every last detail is thought of, nothing but teaching and learning in its purest form is left. For new teachers, constructive feedback is given for almost every lesson, concerning details as fine as the amount of time given in a countdown for books to be handed out. Erosion of the school’s culture on any level - by pupils or staff - is addressed swiftly and succinctly, always with a clear focus on just what is at stake if standards fall, or any small detail is ignored.’
And what is at stake? Well, we know that students actually like boundaries. It is a mantra of our school that not only do we believe that every child wants to learn but we also believe that every child wants to behave. We just have to be clear about teaching them how, about what that means, about letting them know that we are strict because we care.
It bears repeating: we are strict because we care. We know that to have high expectations of pupils is to have high expectations all the time, no matter what. We are all human and there are days when something has happened which means that you don’t feel like working hard, you don’t feel like being nice. But you do. Because it is right. A reason is not an excuse, not for us or for any pupil. To make allowances for behaviour that is just not acceptable is to let them down. Because, in the end, you wouldn’t let your own child do it. Out of love, your own children are expected to behave well, work hard, wear their uniform with pride, be polite. So, out of love, at Towers, we stand together and are consistent because we expect the same of our pupils. Because to expect any less of them is not fair.
So, we work tirelessly for consistency. Because on the day when you are tired and it seems like more effort to pick up on the student who calls out in class than it is not to correct them for it, on that day, you are not doing it for yourself. You are doing it for the teacher next door, the one who has them next, the one down the corridor who will issue the correction for that behaviour. We are the bundle of sticks who cannot be broken. We are all in it together.