The Beautiful School Rules

Love your school rules? Hated, more like – especially by those who fall foul of them. If we rethink the purpose of school rules they could become a treasured feature of the school.

I like having my mind changed ( I think this is called “education”). Recently I have had my mind changed about School Rules.

Disciplinary Offences

It’s not that I was ever against school rules, but perhaps it was my experience sitting in on school governor exclusion meetings as Local Authority Representative, that sullied them for me. There is something about the “you broke the rules so now you are out!” that likens school rules to sprung man-traps, lying in wait for a pupil to trip up and be caught by  their deadly snares. I once asked a Head Teacher (School Principal, for non-Brit readers) what the purpose of school rules was. He replied that they were very useful if you ever want to exclude a pupil. In this country, schools can exclude children where

“There is sufficient evidence that a pupil has committed a disciplinary offence and if allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in the school.” (Improving behaviour and attendance: guidance on exclusion from schools and Pupil Referral Units, DfES 2008)

In order to exclude a pupil, a Head Teacher would need to show that a “disciplinary offence” has been committed, and the easiest way to do this is to list all possible disciplinary offences at the outset. Logical, eh? So, I could be forgiven for believing that the number one reason schools have for listing rules is that they are expecting people to misbehave, be dishonest, rude, late and lazy. Why else would you have them? Let’s be a little less sceptical. Well, you might have rules in order to set expectations and make the school culture clear to newcomers, for the smooth running of the school. If this is so, why are they kept on the back pages of any document until an infringement has taken place?

The Beautiful Rules  

It was reading the book by St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living by Jane Tomaine that started me thinking anew about school rules.

Saint Benedict (c. 480-547) designed what he termed “a little rule” in order to help the monastic community that he founded to better love God, self and each other by providing some guidelines on how to live a spiritual life in community.

In Jane’s book, I read how “the word  ‘rule’ comes from the Greek term canon, which originally meant  ‘trellis’…a tool that helps a grapevine become more productive – without it, the branches of the vine will grow into a tangled mass and bear less fruit. She also likens the Rule to “a railing that you can cling to while climbing the stairs”

Hey, if school rules could viewed as guiding trellises and handrails, rather than a series of steps that must be followed “or else”, or a list of to-do’s” that pupils could check off, we could start to love them.

Love your school rules? Why not, if they were truly beautiful rules!

The approach offered by Saint Benedict is both sensible and humane. He advocates a balanced life of prayer and work, with all things done in moderation.

Here are some aspects of the Little Rule, that I would like to see in my own version, the Beautiful School Rules:

  • The Head Teacher should be free to apply the Beautiful School Rules in any situation or circumstance to guide and inspire staff and pupils.
  • The Head Teacher should run the school so that “the strong have something to yearn for, and the weak have nothing to run from” (RSB 64.19)
  • We expect good manners, good behaviour and good will from all members of our community
  • We seek to foster in our school, among both students and staff, a genuine commitment to the welfare of all: an enthusiasm for life in all its aspects, combined with compassion, kindness, consideration and respect for others. (from the brochure of Ampleforth School, which is attached to a  Benedictine Monastery)
  • Any punishment is to bring about reform, and the healing of the harm done by bad behaviour to the individual concerned and reconciliation with others are therefore at the heart of our discipline policy,to which a willingness to forgive is also integral.  An individual’s acknowledgement of their fault is clearly a help in this, and owning up to wrongdoing will be taken into account in any punishment given (RSB 45:1).
  • Both staff and pupils should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another ( the original lovely meaning of the word obedience means to “listen and respond” to each other).

That is as much as I am going to say about this today. You do not have to be a Godly or Catholic person (I understand  that these characteristics are not mutually exclusive) to find these rules psychologically attractive.  I urge anyone who has taken an interest in the Beautiful School Rules to read a little more about St. Benedict’s advice to Abbots and take a look at Ampleforth’s Policy on Promoting Good Behaviour, as food for thought.

Now read: How We Learn

Home Relevant Literacy

Brain Chemistry

Let the Students do The Work

Putting Teachers First

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