Focusing on the valuable rules

By Greg Whitby, 20 February 2019


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

We live in a world that is governed by rules and these rules are designed to keep us safe. Schools operate under the same principles. Sometimes however, schools can become overly focused on the ‘rules’ that have no direct impact on safety, or the quality of learning and teaching. I’m not referring here to the ‘no hat, no play’ rule or the ones that value respectful behaviour in classrooms and the playground. Rather, these are the rules that detract from what should be the main focus in schools – the wellbeing and learning of each child.

Let me explain. These ‘superficial’ rules have to do with things like the ‘rules’ for how we should be contacting books (no air bubbles!) or the colour of hair ribbons. One parent told me that her child was recently scolded for bringing a large vegetable to school for crunch and sip. While there can be very good intentions for establishing rules and protocols, (like ensuring every has enough time to eat and play) we need to reflect on which rules have the most value.

There is no argument that rules are necessary in order to ensure everyone at school is kept safe and happy. Being consistent is important in creating a culture of fair play and respect. However, I would argue that the rules that matter most are not the ones that mandate that there can be no air bubbles on a book covered in contact or hair ribbons need to be royal blue. Good learning happens when teachers model appropriate social behaviours through their interactions with students, when they work with students to create understanding, respect, build knowledge and solve problems.

A strict focus on ‘superficial’ rules does not allow teachers the space to focus on the things that really matter, nor does it allow students to develop a sense of autonomy and responsibility. The rules that schools need to be allowed to focus on are the ones that have a positive impact on student wellbeing and their learning.

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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