Restricting WiFi, Gangster Families, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss the importance of setting boundaries in the classroom and at home. How impactful can a chaotic home life be? What structures can be set at school that would benefit children? Plus, Andy and Adam share stories of pupils they’ve experienced that have had tough backgrounds.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast. Welcome to the School of School podcast. Are you a maths teacher looking for a primary school assessment tool that can give you a detailed look into learner or class achievement? With Insights, it's all in one place. Make sense of assessment data so you can strategically plan and teach lessons. Insights, it's assessment for advancement. Visit mathsnoproblem.com for more information.
Welcome back. It's another episode of the School of School podcast. Welcome, Andy. Welcome, Robin. Robin, regular guest now, hey? This is great stuff.
Hey, how about that?
Yeah, it's awesome. That's really good. Well, what we're going to be talking about today is boundaries. Okay? Why are they so difficult to set, or are they, for teachers and as parents? And what role do boundaries play in schools and homes? So, I know that both of you are parents, so boundaries, where you're at with them?
Well, okay, what do you mean by boundaries, Adam? First of all, what are we talking about?
Well, okay, so I think that boundaries are where certain behaviours extend in different ways. So, let's say boundaries in a classroom, boundaries of noise, boundaries of moving around, boundaries of physical play. Those sorts of things.
Okay. So, let me tell you a little story, maybe. Right? So, about three years ago, went off and started recording. And so, this is a course that I've been working on for a long time and it's not ready yet, but it will be on the Maths — No Problem!! Academy when it's done. And it's a course on lesson study, right?
And what we did was we filmed anywhere from three to six lesson studies in individual schools, across multiple schools, across the UK, in different segments of the education centre. All at primary schools. All roughly the same age groups. But when I say segments, what I mean is some really challenging environments where a lot of poverty or whatever, versus some more schools with cohorts that were coming from more, let's say, fortunate families, where there was money, there was big careers, great professionals, parents, and all that kind of stuff. Right? Is fortunate the right word? I don't know. Anyway, whatever.
And we did all this and there's the one thing that stuck with me from all that lesson study. I've never done such a concentrated amount of observation lesson study in a formal way. And we're talking about watching hundreds and hundreds of children in the classroom and seeing how they learn. And the most fascinating thing about it was, was for the first time it was crystal clear to me how important classroom structures were. We don't talk about it very much, but the classrooms that were working really, really well, the children knew what to do. Do you know what I mean? There wasn't a lot of time wasted with like, "Okay, kids, let's go get your workbooks from the shelves over there." And then, with a bunch of six year olds, that could turn into a half hour activity. Right?
If it's not structured. But when things were structured, that could happen really quickly. And that was structured. And those classroom structures were really important. So, on one end, that was really interesting to me. The other thing was that the discipline of setting particular expectations from the students and them knowing what those expectations are, allowed some students who would otherwise not be able to partake in a lesson, were now partaking.
So, let me give you an example. There's one girl that stands out really in my mind. She came from a refugee family recently, very, very, very hard, difficult upbringing. I'm going to say she's about eight or nine years old. Now, you can imagine the atrocities that this child has seen. She's sitting now in an English classroom. She knows enough English to get by, but her whole life she's been told, "You don't have a voice. Nobody cares what your opinion is and you're best off just staying quiet and not interfering with anything that's going on." That's everything that she's learned up until that point.
This school was so good. The classroom was set up in a way that maybe that was the only place in her life where she could have a voice and her opinion mattered. And that was only because the way the classroom was structured. So, I know those are fringe cases. I know they're fringe cases, but I just thought I'd give you that because that's a-
Yeah. But I'm not sure they are fringe. That might be fringe in terms of-
... her experience and that particular child. But what I would say is true of every classroom that I've been in and taught in and observed the teaching in, is what you have described, where the children know what to expect. There's no surprises. They know what to do. They know what to expect. They know what they're getting every day. There's a consistency there that when I turn up ... Now, I think we do see the most significant impact are those children that say, come from chaotic homes, where they don't know what to expect. They don't know if mum or dad's going to be in a good mood. They don't know whether they should say anything at the dinner table or not. Those sorts of things.
You sometimes see, especially if you know some of that backstory as well, if you've been involved in the lives of these children, in that sphere as well, that it's a profound effect for many of these children. And often, you really want them in the classrooms where those expectations and that consistency of expectation is there, because I think you can argue, it would be detrimental, massively detrimental. It's not a neutral thing, them coming to school where it's not there, that those children will go backwards.
That's where it's most obvious, but I think for everyone, if we're dealing with people and we don't know how they're going to react, is this a good day or is it not? That's scary. That's scary for all of us. That's scary as children, that's scary as adults. And I think that the difference being as adults, we might be able to say something, children don't, they just want to comply. So, they just want to make the teacher as happy as possible. They want to make the people around them as happy as possible. But if they're second guessing how to make that teacher happy or what they should be doing, that's exhausting, man. That's the flip side to it.
So, then the question is, do the boundaries start at home or could they start at school, depending on the situation? You mentioned some kids don't have any structure or boundaries at home. So, could the school help with setting and creating those habits or should it always start at home?
Yeah. No. No, because you can't rely on it at home. I always think it's like a toolkit, right? I'll give you a quick example. This is a true example. Won't name any names or anything like that, but in New Zealand, there's some really well-established gangs. Okay? That's part of society. If you mention certain gangs, everyone knows it. Everyone who lives in New Zealand knows it. And I had a boy in my class whose family were in the gangs, they'd moved from house to house, to house. It was chaos, proper chaos.
It was a shame, because we got moved out of the classroom, it was being renovated and we were in a big hall. So, that change of structure really freaked him out. It wasn't good for him. And anyway, he ended up doing something and he actually got suspended from school for a day. Now, keep in mind, this was towards the end of the year. I'd tried to get any member of his family or extended family in to talk about some of the issues that we we were facing.
When he got suspended, I counted them, 15 members of the extended family came down to carry him out on their shoulders because they were so proud, because it was his first school exclusion. Now, when you've got that, if that's the level of expectation, it has to be solely on the school in that case. It's another extreme case like the girl you're talking about, Andy, but different.
It has to rely on the school to be consistent regardless. And yeah, some children will come in with tools that make it easy, but I think for all children, they just need to know what they're getting when they come in, every single time. Otherwise, why would you want to come in? It'd be too scary.
These are some of the challenges that we don't discuss enough about being a teacher, being an educator, could even be social workers, who's responsible for someone where their value system or your value system is different than the value system that they have at home. And now you have got a conflict, because it might be on religious grounds, it might be on just whatever grounds, right? What do you say to them? Because you can't say, "Don't listen to your parents, they're wrong." You can't do that. Right? So, what do you do? My parents say this, you're telling me that. There's conflict in the child. How do you cope with that? How do you deal with that? What do you do?
Look, I just think fundamentally, the things that are most important for me as a teacher, and I still consider myself a teacher first and foremost, but that's kind of what runs through my blood, is I'm a teacher at heart. And I think that where the classrooms have worked the best, and I think that I've been the best for the children and helped them get the best out of themselves, for the majority of kids, I'm not delusional, I know it didn't work for everyone, but I think what was really important to me is that I genuinely cared about them all. I was genuinely interested in them all. I think that they needed to be kind to one another. I think that they needed to be able to be honest.
And I think that if I was consistent in all of those things, so I lived it, and they genuinely knew that I listened to them or I cared about them, or those sorts of things. But they also knew from really, really early on, I used to say this to my children all the time in the classroom, "I'm not a classroom with a list of rules, one to 20, 'We shall not do this, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.'" And I just make it really clear to them, "These are the basic things in our classroom, but I will not move on them. You will never, ever, ever find me moving on them." And it didn't matter what the circumstances were, "These are the things that I stay true to, and we are all going to get along famously."
And I think once they learn to believe that, then you're on the way. But coming back to your point, Andy, like that boy that I'm thinking about, they were a wee bit older when I was teaching these children. So, these guys were about 13. I think by that stage, it was too difficult for the school, even with massive amounts of consistency and care and those sorts of things, I think that the influence was too great at that stage for the school. I don't know what else could have been done. I don't know what else I could have done as a teacher, but it was beyond me. It was beyond what I could do.
Yeah. Because kids at certain age start creating their own boundaries as well. And Andy, you made me think about having different values, and one thing at my house with my kids is we have only a certain amount of screen time and at a certain time at night, I've set my wifi to go off. So, there's no discussion. There's no, "Oh, just a second. Just one more minute." It just goes off. And so, conversation is done.
However, I notice that here in Canada, in British Columbia, specifically, that some schools in particular, some classrooms, allow kids to bring their phones into the classroom, which to me is horrifying. I don't see the need at all, while they're learning at school, to also have access to their phone. So, it's not my value. I have a boundary there that I would enforce, but the teacher may have a different idea. Maybe it keeps some kids calm. Maybe they don't mind if they are working away and using their phone too. So, that's the challenge. Plus, what if you have more than one teacher? You spend half the afternoon with one and one with another, and they have completely different ways of running their class, then what? How does that work? Do the kids get it? Do they just fall into line?
Well, I think it's hard. I think that it's really difficult because ... Well, let's just go straight to the top. Right? It's a parent's prerogative that if they're not happy with the school, they can take their children out. So, that's one thing. We don't have to feel like we just have to go along with it. Because of course, there's things that come up, I'm not saying when I was a teacher, that everyone was happy with what I did. But I think the one thing I was really aware of was trying to make those core qualities as agnostic as possible. Just those things that you see across the board, what does everyone want? Whether it's religious or not, or whether it's just, we want good people, honesty, those sorts of things. Treated with respect, listened to, cared for, those sorts of things. Right? So, that's what people would expect.
I think where that starts to fall down, well, the first thing you do is, you have to say something, because I think that there's going to be some things that are in that grey area, right? That they're not wrong, but they don't quite chime with you. You'd prefer them not to happen. But I think that where we must start off is that if those core qualities, if I'm being hypocritical about them, then I'm defenceless. So, I must be talked about.
But I just think talking, because if something's really important for you, I'm looking at you here, Robin, on the screen, but if something's really important for you, for your children, as a teacher, I would really expect that it's going to be probably pretty important for the child as well, because they're hearing it from you. It's a value you care about. So, it's in my best interest to be mindful of that. And if I'm staying true to what I talked about, that I care about that child and I want to get the best out of them, because they'll trust me. Kids learn far more from teachers they trust, in my experience. Then it's in my best interest to listen to you and it's in my best interest to do something that...
I'll tell you what, in New Zealand, certainly in Maori culture, you don't sit on tables, because a table's where you eat and so you don't put your bum on it, but I've seen plenty of teachers, again, when I first came to the UK, come up and sit on the table next to the child that they're talking about. I think it's just been mindful of things like that, that can make a really big difference. But teachers have got to be willing to listen, and likewise, I suppose, parents have got to be willing to listen to teachers.
And there's one thing I have to say in amongst all of this, is that is infinitely easier setting boundaries and sticking to them in a school than it is as a parent, in my experience. I can have 430 children in the palm of my hand, easy peasy. Getting my children to spend two more minutes on homework or something, man, that's like the Krypton Factor. That's like mission impossible. So, I just wanted to stress that fact before people start pointing at the listening devices and going, "What?" Yeah, a whole lot easier in schools than it is at home.
There's a formality at school, right? Home, it's a personal relationship. It can't be anything else. Yeah.
Yeah. And kids set their own boundaries too, I think.
And that's important, it's not just coming from the parent. And that could be a classroom idea as well is, engage your students and encourage them to help with setting those rules of the classroom, those boundaries of the classroom, and more likely they may follow them.
Man, teaching's so hard. Why would anybody want to be a teacher?
Because they're good at it.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.