“The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. If ‘Everyone’s entitled to their opinion’ just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial.” Patrick Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Deakin University.
As a school we know that we may not always be able to please everybody. Sometimes we are required to take actions that may displease people. In other words, in the opinion of some we are doing the “wrong thing”.
Watch the media and see how the armchair critics and talkback gurus love giving schools advice on everything from disciplinary policies, teaching methods and standards of behaviour to architectural design and staffing practices.
As teachers we sometimes have the privilege of receiving opinionated advice, particularly from a few of our students:
- “That’s not fair!”
- “Why should I have to….?”
- “I don’t believe that!”
- “You don’t have the right to make me….”
It is probably not surprising that these are the kind of comments teachers will often hear from students when they are admonished for doing the wrong thing or are required to comply with school rules.
In cases like this the student often claims that he/she should be able to do certain things because, in their opinion, they have rights.
And they are partially correct – students do have rights, but they also have responsibilities and this is where the concept of “I think” and the real world sometimes come crashing together.
- The student is of the opinion that he/she should be allowed to climb onto the roof to retrieve a tennis ball versus the teacher who has a duty of care to stop the student placing himself/herself at risk of physical injury.
- The student believes he/she has the right to disrupt a class because he/she is bored versus the right of the students in the class who want to learn.
- The student who does not see why he/she should be in trouble for hitting or harassing another student while the teacher is following the school’s duty to ensure a safe learning environment.
Sometimes it takes experience to test if your opinion is as reasonable as you believe.
I well remember sitting in on an interview with a school parent (not at SCAS) who had always been a strong advocate of the “get rid of anyone who breaks the rules” approach to discipline and had criticised the school for being too soft on troublesome students.
The difference was that this meeting was about whether her son, who had made a bad decision and brought a “substance” onto the school campus, should have his enrolment withdrawn.
Strangely, her opinion on how a school should react to serious breaches of the school rules quickly turned 180 degrees.
The good news for our parents and students is that we try to be clear about our behavioural expectations – what we expect and what we will not accept – and so nobody should be too surprised if we determine that breaches of our standards will come with consequences.
The Bottom Line….
SCAS is a selective school in that parents select us knowing our standards and expectations. And that means that they know that we will take actions to uphold our standards, to promote good learning and keep our students safe.
That means that your child will be held responsible if he/she breaks rules, compromises the learning process or endangers others. Hopefully, that will not only be a consequence but also part of their growth and learning.
Sometimes you may have an opinion that our responses are incorrect and we will be willing to talk to you about that but, sorry, just because you decide to disagree with us does not mean that we are wrong.
But I also acknowledge this to be true for me: “ No matter how senior your role, you don’t know everything and you’re not always right.”
Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School