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Respect For Others

Published on 03/09/18

‘Find out what it means to me’  

The words of Aretha Franklin’s 1967 anthem, celebrated for advancing both the civil rights movement and gender equality.

Respect (for Others) is one of the character qualities we celebrate at Claremont; we consider character qualities to be at the heart of a Claremont Fan Court education, our raison d’être, qualities which we celebrate cyclically across the Schools in teaching and learning, through our assemblies, in our PSHE programme and in blogs such as this.

This first blog as Headmaster aims to reflect on respect for others with something topical but more benign than the hardship and prejudice faced by minority groups, or indeed the origins of the #metoo campaign. It is, however, something that causes debate in most households and shapes the way we interact and show respect for each other, namely mobile technology.

The ubiquitous iPhone has only been around since 2007 but its influence on how we operate has been transformational.  At the time of its launch I was a local councillor as well as a teacher.  Busy evenings of marking had become considerably harder, not because of council meetings but rather the need to keep on top of the daily barrage of emails which left little space for family life.  The advent of the smart phone enabled me to be in the same room as my family while dealing with emails. It probably made my responses more concise, if a little direct.   More recently, I was able to persuade an extremely experienced economics and business teacher to join Claremont at late notice thanks to an email composed on a beach in France.  However, there is no denying that, if I am sending an email from the living room, or indeed the beach towel, during a family moment, it does have an impact on those around me.  Do I think I should not be sending emails when I need to?  No, but I should probably ask myself whether I really need to send them at that moment.  This becomes a question of the respect I am showing for others.

My eldest children do have smart phones, and while they do respect the boundaries we set for them, I sometimes wish they did not have mobile devices.  It is too easy to lose time absorbed in streamed content or viewing what friends have posted but, more significantly, I wonder if the incessant pop-ups and notifications that then need to be liked or commented on stop a child from ever mentally switching off.  Will they remember their teenage years of needing to instantly pass comment or hit ‘like’ with fondness?  In the same way that my iPhone allows me to reply to an email efficiently but not necessarily always with sensitivity, does the need to contribute to the stream of peers’ thoughts and comment on social media cause the writer to focus more on the need to add their voice than the humanity of what they add? Would they pass comment on a peer in person in the same way they might through Snapchat?

Is there danger that we forget respect for others when we work through the medium of technology in our busy lives?

The effect of social media on children is a topic which educators continue to debate at length, and I will return to it later in this blog as I reflect on our responsibilities. But schools communicate with both the children we teach and their parents and wider families.

Hitherto it has been the case that emails to Senior School teachers at Claremont Fan Court have been sent to a central address and received by a single contact, my PA, who has then passed the messages to the appropriate teacher and has monitored their responses, on the Headmaster’s behalf.  Such a method is suited to a prep or pre-prep school where emails can be frequent and tend to focus on operational matters.  In providing an intermediary for any communication regarding 11-18 year olds, we risk losing what is vitally important: a respect for the trust between the families who wish to contact the teacher and respect for the teacher themselves. On the other hand, we provide a safeguard that ensures email volumes and expectations are reasonable.

With these points in mind and over the coming term the Senior School will gradually provide contact information for all the Senior School teachers.  An accompanying protocol will be introduced for parents and families to follow when contacting teachers.  In empowering staff to send and receive email directly, it would be wrong to ignore the importance of ensuring the teacher remains able to prioritise their lesson planning, preparation, marking and teaching for and of their pupils.  Our protocol will aim to ensure we all remember the importance of respect for others.

Of course in enabling others, we should not step back from our own duties. Showing respect for our pupils does not entail relaxing our rules for when phones may be used, or the School’s policy on responding to misuse. Quite the opposite; the School, our pupils and their parents have a guiding role in ensuring pupils learn how, when and where it is appropriate to use a mobile phone, and where it is not. Claremont Fan Court has always set sensible expectations that pupils should use mobiles responsibly but this does not mean there are no occasions where pupils misuse their technology, potentially at the expense of their peers. We will therefore review our policies on the use of mobile technology by pupils over the coming term.

Technology is in every way a marvel, however, its use is not always marvellous.  We should never be afraid to embrace technology, but we should always be mindful about whether we are respecting others in how it is used.

William Brierly