As you would expect, there are thousands of studies and publications on teenagers. They raise awareness about what we, as a team of staff, see and work with on a daily basis, and it is intriguing to know if the students themselves make the same observations.
In Muster last week, I shared with students an extended passage from a book written by Rosalind Wiseman called Ringleaders and Sidekicks. It is a book about boys, boy behaviour and inclusion. Wiseman wrote a similar book on girls called Queen Bees and Wannabes. They are good reads for anyone with an interest in what our sons and daughters have to navigate during their daily lives. I highlighted to our boys that there is a tone and message in Wiseman’s text that is relevant to us today, and links to our focus on a fostering a positive, kind and inclusive culture. Wiseman writes:
‘We all want to feel a sense of belonging. This isn’t a character flaw. It’s fundamental to the human experience. Our finest achievements are possible when people come together to work for a common cause. School spirit, the rightful pride we feel in our community, our heritage, our religion, and our families, all come from the value we place on belonging to a group’… Wiseman continues: ‘In the short term, it’s the experiences a boy has in a group that will teach him about friendship and what kind of boy is accepted or rejected by the group. His experiences in groups will influence how hard he tries in school, how he presents himself, his respect for women (including his mother) and girls, when and how he makes choices about sexual activity, and how he faces situations such as bullying, drinking and drugs. Within these moments are ethical choices and complex dynamics that frame the way a boy will act throughout his life. Should he say anything when someone is being excluded or treated unkindly? What’s the price of speaking out? What’s the price of silence?’
Sharing Wiseman’s words provided an opportunity to raise awareness of the things that should be foreign in a school so committed to a positive, kind and inclusive culture. The idea of being ‘rejected’, ‘excluded’ or ‘treated unkindly’ may well be considered commonplace for adolescent behaviour, but I encouraged our students to stay ahead of any such trend in this regard.
Over the years, I have come to admire most, those students who have the courage to stand apart from their peer group, and indeed to stand out – something that teenage boys are not always keen to do, especially it seems for good reasons! There will always be a small number of boys who cannot help but prioritise the popularity with their peers over the impression they make more broadly, just as there will be young men who are comfortable and confident to consistently show their best efforts in all settings.
As a point of action, I encouraged the students in Muster to acknowledge the role that language plays in culture. If we use, or allow others to use, divisive language without challenge – such as homophobic, racist or sexist language, in any tone, as rebuke or banter – we will be divided. But, if we choose positive, kind and inclusive language – this is exactly the sort of culture we will create – a supportive, kind and positive one – a culture that accounts for the fact that many of us have things going on in our lives that others are unaware of, and, importantly, a culture to which we can all feel we belong.
These are all messages to reinforce and preserve the special culture and community that I have experienced in my first semester at St Peter’s College.
Deputy Headmaster/Head of Senior School