Friday, 27 May 2016

Is It Love?

When I asked colleagues on Twitter whether they used the word love in school, it generated a range of responses:
  • No - Nope. Nooope,
  • No - *Shivers*
  • Yes - "I would love it if you'd leave me alone" and "You will never find love looking like that"
  • No - It is inappropriate and would be a safeguarding issue
  • Yes - "... and I mean this with love", "much as I love you all", "here's a bit of love"
  • No - "If a teacher had done that to me at school, I'd have thought they were a bit of a ***."
The consensus was generally one of no, and that it was not appropriate. However I was then surprised that so many had not really understood my context. Firstly, I do not mean sitting a student down and saying, "I love you". That would be creepy, weird, unprofessional and a big issue. Secondly, I think CS Lewis' Four Loves is an excellent start point, and I'd suggest until you know what they are, it is pointless to engage in the debate:
  • Storge - empathy bond, affection, enjoying something þ
  • Philia - friend bond, companionship, shared interests ý
  • Eros - erotic bond, romantic, being 'in love' ý
  • Agape - unconditional 'God' love, charity, selflessness þ
Read a summary of the book <here>
Why not Philia?

Students often need a friend, how ever this is not the role of teachers. Don't confuse this with pastoral care, that's important, but it is not friendship. I do not subscribe to the age-old 'don't smile before Christmas' mantra, but being liked, being seen as a 'mate' or 'cool' is not something a teacher, new or established, should be trying to do:

"Many new teachers start off wanting to be really kind and friendly to their pupils. They believe they will win them over with the power of love.” That usually doesn’t happen.
Tom Bennett -  <link>

Why not Eros?

No explanation needed really. However, is this the very reason why some people are so afraid of using the word love in schools? Is this why schools have policies based on a fear of misinterpretation? Some schools have explicit 'no touch' policies - can staff not be trusted to use correct judgement? Someone told me that a Primary deputy head didn't want to hug a child (nursery age) in assembly, in a room full of adults, even though the child was upset and scared. Do emotionally secure adults need complete coldness? Is it wrong to straighten a tie? Obviously there needs to be different boundaries in different contexts and different key stages; I know as Head of Y11, I wouldn't hug a female student.

Why Storge?

That empathy bond we need with those in which we work in community. If we don't care about our colleagues, our school community will quickly come tumbling down. It's hard to work in isolation in schools, actions have consequences.

You don't need to call them friends, you don't need to hang out with them, you don't need to even really like them. However, there should be a love that means you work together to create a pleasant working environment. SLT should be supporting the NQT, the Head of Department looking after their team... we need to operate in an atmosphere of kindness and compassion. Challenge remains a part of this. It is not kind, or compassionate, to the community to allow teachers to not work at their potential. This challenge needs to be reasonable, and supported; this is love.

Some schools, consider themselves family like - that's Storge too. It's what parents naturally feel for their children, and members of a family share together. It is a form of unconditional love, which accepts faults, and provides opportunities for reconciliation. It involves commitment, but results in a secure, comfortable and safe environment - this sounds like a good school to work in.

Why Agape?

This for me is why we have rules, enforce them and often say no - because we love our students and we want the very best for them, and for the school community. Some things are non-negotiable - unless students are behaving in lessons, there is unlikely to be much learning going on. The setting and enforcing of boundaries plays a key part in this. Again, in Twitter discussion, Tom Bennett came up, people referenced the term he uses, “setting boundaries with love”. (<link>). 

This is the pinnacle of unconditional love: the relentless, consistent, universal, enforcing of the rules.

Catholic Schools

I work in a Catholic school, and I think there is certain things that Catholic schools do well. Talking openly about love, is one of them. 

I was reading through Kelly Leonard's blog about Middle Leadership where she referenced a former HoD who said, "These students are all someone’s son or daughter, they are all God’s children and we’ve got to love them all because it might be the only love they get." (<link>). This is such a key driver in many faith schools, certainly Catholic ones. That universality of creation, that 'made in God's image', which is not dependent on behaviour or situations... I heard a colleague say once, "I may not like what you are doing, and I'm going to stop you, and help you not do it again. This is because I love you and I want you to be a better person... and I find it really annoying!"

Jonathan Doyle says something similar in his blog about 'what Catholic teachers need to know':

"At the heart of your mission is the call to see in every student and every colleague in your staff room the person of Christ. Think of the student or colleague you like the least. Christ died for them. God willed them into existence. Your teaching will be as effective as your ability to see God in each person and every student." (<link>)

This reflection on the use of love, or fear of using love, came from a blog discussing the benefits of faith schools. I read West-Burnham extensively during my MA in Catholic School Leadership and thought that his point here was important in our current climate:

"I had the opportunity of listening to Professor John West-Burnham speak at a diocesan conference a few years ago. What an inspirational man. He spoke of ‘love’ in an educational context. I don’t believe that ‘love’ is a word that has been used much in educational discourse.

Governments seem to have realised that something has gone wrong, and so use words like ‘aspiration’ and ‘resilience’. Schools work to define their visions to inspire staff, students and community with these values, while faith schools already have a firm foundation to build on - and love is at the centre of it." (<link>)

If love is at the centre of our decision making process, we will help make schools better places. John Tomsett has been much applauded, deservedly, for his book 'Love Over Fear'. It seems odd to me that love in a school context is so alien to many. Perhaps because it's meaning has been warped, and that many fear that love is something inappropriate. As much as I think labelling teaching as a 'vocation' has been damaging for the conditions of teachers in some schools (see <here>), I think many would agree teaching is 'not just a job'. And, if we can do what we do with love, we will be better at it. I see a key part of my job to educate is to enable students to love others just that little bit more. The staff often need a little help with that too...

St Augustine's Homily on 1 John 4:4-12:

"Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good."

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

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