Pastoral Leadership: Listen Before You Leap

I recently got into a conversation with a new senior manager at a high school. We talked about what takes a leader from professional competence (looks the part and keeps working through the ‘to do’ list and ‘to see’ folk) to a nurturer of authentic change. I am primarily talking about pastoral care of our students and the role we as educators have. When I refer to pastoral leaders I refer to every member of the school community from the canteen staff, students and teachers all the way up to the Principal. I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredible educators that far exceed the expectations of any job description. They bring about change through relationships that are firm, fair, consistent and from a position of genuine care for a students wellbeing. We all know this isn’t always the case and even the best of folk have their off day.

The huge shift I see in schools at the moment is one to student lead, and therefore change based on student voice. To sympathise a person may ask and then listen to what happened, whereas an empathetic leader would genuinely want to explore the whys. The difference between processing the problem and acknowledging the uniqueness of everyone we come into contact with is a more effective position. It is a conversation of reciprocated learning, modelling the very behaviours we hope to hear and see. It is not losing Mana, control or power, in fact the very opposite. This is how you affect change one by one, and beyond one incident but toward ongoing growth.

An example: A student wears the incorrect shoes for three days, following school policy and procedure, post warning they are now into after school detention land. Until…. the student ‘loses the plot’ after receiving an additional detention slip for ongoing ‘minor defiance’ (not attending original detention). This results in a ‘major defiance’ and a stand down. The teachers perspective, the student is just plain defiant and being a teenager so must get punished. It’s then far more than just interesting to explore the the student’s experience towards informing the why? As it happens the school shoes had just been bought in anticipation for a new start in the safe place that is school. This student has endured an abusive home environment almost all of their life. Unfortunately, these same new shoes were used to assault a number of family members the night before he was first pulled up by teachers, to the extent the students mum was hospitalised with serious injuries. These shoes were seized as evidence in the intended prosecution of his father.

expelled

If you get anything from this post then I hope its this: It’s very rarely black and white when it comes to school misbehaviour or discipline. Is it brave or just plain common sense to come alongside the student and dare to listen just as much as talk. It’s not necessarily setting out to justify a behaviour, but more to inform the context and reasoning with the hope of preventing future incidents and exploring better responses for better outcomes. 

The biggest point to be made in terms of pastoral leadership is that it is not hierarchical, every member of a school community from the students to the Principal are all pastoral leaders. This philosophy is no longer a feel good gimmick that can be rolled out prior to inspection time. It is increasingly and quite rightly being acknowledged as fundamental to a strong school community. Wellbeing measures as a tool for measuring educational success is growing, and when embraced beyond rhetoric is a fantastic juggernaut  that showers both staff and students with the benefits.

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