Have you ever heard the term “blackboard jungle” applied to schools? The expression originated with a 1950s movie of the same name that tells the story of teens gone wild in an inner-city city school and the efforts of an idealistic and dedicated teacher trying to cope with his classroom full unruly students. The film also launched Bill Haley and the Comets’ rock-and-roll anthem “Rock Around the Clock”. Over the years, the expression has become synonymous with classrooms and schools that are out-of-control with groups of students running amok through corridors and classrooms, and over furniture, teachers, and sometimes one another! It is hard to imagine how any learning can be accomplished in such chaotic environments.
While the relationship that exists between teachers and their students is the most decisive factor in the success of a school’s program, the next most important qualities are structure and safety, which go hand in hand. Indicators of such structure and safety, you ask? Does the day begin on time and with a focused task that engages students? Are teachers on time, in place, prepared, and eager to begin? Do teachers have something important to share with their students or are they going through the motions? Is supervision in the classrooms and corridors effective, visible, predictable, and reliable? Are program decisions being made in the best interests adults or in the best interests of the children they serve? Getting these right is the framework of success at any school.
At Matthews Hall, we value a learning environment that combines the necessary structures for success with the kind of qualities you would find in a caring and attentive home. That’s why we seek and support teachers who are approachable, accessible, adaptable, and insightful. As a school team, we subscribe to an approach that gives the children with whom we work considerable freedom during the school day, but without undue license (i.e., the ability to live, learn, and grow together without losing sight of our old friend, The Common Good, and our duty to support him!).
So, sometimes our littlest ones may break into a dogtrot on their way down the halls in their exuberance for life! We remind them to please walk, so no one gets hurt. On their way back to class from gym, our older students may become a little loud while discussing the exciting match point that just ended the game. We remind them that others are concentrating and need a quiet setting in which to work. These admonitions and others ultimately serve the interest of safety and structure in any effective and equitable learning environment.
One of the many important life skills that our children learn in the school setting is the value of self-management in community. Our MH students learn through precept and example that how we conduct ourselves around others is important, it makes a difference, and, it ultimately prepares them for a successful life in high school and beyond. Many of the reminders, lessons, and expectations that teachers dispense each day become the habits that earn our students respect and responsibility tomorrow. The skills of living and working with others are not fluffy or insignificant priorities. They are actually the foundational qualities that will make them stand out for all the right reasons.
At Matthews Hall, we believe that the key to smart self-discipline is simple: we work hard to set clear expectations up front for how we want our students to behave. And then we reinforce their individual roles in learning to manage – and be accountable for – their own actions.
Next to reading, writing, and arithmetic, it is probably the most important lesson they will learn on their way to becoming the adults of the future!
Ric Anderson, Head of School