by Christine Teo, Principal, EELC
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” – C. S. Lewis
It is with this quote deeply ingrained within me that as an educator, I have always put more weight on values education. At ElShaddai E-Learning Centre (EELC), opportunities abound daily for inculcating values in the bright and lively young men and ladies from different cultures and backgrounds. There has never been a dull moment since school started on 3 January this year. The challenges I present below may not be unique to EELC, though. Many schools will be able to identify with these scenarios:
What do you do when the students who gamely volunteered to help carry books to the office blatantly made off with a few copies?
What do you do when the new amenities generously contributed by philanthropists are not treated with appropriate respect by the beneficiaries/students?
What do you do when you get more brickbats than bouquets regarding the students’ attitudes and behaviour outside of school?
Discipline, discipline, discipline. Some may say. In fact, not too long ago, I would have said the same. While I do not deny that discipline corrects misbehaviour, I have come to relish the deeper realms of the human spirit that discipling can reach. Perhaps because I only have a small cohort to reckon with. Or perhaps I have been given the flexibility and empowerment to exercise my methods. It could be both. However, I know for certain that I have learned to depend more and more on God for guidance and wisdom. Keeping an open mind in challenging situations has allowed me to see from His perspective, and this has given me insights into His values, and His heart for the youths under my care.
Back to the scenarios – the first one. Honestly, I was quite upset upon learning about the ‘daylight’ theft. The delight I experienced upon the students’ angelic offers of help turned into deep disappointment. The immediate “how could they” accusations invaded my mind. Thoroughly washed out after an eventful day, I decided I needed to surrender the situation into hands of the Almighty one.
The next day, instead of the dreaded reprimand, the culprit faced a greater challenge. He was given a chance to own up publicly, which he did after much inner struggle. The students learned that corrective measures will be less severe if one repents, and decides to turn over a new leaf. They will get second chances due to grace and mercy extended to them. They learned to be grateful for such values, and hopefully realised that they should not take these for granted but rather learned from their misdeeds. The teaching moment took a slice off curriculum time, but it was worth all the time it took. At the end as everyone was dismissed to their classes, the atmosphere that lingered in the room was one that was positively charged. I would count this as one of the highlights of my time here.
Scenario number 2. I found to my dismay, several weeks later, that the premises were far from the presentable state that it had originally been. This was evidence of sloppy habits that lack regard for the environment. The immediate impulse was to set up a string of rules and regulations, and with it the penalties for breaking them. However, to inculcate genuine appreciation and care for their environment, another approach may work better, I thought. I began taking pictures of the traces of careless mishandling of the amenities. With the evidence set before us, we began reflections together as a school community in a reasonable, conciliatory tone. I presented to them my reflections, as well as the perceived impressions that visitors formed of them as a result. I appealed to their good sense and co-operation, and spelled out the desired attitudes. Keeping the tone nurturing, never condemning is essential. In the event that it becomes necessary to take away their privileges, it is to impress upon them that they can no longer take things for granted. To have the privileges restored to them, they need to present convincing evidence of a real change. The process may be tedious but with patience and consistency in implementation, I believe it is worth it. In fact, not too long after, I was heartened to see students taking the initiative to pick up litter along the hallway, bring their tools to repair dislodged pieces of furniture, arrange slippers neatly and such.
Scenario 3. Negative feedback regarding students’ behaviour beyond the school premises present new opportunities to invite them in for a chat. A student was reported to be arrogant towards authority. In seeking to understand the situation, I gained insights into her family background and personality, her personal aspirations and motivations. Not only did it break down walls between us, it allowed the young lady to come to the conclusion herself that she owed the offended party an apology. The episode closed with a sparkle in her eyes and a smile on her face.
Sowing in the good soil of these teachable students brings about much humility as I know that the fruit is not entirely a result of my own doing. With it comes a heart of thanksgiving for the privilege of witnessing evidence of transformations. With discipling, the turn-around may not always be swift, but as with the rudder of a ship that takes many turns before the vessel is directed to the desired destination, the change will surely come.