Community Matters: Leading with Character in Community - Ruth Le Breton

October 18, 2021
Community Matters: Leading with Character in Community - Ruth Le Breton

The below extract is a reflection written by Ruth Le Breton for the eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World. Download the full eBook here.

School communities have been particularly badly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. For some, the idea of school as a place of safety and belonging where teachers and other school staff are seen as trusted adults has been undermined by frequent changes to rules, routines and expectations. Full school closures and the need to rapidly move to online learning, followed by stop-start re-opening, the implementation of teaching and learning ‘bubbles’, extensive cleaning and testing regimes, and dramatic changes to national examinations, have put a significant strain on teachers, parents, and pupils.

Rebuilding that sense of the school community as a place of safety and belonging is now essential and any pressure to plunge headlong into academic catch-up should be resisted.

As the boundaries between home and school, private and professional lives blurred, parents struggling to teach their children, complained that schools should be providing more support and there were reports of a rise in the verbal abuse of teachers, often during online lessons. Teachers struggling to meet the needs of key workers’ children in the classroom, and children learning online at home, felt some parents were abusing the system. As for the pupils who’d been led to believe that education was all about cramming facts and doing practice tests in preparation for exams, they felt let down and fearful about their futures.

While teachers, parents and pupils were urged to show empathy and kindness towards one another, and often did in wonderful and extraordinary ways, the impact of the pandemic has taken its toll on relationships and the whole school community. Rebuilding the school community as a place of safety and belonging is now essential and it is widely acknowledged that time spent re-establishing personal relationships will be time well spent.

While exploring their own experiences of the pandemic, pupils might also examine the stories of others, perhaps those in the public eye both locally and nationally, and consider the character virtues displayed through their actions. For example, pupils might consider how the footballer Marcus Rashford has used his voice to campaign for families to continue receiving free school meals during school holidays showing both kindness and perseverance. They might also reflect on initiatives such as the ‘clap for carers’ and the displaying of rainbows to support the NHS and key workers during lockdowns.

Character education aims to draw out and develop the positive character virtues children already posses as well as developing their moral reasoning so they can make wise choices, get along with others and hone the skills needed to choose the right course of action, especially when navigating social or moral dilemmas. Pre-pandemic, character education programmes were already helping schools to implicitly and explicitly develop the character virtues individuals and communities need to thrive, with increasing support from the government. Statutory DfE guidance on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) published in June 2019 states that a “growing ability to form strong and positive relationships with others depends on the deliberate cultivation of character traits and positive personal attributes” and in November 2019, the Framework Guidance for Character Education was also published for schools.

Now, as schools return at the start of a new academic year, effective character education has perhaps got an even greater role to play. Living through a pandemic and time of great change, the character virtues of flexibility, open-mindedness, creativity, resilience, and kindness, to name just a few, have been necessary to ensure both our individual and collective survival. They will also be necessary as we re-build our school communities, prioritising constructive and secure relationships. Developing these virtues must not be left to chance.

This reflection was an extract from the Youth Trust's eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World. To download the full eBook, click here.

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