Natasha Winnard, AISA Child Protection Working Group Chair and KICS Guidance and College Counsellor
The anthropologist Margaret Mead was right on the money when she wrote, "Children must be taught how to think, not what to think". So much has been written, and continues to be written, about the need for young people to develop as creative, independent thinkers, able to turn their talents to finding solutions to real world problems. As educators we talk of developing traits and attitudes, the Learner Profile in IB schools, and skills-based education in a whole host of guises. In short, schools are increasingly seeing the development of character and identity as part and parcel of the education that they provide. In this brief article I invite you to look at child protection in this same way.
Schools in the AISA family are fortunate to be able to benefit from our association’s commitment to developing strong child protection practices in our member schools. Yet what I would argue is that there is far more to child protection than curriculum, policies, procedures and partnerships. As important as those elements are – and they are critical components of any approach to child protection – they are all servant to one fundamental objective: the empowerment of young people. Effective, sustainable approaches to child protection help young people to develop the knowledge, skills, character and resolve to make positive, safe, informed decisions. As much as it is about keeping children safe, effective child protection in our schools is about creating the climate and conditions for young people to feel authentically empowered to deal with the challenges that the world presents.
So what does this mean for you as a teacher?
There is so much that we can all do – that we must do - as teachers to contribute to the growth and empowerment of young people. I would like to suggest three starting points to think further on this.
First and foremost we must commit to recognising that each child is a unique individual of dignity and worth. These are not just empty words but provocations to action in our practice as educators.
- What do you do in your teaching to recognise the uniqueness of each individual with whom you work?
- How often do you ask for their opinions and take them on board?
- In what ways do you show that you truly value what each child has to say?
- Is your classroom a place of negotiation and shared values or a prepared environment where students are the recipients of an education that is “done to them”?
Secondly, how do you validate student voice? What opportunities exist in your classroom for young people to make authentic decisions? Even the very youngest children in our schools are able to make quite profound and meaningful decisions about their learning and about the environment in which they learn. To do so is an act of empowerment and growth for each and every one of them.
Thirdly, what do you do to sponsor risk-taking and resilience in your classroom? A great deal of child protection work is provoked by the shadow of threats that we as adults know are very real elements of the world in which we live. Whilst we seek always to protect children from those threats, we must also ensure that they each grow up able to protect themselves through the resilience and strength of their own, unique character.
If we are able to teach the young people in our schools that they are unique individuals of dignity and worth, whose individual voices ring loud and must each be heard, and who have the skills and courage to take risks and deal with setbacks, then truly, they will be powerful beyond measure. If our classrooms are able to do that then we will have empowered young people to be as able to protect themselves as much as we are work so hard to protect them.