A positive position

Parents often criticise, complain or deride in front of children

One day a parent breezed into the head’s office, did not bother to take a seat as he had clearly much to do, and then proceeded to tell the head he had been very happy with what the school was doing for his children and then let him know of an idea he had for the school – the head was the one who needed a seat, bowled over by such enthusiasm and excitement!

And, what is more, the experience refreshed and excited the head enormously, having been used to complaints after complaints.

The ability to be positive is a gift. This parent was wonderfully positive, even after experiencing some extremely hard situations. 

And yet so many people are negative (usually having experienced lesser difficulties) because it is so much easier. 

It can take us five minutes to chop down a tree that has taken fifteen years to grow. 

As parents, how many times in a day do we say “No!” or “Don’t”? 

As individuals, in our workplace, in the bar, in our lounge, it is easy, natural almost, to criticise others, to blame others, to accuse others even. 

We may be quick to point the finger (remember the old saying that when you point your finger at someone else, three other fingers are pointing back at you), to find fault, to declare the wrongs done to us (so we won’t see the wrongs done by us). 

It is what sells newspapers (bad news) and maybe it is motivated by the idea of “Do to others before they do it to you”.

Children pick it up very quickly – they will be quick to label a film or a party or a lesson “boring”, but if asked what they would do to improve it they are likely to say they do not know.

 We should hold to the view that before we tell someone something negative or bad about them or their actions, we should being by saying something positive – at least then we show we have thought about it.

It is not easy to be positive. 

Years ago when a head started a school, he wanted everyone to be positive so instead of having rules (which are usually a long list of “Don’ts”) they first tried to write them without using the word “not” or any other negative word (the challenge is for readers to try doing it!), then they rather gave a list of standards, of qualities to which they wanted pupils (and indeed staff and parents) to aspire.

Rules tell of what to avoid; standards show us what to aim for. 

Rules tell of where we must keep within; standards encourage us to go beyond. 

Rules deal with the stick, punishment; standards with the carrot, praise. 

Rules speak of restraint; standards develop responsibility. 

Rules focus on mistakes; standards leave lessons. 

Rules put in obstacles; standards provide opportunities. 

Rules are negative; standards are positive.

The desire for any school surely should be that they are all positive people – constructive, positive, effective – even in difficult times.

Our children need that example from us as adults, yet how often do we criticise or complain or deride in front of our children?).

Do not be negative!  (Notice that is two negatives!) – rather, let us be positive!  We will look for good without turning a blind eye to things that need attention. 

Instead of complaining about the world or the country or the school we will set about doing something to improve it.  We can make a positive difference.

That does not mean that we are saying that pupils, staff or parents should not voice their feelings when they do not like something that has been said or done. There will be things that go wrong at times or  

The easiest, most natural thing to write here, as a form of advice, would be this: “Don’t think I’m saying you can’t bring your concerns”.

However, astute readers will already have noticed that that sentence has two negatives – and we do not want negatives!  Instead, let us say that schools may say “please understand you are still welcome to bring your concerns” – and when you do, bring a suggestion as to the solution, as well. 

That is positive.

Do we bring sunshine or dark clouds with us, a refreshing breeze or a thunderous storm? 

Whichever way we come, it will affect our children enormously. It is time to spring a few surprises on our educators!

 It is time for us all to become more positive – can we say “Yes” to that?

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: [email protected]
  • website: www.atschisz

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