As you know, about seven weeks ago I wrote a newsletter urging a respectful engagement at times of disagreement or concern with something a member of staff had done or not done. The intention was to modify the responses of a tiny proportion of parents. I stressed at the time, and do so again, that most of our parents are absolutely delightful and dealing with them is a great pleasure. We do not have a significant problem in this regard and in fact the volatility of interactions is much less than is commonly reported by many or most schools. The reason I addressed the matter was because the volatility from the few was growing.
“The decline of civility in public discourse seems to be an issue across the Western world.”
To my astonishment, a month after the newsletter, the media picked up the issue and it has gone viral. It appeared on the front page of The Australian newspaper, on page 3 of The Daily Telegraph, on most Sydney television and many radio stations. It has been reported in the media in England, Europe and even in Brazil! I had no intention of starting a movement. However, the issue seems to have struck a chord with many, not just in schools, but in all service industries and in society in general. The decline of civility in public discourse seems to be an issue across the Western world.
I have received a huge number of emails and phone messages from members of the public, school principals and teachers from other schools, and those working in the front line of public health, to thank me for speaking out. What has been most gratifying, however, has been the tremendously positive response of SACS parents. This issue is the one on which I have received the greatest number of responses from parents, all of them positive, in my 28 years so far as a Head of School. I have a whole document file full of them.
I have had a small number of contacts from parents expressing a possible mea culpa , i.e. “was it me? Was I too firm in expressing my opinion?” The answer is that people whose interactions, in my view, are unacceptable, had already heard from me on the matter.
I am entirely in favour of parents being involved in the education of their children and with their school. Education works best when it is a partnership between home and school. Of course it works best when this is conducted in respectful terms by all parties.
If the impact of the newsletter is to improve general civility here and elsewhere, that is a good thing. I do want to stress again that at SACS we have a very minor problem in this area and the overwhelming majority of our parents are an absolute delight in their interactions with the school. Long may that continue!
Dr John Collier
Head, St Andrew’s Cathedral School
Head, St Andrew’s Cathedral Gawura School