Slow Ripening Fruit
An edited version of this blog post appeared in the Spring edition of the Bede's Newsletter.
The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that, “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.”
Idioms like this one are ten a penny, and they do sometimes feel a little trite, but I mention this one in particular as this half of term has seen a lot of discussion about relationships at Bede’s, and a fair amount of contemplation has ensued as a result.
Learning to build meaningful and lasting relationships is one of the most important skills children acquire during their time at school, and if any of us were to think about it for a moment then I am sure we all have war stories. I can remember peers who seemingly found the whole process breathlessly easy, and can likewise recall, possibly with a wince, those who really struggled.
Whatever we might think of our own social skills in hindsight – belle of the ball, decidedly awkward or something in-between – I expect we can all acknowledge that the social patterns we established at school have had profound implications for our adult lives.
I raise the topic as, while teachers the world over may seek to ensure that each girl or boy learns the fundamentals of trigonometry, or techniques to identify the subtext of a poem, the education system rarely asks us to think formally, or to evaluate and guide children, on how to establish enduringly beneficial connections with our peers.
The formal evenings our Houses host try to develop this art of social interaction over the course of a dinner, encouraging all present to engage in the art of conversation without the distractions of technology.
A likely reason why teachers tend not think about friend making as a teachable skill is that human beings develop their notions of trust, loyalty and success from our role models in imperceptible, subtle, and drawn-out ways.
British psychologist John Bowlby’s pioneering work on Attachment Theory is a keystone in this regard, with his studies concluding that early familial relationships form the blueprint for children as to how they make friends and then seek to interact with others moving forward.
With this in mind, teachers, like most adults, often think that the best we can do to move a child’s thinking about friendships along is to behave as role models ourselves, pointing out errors when we notice them. We tend to simply maintain friendships with our colleagues, treat others as we would like to be treated, and then expect children to pick these skills up for themselves as if through osmosis.
At Bede’s however, we are increasingly taking the view that teachers must build more actively on the draught notions children have established for themselves in infancy.
We are looking to more consciously model qualities such as kindness, courtesy and consideration, and are openly exploring values that are both harmonious with the principles children have already learned at home and compatible with success in life beyond the classroom.
Recently this was evidenced by the Camberlot Charity Dinner, which sought to strengthen the relationships we, as a school, have with home but to also give us time to reflect that that which is non-material.
Teachers are not parents of course, but they do have to parent, and it is therefore of fundamental importance that everyone in the Bede’s community works together and ultimately wants the same things for every girl and boy.
Indeed, something I have keenly observed across the year to date is that the best of Bede’s Personal Tutors foster and inform friendships in their day-to-day communications, both with the children and between school and home, rather than delegating responsibility tit-for-tat.
Due to the diversity of our pupil body, and our determination to celebrate the personalities and proclivities of each individual, there can, of course, be no one-size fits-all ‘friendship plan’ for every tutor to follow.
Building lasting relationships is extraordinarily complicated no matter who you are, and it is sometimes even a little messy. The emphasis Bede’s places on the process is vital however – not as a means to an end but, rather, because it is the right thing to do.
There are certainly a number of differences between friendship and being friendly, and parents and teachers constantly find themselves walking a fine line, especially with teenagers. Learning how to be a good friend however, and in doing so learning how to be a good person, should be a universally celebrated endeavour.
After all, relationships underpin everything in life, and dictate so many invisible successes and failures that, whether a person is 16 or 66, few things can be sweeter or more nourishing than a friendship that has fully matured.
With this in mind, I hope you have a superb half term break and wish you the very best of luck in navigating the high-wire act of balancing trust, boundaries and more than a little unalloyed fun.