Headmaster's Vision

Veritas and Discipline

By now, it should be apparent that the VERITAS vision has become a significant part of everything we do at Selwyn House. It matters simply because we have seen that it makes a difference. It is real, it is measurable, it comes from the heart, and it is based on human substance. We should be proud of our roots, and we should fight hard to keep this VISION alive and relevant.
Like any other aspect of a healthy school life, an effective discipline culture must align with the overall vision. Within these parameters must exist a balance between compassion, consequences, acceptance and, above all, an understanding of boys’ behaviour.

For years, I have had conflicting thoughts with regard to the concept of discipline. What is a disciplined school? How should discipline be exercised? What does effective discipline look like? It’s a personal and continuous search for balance and fairness. After twenty-six years of leading schools, I do have strong opinions as to what works and what doesn’t. The reality is that I am not interested in creating a group of wonderful actors. Boys and men know how to perform at the highest level. At the risk of being provocative, I do not want our boys to act in a decent, caring, respectful, responsible fashion. Before you start questioning the wisdom or sanity of such a statement, realize that I consider this too easy. In fact, I consider it to be quite trivial. What I do want is for our boys to be decent, caring, respectful, and responsible. I hope you understand the difference between acting and reality. The former is completely without substance, while the latter actually means we have achieved greatness. To put it in a different context, we would like our boys to develop good judgment, but often, good judgment is the learned result of experiences that arise from bad judgment. Does this mean that we need to promote bad judgment? Of course not, but it does mean our mindset must change. Mistakes, failures, lack of judgment (and this is a reality at boys’ schools) simply mean we have an opportunity to build deeper character. We have a chance to build decency, respect, tolerance and empathy. We have a chance to reach our lofty ambitions established by our vision of VERITAS. To be slightly controversial (and think carefully about the following statement), we must allow our boys to be disrespectful, for when they are not (and that is the expectation) we will know they are truly respectful.

In order to create this environment, I am suggesting we need to look at a few strategies that together form our de facto discipline policy. The first is to create a culture of prevention. This can be summed up by a rather important comment: Establishing meaningful relationships with our boys is the most effective way to prevent discipline issues arising. This is why the concept of a relational school is so crucial. True relational schools create legitimate cultures of respect, tolerance, and acceptance. When incidents occur, rather than default into a punitive mode, we should ask ourselves how such an incident might have been prevented. There is usually a clear answer to this difficult question. It just takes a different mindset.

The second strategy is not overly complicated: apologize. When mistakes happen, apologize. If we want to see respect levels rise, adults must model behaviour, admit when they are wrong and apologize. As I continually tell the boys, when you truly feel an apology has come from the heart—and only then—accept it. Anyone can say they are sorry, but it requires legitimate remorse to actually mean you are sorry. That is substance. Remorse is a tremendous building block to honing character.

Finally, consequences (and can we please eliminate the use of the word “punishment”?) do matter and are important. The caveat is that we must always separate the behaviour from the person. In a spiritual context, we are taught to love the sinner and hate the sin. Selwyn House is full of great boys (and faculty) who occasionally do silly, stupid, ignorant and terrible things. That is life, but it is the behaviour we must focus on. Boys are semantic animals. I have no right to call anyone an idiot, but I do maintain the right to inform someone they are acting like an idiot. The words do make a difference. 

The process for dealing with unfortunate incidents can be straightforward, but it is consistently misunderstood. It involves four distinct steps. The first is recognition. This is the process by which all the facts are determined in a timely fashion. Resolution occurs when a meaningful, well-thought-out consequence for the behaviour is determined and articulated. Reconciliation involves forgiveness and compassion. If we think that punishment is an effective way to improve the behaviour of others, we have a great deal to learn. This type of example does not work. Boys will change their behaviour when they see compassion, fairness, empathy, and understanding. It is important to boys that the person has been separated from the behaviour. Even when the consequence is expulsion, I believe strongly we have an obligation to work with the student and his family to help with the transition. Finally, restitution is the process by which a student understands (gets it), has shown that learning has taken place and is now able to get back on track. He has learned from his mistake.

Without reconciliation and restitution, discipline becomes ineffective. We cannot afford to stop the process after resolution.

The bottom line is that all this takes a great deal of effort. It is not easy, plenty of challenges exist, and frustration can be common. But it is completely worth it if we are going to use a discipline system to help create a world of significant men. In the end, that is what we are all about.