The warm in the strict

barber handshake

At TNA we are a warm/strict school.

If you have heard of warm/strict you are likely to have opinions about us already. Whatever your views, please indulge me and read on anyway.

For us it means strict rules and clearly enforced consequences, accompanied with warm human interaction and beautiful manners from everyone in the building. The message we are trying to communicate to our pupils is that we have strict rules because we care about things being fair and want their attention on their learning.

For some of our pupils our rationale doesn’t need any explaining at all. They understand that for things to be orderly anywhere rules are necessary. This is often, although not always, because they have well-structured home lives and positive experiences of calm, predictable routines such as regular meal and bed times. These pupils intuitively understand that there are reasons for our procedures and on the rare occasion they do get caught doing something wrong they accept their punishment with the same grudging acceptance you or I might accept a speeding fine.

For others things are not so comfortable.

Pupils with little experience of positive experiences involving rules and order often find it hard to understand why they can’t do what they want, or why they must accept a punishment. When they are given a punishment they often feel this is evidence the school does not like them and so react defensively and angrily making the situation worse.

This is not because they are either wicked or stupid. It is because it is hard to understand why you should do what you are told by someone you don’t think likes you, if you haven’t much experience of being told what to do by someone who does like you.

This can create a vicious cycle in which pupils behave badly, are punished, think they are being punished because they are disliked and so behave even worse. This impasse is hard to break, but it is vital we do. Before we can get pupils to a point where they make choices we want them to we must first convince them they are liked, and this can be really challenging if they have to be reprimanded regularly.

We should never ignore poor behaviour, which means we must find other ways in which to demonstrate that we like, care for, respect and even love the young people in our care.

We have to be warmest to the pupils who need the most warmth.

At TNA what this looks like varies from pupil to pupil. For some it means an extra-large smile and a handshake as they come through the doors on Monday morning. For others it means asking after an older sibling who’s gone on to college or the army.

Once you have your eye in for this sort of thing you see it going on everywhere. It’s why a member of our staff is sidling crabstep next to a boy on the way to his lesson and talking about Newcastle United. It’s why, in detention another is admiring Kara’s pencil case. It’s why a member of SLT is walking a girl around the trees at the back of the school at break time, and it’s why I’m letting Jonny shout “next three, please!” at the dinner queue for me.

We don’t do these things because we are sinister and Machiavellian, and just want more pupils doing their detentions with less fuss. We do them because we genuinely do like the children at our school and we want them to know it. We do them because we understand being warm and kind makes it easier to understand why we sometimes make children do things they don’t want to.



One thought on “The warm in the strict

  1. Lovely blog, Ben. Thank you. Making students feel wanted and accepted, regardless and in spite of their personal circumstances, is crucial to building healthy relationships between students, other students and the adults both in and outside school.


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