November is “Clean Speech” Month in Ottawa, and OJCS is proud to be one of the many organizations participating in this annual attempt to elevate our language in service of creating and sustaining communities of kindness. In addition to what we will be doing in school (check the blogs!), I thought I would kick things off by connecting the dots backwards to two posts from last year and then forward to this year.
Last year, I took a bit of risk by asking the question, “Does the school (Do I) have responsibility for how our students behave outside of school?”. And I answer, “yes” – with my focus being on how the school ought to address what our students do outside of school, when they come back inside. A couple of months later, I asked a bit more provocative of a question, “What responsibility do parents play in this, and what ought the school do to facilitate constructive parent behavior?”. And I kinda answered, but also kinda dodged because that is both a hard question to answer and a chutzpahdik question for the school (me) to answer.
Fast-forwarding into this year, children continuing to be children, parent continuing to be parents, humans continuing to be humans – becoming evermore kind is a process, not a destination. As a few things bubbled up in a particular cohort, I wound up sending an email to parents that was more specific than what I had blogged out in answer to my own question. Not a few parents/teachers suggested that that message was more than appropriate for the school as a whole, not simply that cohort, and so let me use this launching of Clean Speech Ottawa 2022, as the opportunity to share this message more widely.
From time to time, even when it feels a bit uncomfortable, I feel a responsibility to reach out to parents to raise awareness when the conversations and activities that take place outside school follow our children back inside. There are two ways that this typically happens, which I’d like to share with you in the spirit of strengthening our community.
The first is to simply name that there are official and unofficial channels of communication. For example, the school provides a Google Group of parent emails and uses it to communicate with all parents in the grade – that’s an official channel. Almost always, parents create their own, unofficial channels, like a parent’s WhatsApp. There are lots of good reasons for parents to do this! The school does not need or want to be a party or privy to each and every conversation parents wish to have with each other. (We do assume healthy and constructive conversations are taking place there, both in terms of how parents engage with each other and about school in general.) Sometimes, however, subgroups of parents may create additional unofficial channels which may not be so inclusive. We might be able to understand why that could be true, but generally do not prefer them.
Because it is almost 100% true that everything that lands in any unofficial channel will wind up being heard by everyone – whether they are in the channel or not. Meaning, you should assume that anything you say in the unofficial Grade Whatever Parent WhatsApp will find its way to the school. And, anything that you say in an unofficial subgroup of parents in a separate WhatsApp will find its way to all the parents in the grade.
How do we know?
Because it happens all the time. Hurtful statements eventually find their way to their objects which only causes more harm and never leads to good outcomes. We simply ask that you treat these communications as if they could be read by all and act accordingly.
In a similar vein, parenting is a complex and noisy endeavor. Our children are sponges – they hear and absorb everything that is said. They are also eager sharers – they like to share everything they hear. This means, if your children hear you discussing other children – innocently or not; intentionally or not – they are going to come to school and let everyone know, including those children, about how you feel and what you have said.
How do we know?
Because it is happens all the time.
Parenting is hard and getting harder all the time. Let this be a gentle reminder about how our words tend to take on a life of their own, sometimes with uncomfortable outcomes. And let this be a request for partnership – we ask that you please be careful about how you discuss school matters with other parents and with (or in front of) your children. There are appropriate channels – official and unofficial – for expressing concerns, making requests, sharing frustrations, venting, asking questions or anything else a parent may need or want to do.
Let’s work together to ensure that our children get to come to school each day with fresh starts and positive attitudes. They have so much goodness in them and ahead of them, as individuals and as a group.
Stay tuned for a Parent Survey about our as-promised new offerings for both French and Jewish Studies after-school programming! We are working with the JCC, and we look forward to seeing what we can offer.