Academics aside, what does it mean to be a school, how does a school fit in a community, and how should we approach all the children in our care?
“It takes a village to raise a child”. In a village, children are born, given to the inhabitants to protect, nurture, guide and develop to their full potential. In the village, all the adults take ownership of the children. They are ours, not yours and mine. Some of the young un’s may be easy going, like a retriever that is always happy, always interested and an obliging companion; others are hedgehogs; some may be honey badgers. How we handle these little ones represents the essence of our values. How we hold the children, at every age, and handle their little person is at the heart of a healthy village.
The collective noun for hedgehogs is ‘an array of hedgehogs’. These small creatures lure us with their cuteness but caution us with the 5000 spines that bristle and protect it. They’re lactose intolerant and can cover about six feet a second on running. They can be domesticated but never quite ‘blend’. Over seventeen species are identified, some immune to adder venom. They have poor eyesight but enjoy heightened senses of smell and hearing. A baby hedgehog enjoys the endearing term, ‘hoglet’.
In our village, the adults have an array of hoglets and hedgehogs. They are cute and we choose to handle them with care and caution. We need to hold each one just firmly enough not to drop him, but not so tightly that we either provoke a spike or prompt a rapid bolt from our company. We need to exploit the hedgehog’s strengths and offer support for the areas of difficulty. When they’re cute, they are ours. When they are not, they are ours. We hold too tightly at our peril. We snatch too impulsively at risk of hurting ourselves and even dropping them. We must approach our hedgehogs with commitment, forethought, planning and love to hold them ‘just right’.
Honey badgers are not thought of as fondly as hedgehogs. Also known as ‘ratels’, these fearless creatures wreak havoc wherever they go and might even squirt a stinky liquid in their wake when threatened. These ‘cute’ furry creatures dig like crazy and go underground to escape danger or capture prey. They shamelessly invade and occupy another animal’s den or lair. They are rude and mean, eagerly picking a fight! They eat anything. Honey badgers are thick skinned and also immune to snake venom. In fact, they eat snake. They bite. They’re gritty. They are content to be alone but teams of honey badgers will work together with any materials to escape capture.
We all know a few honey badgers and they are ours. They’re smart, they’re resilient and they are creative problem solvers. Honey badgers will survive the big wide world. These ratels test our limits and our resources. They have potential to divide and conquer, rendering chaos that ultimately affects the whole village. Should they bite, or dig, or squirt in their wake, they remain ours. Ever in ‘fight or flight’ mode, the honey badger is wired to self protect. It is our role to create a safe space, to reduce the threat and to build constructive limits. Regardless of their disposition, like hedgehogs and retrievers, the honey badgers are ours; ours when they break the school rules; ours when they are fractious and ours when they’re mean. How we create and maintain their boundaries is everything and we need to be united and proactive as we do this, in agreement, staying steadfast and consistent. After all, if push comes to shove in this life, we want a honey badger on the team.
Hedgehogs and honey badgers, like retrievers and all others, find their place in the sun and how we hold them matters.
- Firstly, hold hands. Hold hands with the hands that have been given hedgehogs and honey badgers to love and raise. Together, we have a better chance at softening the prickles and containing the chaos.
- Secondly, make a choice and be intentional. Choose to hold the hedgehogs, spikes and all. These spiny little creatures are a gardener’s best friend, but need to be handled with care. Although the cute factor can soften our boundaries, a child who is all bristles is not going to be sociable and accepted in his peer group. Even cuties need parameters!
- Thirdly, take care. Carefully approach the honey badger – she’s volatile and, quite frankly, doesn’t need you, or so she thinks. Just as honey badgers work in teams, so should we with our strong willed, feisty kids. Parents, teachers and therapists should talk together. Au pairs and extended family should be in the loop. We should study the honey badger’s ways, observe the cues, recognise the triggers, define the boundaries, hold hands and hold on!
Back to the original question: what does it mean to be a school, in a community with the community’s children in our care? It means we need to hold all the children, from hedgehogs to honey badgers, in the palms of our hands, at the centre of our purpose in the community, in our minds, in our strategy and within agreed parameters that create safety for all: children, families and staff. It means the children are ours and always will be ours. They are our purpose and mandate. Their needs are everything: safety, acceptance, development and nurture needs. It means that we are the collective, all of us together.
We need to hold hands.