Richard Weissbourd on the Role of Adults
Richard Weissbourd is a lecturer in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His work focuses on vulnerability and resilience in childhood, the achievement gap, moral development, and effective schools and services for children.
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"You know, the consensus among the kids is that the way the adults responded made things worse. And my guess is, and my experience is that’s usually true. And it raises, I think, a deep and important question about how could we create school cultures ,and how could we really focus on helping adults and supporting adult maturity in a way that adults knew how to effectively intervene in situations like this? And how can we help adults create the kinds of cultures and cultivate the kind of relationships between them and students, and between each other that make it less likely that these kind of things will happen in the first place?
And you don’t know a lot in the story about, you know, the way in which the adults intervene. But I think it raises some questions. I mean, one is that it is clear that the adults knew that Sue snitched, or that Sue is the one who told, who alerted the adults to the fact that this was going on. And that had to be bad for Sue. And so, you know, one of the things, if you're an adult, I think, you really need to think about is how to do this in a way that protects a child’s confidentiality. I think protecting the victim in this case is extremely important.
I think that this is a situation where the adults, you don't get a sense that they did this, I don't know if they did this, really need to be talking to each other. And they need to be thinking about the kinds of interventions that really might work to de-escalate this. And they're sort of pooling their knowledge about what they know about these kids, and the dynamics of these kids. And, I think the fundamental problem, is that there is such a high wall in middle school, typically, that separates the culture of the adults from the culture of the kids. And the adults, typically, don't know the culture of the kids and they don’t know these dynamics, and it’s very hard to know how to intervene when you don’t know these dynamics. So, figuring out how to break down those walls in way that’s not too micromanaging or intrusive or hovering seems to me to be the heart of the issue.
There is clearly-- you know, I think kids are bombarded, you know, all the time with examples of adults’ transgressions. You know, adults who are corrupt, or adults, you know, who are involved in scandals of one kind or another, or adults who just act in self centered, narcissistic, unfair ways. I mean, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing adults who are narcissistic and self centered and acting unfairly.
The issue of whether the adults in the building are modeling the behavior they want the kids to display is a crucial issue. So that’s an important piece of reflection for the adults to be engaged in. You know, do they scapegoat somebody? Do they talk behind other people's back? Are they honest with each other? I mean, those are great questions for the adults to be thinking about as well, I think, in this case. And that's part of what I mean about adult moral growth is engaging those questions."