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We must teach respect as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram reframe our behaviour and our language

PUBLISHED: 10:22 07 March 2017 | UPDATED: 10:22 07 March 2017

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury St Edmunds

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI Upper School in Bury St Edmunds

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Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, explains why the only snowflake to which he refers comes from the sky.

One aspect of my job I won’t miss when I leave at Easter to become General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders is the hassle of snow days. It will be nice not to worry about whether we can safely open the school for students and staff after a serious fall of snow.

After all, this is the season when optimistic children hope to see snowflakes and when miserablist headteachers like me hope not to – at least, not until we are safely within the confines of the next school holiday.

Because snowflakes in my world are always associated with controversy – inextricably linked to the perennial, infuriating, distracting issue of snow days, those rare occasions when heavy snow leads to school closure.

We’ve barely seen a snowflake this year. The other Friday here in West Suffolk there was a thirty second burst of sleet, as if nature was flexing her muscles, taunting us with a reminder of who’s really in charge.

A few measly snowflakes that were easily brushed away by even the lamest of car windscreen wipers reminded us, to paraphrase Shakespeare, that one snowflake does not a winter make.

Yet even a lone fluttering speck of snow is enough for one person – usually but not always a student – to stop me on the corridor and ask about the chances of a snow day.

That’s why I prefer my winters grey rather than white. No snow. No chance of school closure. No hot-headed headlines about lazy teachers, a rampant health-and-safety culture, and today’s school leaders being timid unlike thirty years ago when children would apparently trudge through seven foot snowfalls, break ice from the school gates, and hurl happy snowballs at favorite teachers.

Long may the snowflakes stay away.

But, as I say, language never fails to surprise us. This year, for the first time in my (almost) fifteen years of headship, the word ‘snowflake’ has a new meaning. According to writer Jamie Bartlett, it ‘has become the shorthand rightwing – or libertarian – derogatory term for leftwing people who are easily offended.’

Who’d have thought it? 
The word ‘snowflake’ means wimp.

Bartlett’s point is an important one. He quotes research which – like lots of research – puts into words and numbers what our instincts have been telling us – that social media is reframing our behaviour and our language.

It was the American academic John Suler who first demonstrated the way being online – in chat rooms, on Facebook, on Twitter – can have a liberating effect. And not always in a good way.

Because from behind the confines of a computer or tablet screen, people are sometimes inclined to state things they wouldn’t say in person. Whether it’s a sneering term like ‘snowflake’ or much nastier stuff, our sense of personal identity shifts. It’s too easy to let our dark side, our cruel side, off the leash.

Any of us who uses social media will have seen it – vicious, inappropriate, snarky comments on forums, under newspaper articles, across Twitter and Facebook.

It’s why part of our mission 
at school is to try to exemplify the positive aspects of social media. We use Facebook and Twitter all the time. It’s our easiest way of connecting with parents and supporters, keeping them informed about the achievements of our students.

We aim to keep the tone positive, upbeat, inspiring. And we carefully monitor everything that’s posted.

Because amid the myriad responsibilities of schools and colleges in an increasingly complex society is teaching students that courtesy, respect and simply being nice matter just as much online as they do in person.

Which is why the only snowflakes I’ll refer to in my current job and my next one are those that fall from the sky.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School, an 11-18 high school in Bury St Edmunds. He will be taking up his new role as leader of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in April.

6 comments

  • Steve I agree with you, I take it you mean those dubbed "liberal lefty do-gooder bleeding hearts" by people who just scream "WILL OF THE PEOPLE". It's a problem that seems to be the level of debate nowadays. Social media has a lot to answer for despite all the good it does.

    Report this comment

    McLean

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

  • @ McLean - You can usually tell that someone has nothing to say and is speaking nonsense when they use the terms described in the article. The same with people who use the word liberal seemingly as an insult. They obviously have no idea what the word means and are just highlighting their own stupidity. That's most likely the case. Just like the ones who close down those who hold opinions and put forward rational points of view but are falsely lambasted as "bigots, Brexiteers, little Englanders, zealots" and of course the widely use "r" word which is enough to shut down any debate. If children and young adults (i.e. most of the under 25s) cannot debate their point of view without claiming offence they just will not survive in the real world. I would suggest that they should "man up" but that might cause offence as a "sexist" comment. Our English language took at least 1500 years to evolve, now it is being torn down in a generation to suit the whims and foibles of the hopelessly effete and perpetually offended.

    Report this comment

    Steve Blake

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

  • Totally understand these comments from a headteacher with many good views.Social media is killing are kids and turning them into negative people. Social media should only be used in a positive way for people to share good things.To inform others of all the good things that people are doing. Respect is being lost and this is making it harder and harder for teachers and parents to bring up there kids in the correct way. Health and safety has cost us millions and red tape makes it impossible for anything to get done quickly. So many good things have been lost over the years and its our children who suffer. Children have to grow up so quickly and are expected to understand but at the end of the day they are children first. To much of the internet is negative and so many people have a negative approach to life. Life chucks all sorts of things at us and its important to more forward in a positive way. To run a school the size of KEGS for as a long as Geoff has you have to fully support his views. The hardest job in the world is to be a teacher and social media makes this all the harder. Total Respect and you will be missed.

    Report this comment

    Ian Smith

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

  • Waspie's wife..Snowflakes, melt easily and quickly with no resilience. For my 60's generations it was icicles in the Winter of '63 when the ice was on the inside of the window and I had to mangle the washing, which was stiff on the line for mum, after she had pulled out the top loading machine from under the worktop. schools closed a bit early and most of the teachers were local, but it was when the girl's outside toilet froze you knew you were in for day of snowballing and making massive snowmen. going in for a warm by the open fire and a chnage of gloves, feeling a bit sick with cold. The boys made old carts out of pram wheels and we used our imagination before we had ready made games and gadgets. I hear they are going to have sexting classes now and resilience lessons and lessons on relationships. I suppose we didn't need them becuase neighbours and family taught us how to behave and respect each other and all my friends had married parents.....I think we were the icicle generation..took longer to melt, a bit more resilient.

    Report this comment

    waspie

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

  • Waspie's wife..Snowflakes, melt easily and quickly with no resilience. For my 60's generations it was icicles in the Winter of '63 when the ice was on the inside of the window and I had to mangle the washing, which was stiff on the line for mum, after she had pulled out the top loading machine from under the worktop. schools closed a bit early and most of the teachers were local, but it was when the girl's outside toilet froze you knew you were in for day of snowballing and making massive snowmen. going in for a warm by the open fire and a chnage of gloves, feeling a bit sick with cold. The boys made old carts out of pram wheels and we used our imagination before we had ready made games and gadgets. I hear they are going to have sexting classes now and resilience lessons and lessons on relationships. I suppose we didn't need them becuase neighbours and family taught us how to behave and respect each other and all my friends had married parents.....I think we were the icicle generation..took longer to melt, a bit more resilient.

    Report this comment

    waspie

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

  • You can usually tell that someone has nothing to say and is speaking nonsense when they use the terms described in the article. The same with people who use the word liberal seemingly as an insult. They obviously have no idea what the word means and are just highlighting their own stupidity.

    Report this comment

    McLean

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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