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by David Scott, Middle School Principal

Call me old fashioned but I believe good manners and courtesy are vitally important life skills for all our students. Treating people with respect and dignity, irrespective of background or social class, is the sign of a civilised society. I, therefore, argue that good manners are the antithesis of snobbery.  It does not really matter what colour or race or creed people are, what income they have, what team they support, even though these might be important in how we perceive our own identity. Everyone deserves respect. Everyone has something to offer, everyone has some gift they can share, a talent or a contribution that ultimately might make the world a better place. Understanding that is the true meaning of politesse.

While doing some research for this piece, I stumbled across a fascinating statistic: two generations ago, 95% of students would stand up when a teacher or an adult entered the room, dropping to 51% a generation ago, to just 19% today. It is easy to see why this is the case: walk down any busy street and you will need to navigate your way through the sea of ‘screen suckers’, my name for those who cannot take their eyes from their devices. These people are so unaware of their surroundings you could wave free money in front of them and they would have no idea. The same is the case when you come to doors, escalators, or public transport - etiquette has vanished. It is can be rare these days to have someone hold a door open, allow another person to go first, say thank you, give up a seat for someone else or assist a needy person with bags, a pram or other bulky items.

This is a shame because these simple demonstrations of respect to others have the capacity to change and develop attitudes, and encourage society to understand that other people matter.  This is so important in our increasingly ‘me, me, me’ world. At Kristin, we believe that people do matter; personally, I think it is important that students do not talk when the teacher is speaking, they put their hand up when they would like to ask a question, they listen to each other without interruption and they thank their teacher for the lesson. Classroom etiquette is essential to learning.

I am always impressed when students open a door for me, greet me by name and ask me how my day is going. Good table manners are an important life skill and much more significant to future success than many would care to admit. The dining room is as important as the boardroom and a faux pas in either is best avoided.  In sport, knowing how to lose well and win with good grace are equally important. I enjoy watching student sport and when it comes to sporting etiquette, I much prefer the Roger Federer approach to that of Nick Kyrgios. Rather like knowing your times tables and how to spell correctly, good manners in and outside the classroom should be flagged up as essential learning. 

When children are given parameters of respect and politeness, they can then be encouraged to experiment with their own beliefs and points of view, which really matter.  If young people have the courage to form their own opinions, they can start to play a real part in a school’s direction or even, heaven forbid, in society. It was enlightening to talk with some Year 7 students today about the election and some of them expressed to me how they wished they could vote.  I think it is brilliant to have 11-year-old children having a viewpoint that is based on knowledge, respect and a foundation of substance.

Other civilities which are important are looking at people when you talk to them, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, offering a genuine apology when it is required, being interested, being pleasant, smiling, listening, being a good friend, a good neighbour, and respecting your elders and parents. These are all examples of caring and the very essence of what being well-mannered really means. At Kristin, I am proud to say that these courtesies are valued and very much at the heart of what we desire from all our students.