Finding feet and seeing shoes
I’ve spent not three weeks in office, but already, I feel as if I owe my first apology. I knew that being a school trustee wasn’t going to be an easy job, so I had attempted to prepare myself as best I could, but I was not prepared for what was to strike me on my first day. I cannot find a simple way to explain my failure; I can only explain what happened, what didn’t happen, and what should have happened. So what follows is my explanation of just that.
There is meant to be a rule with meetings: that there are no surprises. All reports and notices of motion are put forward in writing prior to the meeting for trustees to review beforehand. I had checked my folder a week off the meeting, but I assumed that the documents in it at the time were all that would be there. I guess you could almost call it a bout of stupidity. Despite the agenda clearly signalling that there was a printed report that I couldn’t find, I didn’t realise that it was missing. So, I discovered the motion, to amend the uniform code so that all students would be required to wear lace-up shoes, at the meeting. In short, it surprised me.
Now, then, in the meeting. I had been lost for a fair amount of the meeting, but when the word “uniform” pops up, it is any student representative’s first instinct to catch on to the issue as quickly and as best he can. I understood that the t-shirts rule would be changed, and that the shoes rule would be changed, but somehow, I managed to get the impression that the change was an initial recommendation for a 2007 review, to be implemented in 2008 (despite it being clearly in print that it was for 2007).
Once I had re-orientated myself, I knew that the general reaction would be unhappy. Even my reaction was unhappy. But I was lost; I was still finding my feet. And, in the knowledge that it would be counterproductive, I was desperately trying to swallow that instinctive, maybe emotional, “You can’t do that! That’s insane!” reaction that I knew would be paralleled in so many of my peers (it took a reasonable amount of self-control). Only a logical, coherent argument would be able to convince my fellow trustees otherwise. But I have never had the ability to think on the spot. I might have been able to make a full statement with one night to prepare it, but I had a matter of seconds.
As you could imagine, I was now in what you might call a “panic mode”. By the time I could think of something—anything—to say, a motion was being made. I asked to speak. Panic mode can have unwanted effects sometimes. Wanting to express an opposition to both the t-shirts and shoes changes, I addressed them in the order in which they were presented, that is, in that order. I didn’t get very far with t-shirts, it being a small change that was relatively reasonable, and in the moment directly after that in which I was constructing an argument to show why the shoes change was unjustified, panic mode climbed a step higher and the chairman moved the motion to a vote. About forty-five seconds later, my reasoning was fully constructed. But the motion had been made, seconded, voted on and carried. So it was too late.
And that was what happened. I decided not to tell anyone, for fear that it get worse than it already was. I knew what the reaction would be, and the principal has the right to make the announcement. I would not help things to cause unrest before the announcement.
My mind has been occupied with what to do next. I promised to keep students informed of what was happening. Therefore, I will explain the general reasoning behind the shoes change. This space is open to public viewing, but I do so here nonetheless. First, though, I need to explain and ask of a few things.
Firstly, please don’t label the rule change as “stupid” and leave it at that. It won’t help. It is important to realise that senior management had their reasons for recommending the amendment, and good ones. And good reasons can only be countered with good reasons. There is no need for the board to be made aware that most students oppose the amendment. They know without my telling them. For that to have any weight, though, the students’ concerns must be justified; that is, they must demonstrate how there are benefits from having the old rule rather than the new one.
Secondly, as was made very clear to me at my first meeting, it is important to realise that I am a full board member, equal to all the others. This means that I am free to challenge their views, they are free to challenge mine, and it also means that I am working with them to govern the school, not just to act as a messenger for students. The last thing I want to do is put forward a proposal just because it is a heated issue among students. I have to make it clear that the proposal would be beneficial.
Lastly, please be aware that most schools require that their students wear lace-up shoes, that most schools only allow their students to wear headbands and hairties of a certain colour, and that most schools require that their students wear regulation jackets on their way to and from school. This was not a rationale for the changes, but it is still important to realise that as far as national standards are concerned, they do not make our school over-strict. Try to keep in mind that the more options given in a uniform, the less of a uniform it is.
Now, then, the reasoning behind the rule change. There were two reasons cited. The first is that senior students wear a wide range of shoes, which gives an impression of scruffiness. The second is year 10 and 11 students often wear non-lace-up shoes (when they’re not meant to), which isn’t easy to detect, because it’s hard to tell a year 11 from a year 12.
Personally, I have an impression that the concern was more to do with girls than with boys, because girls wear by far the wider range of shoes and because year 12 boys have a different uniform. On “official” grounds, this wasn’t the case, but I have reason to suspect so nonetheless. I figure that the wide range of shoes, whoever wears them, is against the intention of the rule and of the uniform code in general, which is to standardise formal dress. But that’s just my theory.
I am in no doubt that there would be widespread support for the change’s reversion. But it is difficult to revert a change that has been passed recently, and I am still trying to figure out what the best thing to do is. What I do know, though, is that I cannot afford to spend any longer trying to find my feet, because if last meeting is anything to go by, if I look for my feet, I’ll only see shoes.