Opinion: Of open-toe shoes and going back to school

(Image: OpenClipart-Vectors/ cheskapoon/Pixabay)
(Image: OpenClipart-Vectors/ cheskapoon/Pixabay)

During the current Covid-19 lockdown a great deal is being said about so-called rational and so-called irrational regulations.

One that has caught my attention is the open-toe shoe regulation – or rather the banning of the sale and purchase of this item.

It astounded me to see that even senior scientists are weighing in on this.

This debacle, I would argue, has arisen because of government not taking 100% responsibility for the interpretation of their communication. 

And as the back and forth about when, or even if, to open schools, as well as the various concerns related to that continue, I am concerned that the back-to-school issue is going to fall into the same silliness and miscommunication of open-toe shoes.

It would seem to me – and I declare that I am not medically trained, nor that I have a scientifically grounded education – that it is not about whether the open-toe shoe is going to cause the spread of the novel coronavirus or not.

It is because no person on this planet actually needs to have such footwear right now. 

Therefore, making them available for sale means that people who have nothing better to do are going to be in shopping malls placing at risk the lives of people who have no choice financially but to be at work to serve the privileged who can afford to buy open-toe shoes. 

So, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s 1992 election campaign quip: It’s about shopping and placing people at risk, stupid.

What happens when we go back to school?

During two different webinars that I have hosted in the last week – one for parents and one for teachers – the same theme arose in question time: the safety of the children. 

From the parent’s perspective, the question was: How do I know I can trust my child’s school to keep her safe when they have not managed to do so many things right before?

From the teacher’s perspective, it was: How can we get the parents to trust that we are doing the best we can to be sure their children are safe?

I believe that we need to look at an idea from neurolinguistic programming that is useful here: the meaning of your communication is the feedback you get.

Therefore, no matter what you thought you communicated, if the person who receives the information does not respond in the way that you had intended, do something about the message or the way in which you sent the message until such time as you get the message you want.

Let’s apply it to the two questions above.

From the parent’s perspective

If you put yourself in the school’s position and listen to that parent, it would seem that the parent simply does not trust the school, and for that matter is unlikely to agree with anything the school suggests. 

It is probable that as the school, you are going to want to go in the defensive and try to prove to the parent how wrong they are. Truth is, it is hardly ever facts that convince us – it is our beliefs and values that need to be changed, not the set of facts in our heads. 

What message is the parent hoping to communicate? 

I would imagine that it is something along the lines of, "I am concerned about my child’s safety."

And if the parent changed the initial question to this statement rather, what would the school likely hear? That the parent is concerned about their child’s safety, as is the school.

It is possible from this common ground to find ways for the parents, the child, and the school to work together to do their best to ensure that everyone is safe.

From the school’s perspective

Now put yourself into the parent’s shoes and listen to the teacher: How can we get the parents to trust that we are doing the best we can to be sure their children are safe?

My sense is that as a parent I am likely to hear that the school sees this as some sort of ‘them and us’ situation, one in which some people are going to win (the school in their opinion), and others (we untrusting parents) are likely to lose. 

What message is the school wanting to communicate? My guess is, the school is probably wanting to say that they are doing their best to ensure the safety of everyone at the school.

What if the school asked this question instead: 'Could you please help us work together to ensure that everyone is safe?'

Notice that there is a call for all stakeholders to get involved in making the school environment a safe space now.

Say no to open-toe shoes at school

It is only by making sure that the messages that we wish to communicate are clear, by making sure that the meaning we want is conveyed by checking in with the recipient, and by being prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that the recipient does get the intended message, that we are going to be able to navigate the very tricky back-to-school period successfully.

We need to build trust among all stakeholders through clear, responsible communication. 

Free webinar for School Governing Bodies

Via Afrika is offering School Governing Bodies a free webinar, Building trust for a safe return to school.

This is open to all parents, not only the members of the governing body.

You can contact us to find out how to set up a webinar for your school by sending an email to Maria.dewitt@viaafrika.com

Via Afrika

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