Fair process in schools

9th March 2012  |  by Greg

Fairness is difficult to define and even harder to implement, so let’s have a look at what some boffins think and see how we can apply their ideas in school.

According to Kim and Mauborgne in the Harvard Business Review (1997), fairness can be broken down into three essential elements:

1. Engagement

This means involving individuals in the decisions that affect them by listening to their views and taking their opinions into account.

In a school context, this could include simply asking children to help formulate rules and consequences.

2. Explanation

Often, schools and teachers are not very good at this, but it’s a very easy thing to do. We just need to explain the reasoning behind decisions to everyone who will be involved or affected. For example, if a school bans mobile phones it is essential to give students the reasons why. Many schools just need to work on their PR.

3. Expectation clarity

I have basically made this my life’s work. I want to spread the word about how actually telling students what you want them to do, in very specific terms (and also telling them why – see #2) is essential to being fair and effective.

(Note that Kim and Mauborgne’s “fair process” does not mean that all decisions are made democratically. Nor does it set out to achieve a scenario that makes everyone happy.)

Fair Process in Schools

So, in the context of schools, the very sensible suggestion is that children and young people are far more likely to trust in and cooperate with their school if their school follows these three guidelines and ensures that things are done fairly. This applies whether individuals agree with the decisions or not. The power to build trust comes from the process not the outcomes of the process.

When it comes to individual teachers, the same is true. In the classroom, I try to make sure I follow these three guidelines. I do this because I want to be fair.

And I want to be fair because I want to build better relationships.

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