The Importance of a School’s Personality

I once read an article about schooling that hit a chord with me. Well, actually it went right for my jugular. It gave advice about finding the right school for your child. Although it was specifically written to help expat families there was one particular element that jumped out at me which is relevant wherever and however you choose to school your child. One word: Personality. That of the school and of your child.

When we chose a school for my eldest we looked at the method of instruction, faith, location, school test and inspection results, the school building, the classrooms and the facilities. What else could we possibly use to measure whether this was a good school? We were content, believing that we’d done our homework and the school we picked was a good choice.

Sometimes the road up ahead is restricted - and there's no choice but to turn back.

Sometimes the road up ahead is restricted – and there’s no choice but to turn back.

Two years down the road we ran out of options and declared that the school we had picked was not the right choice. It was far from the right choice.

When my son turned four and started at school it was like watching him walk around in shoes that were a complete misfit, shoes that were hindering him from walking the way he naturally walks, shoes that were seriously impeding his growth. The school wanted him to grow into those shoes, we, as parents, wanted new shoes that fitted now.

It was a painful process for us all before we reached the point where we admitted defeat and set about finding an alternative school for my child. It was critical to us that my children be allowed to be who they really are, not just at home but also in school. I believe that no child should be moulded to fit a one size fits all approach to anything, and certainly not when it comes to schooling.

Every child is different, and that is a fact. And that has nothing to do with being highly sensitive. They come in all shapes and sizes, all with their own different instruction booklet. One method does not fit all. And I have come to believe that any school that refuses to acknowledge that basic fact is in the wrong business.

We were in a school that failed to believe being highly sensitive was actually a ‘thing’. We were told it was not scientifically proven. There was no evidence. Therefore there would be no support in the classroom. There was no room for any pupil to fall outside the imaginary boundaries the school had drawn. There was one way of doing things – take it or leave it. All we wanted was two periods of ‘quiet time’ for our son during his school day; down time to empty his bucket to stop the explosions at home. That was it.

When it comes to sensitivity, according to Raymond Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors there are low range and high range descriptors.

LOW

Utilitarian, objective, unsentimental, tough minded, self-reliant, no-nonsense, rough

Sensitivity HIGH

Sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental, tender minded, intuitive, refined

Similarly with the personality trait of openness to change there are two extremes.

LOW

Traditional, attached to familiar, conservative, respecting traditional ideas

Openness to Change HIGH

Open to change, experimental, liberal, analytical, critical, free thinking, flexibility

Needless to say we were dealing with a school with a personality on the low range of both personality traits.

Before we enrolled in school, it didn’t cross my mind that a school would have a ‘personality’. I had no idea what type of personality we would be dealing with. Looking back, the experience was like looking forward to a quiet dinner party with good friends and good conversation but actually ending up sitting next to an outspoken, boorish, know-it-all oaf who couldn’t care less about who you are and what interests you. It’s not a table you want to sit at for long.

We learnt a lot, my husband and I, during those first two years of my eldest’s schooling. It’s not faith, teaching methods, school policies or aesthetically pleasing school buildings that make a school the right place to be; it’s a school’s personality that matters. More importantly, whether a school’s personality matches the personality of your child.

When we went in search of a new school our list of requirements changed to include, as a priority, whether a school’s personality would fit with my son’s. Would he be respected for who he is? Would the children in his class be allowed to resemble a beautiful, multicoloured patchwork quilt, each square different to the one next to it but each part contributing to a stunning whole? Or would the class be expected to resemble a uniform coloured cover, each part indistinguishable from the rest? And just because it’s tidier to patch together. Easier to teach. Easier to manage.

We decided that we’d work around our other requirements because without that basic fit in place, without a personality match, it would be a lost cause, and yet another miserable education experience for my child. We looked for a school with an open personality, intimate and intuitive, experimental, forward thinking, and sensitive. And we found one.

Thankfully, my son was early on in his school ‘career’ and he bounced back from this setback. He’s now in a school that gets that he’s highly sensitive – and, more importantly, accepts and supports that. He’s treated as an individual. He’s helped with the tools he needs to get the best out of him in a classroom. He’s not being asked to be something he’s not. More importantly than anything else, he’s happy. He’s found his place.

And as parents we’ve learned that we won’t get everything right first time around but that we are brave enough to put it right, despite how hard it felt at the time. As parents we have learnt the importance of personalities, even when it comes to a school.

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About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. I was born in Britain but live in the Netherlands. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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2 Responses to The Importance of a School’s Personality

  1. Pingback: How I Learned My Son is a Highly Sensitive Child | Happy Sensitive Kids

  2. Pingback: 5 Ways Living Abroad Impacts Parenting a Highly Sensitive Child  | Happy Sensitive Kids

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