Give peace a chance with a code of honour
As Western governments have found, imposing democratic rights and the rule of law on people not used to such luxuries isn't an easy trick to pull off. Maybe there are lessons they can learn from primary schools?
For example, Jamie's left eye may be swollen but he is entirely unapologetic. His dad says that if anybody upsets him it's OK to beat them up. Although Aidan is less coherent because of his bloody nose, he concurs with his adversary and vows to sort this matter out after school.
I shake my head. This is the fifth time in a week that one or both of them have presented major behaviour problems as a result of following home, rather than school, rules. Intervention at a higher level is needed before things escalate further.
Our headteacher will lead negotiations to end hostilities. She has received several high-level briefings. Meetings have already taken place behind closed doors. A road map has been drawn up and the warring factions are in a state of enforced ceasefire. Now is the time to implement our plan.
Private lives and public places
Teachers may be in loco parentis but they are not parents, and being at school is not the same as being at home. Primaries may be less formal than they used to be, but they still demand different standards of behaviour. As I have often said, "In the privacy of my own home it is not unknown for me to emit a loud fart or use the occasional expletive. But I don't do such things in the classroom and neither should you, Ryan."
The local primary school may be only a few steps down the road for a child but it represents several giant leaps in terms of their behaviour. Lesson one is that school is a public place; we do things differently here. As my mother once explained to me, "Lying on the classroom floor kicking and screaming to get your own way is not acceptable, Stephen. Especially when you're the class teacher."
Although most parents share their school's values and help reinforce them at home, there are some who don't and a few who undermine the school's authority by encouraging their children to challenge its rules. When parents, either through ignorance or choice, contradict a school's code of conduct, behaviour becomes harder to manage. This leaves us with no alternative but to drown out the whispers of subversion with the megaphone of truth.
To this end, many schools have introduced core values. These are agreed principles that underpin how a school conducts itself. We have eight core values that can each be summed up in one word. For example, "respect" demands we treat others with consideration and "team" encourages us to help and support each other. The full list of our core values is writ large in the entrance lobby and shouts from every classroom wall.
Actions speak loudest
Talking about core values is one thing, but they are only really effective when schools live by them. It is important for teachers to make the values explicit when giving rewards or imposing sanctions and to explain how behaviour reflects (or fails to reflect) the values. Indeed, these values should become so ingrained that when Ryan forgets himself and calls Maisie a "poo-head" I need only raise an eyebrow, Roger Moore-style, and he will immediately apologise for not being "thoughtful".
Teach your parents well
Actions speak even louder when schools communicate their core values to parents. Instead of telling Daisy's mother that she had a great day at school, I might say, "Daisy followed all our core values. She was especially `determined' in her learning and showed `care' when offering to sit next to Ryan to help him with his anger management issues." But then Daisy's mum is supportive of the school. What about those parents who consciously challenge its authority? The answer is to make core values as non-negotiable as breathing.
Brook no dissent
Jamie and Aidan sit glowering at each other across the headteacher's office. Their parents would be glowering at each other too, but our leader and negotiator-in-chief got in there first and set the parameters for the debate.
"Before we start this chat I want you two boys to look at your parents," she said. "Look how upset they are. That's because you haven't followed our core values, isn't it, parents? Nothing will make them more proud of you than if you follow our core values, isn't that so, mums and dads? So instead of discussing who did what, I want you both to tell your parents which core values you will use to put things right."
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Middle East.
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield
Find out how to strike a balance with challenging parents.