Carole Jenkinson, Headmistress of Broomwood Hall, explains that having good manners is still one of life’s most important skills.
Superficially, caring about modern manners can seem somewhat trite, given all the serious problems facing the world today. However, manners still have a significant part to play in creating fair and just societies.
I am not talking about the correct etiquette regarding which cutlery to use, or how to address someone; while these conventions can unite some groups in our society, they can also be divisive and even alienate others, creating artificial barriers between people.
For me, manners are about being courteous, inclusive, empathetic, open-minded and thoughtful. It is the ability to discuss radically different opinions, but with kindness and tolerance. It is listening to others’ experiences without prejudice and with a welcoming heart. Finally, of course, it’s about being honest and truthful, but without being rude or dogmatic.
If schools can encourage children, both in real life and online, to treat others well, then the whole community benefits. This openness of approach helps to build teams of people, and my hope is that we create enough adults who can work collaboratively to address some of the great issues the world faces. From my perspective, it all starts with empathy and courtesy.
With this in mind, I think it is important for schools to teach children debating skills so that they can espouse completely differing points of view with the hope of persuading others by presenting cogent, well-informed argument. Debating also teaches children that they may have to accept that their argument may not win the day, and to have the good manners to acquiesce gracefully while remaining friends with the opposition.
As modern educators it is our role to ensure that we equip children with the tools they will need for a successful life in today’s technologically-driven, globally connected world. A combination of innovative teaching practices and the importance given to traditional values and softer life-skills, provide children with the ability to stand out and succeed.
Manners Matter Online Too
The manners we instil in real life are the same manners that should be used online. The current scourge of anonymous cyber-bullying has its roots in very poor attitudes to others. This level of unkindness is the very antithesis of good manners. It is important for children to be taught that good manners apply in all walks of life.
The world of work is changing too. With Artificial Intelligence increasingly taking over the role of many traditional jobs, it’s the uniquely human characteristics that will really matter. And by this, I mean the ability to collaborate, think creatively, work in teams, look someone in the eye and express ideas simply and clearly. Manners are the foundation for all of that.
The Utopian Dream
As Head of a pre-prep and prep school, my purpose is to equip children with the foundational skills they will need for life – not just the next school – and this means working with parents to help embed good manners.
I’ve always been a passionate advocate of educating the ‘whole child’ and courtesy, communication and collaboration are at the heart of that education and are as relevant today as they’ve always been. Truly good manners are timeless, cost nothing and enable individuals to form strong and fair societies. The Utopian dream of living in peace and harmony is still a long way off, but good manners can help bring it a little closer by creating more civilised societies – at least, this is my optimistic dream.