Ok, time for a social experiment. I shall call this one, “Car Park Chaos”.
Trust me, you want to hear this one out!
Billy The Brilliant had just been published, I had a fresh take on life and a yearning for support. Something which the students at my, then school began growing tired of craving.
Correlating with my passion for teaching comes my loathing of negativity towards kids. This, I was finding hard to deal with when a student myself and was witnessing first hand at my workplace. Students were battling it out each day with their teachers, locking horns over anything and everything. The student cohort, despite being so different and dealing with the rage of hormones, social hierarchy and the dynamic of mountains of study, rose as one to fight against their authority. You gotta’ give it to them, I was incredibly disobedient as a kid yet I did it alone. This bunch worked together for a common goal, to rake the teachers over the coals. I observed from a distance and shook my head. Imagine if the teachers just talked to the kids, showed they cared and hell, even built a rapport! This lead me to the beliefs that kids are mighty powerful, but moreover, how detrimental the teachers are to the well-being and overall development of our students.
So, being the over analyser, social experimenter I am, I decided to put this to the test. Being one of the first to arrive at this K-12 private school each day, I was of the opinion that my car would be noticeable in the carpark for most, and that, although my vehicle was always there before others’, they would more than likely have to investigate in order to work out who the car actually belongs to. It was going to be great.
Purpose: prove the willingness to spot and boast another’s flaws whilst consciously ignoring their strengths, regardless of its magnitude.
My relationship with the students was exemplary and their happiness at school was certainly wavering. It wasn't hard to see this. Me, on the other hand? Well I was just amping up my book promotion! We were doing radio interviews, library visits and featured in several newspapers. It was special. What an adventure I was embarking on. Meanwhile, in the car park of my workplace, something else was going on. Arriving so early, there were a plethora of car spaces to choose from. The newly appointed military style boss had made the poor groundsmen paint numbers in each of the spaces (so no-one could steal anyone else’s) a week earlier - because that’s the number one priority when you lead a school, for those who were unaware! Mine was ‘58’, right near the front bay area and against the path which leads from the back half of the parking complex to the gym at the front end. Let the experiment begin.
The Sunday night we softly launched our book, Billy The Brilliant, for sale online and come Monday morning, I was ready for an influx of questions, compliments and pats on the back, from whoever. Who was I kidding? With the air so thick at this workplace, you would need to slice through its negativity with a machete’. Not one person was to raise it once. That’s ok, who looks at social media and the newspapers anyway? (That was a joke people; everyone knew I was launching, we had fifty sales online in the first forty-eight hours). As Tuesday rolled around, I started to just swing into my designated carpark, not taking any notice of the newly painted lines or numbers. At this stage, I was simply testing the waters: who would actually notice and investigate my reasonably average parking efforts? The first was my brother. He rolled in about thirty seconds prior to me parking and greeted me with his standard query, “what the f**k is that?’ gesturing toward the park I had just made. I laughed and together, we walked in. My sibling worked in the Senior School of this place and we would often share the first leg of my long morning walk from the carpark to the Junior School, situated down the far end of the property. I informed him of my experiment. Now, let me point out at this stage, even he did not ask about the book we had conspicuously launched two days prior.
As they do, teachers started to gossip, and by Wednesday my park had, along with the attention of my recent joy in having a published book released, skewed to a noticeable amount. Although my Thursday and Friday parking efforts were of ninety-degrees, my allocation of my vehicle within those white painted lines were resembling a caravan trying to fit into a McDonald’s car bay at Christmas. I was secretly giggling to myself for large portions of the morning. Watching the faces of others’ as they tried to work out who had parked across two spaces, like a domino, forcing the whole system tumbling down like the little pigs first two homes. The car in bay '59' now had to go to '60' and so on, until the last bay in the row had nowhere but the overflow to go. Like a used dirty tissue in the flu season, teachers scrunched their faces in anger as they entered the staff briefing and soon, a whole table was asking who that four-wheel drive belonged to. I just chatted with my Junior School colleagues and let the High School Maths Department squabble in isolation. At this point, my experiment was going swimmingly. And whilst I sat in this briefing, the most caring and perhaps the most underrated staff members, the receptionists, proceeded to comment and ask questions regarding my new book. “Where can you purchase?”, “So amazing. Aren’t you a clever bunny?” and “Who did the illustrations, they are incredible?”. It was really pleasant to have these conversations and helped me justify how the students must feel when, instead of being greeted with, “Wow, looking sharp, a new haircut?” or “You play netball over the weekend?”, they are openly belittled with, “Tuck your shirt in!” or “Why are we talking when we should be waiting in silence?”. Despite the fact that yes, the students more than likely know they are to wait in silence for class and that their shirt is out rather often, they are humans, with emotions too. I get it, teachers are busy, but that thirty-second conversation, in a peaceful tone may be the difference between a hostile and receptive relationship, impacting more than just a few seconds in the long run.
My School psychologist, a beautiful soul, approaches with a smile on Monday morning. “What's the go with your parking lately?” I started to chuckle as I asked, "What do you mean?”. The whole thing was starting to get legs; something I had hoped for my book. By this time, we had sold over seventy-five copies, without our official launch or having any presence in bookstores, anywhere. A couple of the Junior School teachers made the comment of the posts which had started to pop up on social media surrounding our book and its varying features. In fact, I had even started conversations with my Head of School about a possible Billy The Brilliant week where I visit each year level and chat about the book, do a reading and where parents could purchase a book. Dominating the conversation at the briefing that Monday was still that bloody car park. The Principal’s Assistant asked our table, “Who is parking all over the place?”. We all looked puzzled and as she moved onto the next table, I couldn’t help but snigger. My close friend and colleague punched me in the arm and shook her head, “You’re a bugger you are!”
I decided to up-the-anti the next day and riding up onto the gutter, my wheels were resting in the garden bed which separated the different sections of the carpark. It was actually hilarious to do it, let alone seeing it when stepping out. Unbeknownst to the staff, it was not an accident. Put yourself in this position: rocking up to work each morning to see this random car parking like a tourist in an off-road camp-site. As I entered the Middle School during my lunchtime duty that day, the art teacher questioned me, “Have you seen that car in the carpark? Why would anyone do that?”. I avoided the negative dialogue and proceeded to compliment kids on their quirky personality traits and asked the teacher about her weekend. One thing I was finding out during this experiment was that for every five questions I would ask another teacher; “How’s your day?”, “What did your weekend achieve?”, “How’s the students going?”, “How long have they taught here?” or “Did you see that football match over the weekend?”, I would be lucky to score one in return. The real problems of schools were starting to rear their ugly head. Student achievement starts with more than just learning and the ability of a kid, each special individual needs to be treated, if not told just that; they’re special. Not all the time but a little bit of genuine care goes a long way. With each conversation between other teachers and I that did take place during this experimental phase, I acknowledged only two asked me ‘how my weekend was?’ or ‘how was my football on the weekend?’. This prompted my thinking further. I posed, alongside my initial purpose, if the teachers at the school show such minute interest in each other, what hope do the students have? By Thursday of this week, for those whom were interested, the book was flying and smashing through preconceived estimations of success. At work, the chatter and anger surrounding the chaos in the carpark was a little concerning. Everything I thought of the manner in which we treat students at this school, plus the manner in which we approach each day in general were being made look silly in comparison to the mountain these people were making out of this parking mole hill.
As week three, the final week of the experiment, rolled around most staff members were aware of my parking debacle. I had, if people were previously unaware, or were forgiving me for just poor judgment in my execution, more than certainly done my utmost to ensure the rest of the world that something was up. Come Wednesday, I had parked across two parks, mounted curbs and finally, the biggest showing of all; I parked halfway across the path. I think I laughed all the way to my classroom that day, a whole six-minute walk. To see a car randomly, but surely by now most knew deliberately, parked like this would have to brighten your day. One particular staff member came to me and said, “seriously, why are you parking like that?” He then motioned his interest in joining in, “I’ll park weird tomorrow. It’s crazy!”
I acted obliviously and just like that, the experiment was over. The next day I parked, as I knew how to, perfectly inside number ‘58’. And nobody ever spoke of it again. Until now.
As true social experiments go, there must be a purpose, aim and some variables, followed by some results showcasing a small sample of behaviour representing the greater majority in one particular field. From there we can precedent conclusions based on the data assembled.
My aim was to investigate the correlation between one’s flaws and people’s ability to pick up on it. This would hopefully represent the same demographic (perhaps on a global scale) and reflect their tendency to only announce one’s flaws, without ever taking into account the power of driving practice through one’s strengths. In simple terms, I had something life-changing, simply incredible happen simultaneously with a parade of poor parking. Which feat would people firstly notice, then feel the need to promote with justice? Surely society loves the under-dog, the guy out there having a go and rightfully supporting and promoting the good vibes that success brings. Instead my the results differed greatly.
In the three weeks ensuing the soft launch of Billy The Brilliant, leading up to my true launch, the following happened.
• A huge following occurred on the Billy The Brilliant train
• The book found its way onto the shelves of over 100 homes, across four states and three countries
• The new book found itself a news piece in five newspapers, across three states
• The author featured on two radio programs
• A film crew from Chanel 7’s Today / Tonight had visited and filmed at my school for an upcoming segment
• A banner and sales bench was set up in the school’s reception area
Impressive or not, the biggest eye-openers were to come. These would be most telling in the social experiment and help shed light on why this whole thing took place in the first place.
• 29 people had directly questioned me about my parking within those three weeks
• 4 emails (3 were a joke) had been written to me as a friendly reminder my parking wasn’t up to standard
• Many staff found solace in telling me others were moaning about the car park chaos
• ONLY 7 staff members asked me about the book
The questions you be asking are perhaps worthy:
- Why would you do this in the first place?
- Are you, in trying to prove a point, unknowingly diverting the attention from your glorious deed?
- What can you conclude from this weird experiment?
To conclude, I wanted to prove our impact on students, how our demeanour, personality, emotions and manner in which we approach and interact with our youth is of huge significance.
Our kids deserve attention; to feel they are valued, their opinions matter and are important. We preach kindness and unity, respect and positivity but do we truly practice this?
It was alarming that when I interacted with other staff, the conversation was terribly one-sided. WE are so caught up in our own lives, we don’t even give ourselves the chance to stop and smell the roses. When something good may be happening, right under our noses, instead of celebrating it, we are too caught up in that same person’s flaws to observe they have anything good to offer. We are so quick to pick out the weaknesses in others. 29 people took the opportunity to stop me and ask about my parking yet only 7 took the time to stop and celebrate something genuinely special. How do we want people to see us? As negative jerks, putting down every small detail or as leaders in care, positivity and builders of authentic relationships? Each of us has so much to offer, we are all special in so many ways so let’s celebrate it.
How’s your parking been lately?
After the horrible tragedy, which took place in Sydney’s suburb, Greenacre, where 52-year-old, Maha Al-Shennag ploughed into a classroom – just writing this is almost unfathomable – we mourn as teachers, Australians and sympathetic human beings.
It opens my eyes to one really important fact: life is finite.
You hear these quotes about the meaning and purpose of life and it kinda’ becomes a drone. “You only get one, make the most of it”, or “Life is too short to worry about what doesn’t make you smile”. Perhaps some all-conquering inspirational and cringe-worthy words are floating within your mind this very moment but the reality is, sometimes life just hurts.
For two young Sydney western suburb families, the hurt yields stronger than ever. They are probably wondering this morning whether life is really worth much at all anymore. One minute they are kissing their little angel goodbye; watching a glowing halo protect their bundle as their eyes follow the little one’s path into the exquisite world of learning, the next they are frantically panicking asking 'what have I done to deserve such a horrendous mishap?'.
Details of this freak occurrence will come to light in time but before we stop to take a breath I want to bring light to one simple point; children are the most precious resource we have. They are the sun on a cloudy day, lighting the dullest of situations, their honesty and spunk taste like a fresh mint to a bitter mood. Their smile, unknowingly contagious, creates a tidal wave of joy. The funny insight into absolutely anything and everything is breathtaking and the way their minds create something from nothing is something to truly embrace. Despite most adults’ idealistic view on being successful as a means of discovering happiness, our youth are happy just being. What would it be to live in that euphoria without even knowing you’re riding the waves of life like a pro? Yet this is the day to day demand of Australian kids. It's glorious. Then the unthinkable happens.
So many questions are still unanswered: What was going on in that car? Was there influence or impairment on the driver’s behalf? How did the car even get into that part of the school- it was the staff carpark, beyond a large automated security gate? What about the classroom? Were they reading in pairs when their walls and worlds were smashed? Did their smiles shine right until the end?
Is the family of each little boy able to get up today and seek the answers they wish to find, without buckling with every movement?
I can’t help but put myself in this situation, as a teacher. I put my heart and soul into each day with the gems that reside within my classroom’s walls. Yes, they often annoy, don’t listen and even make mistakes incomprehensible to others, including me but; they’re present. And will be again tomorrow. This would be simply unbearable, to not show presence, ever again. To scan the room and see two empty desk spaces, having to remove name cards, labels and stationary because these students now cease to exist. At no fault of their own, teachers take the blame for anything and everything that happens at school, and so they should. They’re the leader, the mentor, role model and protector. Their students will sponge off them in every way possible. But what now? Sure, when kids bully each other, teacher needs to mediate, then promote positive relationships. When a tantrum is thrown, the teacher picks up the pieces and forgets that grudges and judgments exist. Seemingly problematic, these are minute in comparison. But this just cannot be registered. How to hold yourself together after this; I can only shake my head in bewilderment. This wasn’t part of the contract the teacher signed when propelling themselves into the world of classroom utopia. Nowhere it said, ‘in case of…’ or ‘in the event of…’.
It is truly heart-breaking. For all involved. When your head hit the safety of your pillow last night, the worry of failure or that itch from workplace politics that needed to be scratched which consumed your last waking thoughts, quite simply meant nothing. If sleep was encountered at all in Greenacre last night, the sudden and insular awakening from the heftiest of night terrors would have brought it all screeching back to an abrupt and reality-bending end. Then, when the sunrises, whilst our demons are whisked away for another day, tucked into closets or under our beds, the nightmare continues and the plot of an unsavoury event thickens. It will take time for this to truly sink in and only then can this community start to grieve properly.
So while we sit and enjoy the smallest of life’s pleasures today, please spare a thought for those without that choice.
Kids are precious and represent all that is good in this world; they are our future and the empowerment of what true happiness is. Let these little angels watch from above with pride as we pick up the pieces of this mess. But we must do so with unity, forgiveness and perpetual care. Although this has happened in Sydney, across this great country of ours, we hold our hearts heavy.
Take nothing for granted.