The word unconditional is borrowed from the wraparound process that is gaining wide acceptance in communities throughout North America (Eber & Nelson, 1997). Wraparound offers a unique and highly effective means of addressing complex challenges faced by children and families. This approach does not try to fit persons into programs but to tailor-make programs to the individual's needs. Wraparound is strength-based, client-driven, and unconditional. The wraparound team does not give up on difficult cases but remains engaged until the consumer feels that the expressed needs have been met. This unconditional process allows for a respectful relationship to develop between the consumer and the wraparound team. All work collaboratively to achieve common goals.
Might not this same description of services be applied to successful schools? An unconditional school makes a commitment to the success of all of its students, even if this requires the use of innovative interventions.
These are the basic qualities of an unconditional school:
Unconditional helping relationships form the foundation of unconditional schools. The students who most need these relationships are those who most challenge their teachers. Our understanding of youth at risk is incomplete without the construct of resilience. Resilient persons are able to defy the odds, overcome adversity, and emerge as successful and productive adults. The main factor accounting for this life-sized miracle is a caring and supportive relationship with at least one adult. Often this relationship is with a teacher.
Haim Ginott wrote that teachers possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous (Ginott, 1972). I have never met an evil teacher, but I have certainly encountered many frustrated ones. The constant dealing with emotionally charged issues in the isolation of the classroom setting can create an atmosphere of frustration and anger. I have been in a classroom where I felt that I was losing control and that I could not bear to return to face that class one more day. Those times rate as some of the most lonely and stressful times of my life. At such times, it is easy to blame the students involved. By shifting the responsibility, I would not have to face the possibility that I was failing at my work. After all, I reasoned, no one can teach a jerk. But, the temptation to look outward for solutions for our stressors keeps us from analysing what we are bringing to the classroom.
By judging others, we preordain the outcome and negative labeling creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. The instant that we verbalize that someone is a loser, a jerk, or a dummy, we have significantly restricted our perception regarding the probability of a successful relationship with this individual. Being able to understand and forgive the undesirable behaviour is vital to success with high-risk youth. This is not the same as excusing the behaviour. By viewing their behaviour not as a character flaw but as the expression of accumulated frustration, we realize that what is needed is not retribution but guidance.
Eber. L. & Nelson, M. (1997) School-based wraparound planning: Integrating services for students with emotional and behavioral needs. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 3, 385-395
Ginott, H. (1972). Teacher and Child. New York: Free Press.
Lloyd, D. (2001). Unconditional schools, youth of promise. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 10 (3), pp.150-152