Modern Day Manners: Teaching Etiquette in the 21st Century at King’s College International, Bangkok
Teaching children etiquette and the importance of good manners facilitates them to be responsible citizens. They learn to respect others and to live respectable lives. Providing an education in good etiquette and manners for students plays an important role in pupils’ time at King’s Bangkok and their lifelong learning.
It is important to first acknowledge that etiquette has come to carry uncomfortable connotations over the years. When we hear the phrase “Good manners cost nothing”, it resonates with a Victorian, class elitist notion of comportment that allows people of privilege to distance themselves from greater society and greater need. However, the merit of learning good etiquette and manners for students can be priceless. This article explores how a new generation of etiquette is breathing life into this idea by making it caring, purposeful and for all.
Learning is effective if it is meaningful. In teaching children the values and purpose behind the codes and systems of common courtesy, we foster an earnestly kind and thoughtful environment. In a school community like this, positive behaviour is driven by pupils’ innate desire to be good citizens.
When pupils make small and humble gestures to brighten the days of others, they are also intrinsically rewarded. Young people quickly learn how uplifting it is to see the warmth and gratitude of a person they helped carry a heavy bag up a flight of stairs or to receive a smile and “hello” in return for their own.
We call our behaviour ladder for the students a Community and Relationship Charter. We call it that because our code of conduct is purposefully rooted in reciprocal care and consideration for one another. We follow customary practices of polite language, positive behaviour choices and mannerful social interactions because they enable us to look after everyone in our school environment.
These customs bind us together across our richly diverse cohort. King’s Bangkok derives from a traditional, British institution, but it is an international school. We stand for the Thai national anthem, in a modern approach to traditional whole school congregation, the moment it plays, no matter where we are on the campus, and we greet each other with smiles and wais. There are cultural nuances between British and Thai notions of etiquette, but these are reconciled by the moral values of respect and truth that we share. King’s Bangkok places enormous importance on considerate and thoughtful behaviour, such as is encapsulated in Kreng Jai, the Thai practice of saving face. However, we exercise constructive, open feedback where there are opportunities to positively learn how to become a more considerate and thoughtful person.
We work closely with parents to cultivate responsible citizenship in the young people who attend our school. King’s Bangkok recently hosted a series of positive parenting workshops that operated as a forum in which to reach a shared understanding of how to instill values in our children that will make them happy, thriving, successful young people ready for the adult world. Effective behaviour choices are particularly well developed when the agreement in what these constitute is triangularly decided and modelled between the school, the child and the home.
Learning etiquette provides young people with the tools to build meaningful relationships founded on positive regard. Human empathy stems from infant developmental motor mimicry, which forms an attunement to the feelings and needs of others by adopting the behaviour they demonstrate. It is in our nature to treat others as we expect to be treated, in order to bond with them fulfillingly. Managing the way we express ourselves, in order to be sensitive to the response of other people, is a social art penned in Daniel Goleman’s seminal book Emotional Intelligence as “display rules”. These are most commonly and most successfully taught, according to Goleman: “through modelling: children learn to do what they see done.”
Educating young people to have good manners is part of well-rounded child development. It paves the way for them to enjoy successful interaction in their adult lives, socially and in the working environment. To embark on meaningful long-term relationships and have their own families, if that is their choosing, young people will need to understand how important it is to give of themselves and to put the needs of others into constant consideration. To secure their first job at the interview stage and build networks in a fiercely competitive employment market, it will be imperative for graduates to match their academic records and experience with fundamental people skills like looking someone in the eye, approaching them with polite greetings and engagement.
Teaching children how to exercise good manners online is a vital aspect of this education. Social media has unfolded a whole new arena in which young people need to be well prepared to manage the way they behave and treat others. Electronic communications need to be especially clear and kind because online interactions can filter out subtexts, leading to a higher risk of offending others and tarnishing a digital footprint that will trail behind them long into their adult lives. In the World Economic Forum’s own code of conduct it reminds its members that: “You are your online image.” We teach our pupils at King’s Bangkok to behave as respectfully, and safely, online as they would in a public space.
Teaching good manners is character building. It makes for conscientious, respectful citizens, from the nursery play area to the working office and from the playground to the adult social environment. In a culture of kindness, consideration and respect, we take a modern approach to manners that will make for young people who we are so proud to send out into the world, and who can take great pride in themselves.