Theory and Practice & Practice and Theory

 

The connection between theory and practice and practice and theory has been an interest of ours right from the early days of EquippingKids. 

 

I remember hearing about a school who decided to invite a group of senior academics to come in and view what was going on – to get their considered thoughts and feedback. However, the most striking responses from the day were along the lines of – ‘is this what actually happens in school?’, or ‘oh it’s great to actually visit a classroom’. 

 

Yesterday a new book ‘Contextualising Childhoods’, which I co-edited with friend and colleague Sally McNamee at King’s, Western University Canada – was released. It looks at that relationship between theory and practice. But I would argue it does more than that, it invites the academic to learn from the practitioner – as the reader is encouraged to consider how practice might inform theory.

 

This stands out in a section of the book that looks at themes around children and death. Not a warm and cosy topic but a reality, at different extents, for all families. This is brought into sharp focus through a discussion on children within a hospice, as they and their families manage a life limiting condition. Here a practitioner shares her experience and through this highlights the extent to which children’s voices are and are not heard. 

 

  • How well do we communicate with the child who is a non-verbal communicator?
  • To what extent do our assumptions about their physical condition impact our thinking on their competence and therefore adult efforts to discuss their illness? 
  • To what extent are voice, choice and participation relevant to a child who has a terminal condition? 

 

By combining theory and practice and continuing allowing both to speak to each other our ability to effectively answer such questions must grow, and with it our ability to improve children’s everyday lives. 

Algorithms or Conversation?

 

Recent news coverage explored the use of algorithms to identify vulnerable children. It was suggested that in an era of cuts it may offer a tool to identify children who might be at risk of ‘abuse, youth offending and truancy’.

 

Although no-one would deny the importance of protecting children, one of the major concerns about using data to identify risk – is that it de-skills all of us from talking about it.  

 

It is not that technology cannot help – but rather that technology must sit alongside additional efforts to enable children to be able to be part of a discourse about who they are and how they feel. It takes us back to the points in last week’s blog, where the importance of belonging was highlighted alongside the need for children to have a language so they can involve themselves in the conversation. 

 

Abuse, offending behaviour and truancy are all issues where we will be  better able to protect children if we can support them to develop the skills and the language to speak out. 

 

Promoting an environment where the voice of the child is valued must be an ambition of any who wish to protect the child! Algorithms could help to get a conversation started, but without us investing in the ability of both adults and children to converse meaningfully – our ability to effectively protect children will always be limited.

Being Yourself

Getting off on the right foot this new academic year – surely has to mean thinking carefully about ‘identity’ and ‘belonging’ and what those practically mean as part of any day to day work with children. 

 

I have been reading Afua Hirsch’s book BRIT(ish) – a clear and passionate exploration of race and identity. There are a number of interesting themes that Hirsch raises in relation to race that can also be considered from the perspective of being a child. For example, that strength of desire to belong and to be part of something that allows one to best present who they are – is a challenge children are regularly facing.

 

We see children seeking that wish to belong in many day to day interactions at school. At times children might overplay their hand as they seek to demonstrate that perceived sense of belonging, or indeed not play a hand at all as they watch from the sidelines trying to work out exactly where they fit in. 

 

However, and this is the crucial part, if we are to equip children truly make sense of that desire to belong, then doesn’t that have to start with a journey of discovery – one in which each children meaningfully comes to know themselves. Hirsch, as part of her own exploration suggests, ‘it is often said that you cannot do anything until you know who you are’. 

 

If we are going to support children as effective lifelong learners, to not only manage the requirements of exams but also the complexities of day to day life, then don’t we have a responsibility to ensure that children know themselves? 

 

To start that might mean simply mean being able to express ones feelings…

(to be continued

New year – new language

A new school year and with it a chance to develop a language for learning. 

 

A number of our schools are using this term to launch ‘their’ language for learning. Through extensive consultations these schools have developed key learning attributes, around which they have gone on to define what these might look like as part of unlocking the learning process for both adults and children. 

 

Some of the schools have created characters to help engage the children in this language for learning.  

 

As part of the new school year these characters will be introduced and explored. They will help to unlock the learning processes, which the schools will invite the children to experience as part of the journey to know, understand and apply ‘their’ language for learning. 

 

For more on the steps you can take to create a language for learning or for more detailed examples do contact us. 

 

Stress in the Classroom – Part 2

 

 

Following our blog below – my colleague John has set the following challenge for teachers.

 

1  Think about your actions in the first 15 minutes of the day.

    What ‘cues’ do you send to children that might impact their ’emotional well being’?

As highlighted in the previous blog – a smile can make a big difference.

 

2   Ask the children how they would like to start the day.

    How do the children feel they can be helped into the right emotional frame of mind for learning?
    What ideas do you have. Often the day can start in a very busy way – does that help prepare everyone best for a day of learning?

 

3   Find out more about the messages you send.

    Ask children to tell you more about what you do that sends a ‘message’ that has an impact on their ’emotional well being’ (both positive and negative).

 

Have a go and do let us know how you get on – ask@equippingkids.org

 

Stress in the Classroom

How does my teacher feel today? 

There is lots in the news at the moment around the pressures that teachers in school face. We wanted to find out whether children in school were aware of their teachers well being, whether their teachers emotional state mattered to them and whether the children felt they could impact these feelings in any way. 

 

So we asked children in three schools and this is what we discovered. 

 

Children were very aware of their teachers emotions.

 

This started right from the moment they came into school in the morning. One child explained that they could tell ‘what kind of day it would be’ as soon as they entered the classroom. It reflects both a level of awareness and anticipation as they assess from their teachers interaction with them what might lie ahead. In another school – we can see that same process of assessment this time considered through the simple acts of whether their teacher smiled at them and said good morning. Both of these actions were understood as signs she was feeling happy – with positive connotations for the day ahead. 

 

Positive emotions could be encouraged in their teachers through the children undertaking activities that believed ‘pleased the teacher’.  This is not surprising, however it does raise an important question. How do children define what ‘pleases’ the child. If this is defined, as it was for many in relation to ‘being quiet’ and ‘following instructions’ then this could have a particular impact on the nature of the learning space itself and subsequent learning experiences. 

 

Indeed the children were well aware of the way in which a teacher feeling ‘stressed’ could impact on the learning for all. Adults having a ‘shorter temper’ – means children are given ‘less slack’. This was interpreted in another school as adults ‘rushing’ or being ‘more blunt’. Significantly, these responses connect ‘stress’ to the implementation of restrictions in the classroom, narrowing the potential for learning, as children react… ‘sometimes [it] makes me scared [or] worried incase I do something wrong’, ‘we get stressed too’. As well as resulting in a shutting down of collaborative activities it also impacts on the time teachers might take to engage with the learning journey (‘they rush’, ‘they don’t explain things as well as usual’). 

 

Notably it was up to the children to change how their teachers felt through improved behaviour or by trying harder. Indeed one group reported how they simply reminded their teacher, who they felt found it hard being away from her baby daughter that ‘you will see [Abi] again soon’! 

 

What this small investigation shows is that…

 

  • Children are constantly reflecting on subtle emotional cues from adults, as they seek to make an assessment of how adults are feelings. 
  • Perceived adult feelings do impact on their expectations for what the day holds. 
  • Children believe themselves to be both the main cause and the solution of adult stress in the classroom. 
  • Perceptions of what pleases the teacher have the potential to narrow learning experiences. 

 

In the next blog we will look at ways in which both adults and teachers might respond to the challenges of ‘stress’ in the classroom. 

Why Social Learning?

A primary school principle explains that social learning is something so much more than a ‘wishy washy’ chat about ethos.

But what makes it different?

Our work with schools starts with a ‘Discussion’ – a report that using the voices of children and adults paints a unique picture of school.

How the report had an impact.

Want to find out more about our Starting Point Discussions – please get in touch – ask@equippingkids.org

Giving Children a Voice

Our New Book!

 

 

‘Youthquake’ was the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2017 word of the year.  Its selection clearly  marks a growing recognition of the power of children’s voices to influence change.

 

Giving Children a Voice reflects that awareness of the role that children can and must play in shaping our communities. It offers a practical framework for adults to think about how they can create meaningful and effective opportunities for children to participate in shaping the world around them.

 

One of the most significant barriers to children’s participation are adults. This book, therefore, looks at ways in which adults can partner with children to enable rather than restrict children’s engagement. Step 1 of course is for adults to ‘revitalise their thinking’. A mental ‘detox’ invites adults to question and challenge assumptions about children. It is a process that allows us to see that the way in which we think about children matters as it informs the nature of the practices that adults offer that ultimately shapes children’s experiences.

 

Step 2 encourages us to explore how the way we think about children is reflected in the spaces that adult and children share. It is, for example, of limited value if we have a progressive view of the child if that is restricted by the policies of the place within which we work. Does the family friendly restaurant provide the space for children to be heard? Does the children’s museum actually invite children to have a meaningful say? To what extent are children’s voices a real part of our actions in school, care settings and beyond? Giving Children a Voice offers practical steps through which a conversation can begin that brings rhetoric and reality into line and offers a platform for children’s voices to play a part in changing communities for the better.

 

How we talk about participation and what we mean by it, also impacts on the nature of the opportunities we are able to create. Step 3 offers adults a guide to developing a language for participation that can be shaped and framed, with children, in the context of their organisation/ community – for example a youth group, a health care or criminal justice setting. An important element of this is freeing children to shape the agenda as they are encouraged to develop research related skills.

 

Step 4 looks at the nature of opportunities themselves. It is all well and good us encouraging effective opportunities but what does an effective opportunity look like? By considering the ingredients of an effective opportunity it opens the door for both adults and children to pursue  the provision of opportunities that are meaningful and have the potential to result in positive change.

 

Advocacy relating to children has been driven by adults speaking out for the child. Giving Children a Voice challenges this approach to advocacy as it argues that it is only when adults work with children that the most effective outcomes can be found. Step 5 therefore looks at the role of adults in presenting and supporting children to be involved with a process of change. It lays out frameworks through which adults can construct an advocacy project that is focused on releasing the power of children’s voices to better inform and shape practices within a given context.

 

Giving Children a Voice states simply that effective advocacy with children is shaped by establishing the voice of the child and then creating the platform on which that voice can be amplified and heard. Effective advocacy does not need to be about widespread change, it is just as relevant in encouraging those small changes to the everyday settings where children and adults mix. A changed perspective of a teacher, parent, caregiver can have a significant impact on a child’s experience.

 

Giving Children a Voice is important at home, school, in care settings, criminal justice and court rooms, health care , shopping centres, recreational spaces and the list could go on. This book offers adults the chance to create opportunities for children’s voices to play the part they should in shaping communities for the better.

 

To buy or find out more click here

Whose standards? What disadvantages?

Whose standards? What disadvantages?

 

A relevant question for 2018!

 

Standards are  important. However, if we wish to raise standards in education we need to know what standard we are looking to raise and who should be responsible for raising them.

 

What is clear is that our current definition of standards and our desire to raise ‘them’ is not having a positive impact on those children we might label ‘disadvantaged’. Notably some academics have assessed that concepts such as  ‘creativity and understanding’ sit outside of our current focus on standards in schools.

 

Encouragingly Ofsted are now focusing on the richness of the curriculum as they react to findings that the curriculum is narrowed for ‘disadvantaged’ children.

 

Sticking with the current system reflects, in the words of Professor Diane Reay that ‘England does not have an education system that is serious about realising the potential of all children…’ indeed she goes on to highlight the issues that children who carry a label of disadvantage face – click here for more.

 

It is, therefore, time to go beyond the targeted use of terms like ‘disadvantage’ and to think about a more generalised language arounddisadvantages’. For, in much of the work we are developing at the moment the focus is on recognising that we all face challenges in our learning, no matter who we are. Yes some children will face greater learning ‘disadvantages’ but by making disadvantages a term we all openly discuss in the classroom it removes a stigma and increases the opportunity for the practical search for learning strategies that can make a difference to the individual’s identity as a learner, a difference that can result in the individual increasingly taking control of raising standards for themselves!

To find out more about our training seminars – get in touch – ask@equippingkids.org