With annual awareness campaigns such as Children’s Mental Health Week and Mental Health Awareness Week, many schools and adults are focusing their attention on the wellbeing of pupils and teaching them how best to convey emotions. However, this isn’t something which should be actioned momentarily; it’s an important issue, and one that must be addressed all-year round.
Workload, Ofsted, new initiatives, new specifications, changes to external tests, child poverty, mental health issues - it’s enough to make even the hardiest of teachers question whether or not teaching is a career with any longevity. It’s no surprise that there’s a recruitment crisis and even less of a surprise that there’s a retainment crisis. I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and I have no intention of stopping, though I admit the thought has crossed my mind, and I’ve even gone so far as to search for a job outside of education. There’s a lot that keeps me in the classroom, and there’s a lot that I do outside of it that keeps me teaching.
Take stock for a moment and consider three revolutions that are taking place, and how today’s young children and adolescents are beginning to respond to the ‘17 Sustainable Development Goals’ agreed by world leaders of 193 countries in September 2015. The ambitious Action Plan to find lasting solutions for the 17 Global Goals started on 1 January 2016 and will continue to 2030 – during the critically formative years of today’s schoolchildren. What kind of world do they want in 2030 as young adults?
What do you do when a mum tells you that her husband tried to hit her son that morning before school? Do you nod sympathetically and do nothing, or just tell her it’s “just dads and sons”? What do you do when a tearful child tells you that dad shouted at mum again and made her cry? Do you just say “that’s not nice is it?” and get on with your lesson?
Three years ago I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 Education Debates. The discussion focused on what we should teach our children in school. It included a clip from an enthusiastic boy who talked about the values he had been learning: respect, honesty and determination. A member of the expert panel was dismissive, claiming a school curriculum should be about skills and knowledge, not “wishy-washy” values. Yet this was 2012: the year that banks were in the news regularly for dishonest dealings. A few days later the London 2012 Olympic Games opened, followed by the Paralympic Games, and the nation was inspired by witnessing the Olympic Values of excellence, respect and friendship and the Paralympic Values of determination, inspiration, courage and equality. What did those contrasting stories tell us about the need for values in education and life?
Deliberate questioning sparks curiosity, unlocks learners’ ideas and helps them to think deeply, gain clarity and make more sense of a range of topics, issues and concerns that are important to themselves, relationships, society and the environment - in short, the fast-changing world in which they are growing up. With the aid of a framework based upon Rudyard Kipling’s poetic “I keep six honest serving men” - WHAT? WHY? WHEN? HOW? WHERE? and WHO? - lessons can become lively and interesting. Children and young people explore, examine and reflect upon both positive and negative aspects and viewpoints of matters, problems and values and then see where their delving takes them.
It is generally safe to assume that in the UK drug and alcohol education is almost universally delivered within secondary schools. What is not universal however is the amount of curriculum time afforded to the subject within individual schools, who actually facilitate these sessions and what they ultimately deliver.
As I get older – I’m 47, and feeling every minute of it – I definitely have a sense that now is the time to ‘do it’, whatever that ‘it’ is. Having suffered a stroke not long ago helps focus the mind in that regard, as does having kids. And so I’m delighted that something came my way at work (I’m an enrichment and collaboration coordinator for an educational consortium in the Midlands) that has genuinely fired me up and made me think that I am using my time well and maybe that the slow advance to that crazily far-off retirement day, 20 years from now, can actually be a new chapter of fresh challenge and deep satisfaction.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” Schoolchildren’s successes can be brought about with informative, systematic values education that progressively develops and nurtures the whole person. Key to achievement is a mindset intent on mastery through proactively capitalising on learning opportunities that crop up in all contexts.