Take care of your core conditions

Person-centred approaches in schools, By Jackie Hill, PCCS Books #163;10.50. 1 898059 07.

Jackie Hill believes her book is "for all people who work in a school, no matter how great or small their experience." She is right, though its readers might be disturbed by the noise of gnashing teeth among those desiring a return to so-called "Victorian values".

The title is significant: the approaches are "person-centred", not just pupil-centred. Person-centredness rejects the unquestioning submission to "accepted" thinking, through fear or subtler coercion. It aims to promote equality and respect for individuals, not least their potential to know what is best for them. It is as relevant for young offenders, with whom the author has worked and whose deeds sometimes illustrate the theory, as for 0xbridge candidates (not necessarily separate groups). The approaches,used increasingly in industry and the caring professions, seek to strengthen relationships through "empathy, warmth, and genuineness".

The pursuit of these "core conditions" is the heart of the book, in its two longest chapters concentrating on counselling skills, with helpful checklists. Most teachers could anticipate the content: listening, encouraging, questioning, negotiating, and feedback are examples. "Fogging" will be fresh jargon to many. Hill readily acknowledges these skills "are nothing out of the ordinary", but known and used in schools in varying degrees. Her intention is for a precise focus on them, to encourage their use consciously and in a person-centred way. That is another matter, not easily achieved; "you cannot change your style overnight," as she says. Those who claim there is nothing new in these skills will accept that the cogent analysis and illustration of them makes a convincing case for their importance to a school's well-being. There are specific suggestions for positive responses to a range of conflicts encountered in most institutions, from late arrivals to serious disruption.Even the Brodies and Keatings will discover sharper insights, as in the section on the unhelpfulness of evaluative praise as a means of controlling behaviour and limiting self-expression. Equally commendable is a chapter concerned with creating a "supportive atmosphere" in classroom, staff room, around the school, and with parents.

Likewise, the 47 training ideas, interspersed throughout the text and arising from it. Briefer material on group work and teacher appraisal is worthy, if unexceptional.

The book's style is itself a model of person-centredness. It is uncluttered, with few references to other research, while the colloquialisms seem uncontrived as they put "the gut feeling back in there."

Most of the repetition becomes justifiably emphatic (teachers are not psychotherapists or social workers). However, the numerous typographical errors in the text are inexcusable.

This is a caring book, which packs a deal of wisdom into its relative brevity. Ideal for learners and trainers, its self-effacing approach, using the "core conditions", should not upset even those who think they know better.

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