The importance of being listened to

9th June 1995 at 01:00
Andrew Burns says valued children value their world. The Values and Visions project aims to support a broadly based curriculum which promotes the spiritual development of children; encouraging them to respond to the global issues of justice, peace and environmental responsibility; and create within classrooms and schools a real sense of community in which every person feels valued and affirmed.

One of our first project schools quickly identified the playground as giving cause for concern. Teachers felt that the atmosphere within the school was very good but that once the children went outside the quality of the relationships between adults and children and between children themselves was less satisfactory. The school decided that this was the issue that they would deal with during the school year.

Subsequently the school has addressed listening, both adults listening to children and children listening to each other. The school has a listening council run by the older children which reports back to the staff, where issues affecting the children's life in the school are shared in an environment where everyone's contribution is valued.

The school also has listening tables where children can choose to go to sort out differences between individuals in a peaceful and constructive atmosphere.

An inner city infant and nursery school is developing times of quiet reflecting throughout the school, starting in the nursery where moments of stillness are built into each day. In the infant classes the staff are working very hard to encouraging the children to listen carefully to each other and to extend the amount of time children are able to spend in quiet reflection, both in the classroom and in environmental work outside the school.

At the present time the staff are considering ways of encouraging positive language among children as an antidote to thoughtless or racist name calling.

At one very small rural primary school we are working with the teaching staff, clerks, mid-day supervisor, the cook, parents, governors, the vicar and the crossing patrol person. This school has made a start on encouraging children to use positive language with and about each other around the school. After a very short time children have been noted checking themselves when they are about to say something that might be hurtful to others. A special school has worked with us and shared how they deal with issues of suffering and joy in their very caring community.

The Values and Visions project works on a "whole school" basis: and also offers in service opportunities nationally in partnership with local education authorities, school in-service training clusters, Manchester Metropolitan University, diocesan boards of education, and other organisations. A manual of practical activities has been produced, called the Initial Guidelines, a revised version of which is to be published by Hodder Stoughton in January 1996 in conjunction with Christian Aid, CAFOD and the Development Education Project in Manchester, where the project is based. Much of the work evolved from the World Studies project.

The initial Guidelines were developed in conjunction with members of a development group which was drawn from a range of religious and non religious orientations, phases of education and partner organisations. The book contains a variety of classroom activities which address issues of self-esteem, community building, valuing the earth and suffering and joy, through work focusing on spiritual development and global awareness.

Schools are encouraged to use the project guidelines to address issues facing them at the present time - their "here and now." This is not seen as yet more to do or another layer of work imposed from outside, but focuses on and enhances the development of school values and ethos.

We aim to support the schools with issues identified as priorities in the school development plan in spiritual development, global awareness, ethos and religious and moral education across the curriculum. Schools find that this helps in their preparation for Office for Standards in Education inspection.

Training and school support is offered by an experienced group of trainers who have been closely involved with the project for several years and who work to agreed standards and principles. The Values and Visions project co-ordinator is based at the Development Education Project office in Didsbury, Manchester.

Over the past three years we have worked with teachers, heads, non-teaching staff, governors advisers and students in places including Manchester, Derbyshire, London, Hampshire, Bradford, Wales and Londonderry; we have also run workshops at many national conferences.

The project is now exploring the way forward for the next three years after a very thorough evaluation by an independent evaluator.

Andrew Burns, the Values and Visions Project co-ordinator, is happy to arrange in-service training events and discuss the project with interested persons and organisations. He can be contacted at DEP, co Manchester Metropolitan University, 801 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2QR. (Tel 0161-445 2495) from where some copies of the Initial Guidelines (un-revised) are still available at Pounds 10 including postage and packing.

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