Lessons in life from the footy stands

28th September 2007 at 01:00
Ian Smith is director of Learning Unlimited.

If there is such a thing as collective national confidence, then ours must have gone up a few notches after the national football team's recent victory in Paris (goalscorer Paul Caldwell pictured).

Hopefully it will not go off the Richter scale again, as happened in Argentina. We know that it's possible to be too sure of yourself and to have too high self-esteem. We know that telling people they are wonderful when they are not, doesn't help them. Indeed, psychologists suggest that narcissism is more dangerous than self-hate.

The tartan army's handle on reality has been one of their more likeable characteristics. When I peered through a pub window with 10 minutes to go in the game against France, I could just make out that the score was 1-0. My first reaction was to be pleased that we were only 1-0 down.

I'm glad we have a Centre for Confidence and Well-being in Scotland and admire the work it is doing. You would expect me to agree with the chief executive Carol Craig (TESS, August 24) when she says schools need to encourage young people's confidence by building up their ability to learn, citing Assessment is for Learning as a key way of doing this.

On the face of it, AifL is not about building self-confidence or self motivation but, in reality, that is its greatest potential long-term pay-off. We, at Learning Unlimited, have been arguing for years that the best way to help young people build self-confidence is to help them achieve real success at learning something they didn't think they could achieve through their own efforts and using techniques that work for them.

The series of eight booklets we have recently published on AifL lay out 200 ideas that primary and secondary teachers can use to improve the quality of their teaching and boost pupils' self-confidence and self-motivation ideas tried and tested over four years by Scottish teachers in Scottish classrooms.

Where I take issue with Dr Craig is her suggestion that schools should not dwell on emotions and self-esteem and that a national initiative to support emotional literacy might lead to an "all about me" society.

She seems to be saying that schools and teachers should not try to tackle emotional literacy head on and that teachers do not have the skills to do this. Elizabeth Morris (TESS, August 31) was right to challenge this and point to the long and successful history personal and social development programmes have in a range of countries. Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that can be learnt and there are lots of techniques that work, as any life coach will tell you. They don't work for everyone all the time, but they can be learnt. It would be daft to suggest schools and teachers should not help young people to develop these skills.

I agree with Dr Craig when she says most teachers are not trained enough to deal with the subtleties of helping young people to be emotionally literate. But if A Curriculum for Excellence is to succeed, this must change.

Such a change will not mean turning teachers into social workers, psychologists or life coaches. It will mean ensuring that teachers are emotionally literate and remain so throughout their careers. It is about making sure teachers have a sophisticated understanding about how we help others to be self-motivated and of how motivation works generally. It means coaching teachers to look at how they engage with young people, how they give feedback and how they use the power they have to empower young people.

This is the area to which Learning Unlimited will turn its attention in the coming years. Our new pack Journey to Motivation, which builds on the work of Alan McLean, is just the start. Watch this space.

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