Value and believe in young people

8th May 2009 at 01:00

My old dad was a Church of Scotland minister, and I learnt more from him about how to live than I have done from almost any other person - although I can't recall any of his sermons. What I do remember vividly is the way he lived out his faith in the way he was with people. He had boundless energy and enthusiasm for being with people from all walks of life.

Good teachers, too, live the message they teach, especially the message of inclusion. However, too often policy messages on inclusion have ignored teachers' beliefs and values and paid little attention to how these can be lived out in practice. The new Framework for Inclusion, published last week by the Scottish Teacher Education Committee, sounds the right note with its forthright message on values and beliefs. Student teachers are to be asked to "explore their assumptions about children, young people and schools". The change of language is itself a small revolution in the way it refers to "children and young people" rather than "pupils" and "learners": this gives value to the individual and their lives outwith school.

Better still, student teachers will be asked to consider "how schools reinforce inequality" and practising teachers are asked to consider how teacher attitudes and classroom factors (including setting and streaming) can be barriers to learning.

Some may protest that issues of teachers' beliefs, values and attitudes lie outside the scope of teacher educators and school management. But I believe we can no longer be blind to what is so readily observed by children and young people. During classroom research I carried out in a secondary school in 1999, I was struck by how perceptive young people were about how teachers regarded them, although most of the clues were non- verbal. One boy described a teacher as "growling with her eyes", an apt description of the behaviour of this particular teacher who talked the talk of inclusion, but did not walk the walk.

The young people I interviewed had a very simple message for teachers about what worked for them. They not only behaved better in classes where they knew they were liked and appreciated, regardless of their social class or ability, they also managed to learn more in these classes.

The findings were borne out by my classroom observations and teacher interviews. Moreover, these young people knew it was a question of beliefs and values. They spoke of teachers who believed in them and thought they mattered. They also spoke of teachers, who, in their body language and tone of voice, made the young people feel they had just crawled out from a crack in the paving.

"Scratch a good teacher", wrote Michael Fullan, "and you will find a moral purpose." Rhetoric, structure and systems are of little worth if we don't believe in our hearts that every child and young person has value and potential.

Jeannie Mackenzie is director of consultancy Conditions for Learning.

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