What's it like at the front of the class?
Listening to children and young people is something everyone agrees is important and is a legal obligation of schools and local authorities. This was taken a step further when a group of us from Shawlands Academy were invited to Stirling University to discuss the qualities that we value most in our teachers; the kinds of educational activities we most enjoy or benefit from; and how we think teachers might best support us.
The tables were turned because our views were the main focus of the event.
Our opinions were listened to and noted, which made us realise just how important our education is. We helped the student teachers to become mentors, not teachers, and showed them how to concentrate on a pupil's individual needs. They saw our side of the story and therefore how to understand us better.
Those of us from Shawlands were an S4 class taking Standard grade religious studies and the Stirling student teachers were in their third year of a concurrent programme of teacher education. We prepared a protocol covering how we would conduct ourselves at the event:
* Be honest but careful: do not lie to sound good, but then do not be too blunt with the truth.
* Be ourselves but with discretion: say what you mean without hurting others and do not personalise it.
* Don't bitch: don't be talking about people and the things they have done (teachers and pupils).
* Be professional and objective: to be taken seriously, we must be super smooth with our ideas, so do not decimate anyone's career (that ain't cool) and have a bit of pride for your school. We are not in therapy, we are doing something new that has never happened before.
We also anticipated the need to ensure some of the quieter people felt comfortable and we arranged to partner them in the discussions.
The event was held in the Macrobert Arts Centre at Stirling University, in a theatre which young people had helped to design. An open space technique was used to start the discussion: student teachers and pupils wrote on flipcharts any questions or issues we wished to discuss, within the broad framework of "how can teachers help me learn?" These were then grouped into common themes and posted as discussion groups. Topics included individuality, respect, teachers' attitudes, support for pupils, pupil involvement, particular subjects and what pupils should learn.
Back at school, we recorded our thoughts on the day. Many people felt at ease while taking part in group discussions and our confidence was boosted due to the atmosphere that was created by the adults who were friendly and enthusiastic. Most had prepared really well and asked some interesting questions about what school is like for us. There was also a chance for us to hear future teachers' opinions which is a rare experience due to the barriers that exist between a pupil and a teacher. Some of their answers made it easy to predict who was going to make a good teacher in the future.
However, there were things we felt were not very pleasant. As a group, we felt that we were more prepared for the day than the student teachers. Some of us felt a little intimidated and thought that conclusions were drawn on a matter without the chance for us to disagree or say anything further. These problems might have been avoided if the event was longer, so we would have had the chance to get to know everyone better.
The student teachers seemed to have learnt a great deal from the pupils, as the following comments illustrate:
* "Made me realise how much we can learn by listening and talking to pupils."
* "It was a very interesting discussion which closed the gap between adults and teachers and enlightened us."
The event also seemed to generate a high level of respect from both sides as these comments indicate:
* "Great pupils with great views and attitudes. Thanks for your help" (student).
* "I was really impressed by the comments of the pupils. They really know their stuff" (student).
* "These people are going to be brilliant teachers . . . Good luck" (pupil).
* "I liked how the students were trying to find out even more to put into their teaching" (pupil).
The student teachers described their surprise at how mature, informed and insightful the young people were. They had learnt a great deal about pupils' need for good relationships with their teachers, good learning experiences and to have their say on all aspects in school.
One Shawlands participant asked immediately after the event: "Is this another day of talk or will we see a day of action?" In response to this, the student teachers were asked to say what difference the event will make to their teaching. They said that in future, they will:
* Be more aware of, and responsive to, pupils' perspectives.
* Use more interactive teaching - such as groupwork and discussion.
* Be more consistent and cautious with regard to discipline.
* Admit when they are in the wrong.
* Discuss subject choices with pupils.
* Be aware of the significance of teachers' and pupils' expectations.
* Treat pupils with respect and as people.
* Listen, listen, listen.
Overall, the day was very informative and interesting. It was a great opportunity to explore different points of view and everyone learnt something, whether they were an adult or a pupil.
The pupils from Shawlands were Rabia Ahmed,Gemma Alexander, Lesley-Anne Graham, Miriam Lacey, Rachel Levine, Anna Macnaughton, Carol-Louise McPherson, Daynor Muldoon, William Murdoch, Shahid Nadeem, Natalie O'Brien, Qasim Shaukat, Hasham Shahzad, Sharon Sharp, Kevin Smith, Chris Thomson and Usman Younis; they were accompanied by Cath Sinclair, Chris Morrison and Andrea Gillier. Julie Allan and John I'Anson are in the Institute of Education at Stirling University.