Teaching for Equity and Wellbeing: Lecture-related Post

 

(Sorry… the title today is rather uninspiring… so if you can think of one that’s utra-inspiring… feel free to inspire me!)

Reading. On. Poverty – and closing the attainment gap. Oh, and emotional and physical health in the classroom. It’s all weighty stuff because … as teachers… we do not possess the super-power of being able to sort out society alone. And, we aren’t that strong either. Perhaps it’s me still on those 4kg weights! Anyhow…! Thinking about health led me to consider what my responsibility is in the classroom: sadly it’s not as simple as telling our little ones not to eat apples like Snow White. Sadly not.

The Scottish Government (2019) see health and wellbeing as: [wait for it] … ensuring that pupils are able to make the most of their educational opportunities regardless of their background or financial circumstances and through promotion of attendance at school. So, this means that we ought to find a way around most problems, come to a reasonable solution. Interestingly: Mcleod and Mowat (2019) found that no large-funding or project will solve the poverty issues in education. Instead, incremental changes by everyone will result in a long-term systemic change in society. Isn’t it obvious, then, that teachers need to think of the everyday practical stuff. Start small: stop tall. The pencil after all is what’s needed to change the world – and of course, positive relationships. Let’s look at the list from the Department of Health and Social Care (2013) about … how our lanyards give us more power than making us into the mould of today’s teachers. (If you’re a ‘secret shopper’ from TurnItIn, don’t stress. I did ‘re-word-ify’ it!)

Practical Steps for a Practical Poverty-Beating Solution (DoHSC, 2013)

• Establish good relationships with your students’ parents/guardians;
• Ensure a child has a positive experience in at least one of the following:
– Their social circle – Academic work – Sporting goals
• Run breakfast clubs and after-school clubs;
• Focus on properly developing a child’s skillset;
• Establish a routine/structure (discipline must be fair);
• Set tasks for the child to do at home (to boost self-esteem).

Thinking back with my autobiographical lens (Brookfield, 2017) the highlight of my first-year placement (other than teaching) was running the after-school clubs. Honestly, it’s a real perk. To be able to do something you love and share your enthusiasm with the students always leaves you with glitter in your brain. However, more sparkle comes when pupils light the spark to a topic you previously disliked! Someone close to me told me:

How can you not be interested in something, if you know little or nothing about it.

Through spending time with children outside the classroom, you not only find out more about yourself – but also, positive relationships are built upon. (Brick laid. Cemented. Then another brick…voila Disney castle established!) Over my six weeks at the school, I witnessed the mending of half-broken friendships during a simple lunchtime pop-music session… the daisy chain was completed. Thinking ahead, I need to plan smartly to allow myself appropriate time to run such sessions – and to think about the tiny details that could affect students. A teacher’s response from an interview by Saul (2019) highlights the need for everything to be as accessible as possible:

We spoke to students why say they won’t go to free after-school football clubs because you can wear what you like, and so everybody is wearing the latest football kit. Some students have since said that for afterschool sports clubs, all children should only wear their p.e. kit.

Wow. Doesn’t that just show how the simplicity of uniform can have a ripple of an impact? Uniform is not a ‘maybe’ but a MUST. There are obviously a myriad more MUSTS out there too. But for now, it is a MUST that I leave the laptop and head for the paper to create a list: let me list the everyday things that could make the difference to student’s health and wellbeing! And then, yes, I can look at my upcoming assignment. Oh, lists are so satisfying when you can put a smiley face next to each item!

References for this Post:

Brook, S. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. 2nd edn. San-Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Department of Health and Social Care. (2012) Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays. Available at:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/255237/2901304_CMO_complete_low_res_accessible.pdf (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Macleod, G. and Mowat, J. (2019) Poverty, attainment and wellbeing: Making a difference to the lives of children and young people. Available at: https://www.scottishinsight.ac.uk/Portals/80/ReportsandEvaluation/Programme%20reports/Poverty%20Attainment%20and%20Wellbeing_Final%20Report.pdf (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Saul, H. (2019) ‘Nine simple things teachers can do to ensure the poorest students don’t get left behind’, INews, 6 September. Available at: https://inews.co.uk/news/education/nine-ways-teachers-and-schools-can-poverty-proof-their-classrooms-290621 (Accessed: 3 October 2019)

Scottish Government (2019) Schools: Health and wellbeing in schools. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/policies/schools/wellbeing-in-schools/ (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Po-Value-rty and Education

Our lives are constantly changing – and so must our values. It’s not something I’ve ever really stopped to ponder about until now. I know I am only eighteen – and that according to society, I should be living up my youth- but reaching the age of majority has added a new dimension of seriousness. As a child, your values are primarily based upon the people dearest to you. Until you break away from your childhood support network, you can never properly live by your own moral principles. That said, after merely a month of self-sufficiency (and seeing Fairy Liquid bubbles in my dreams) l headed back to the land of familiarity: home.

Home may only have four letters to its name, however its significance runs oceans deep. (Sorry, I detest being ‘cringy’ but in this instance, I deem it acceptable.) Whilst returning to family is an excuse for bringing out the good-old box of Celebrations, it’s also the only time in daylight where I become ridiculously nostalgic. Before you ask, I’m a tad ashamed to admit that! Nevertheless, this meaningful reflection led me to consider the impact my parents have had on my education.

Right from birth, my parents did their upmost to support my academic and social development. No joke, my first real memory (apart from fearing dress up characters) was learning how to draw a triangle. I’m genuinely sorry this is maybe not the stereotypical “let’s play with Barbie” memory you were secretly hoping for, however it does hold some points of interest. In nursery, we were assigned homework to practise drawing triangles -but there’s a catch… without rulers. What a challenge, to say the least. (Thinking back, rulers were of great health and safety hazard to three-year old Claire.) Despite the endless words of wisdom from Mum and Dad, the artist within me resigned. Drawing the tip of the triangle was not happening any day soon, certainly not until I gained rights for ruler usage. Anyway, this tiny example clarifies a much greater point: a lack of resources complicates the simplest of tasks. Unconditional support will take you to the start line, but without the right resources you will never finish the race.

As teachers, many of us will feel compelled to buy disadvantaged students the required resources: this urge, I warn you, must never translate into what you classify as ‘a good deed.’ It’s far from a sweet habit; it is simply creating an even larger divide in society. Britain does not need to live up to the great (pitying) heights of Trump’s wall – honestly. On a more serious note, the widespread issue of poverty is something all educational professionals desire to tackle. From 2015-2016, “26 per cent of children in Scotland were living in relative poverty.” Now, that figure embarrasses me on many levels. We must remember in all our poverty-reducing efforts that money is not the rocket power. It never will be: only love can fuel a notable change. You may think that I’m crazy saying that, however certain experiences have highlighted to me just how much our society needs to reconsider its core values. The standard “money solves all problems” attitude needs to be exchanged for a more heartfelt outlook.

Funnily enough, my first-ever university seminar managed to summarise all of that…in merely an hour.During the sixty-minutes in the classroom, our tutor demonstrated to us why our professional occupation can never be thought of as ‘charity work.’ He also made a teenager ever so thankful for her parents’ teachings! Through a simple, peer-learning art task (in which resources were unevenly distributed between the groups) the importance of having a solid set of values hit home. My family have always steered me away from materialism and excessive individualism: love, respect and being true to yourself were what they deemed (and still do) as being crucial to success. (My parents, I agree with you wholeheartedly.) When it came to the end of the task, the groups who lacked in resources actually came out on top. Undoubtedly, they acknowledged their situation of poverty, yet they didn’t let inequality rule them. Doesn’t that just show us something? Teachers need to stop ruling out of their pockets – and reach out from their heart.

As much as one may want to run away from all of these discussions, it is imperative that we pause in our hectic schedules to reflect on our values. I know we, primary teachers, all have an inner-child within us, so let’s think of it in this way: reconsider your own standards of judgement like kids ideally follow The Green Cross Code. Think about your existing values. Stop right before you decide to change anything. Look around and see how other teachers conduct themselves. Listen to the advice of those who have dealt with poverty first-hand. Okay, I’d admit it takes time. Yes, reconsidering our values will never solve the infamous educational debate on equity vs. equality. However, it’s for sure the first steps in beating poverty – without money. I’ll leave you (and close this half parental appreciation post) with the wise words of Jackson, Boostrom and Hansen (1993):

“Values are reflected in what teachers choose to permit or encourage in the classroom and in the way they respond to children’s contributions to learning, and children learn values from such responses.”

Due acknowledgements for this blog post: