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Never mind ‘British’ values, Gareth Southgate is re-defining ‘English’ values.


Softly-spoken, measured, gentlemanly, be-suited in shirt, tie and waistcoat – the current England manager is a role-model of a very different kind.

Or is he?

Actually, he reminds me of many teachers – well prepared, meticulous in planning; considered and considerate; fulsome and generous in their praise for others.  Like all good team managers (and like good head teachers too) he is the first to acclaim and appreciate not only ‘these young players’ but ‘the staff’ after each game.

Watching the World Cup in Russia this summer has coincided with a series of talks I do every summer at universities and teacher training centres around the country on promoting so-called ‘British’ values – something I believe do exist but are quite difficult to define in concrete and exemplary terms.

The government has defined ‘fundamental British values’ as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs– and though I’m not going to expand on those now, I do want to say how watching Gareth Southgate in the last few weeks has made me reflect on how this man has become a strong model of them.

Let’s take ‘democracy’first. Being a football manager (or a manager of any organisation) is not to hold a democratic position – but that’s not to say good managers cannot reflect democratic values. I think Gareth Southgate’s management of the England team shows exactly that. He has been widely lauded for the way he listens to the opinions of his staff and his players before making decisions.

He is also known to be a stickler for playing the game as it should be played – with due adherence not just to the rules, but to the spirit of the game – upholding the values of ‘the rule of law’ through sport – which is the metaphor that ‘sport’ is. Indeed, this is the reason ‘sport’ was invented in the first place – as ‘rule-governed play’.

He has also been praised for the sense of ‘freedom’ he has brought to the team, encouraging them to ‘write their own ‘individual’history’ and throw off the burden of 1966 and all that…  Not only has he allowed this with his players, but he has demonstrated it in his own ‘individual’ management style, fearless in dispensing with the so-called ‘stars’ of the past, whoever they were.

He has included a greater ethnic diversity in the team, more than any previous manager, entirely on the basis of merit. In my view, that is the ultimate demonstration of ‘respect.’ That ‘respect’ has been reciprocated too – there has not been a whiff of dissension or gossiping from the players about Southgate. Compare that to previous squads.

Finally, last week when full-back Fabian Delph’s wife was about to give birth to their third child, he allowed the player to return home to be with her – a remarkable demonstration of  ‘tolerance’ by Southgate in the midst of such an important tournament but also a fine demonstration of Delph’s own priorities and values.

Admittedly, I have stretched analogies a little for the purposes of the topicality of this article. But there is a serious point here. Gareth Southgate is showing himself as a role model to the nation by demonstrating very laudable and respectable values. Whether he intends it or not, he reminds me of a good teacher and he reminds me of the values I feel proud are associated with being ‘English’, let alone ‘British’.

Whether or not England win the World Cup, that is worth celebrating.

 

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Is it unreasonable to be a ‘gun-adept’ teacher?


Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to equip up to one million American ‘gun-adept’ teachers with firearms in the wake of the Florida school shooting brings in to sharp focus the contrast in values between a society like that of the United States and a society like that of the United Kingdom.

Not that I think most American teachers will welcome Trump’s proposal. I don’t. I think American teachers have, broadly, very similar professional values to teachers in the UK. In the broader societal picture too, our countries share many fundamental liberal, democratic values.

But teachers live and imbibe the values of the societies they inhabit and cannot escape their influence.

I saw one of President Trump’s ‘gun-adept’ teachers being interviewed on television the other day. She said she already took her firearm into school not only for the protection of students but for her own protection as well. She welcomed President Trump’s proposals.

Before we all start to throw up our hands in horror, let’s just consider what one of our fundamental roles as teachers is – to be in loco parentis (that’s Latin for in place of he parent in case you haven’t had a Classical education).

When I talk to student-teachers and trainee-teachers up and down the country, I sometimes have to explain that this is a legal responsibility teachers have – to be in place of the parent – not an option.

Teachers actions – particularly where the safety and security of their pupils and students is concerned – are judged by whether they have behaved in a way that was ‘reasonable in the circumstances’ and whether they behaved in a way that ‘a responsible parent would in the circumstances.’

A few weeks ago in one such session, a trainee-teacher asked me: “What should I do if a student came at me with a knife?”

So I said: “What would it be reasonable to do in such a situation?”

He said quite plainly: “I’ve no idea.”

So I pressed him.

“Come one, let’s just imagine it for a moment. Someone is coming at you with a knife. Your life is in danger. What would you do?”

Again, he said: “I don’t know.”

So I pressed him again: “Would you run?”

“Probably!” he said.

“Yes! That would be a reasonable thing to do wouldn’t it? Flight or fight. You’re frightened. You don’t know if you could take this person on, so you choose flight, and many people would do the same. That’s reasonable.”

“But what about the kids?” he asked.

“Good question,” I said. “Tell them to run too! That would be reasonable wouldn’t it?”

“But what if we can’t run? What if the person with the knife is blocking our escape route?

“Another good question!” I said. “So now tell me again what would be a reasonable thing to do in the circumstances?”

“I don’t know,” he said, genuinely perplexed.

“Well, let me tell you what I would do if someone was about to attack me with a knife,” I said.

I could tell everyone in the room was hanging on my every word.

“I would pick up a chair or a table or any long, hard object that came to hand and I’d hit that person as hard as I could, probably over the head, to try and disarm them.  I’d do that both for my own protection and for the protection of the kids in my care. That would be a reasonable thing to do wouldn’t it?”

The student still wasn’t sure.

“Yes, it is.” I had to say it to convince him. “My actions are reasonable in the circumstances – to protect myself – which I have a legal right to do – and to protect the kids – which I have a legal responsibility to do. Not only would the police almost certainly think so, but so would a court of law find it a reasonable thing to do in the circumstances.”

I could see the student was still not entirely persuaded.

“But what is not reasonable – especially if by hitting him with a chair has knocked him unconscious – is that I then go over and continue hitting him over the head while he is lying on the ground. That is obviously an unreasonable use of force and no reasonable person would condone it.”

The fact that someone – probably a police officer and possibly a court of law – is going to ask you to account for yourself in such a situation – does not mean you have done anything wrong.

What is being tested by such professional accountability is whether you have behaved reasonably in the circumstances to protect yourself and to protect those you are legally charged with protecting.

Now going back to Donald Trump and the United States…

In the context of that society – where 30% of Americans own a gun; where there are more than 350 million guns in legal circulation and where “the right to bear arms” is enshrined in the American Constitution – then Trump is merely invoking what is reasonable in the circumstances for teachers to do in a society such as the United States.

But I know in which society I would rather be a teacher, and in which society I’d rather live.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for more than a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Should teachers be able to touch children without their consent?


The answer to that is ‘Yes’.

In many circumstances, it will be your responsibility and your duty of care as a teacher to do exactly that.

But in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the debate about what constitutes ‘consent’, I’ve noticed how many people – and I’m talking trainee teachers here – confuse and conflate ‘inappropriate touching’ with ‘touching’.

(If I need to explain the difference between ‘inappropriate touching’ and ‘touching’ to you, then, with respect, you are not suitable to be a teacher and you might as well stop reading this article now.)

Some people view consent as always needing to be explicit. I don’t. It depends on what is being asked of me.

We all give our implicit consent a hundred times a day. Every time we go to a shop and buy something, every time we drive on the road, every time we sit next to someone on a bus or a train, every time we greet, question or speak to other people – we are assuming consent to trade, travel or engage socially.

Often this involves spontaneous physical contact which is a natural human behaviour that helps build communication, trust and relationships.

Requiring ‘explicit consent’ for every interaction makes life intolerable, unworkable and indeed unsafe.

Recently, a trainee-teacher in Sheffield said in one of my sessions, that teachers should ‘always model explicit consent before touching children’. They should always say things like: “Is it ok for me to touch you?”

Yes, I agreed, that’s fine if you want to use a child as a ‘model’ to demonstrate, for example, a PE technique. You might say something like: “I want to show everyone what a forward-roll looks like. Can I use you as a model to demonstrate? I’m going to need to hold you in a couple of balanced positions. Would that be ok?”

Of course teachers should do that – it’s just common courtesy, isn’t it?

But requiring ‘explicit consent’ as a ‘general rule’ is neither adequate nor appropriate to fulfil your responsibilities of duty of care.

Here’s a few scenarios – very common in teaching – for you to consider what I mean:

  • Two kids are fighting in the playground. Do you ask them: “Is it ok for me to touch you in order to break up this fight?”
  • A child in your class is scratching their forearm with a pair of scissors. Do you ask for their consent to take the scissors away?
  • A child is having an epileptic fit and they are lying in a position that is dangerous. Do you wait for them to regain consciousness in order to ask their ‘explicit consent’ before moving them to safety?

If your answer is “Yes’ to any of those questions, then you are unsuitable to teach. Not because you’re not a ‘nice’ person (you might be perfectly ‘lovely’) but because you are not prepared to take the complex and weighty responsibilities required by your duty of care and by your professional status.

If you think you need to ask kids their permission to break up fights, you will not only be laughed out of the school by all the kids themselves but your colleagues will feel you are abdicating your professional responsibility. Parents (particularly of the child who comes off worst in the fight) will also feel that you have neglected your duty of care to protect their child from harm.

If you’re not prepared to take responsibility to properly exercise a duty of care to protect children from harm – by touching them without their consent – then don’t go into teaching.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for more than a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

 

 

 

 

Flirtatious and sexualised banter in school – it’s a minefield out there


There’s a lot in the news at the moment about sexual harassment – in Hollywood, in Parliament, at the BBC and in workplaces generally. Most of it relates to the sexual harassment of women by men, though much of the discussion acknowledges that of course, it can run both ways.

I think it does in schools too, especially in primary schools.

I have written about ‘flirtatious and sexualised banter’ in schools both in this blog and wider. In my view, whether ‘flirtatious and sexualised banter’ tips in to ‘sexual harassment’ is very much in the ‘eye of the beholder’ – that is, if the person on the receiving end of it thinks it’s harassment, it is.

At the heart of what makes ‘flirtatious and sexualised banter’ harmless to one person but menacing to another is the exercise of power. But where I think many commentators get it wrong is that power is not a fixed concept, but a shifting dynamic. It does not always reside with for example, authority, as such.

The idea that a hapless young woman who has recently taken up appointment as a junior researcher, let’s say in the office of a long-standing male MP, is somehow at the mercy of his authority and power is to miss the point. Yes of course, on the face of it – an MP is an employer with the power to hire and fire, in a nominally influential position with access to a network of colleagues and contacts. All of which the female might not and probably does not have.

But that ‘nominal power’ can be turned on its head, sometimes very easily and dramatically. For example, by being publicly embarrassed, challenged or accused giving power and agency to the person in the apparently vulnerable position.

I think many men in schools are in a vulnerable position – particularly young men in primary schools – where they are almost always in a minority and in many primary schools across the country, in a minority of one.

They will often be the focus of attention from female colleagues and female parents alike – complemented by banter, jokes and gossip.

To be fair, most of men teachers I have met over the years don’t think of this as being ‘vulnerable’. Most men I have spoken to think it’s rather desirable!

Many men who have experienced a lot of attention – which has included ‘flirtatious and even sexualised banter’ from colleagues and parents, have said they rather enjoyed the experience – thinking of it as ‘fun’ or ‘harmless banter’ as long as it remained ‘banter’ – though of course many people have met their long term partners at school.

Over my career, I can attest to that. But there were one or two occasions where it was less agreeable and my professionalism was seriously challenged.

One such instance was when I became a head teacher in east London in the mid-1990s. Within a few weeks of my appointment, a female parent started to take a significant interest in volunteering her time and energy to school activities. She became a school governor; volunteered to maintain the school plants, flowers, gardens; work in the school library; run school clubs and sports teams.

All good stuff one might think – and it was. But it also came with an increasing number of requests to talk to me privately and meet with me in my office, often with a suggestion that any unfinished business could be continued over a coffee or dinner sometime.

I soon became the butt of friendly but nevertheless embarrassing jokes from my sympathetic but relentlessly teasing colleagues in the staff room and with my office staff who would smile knowingly, often giving me a nod and a wink when this particular woman came into school to ask to see me about yet another contrived school matter – and often not taking ‘no’ for an answer either.

On the surface, I was the person with ‘power’ – a man with the authority of being a head teacher. But I was also a new head – finding my feet with new colleagues, parents and children and not wanting to alienate an influential parent who had considerable cache in the school community.

Her ‘flirtatious behaviour’ was obvious to anyone who observed it and though I never ‘responded’ to its intention – or my perception of its intention – my credibility and authority were very much at stake. I was vulnerable.

Flirtatious and sexualised banter in school – it’s a minefield out there – and in my view, especially for men in primary schools.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

The values of our profession are fundamental to your survival


Change is threatening and those who survive it are those who can adapt.

I’ve been in teaching long enough to know that Darwin’s dictum is true. I’ve seen over the years that it wasn’t necessarily the best, most talented teachers who survived to make a successful career – I saw some brilliant inspirational teachers leave after only a couple of years.

The rapid pace of change simply defeated them.

Those who went on to thrive and succeed were those who could adapt to the new and often exacting demands of the environment – whether that was a change in government education policy, a change of head teacher, the unexpected outcome of an Ofsted inspection or the stresses and strains of teaching a new and challenging group of kids.

But for those teachers who did survive to make a difference, where and how did they get the faith and the belief to do it?

In my view, the teaching profession provides three fundamental sources that underpin the faith to manage change: our identity, our hope and our destination.

Our identity as a profession is to know who we are and why we are different from other jobs and professions. Get to know what it is that makes teachers different and special.

Our hope is that we have a moral purpose in what we do. We’re trying to make a difference and to do a moral good. Well, aren’t we?

And our destination is that place where the lives of those we teach are better and more fulfilled through education. That place is not reached by exam passes but as an end in itself. We’re trying to take others to a different, better place – even if we can only take them as far as glimpsing it.

Where we come from, where we’re going to and why. These are the fundamentals of a profession with a moral purpose – like teaching.

When we really know these things as a profession we will have more confidence to adapt to change and survive it.

How do I know that?

Because I’ve lived through ephemeral government policies, ambitious and bullying head teachers, arbitrary and superficial Ofsted inspections and transient classes of difficult kids.

But the fundamental values of a profession don’t change. They will sustain you through good times and bad.

For those of you thinking of leaving teaching this summer, I hope you’ll think again.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

 

 

The Finsbury Park imam and the rule of law


“I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling scared. I’m tired of trying to explain to my eight year old child what is going on.”

They were the tearful words of a Muslim mother who lives near Finsbury Park mosque speaking to a BBC reporter after the attack near there on Sunday night.

Her eight year old child is back in school this week. Now I’m wondering what (tired) teachers will be trying to explain when children ask questions and express their fears.

Of course one of the ways that teachers can legitimately respond to such events is to distract children from the fear they may be feeling – my advice would be to suspend the ordinary lessons for a day or two and take them on a nature walk in the park or to an overgrown meadow or cemetery; organize some collaborative games, team-building adventures or play some competitive sport; let them paint, draw or make-up some role-play games.

Or just teach them what you normally would do, but do it so brilliantly that they are immersed and distracted by the sheer stimulation of your content.

However, such traumatic events do provide unique opportunities to teach fundamental values. You can call them ‘fundamental British values’ if you like – though let’s not argue about that – but ‘fundamental’ they certainly are, particularly in a civilized society.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by going back to the Finsbury Park attack.

When it took place, the attacker, alleged to be a man named Darren Osborne, was pulled from the van he was driving and apprehended by the angry and traumatized worshippers. Some started beating him – perhaps understandably in the circumstances.

The imam of the nearby mosque, Mohammed Mahmoud, in an amazing demonstration of leadership, stepped in and restrained the men who were attacking Osborne – ‘like a mob’ he said. He both restrained his fellow Muslim worshippers and protected the attacker from further harm until the police arrived and took over.

This amazing scene teaches us all a fundamental value – that adhering to the rule of law not only protects us but is there to deliver justice.

If, in their rage, the ‘mob’ had torn Osborne to pieces, it would have transformed the victims of the attack in to perpetrators of another one. As understandable as that might be on the level of human frailty; two wrongs don’t make a right.

If the ‘mob’ had torn Osborne to pieces, we would not have been able to establish through the due process of law, whether he had intended to do what he did as an act of terrorism or whether the victims and bystanders had misinterpreted the actions of a man who might for example, have had a heart attack at the wheel of his vehicle and lost control of it (in the way the driver of a bin lorry did in Glasgow a couple of years ago, killing six and injuring dozens).

If the ‘mob’ had torn Osborne to pieces, the victims and their families may have felt the temporary emotion of vengeance but they would not have had the benefit of finding out exactly what happened – the motivation of the perpetrator, how the attack was planned and carried out. Moreover, they would not have received the justice of a sentence reached by the due process of a court of law.

Mohammed Mahmoud has given us all a great lesson in virtue – showing calm, mature and humane leadership – but he has also demonstrated a wonderful commitment to the fundamental value that we all need to treasure – that of adhering to the rule of law, even in the most trying of circumstances.

He has done so in such a unique way that we, as teachers, cannot afford to miss the opportunity to teach our children the value of it.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Let’s talk politics!


Let me explain where I am on Jeremy Corbyn.

Though I am a lifelong Labour voter, I was not and am not, a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. I thought he was incompetent and inept and that he did not have the qualities required to be the leader of a party let alone a government or a country.

But when he was elected Labour leader two years ago, I set him two tests. They were:

  1. Can he motivate young people to get involved in politics and actually turn out and vote?
  2. Can he bring forth left-wing social democratic ideas and policies that have not been heard for the last thirty years and persuade people to support them?

The answer to those two tests has been a spectacular ‘Yes’ and I have to take my hat off to him and give him credit.

Now what should teachers do?

I am not suggesting that they go into school next week and start talking about what an amazing result this is for Jeremy Corbyn – though obviously that might come up as a talking point.

What I am suggesting is that teachers recognize that in the right circumstances, young people are indeed interested in political issues and need opportunities to talk about them – to explore and challenge personal values, wider political and even so-called ‘universal’ values.

Teachers can be crucially instrumental in this – and they don’t have to be politics, sociology or citizenship teachers either. Without distracting too much from the pressures of covering a syllabus, teachers of subjects like history, IT, English, and all the sciences are teaching subjects with huge philosophical, moral and ethical dilemmas inherent within them.

Talk about them.

For example, start a debating society (if your school doesn’t already have one.) Let the pupils and students decide what the motions should be and let them manage it.

When I was at school – a largely working-class comprehensive school on the outskirts of Liverpool in 1970s – we had a debating society and no subject was considered off limits.

We debated abortion, euthanasia, immigration, gay liberation, apartheid, women’s equality. Scores of students attended most debates (and once, there was nearly a hundred) – so energized were we to argue for or against a particular motion; to challenge or defend accepted norms and values.

Over the last year I have felt very depressed about the political landscape in the UK and abroad. What with the disingenuous claims if not downright lies told us by both sides in the EU referendum, the so-called ‘fake news’ that seems to pervade social media and not least the terribly distressing political assassination of the MP Jo Cox – it has been easy to despair.

Now I feel proud again.

Not just of Jeremy Corbyn because he has defied my low expectation of him – but proud of the voters of all political hues across Britain and of the British political system for defying the low expectations some politicians and some newspapers had of our values and our intelligence.

Let teachers capitalize on this moment with their pupils and students and engage them in issues that affect their future.

Let’s talk politics!

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.