Creating an Optimal Emotional Environment for Learning: The Circle Solutions Principles and Pedagogy March 22, 2016Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: children with special needs, classroom management, democracy and education, learning communities
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by Sue Roffey
There are some students who will achieve whatever the climate of the classroom. These fortunate individuals are likely to have supportive families who establish clear boundaries with high, appropriate expectations whilst offering unconditional love (Newland, 2014). These students will not be in the throes of family breakdown nor experiencing other major life changes. They will not be struggling with poverty, violence, bullying, racism, homophobia, mental or physical health difficulties nor experiencing any of the other adversities that life often presents. These students will have predominantly positive emotions about themselves and their worlds that enable them to be curious, engaged and confident.
All teachers, however, will be able to identify students who are dealing one or more of the issues listed above. Some have the personal and environmental factors that help them to cope (Werner, 2004) while others have fewer resources at their disposal. There will also be young people flying under the radar – who live within a less than favourable environment for their wellbeing but no-one at school knows what is happening for them and are unaware of the multiple factors that may be impinging on their engagement, learning, behaviour and social interactions.
Everyone has a need for social and emotional wellbeing and we do not necessarily know which students are struggling. In a supportive learning environment everyone takes responsibility for the emotional climate. This means that wellbeing programs need to be universal. Interventions aimed at a targeted population may not result in sustainable change. For example, where students lacking social skills are removed from the class for special training this may lead to a higher level of skill in those individuals but others still have the same perceptions: consequently when these students are re-integrated, previous behaviours are expected and reinforced (Frederickson, 1991).
Social and Emotional Learning
In 1996 the Delors Report for UNESCO outlined four pillars for learning in the 21st century. These are learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together. The first two are usually the focus of the formal curriculum but the second two are beginning to have more traction in education. Without pro-active intervention, the default position may be negative and the classroom becomes a toxic environment where bullying and other negative behaviours thrive. There is also increasing evidence that SEL impacts positively not only on social behaviours but also on engagement and academic outcomes (Durlak et al, 2011). Schools need to think through what is on offer for learning about the self and relationships, and ensure this takes place in a safe and supportive setting. As there has been some justifiable critique of SEL as ‘therapeutic education’ (Ecclestone & Hayes, 2008), the processes that underpin this learning need as much attention as the content.
The Circle Solutions philosophy (Roffey, 2014) addresses this within a set of principles that provide a foundation for both a supportive classroom and an optimal pedagogy for SEL. Given the acronym ASPIRE, these principles are agency, safety, positivity, inclusion, respect and equality. This is a brief explanation of what this means in practice.
Agency. Learning in school is often didactic – teachers delivering information to students who are told what to do and how to do it. Giving students agency is more in line with socratic learning – questions and discussion that lead to critical thinking and the development of ideas.
When students have agency they make decisions on behalf of themselves. This is about choice, but also about taking responsibility. Where students decide on class values and ground rules, bullying is less likely to happen because everyone has thought about how we all want to feel here. A focus on group work and collaboration means the whole class takes responsibility for the emotional climate for learning. It is not up to one or two people but everyone. When teachers give students agency this helps them identify different options, reflect on these and then decide for themselves. This enables them to choose how to act and then take responsibility for the choices they make, including accepting consequences. It is learning from the inside out about how to be and how to live together well – not control from the outside in (Roffey, 2011).
Safety is embedded in the Circle pedagogy in several ways. Issues are addressed but never incidents, so students learn ways to handle experiences objectively rather than subjectively. Issues are addressed in an impersonal, indirect way – perhaps using the third person rather than the first. Although participants often choose to give a glimpse of their own narratives, the Circle is structured to inhibit personal disclosure. This addresses some of the criticisms that have been levelled at SEL. Many students are anxious about making a mistake or being put on the spot. When you are with a partner or small group it is much easier to experiment, take risks and present shared ideas. This promotes confidence. It is also easier to make a stand or stick up for someone if this is a group effort. Cooperative learning is valuable across the curriculum but especially so in SEL (Johnson & Johnson, nd). Some students may have learnt that others are unreliable. They may need to build up trust slowly over time both with fellow students and with teachers. Discussing what trust means, looks like and feels like is a way of exploring how to establish an environment where people can feel safe in trusting each other.
The right to silence. Some students do not have the initial confidence to speak up in a public forum and a class or Circle is not a safe place if they feel under pressure to do so. In Circles they are given the choice to ‘pass’ Evidence suggests that students will speak when they feel safe, have confidence and believe they have something worthwhile to say.
Respect. Respect can be defined as being accepted, listened to, and not being judged. It also means simply being acknowledged. One of the Circle guidelines is ‘when you are speaking everyone will listen because what you have to say is important. This means listening to others when it is their turn’. Listening to what others have to say can only happen when there are opportunities to speak. Young people who have been silenced or have little control in their lives might shout to be heard. Often we shut these voices down as disruptive. The students who get listened to are the ‘good kids’ who get onto student representative councils. One way of addressing this is to disband established groups by mixing people up so they get to talk – and listen to – those outside their usual social circles. In Circles ‘pair shares’ are intended to seek commonalities and ‘paired interviews’ to discover another’s perspectives.
Students of all ages relish opportunities to reflect on and discuss things that concern them: not personal incidents but issues that touch on their lives such as friendship and feelings. There are many resources to support such conversations in safe and fun ways in Circles using photographs, stories, statements, games and role-plays.
Positivity. The burgeoning knowledge in neuropsychology promotes the value of an optimistic perspective, relational values such as kindness and gratitude (Lyubomirsky, 2007; Piliavin, 2003) and the connection between feelings and learning. It makes sense on many levels to promote the positive. Many young people do not think of themselves well: even those from supportive backgrounds may feel they do not meet expectations. Others may perceive classmates negatively and not be able to acknowledge the strengths they do have. Students need to tune into their own and others’ strengths and be able to use these in their relationships and in their learning.
A solution focus. We live in a problem-saturated culture. Although there are challenges to be overcome, it might be better to start with a solution rather than the problem. When people focus on ways to get rid of something they don’t like (such as bullying) rather than what needs to happen instead (inclusion, friendship, support) they spend too much energy on the problem itself. A solution focus envisages where you want to go and what you want to happen.
Positive Emotions. Positive emotions not only enable students to focus but they also facilitate creativity and problem solving. (Fredrickson, 2009) Positive emotions include a sense of belonging, feeling valued, safe, comfortable, cared for, respected and loved. Positive emotions are also experienced in moments of exuberance, excitement and shared humour. Laughter releases oxytocin into our bodies – this promotes connectedness and resilience. Promoting shared humour in Circle sessions is one of the main reasons students love them. They also respond positively to the playfulness that is embedded in many of the activities (Hromek & Roffey, 2009).
The Circle pedagogy uses energetic games to mix everyone up. This happens several times in a session. The expectation is that everyone will work with everyone else. This breaks up cliques, helps people get to know each other and facilitates new perspectives, This happens most actively when pairs are looking for things they have in common. Everything in Circles happens in interaction with others, in pairs, small groups or in whole group activities.
Belonging and resilience: Feeling you belong is one of the most important factors in resilience and wellbeing (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). We know what it feels like to come into a place where we are warmly welcomed and some of us know what it feels like when the opposite happens.
Connectedness in school matters (Blum, 2005): It is the most vulnerable children in our communities who are most to find themselves on the margins. Such students may not be compliant, courteous or conform. They may be aggressive, distracted and insolent. It can be difficult to like young people who behave in ways that are unacceptable in school. High expectations for behaviour are appropriate but rejecting poor behaviour is different from rejecting the student. Adults need to convey the message to all students, but especially those who struggle: ‘you are important, we want you here, it is not the same without you’.
Equality / Democracy: In a supportive classroom the teacher uses their authority to empower students rather than control them (McCashen, 2005). Equality is embedded in the Circle pedagogy, where participants and the facilitator sit in a Circle together to promote equality – and everyone participates in all the activities, adults and students alike. The quality of facilitation makes all the difference to both long and short-term outcomes for SEL (McCarthy & Roffey, 2013). In a school where everyone has an authentic voice this promotes equality as well as responsibility towards what is in everyone’s best interests, not just an elite few. Alongside the important value of freedom is the equally important value of responsibility. One person’s freedom to play loud music at 4am impacts on the freedom of others to sleep. Working out what is fair can be complex but we need our young people to learn how to negotiate and resolve conflict. Unless students experience democracy in school they are unlikely to realise what it means in practice at the socio-political level when they are old enough to vote.
We are social beings; our identity and worldviews are constructed in our interactions with others (Habermas, 1990). The emotions we feel, manage and respond to are situated within a social context. Relationships and feelings matter and are the lynchpin of a supportive environment for learning. When a school, is run on the basis of the principles above this builds an emotional and relational climate where both teacher and student wellbeing are likely to be enhanced (Roffey, 2012). When wellbeing becomes core school business there will be greater student engagement with learning and therefore increased academic outcomes, more pro-social behaviour and higher levels of resilience.
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Newland, L.A. (2014). Supportive family contexts: promoting child wellbeing and resilience Early Child Development and Care, 184:9-10, 1336-1346.
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Roffey, S. (2005). Respect in Practice: The challenge of emotional literacy in Education. Conference paper for the Australian Association for Research in Education. http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2005/rof05356.pdf
Roffey, S. (2008). Emotional literacy and the ecology of school wellbeing. Educational and Child Psychology 25 (2).
Roffey, S. (2010). Content and context for learning relationships: A cohesive framework for individual and whole school development. Educational and Child Psychology 27 (1) 156-167.
Roffey. S. (2011). Changing Behaviour in Schools: Promoting Positive Relationships and Wellbeing. London: Sage Publications.
Roffey, S. (2012). Teacher wellbeing, pupil wellbeing: Two sides of the same coin. Educational and Child Psychology 29 (4) 8-17.
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Associate Professor Sue Roffey is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is a psychologist, academic, author and creator of the Circle Solutions framework for social and emotional learning. firstname.lastname@example.org
Young people, “radicalization” and schooling October 26, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Engaging Learning Environments, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: curriculum, democracy and education, education and transformation, indigenous education, national curriculum, teacher researchers
from Carol Reid
The recent events in Parramatta and subsequent ‘threats’ on social media located at two south-western Sydney high schools has brought to the fore the role of schooling in developing and countering threats to social cohesion. This is not the first time that the relationship between schools and terrorism and crime have been raised and it is not just in this part of Sydney, which is home to the most diverse number of first and second generation immigrants in Sydney. For those of us who have worked in and with schools around these matters for a number of decades there is little surprise. Before discussing what might be done it is critical that we comprehend what hasn’t been done, or rather what has been erased.
In the culture wars over school curricula Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire argued that critical approaches in high schools were ideologically driven and took the place of what really ‘ought’ to be in the curriculum. Donnelly was the ‘non-ideological’ choice of government for interrupting what was seen as left-wing tendencies among teachers and reforming ‘tainted’ curricula. This article does not want to waste space recounting the debates as arguments can be found elsewhere, but it is important to outline what this has meant for schools and young people.
The attack on critical thinking skills (including critiques of government policy and our history) by conservative educationalists leads to schools becoming places where ‘touchy subjects’ can’t be raised. They are taboo in schools. This means that they find space in subterranean places. This happens in schools in part because that is where young people gather. Schools are therefore important sites for airing and challenging views, no matter how extreme. It is not surprising that fellow students of the Arthur Phillip High School student involved in the Parramatta shooting had not heard him mention anything untoward, nor is it surprising that he also silenced discussions of religion or appeared disinterested. This concealed two things – his own complicity with unspeakable texts, but more importantly the related silencing of different views of the world by conservative forces surrounding schooling.
If we are not blind we can take this opportunity to reconsider what schooling is and how marginalising some forms of critique only serves to deepen disaffection but more critically drives some young people to commit acts of terror. The new Turnbull government is beginning to soften the tone but often points to factors such as mental health issues, isolated young people or poor family relations as factors that leads to anti-social behaviour at school or by young people of school age. But this begs the question given all the mental health opportunities provided for young people. Assistance for this kind of anomie is off the radar. It cannot be spoken.
In the rest of this short article I would like to outline what might be done and in doing so stand in solidarity with commentators such as Yassar Morsi who said:
It maybe counterintuitive but the answer lays in less authority – a space for young Muslims to politically dissent in their own language, rather than more policing of their dissent. Less parenting, more growth and a space to criticise the west and Australia, without an Islamophobic or generational backlash and without the hysterical fear and suffocation that surrounds everything they do and say.
Indeed, the first response to the Parramatta shooting by the NSW State Government is to monitor more closely ‘prayer’ groups in schools and while not clearly stated, this appears to be only Muslim prayer groups. Dr Anne Aly – who works with Muslim youth and adults who are already radicalized – similarly argues for dialogue. But what can schools do? In the remainder of this article I provide an approach that builds on young people’s capacities to know, and to trust them to articulate this knowing and emerge with new understandings that enrich them, their peers and their teachers.
In late 2006 I was invited by Larissa Treskin, then the NSW Department of Education Liverpool Education Director of Schools, to consider a project working with public high schools in Liverpool on racism post-Cronulla riots. Apparently there were still simmering issues bundled up with everyday competitiveness by school boys about girls and turf; the usual spatial dynamics that have been around for a long time. Six high schools were approached and I invited two of my colleagues (Drs Les Vozzo and Debra Costley) to work with me on the project, which was funded by a competitive ‘Living in Harmony’ grant for 2007, managed by the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship (now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) with a contribution by my university, now Western Sydney University (WSU).
The project began with selecting the age groups to be involved. Year 9 and 10 students (14 to 16 year olds) formed two groups. The first (47 in total) spent a full day at WSU where we discussed the media representation of young people involved in two riots – Macquarie Fields and Cronulla. We were careful to approach the issue as one where the construction of young people was at the heart of the matter and thus to evoke a sense of ‘needing to understand’ different perspectives from and about their own peers. The objective was to explore and document through youth voices the causes of youth tensions in a context of rapid social change. We provided them with workshops on how to interview, carry out focus groups and ethical research practice. We argued that the main concern was to understand racism – whether it was indeed an issue, thoughts about the Cronulla riot and whether another might occur.
At the end of the day’s workshop we all co-constructed five questions (eight teachers included) that would be covered in their research. The students then left and with their teachers developed plans to interview a group of students and teachers at another school after a pilot focus group at their own school and an interview practice with a teacher or two volunteers. They also interviewed community members such as parents and local business owners. Staff workshops were also held.
A second group of students worked with a theatre group led by Kaz Therese on a creative representation of the issues, and also findings from the first group’s investigations. The youth theatre group decided to use a narrative approach so that the students involved could use theatrical forms to narrate stories of migration, indigeneity and everyday teenage concerns, along with a song they developed around the rejection of racism. The production was called ‘Pieces of Harmony’ because the students felt that while harmony was a fair enough aim it was a little naïve, but that in the act of aiming for harmony a rapprochement could be attained in pieces of harmony. The performance was held at the Liverpool Catholic Club and was attended by community, parents and dignitaries with a DVD produced.
What happened to those doing the research? The students were slightly apprehensive; pleased they had got the questions agreed on before leaving the workshop, but feeling intimidated about talking to parents due to cultural mores about respect and obedience among many second generation students. So, we had a mock focus group to prepare them. Students interviewed 301 other students in total across the six schools. Initially they were concerned about going to other schools but the evaluation of the project revealed that collaboration with other schools was the aspect they enjoyed most.
Furthermore, when they were asked about what they had learned, the greatest number of comments related to how doing the research had shifted their thinking about issues of cultural difference, race and harmony. A number had held negative constructions of students from other schools based purely on ethnicity or reputation rather than knowledge of their perspectives. Other interesting results here include the relatively poor perception of parental support for young people. Students were also surprised by some of the attitudes of teachers. The young people involved in the research requested another full day workshop to discuss their findings and asked why there were no more opportunities for this kind of learning. The young people who were involved in the research found some startling facts about others, themselves and their teachers.
Some key community attitudes about young people and the project that emerged from the focus groups led by students were:
- They felt there was a lot of diversity in their communities;
- Dominance of a certain culture made others feel inferior to that group;
- Kept referring back to just ‘youth’ rather than racism – i.e. not their problem in other words;
- Families had different values and morals;
- Indigenous parents particularly enjoyed the performances where students told their stories.
From the students’ perspective:
- The project produced an overall shift in attitude towards students from other schools and cultures developed through an exploration of local and global issues;
- They concluded that older students had more fixed views influenced by the media;
- Younger students were less decided. Still testing out the possible ideas available;
- Concluded that Year 7 and 8 is a good place to start as they haven’t formed opinions or stereotyped people.
The students found that teachers:
- Held the basic idea that more diversity produces racism and that this is an area that needs some substantial work done with teachers;
- Lifestyles did not include much mixing with diversity;
- Were worried about Bebo – site of racist narratives.
To conclude, the outcomes of the project were that people were now more conscious that racism takes many forms and that it is not just young people but community, parents and teachers who are implicated in multiple ways. While this project was related to racism, it is the model of youth engagement in understanding the issues from their perspective and in their words that is central. Working in multimodal forms also makes different forms of expressing these understandings and perspectives available. The project also developed critical thinking capacities and provided knowledge about ethical research practices.
More could be done to make schools safe places for student discussion of current issues. While it may seem counter-intuitive from a conservative perspective – that ‘touchy subjects’ ought to be repressed because they are dangerous – not dealing with valid concerns that young people have, whether radicalization or other matters, means that it is hard to make schools relevant in the totality of their lives. Educationalists must be explaining and debating. It is fertile space for further research and community engagement.
Deschooling Senior Secondary: Young Adults learning-earning and the New Spirit of Capitalism March 24, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Educational Leadership, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: democracy and education, education and training, education and transformation, educational leadership, teacher education
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Classroom-centric schooling need not interfere with learning-earning in senior secondary
Deschooling L’earning (Sing & Harreveld, 2014) has been written for twenty-first century senior secondary teachers interested in the lives of young adult’s life/work trajectories. Unlike orthodox school-centric teacher educators there are those teachers whose ‘calling’ or vocation is to broker young adults’ learning and earning – or l’earning – through networked l’earning webs. Research during the course of the last decade has documented changes that extend and deepen the integration of young adults’ education, training, work, in the face of separatism agenda for education and production. There are now senior secondary teachers who invest considerable time in brokering new forms of partnership-driven l’earning for young adults to make real world contributions to adult life as part of accredited curricula. The findings from this research means for teachers’ professional learning, posing challenges for teacher education to further the education of teachers employed as network leaders.
Young adults’ disenchantment with disengaging classroom-centric schooling
Young adults’ disenchantment with disengaging classroom-centric schooling is evident in their disaffection and alienation from education. The research literature questions disengaging senior secondary schooling for its the separation of education from production, especially as many disenchanted young adults find its failure to contribute to a life worth living. Young adults’ critiques of classroom-centric schooling have seen the generation flexible l’earning services and work-integrated l’earning along with the reconfiguration of national qualifications frameworks. However, young adults’ confront continuing sources of insecurity, due in part to government policy adversity impacting the deschooling of their l’earning. Further, the international competition for high skilled, well-paid jobs adds to politically regressive policies of selection/exclusion that are adversely affecting young adults’ life/work/ security.
Brokering capital friendly l’earning webs
The changing spirit of capital accumulation has given rise to the brokering capital friendly l’earning webs for young adults. These capital friendly l’earning webs, which involve the brokering of their l’earning through outsourcing and subcontracting, are meant to contribute to the capability development of young adults. Teachers are now working as l’earning brokers. These l’earning brokers are integral to the flexible l’earning required for forming and maintaining capital friendly l’earning webs. Despite counter-moves that would seperate schooling from production, Illich’s (1973) critique which is directed at deschooling society now seems compatible, even if it is in a wayward fashion, with the new spirit of capitalism via the brokering of capital friendly l’earning webs.
Networking policy for deschooling l’earning
Government policy changes in young adults’ l’earning, and thus the work of teachers, are displacing classroom-centric schooling with the ethos of deschooling l’earning. This points to the importance of teacher education providing innovative opportunities and choices for the capability development of teachers. Structured by government legislation, participation in l’earning is now compulsory for young adults. This has given rise to the possibilities for interactional policies that maximise young adults’ participation and enhance their continuous transitions through cycles education, employment/unemployment and training. However, the international convergence in government testing regimes is doing little to counter the changes in international competition for high skilled and relatively well-paid labour. Given that international standardisation in government policy agendas around OECD tests works against the divergence that is necessary for innovation, changes in the mode and content of tests are now warranted.
Networking l’earning webs is not so radical
Teachers are attending to the organisational learning and changes required to move beyond classroom-centric schooling in order to deal with young adults’ project-driven networked l’earning. Deschooled leaders are creating divergent forms of networked l’earning webs for young adults. They interrogate government policies, legislation and national qualifications frameworks as part of their work to grasp the opportunities and choices they have for deschooling of young adults’ l’earning. These deschooled networked leaders have established their reputations for adaptability, flexibility, mobility, availability and, perhaps ironically loyalty to capitalist enterprises in which they have minimal control. To serve the common good, their networked l’earning webs are expected to advance young adults’ capabilities to enhance their security through a precarious life/work trajectory that is characterised by project-driven employment/unemployment.
Deschooling network leadership
The deschooling of schooled leadership can be examined in relation to three character types, namely bureaucratic system-thinking leadership, tradition-bound leadership and charismatic leadership. Increasingly, principals and teachers work through and across a multidimensional mosaic of these that can be described as deschooled network leadership.
Deschooling, democracy and government accountability
Subjecting the powers governing young adults’ l’earning to electoral accountability through monitory democracy is an important focus of deschooled network leadership. Democracy – demos the people, kratos power – means that ‘the people’ subject power – across all forms of institutionalised power at all levels of organisational management – to accountability. Increasingly, monitory democracy provides an important vehicle for holding those in power to account to the people. The instrumental values expressed in government policies provide one focus for having governments account for the sources of young adults’ life/work insecurities. Governments may make good policies, but deschooled network leaders can contribute to making better interactional education-employment/unemployment-training policies.
Tests of government accountability for deschooling l’earning
New tests of intersectionality of governments’ policy actions for deschooling young adults’ l’earning are required. Such tests of government policies might focus on their value for building young adults’ commitment to capital accumulation, for assuring their security through capital accumulation, and for determining whether new forms of capital accumulation serve the common good. These are tests which provide one vehicle for holding governments accountable for deschooling the l’earning opportunities and choices of young adults. The disability care and insurance industry, which relies on unpaid as much as paid labour, provides an important focus on monitory democracy so as to hold elected government representatives accountable for policies – or the lack therefore – in this field. A transformative intersectional policy agenda for young adults’ l’earning could link the government sponsored disability insurance industry with innovation in the assistive technology industry providing new directions for their education, employment and training, including in advanced research and development.
Implications for deschooling l’earning
Classroom-centric schooling research and policies offer a limited understanding of the complex l’earning partnerships and networking that is now a defining feature of young adults’ precarious life/work trajectories. A multi-stranded coalition of partnerships among intersecting fields of education-employment-training interests can test government policies and practices for their capacity to build young adults’ commitment to new modes of capital accumulation, to realise the security they claim to assure, and their capacity to serve the common good. Deschooling through networking l’earning provides possibilities for robust responses to, and expressions of renewed struggles regarding, young adults’ capital accumulation in the twenty-first century.
Note well – All references can be found in: Singh, M. & Harreveld, B. (2014). Deschooling L’earning: Young Adults and the New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Michael Singh is Professor of Education in the School of Education and Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where he leads the Research Oriented School Engaged Teacher-Researcher Education Program.
Lost opportunities, forgotten children: Education for refugee children in detention February 21, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: children with special needs, democracy and education, Education and community, education and transformation
From: Susanne Gannon
This morning I read about my university’s most recent ‘remarkable graduate’, Rwandan-born Noel Zihabamwe, and I heard on Radio National from Afghanistan-born PhD graduate Dr Ahmad Sarmast about his work bringing music back to Kabul. Yesterday I picked up a copy of Supporting School-University Pathways for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education hot off the press by my colleague Associate Professor Loshini Naidoo and her team, and last Monday I watched more buck-passing about children in immigration detention on ABC’s Q&A by politicians from the major parties. This month the child I know who was born in detention in Nauru started high school. Fortunately, that family moved to Australia as refugees before their child was old enough for school. But these events made me wonder about how we might think about equity issues in the education of children in detention.
Although we might quibble about how we define ‘equity’ in education – with opinions clustering around access, outcomes, ‘choice’, aspiration, quality, funding, and so on – what is clear is that education changes lives. It is, at heart, and at best, a social justice project and fundamental to democracy. Arguably, it is for the most disadvantaged communities that education can have the greatest impact. Without doubt, the most disadvantaged are children from refugee backgrounds, particularly those who have been, or who are, in immigration detention.
This afternoon I returned to the two reports, ten years apart, on children in immigration detention to consider what they have to say specifically about education. What is surprising is not their differences, nor do they deploy the volatile rhetoric that circulates around them in the public sphere. Rather I am struck by the sobriety and consistency of their messages. The core purpose of education to help people to achieve their potential has been – and continues to be – deeply compromised by Australian immigration detention policies and practice.
A last resort: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (April 2004), presented to then Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock by then HREOC Commissioner Sev Ovdowski, dedicates Chapter 12 to Education for Children in Immigration Detention. The new report The forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (November 2014)  presented to Attorney-General George Brandis by AHRC President Gillian Triggs and released last week shifts its focus somewhat by disaggregating the category of children in detention, and by taking a more developmental approach. Chapters 8 and 9 focus specifically on school-aged primary and secondary school-aged children, respectively. Rather than being separated into a distinct chapter of its own as it was in 2004, education is addressed in a subsection of each chapter alongside emotional health and well-being, physical environment and so on. Chapter 12, on Children in detention on Nauru, also addresses education directly.
Equality of access is the crucial issue in the 2004 inquiry, and the Report concludes that it is best achieved by accessing education outside detention. Their investigation shows that this was the only way that an adequate quality of education could be provided in light of the ‘significant barriers to education inside the centres’ (579). External education ‘significantly improves the education received by detainee children’ though regrettably, had only become available to detained children late in the period of the inquiry with 80% of children in external schools by mid-2003 (579). Prior to that, internal provision of education was impacted by inadequate facilities and equipment, insufficient teachers, inappropriately qualified (ESL) teachers, inappropriate or no curriculum, teacher turnover, inadequate hours of tuition, lack of assessment and reporting, attendance, mobility, children’s depression, distress and trauma (587-623).
The 2004 report notes that the Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges the Australian government to provide primary and secondary education to all children, regardless of whether or not they are in immigration detention. The principle of nondiscrimination also means that it must be of equivalent quality to that available to other children (581). The ‘best interests of the child’ are the first consideration in education (582). The report noted ‘inherent inconsistency between the current mandatory detention system, and the protection of children’s fundamental rights’ (630). Children who attended external education benefitted from ‘the opportunity to experience a full curriculum, …to socialize and make new friends, and …to regularly leave the detention environment’ (632), and were described by one Principal as ‘model students’ (632), and by another Principal as demonstrating ‘high levels of participation in extracurricular activities’ (632). The detailed description of specialized support for refugee children at one exemplary school (Holroyd High School, Sydney) demonstrates not only what is needed, but what is possible (568).
Fast forward ten years. The 2014 Inquiry reiterates the legal frameworks for Australia’s obligation to care for children and to consider the best interests of the child ahead of all other considerations. Our current policies remain in breach – as they also were in 2004 – of our obligations under the Conventions of the Rights of the Child (74-77). The chapter subsections on education are much briefer than the long chapter on education in the 2004 Report. They do not address issues of curriculum or teacher quality that were relevant when the Detention Centre Management (ACM in 2004, SERCO in 2014) endeavored to provide education inside centres. It is clear that external provision by fully qualified teachers with proper curriculum in appropriate learning spaces is now recognized as essential. However access to schools remains problematic, so for those children who are not attending schools there is not even an inadequate alternative available inside detention.
For primary and secondary school children, there is uneven provision of schooling with mainland children accessing external schools if they have been enrolled and very poor access for children on Christmas Island and Nauru. Children on Christmas Island, which is an Australian territory with schools staffed and regulated by Australian educational authorities, had ‘almost no school education… not more than two to four weeks over an eight month period’ in 2013, however a new agreement with WA Catholic Education Office improved provision from mid-2014 (130-131). Teenage children on Christmas were similarly impacted by very limited access to education. Though most teenagers on the mainland were enrolled in public schools, stress, trauma and security measures were impacting on their capacity to learn. Some teenagers in the Melbourne Detention Centre were prevented or discouraged from attending school because of the possibility or threat that they would be transferred to Christmas Island (147). The chapters on primary aged children and teenagers both conclude that the inadequate provision of school education on Christmas Island ‘has had negative effects on their learning and may have long term impacts on the cognitive development and academic progress of these children’ (134, 148). Nauru seems to be the only detention centre where provision of primary and secondary school education is made largely on site, within the detention centre, and the concerns are consistent with those expressed ten years ago. The environment inside detention on Nauru ‘is not conducive to learning’ (184), with inadequate equipment and facilities, and multiage classes with teacher quality inside the detention centre not explicitly addressed. A pilot project had allowed a small number of older students to attend external schools in Nauru, but teacher shortages and resourcing problems within those schools made it unlikely to continue.
Finally, although education is addressed much more briefly in the 2014 report, it is clear that adequate provision is far from being achieved. Education is not a high priority for the management of detention centres, who are charged with detaining people rather than expanding their capacities to achieve their individual potential or to contribute to society. Governments too are blind to the potential of these young people, and to our obligations – morally, ethically, legally – to provide education that might assist with this.
Associate Professor Susanne Gannon is Equity Program leader in the Centre for Educational Research, School of Education, at the University of Western Sydney.
There’s more to education than spelling and numbers November 4, 2014Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: curriculum, democracy and education, holistic education, national curriculum, values education
from Associate Professor Sue Roffey
Headlines in newspapers on a recent Monday morning said much of the curriculum review that has been welcomed across Australia. The removal of the four “general capabilities” from the curriculum is a travesty many are yet to recognise.
The four “general capabilities” are personal and social capability, critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Are thinking and creativity now considered irrelevant for education?
Research suggests these are critical skills for innovation, problem-solving, empathy, evaluation, knowledge application and mental health. These skills are also necessary for the promotion of a democratic society. Young people need to be able to think for themselves and make up their own minds about their values, who they become and what they do.
The reduced focus on personal and social capability also makes little sense. Relationships are not the soft and fluffy end of education; they are the central plank of how we learn and how well we live our lives. They determine our ability to contribute to both the world of work and society.
Confederation of British Industry director-general John Cridland says that over half of British firms are concerned about the self-management and resilience of school leavers, who must be better prepared for life outside the school gates.
Eton College headmaster Tony Little has expressed concern over the narrowing of the curriculum:
A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table … Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.
The US Department of Defence funded research leading to the Wingspread Declaration on School Connections, a document highlighting the need for a sense of belonging for effective education.
There is now a raft of Australian and international evidence for what constitutes authentic well-being for young people and how a focus on student well-being underpins universal learning outcomes, mental health for the vulnerable and pro-social behaviour. Healthy relationships with teachers, families and peers are integral to this.
Many of our young people are not learning the values and skills needed outside of school. Most teachers are doing a great job, despite the pressures on them to focus on test results. The evidence for the benefit of social and emotional learning in the curriculum is overwhelming. In the US a meta-analysis of 213 social and emotional learning programs showed that academic outcomes for participating students had an 11% improvement in academic skills compared to control groups.
It is hardly surprising that some of our most privileged and advantaged schools are taking student well-being – “learning to be” and “learning to live together” – seriously. Prestigious and successful schools such as Geelong Grammar, The Knox School and St Peters in Adelaide have a heavy focus on these attributes.
We need to go beyond the economic, rote-learning mindset, which is singularly concerned with the acquisition and regurgitation of facts. There is great concern that the race to the top in PISA rankings is undermining the education our children and our country really needs. What is the point of top marks in all subjects if you are unable to live a fulfilling life?
And what about valuing all of those children who are never going to be academic stars, but have other things to offer? Don’t they count?
Our education system is about the future of Australia, our democracy, our future mental health and our ability to contribute within our community. Relationships matter, resilience matters. Teachers, researchers and many parents know this, so why don’t the reviewers?
Sue Roffey is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is also Chair of Wellbeing Australia and co Lead Convenor of the Student Wellbeing Action Network which is part of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. This article was originally published on The Conversation.