Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Philosophy as a school ethos

"Philosophy can give young people the skills and confidence, not only to question and challenge purported facts but also to see through the current attempts in some quarters to discredit the very notions of fact, truth and expertise."
Philosophy for children (and young people) encourages and enables clear lucid thinking and challenges misinformation, dubious information and indoctrination. It is not an occasional school lesson but a way of thinking across the whole curriculum. It requires a respectful school ethos in which teachers and pupils are able to engage in meaningful dialogues.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Harold Rosen, respectful teaching and researching.

I wish to share the insights of Harold Rosen given by the Institute of Education London here. This refers to a new collection of his life work published here

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.
But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Susan David, Emotional Agility, 2016

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life

“Emotions are absolutely fundamental to our long-term success – our grit, our ability to self-regulate, to negotiate conflict and to solve problems. They influence our relationships and our ability to be effective in our jobs,” said David, author of the book ... Children who grow up into adults who are not able to navigate emotions effectively will be at a major disadvantage.”

Our book discusses how teachers can work alongside pupils to develop positive emotions together, talking calmly through crises, helping pupils get back on track rather than inflicting punishments that put them further off track.

Susan David describes emotional agility as “being aware and accepting of all your emotions, even learning from the most difficult ones” and being able to “live in the moment with a clear reading of present circumstances, respond appropriately, and then act in alignment with your deepest values.” Understanding emotions helps young people to make healthy decisions within positive social values.

Emotions are not good or bad. Everyone experiences difficult emotions — including sadness, anger and frustration. All emotions are normal and healthy.

“No emotion is here to stay,” said David. “You may feel really sad or really angry — but emotions are transient. Emotions pass.” Acknowledge them. Reflect on them nonjudgmentally. View your emotional responses with curiosity, gently asking, “Why am I feeling this way?”

Emotions are teachers. People can learn from difficult emotions. Ask yourself: What is this emotion telling me? How can I use this information to be stronger, better and more connected with the world?”

Courage is ‘fear walking’. “We are surrounded by people telling us to conquer our fears but fear is normal.” We should note it with interest but not let it stop us doing important positive things.

Values Affirmation is a recognition that core values are “the compass that keep us moving in the right direction”. Giving young people opportunities to affirm and articulate their values helps them in the face of inevitable challenges. They can talk about why school is important to them, who they want to be, what they care about, what they want to accomplish and what difference they want to make in the world.

A Stanford University project  found that asking minority (Black and Latino) middle school students to reflect on their schooling during stressful points in the school year resulted in significant academic gains.

It helps to develop what Susan David calls a ‘strong internal compass’. Teaching young people how to think, not what to think helps them work through emotionally charged situations. To support them, David uses the phrase: “I see you” — your emotions, your ideas, your strengths, your struggles, and your dreams. When pupils are very upset, the presence of an interested attentive person invites calm in.

Monday, 6 March 2017


Meditation in school
This post from an American school describes simple meditation techniques used in school to give pupils calmness and emotional control. They report fewer discipline problems, detentions and exclusions. This is reported at http://www.womansday.com/life/a56446/school-replaces-detention-with-meditation/.

We did something very similar in England a decade ago. We called it Tranquility to avoid the religious connotations of meditation.READ MORE HERE. Like all projects, it took some thinking through in the early states. Its purpose partly was to encourage calm minds which could come to terms positively with emotions like anger, temper, jealousy and envy. It did this through story, listened to in an ambient tranquil setting, with flowers, gentle lights and quiet music. The story encouraged thinking, reflection. Discussion afterwards surrounded topics of hurtful behaviour, selfishness, helping others, cooperation and such like. Vivian Bartlett, one of the designers, wrote it up here where you can read a sample - Nurturing a Healthy Spirit in the Young. I evaluated the programme and wrote a foreword for the book. I interviewed all of the early cohort, all troubled youngsters turned off from learning who said it had drawn them back from suicide, put them on the route to training and careers, and even moved them into a university course, All had once been written off as no hopers. One ten year old had been very disruptive, liable to savage outbursts, but the story she got something from offered her a mentor in the head, a wise auntie as it were. When trouble brewed, she took herself off to a quiet corner to talk things through in her head and calm down. She received a best behaviour prize the following year. The mindset encouraged was to be contributors not consumers - to contribute to the community around rather than just hoarding stuff. The project took youngsters into care homes and set up a drop in cafe for those who wanted to chat. Funded with almost nothing, it succeeded with these disturbed youngsters where highly funded institutions had failed.

Our book Living Contradiction comes out in late summer.

The Book.

Our book Living Contradiction comes out in late summer. In this blog we will introduce some of the ideas and discuss related issues and themes. For Sean Warren, it represents a decade of reading, thought and classroom developmental work. Throughout, Stephen Bigger was his mentor and PhD supervisor.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

More positive schools?

This post below was written in 2008. I am leaving it in as it represents the content of our first discussion of Sean's PhD proposal, and helped to establish the direction which it took.

Emotional well-being is one of the most important factors in school success. In other words, happy children learn best in the proper sense of this word. Of course, pressure-cooked pupils may get better results as “right answers” are instilled into them, but long term learning is something quite different. Therefore, the emotional health of people in school needs to be a top priority.I say ‘people’ because the tone is set by the staff. In a school whose (implicit) purpose is to traumatise pupils emotionally (with thanks to John Holt [How Children Fail] and Ivan Illich [Deschooling Society]) the following might be true:
  • Staff achieve control by punishment
  • Threaten frequently
  • Communicate by sarcasm
  • Insult and belittle pupils
  • Shout at pupils
  • Test what they don’t know as often as possible
  • Fail to deter bullies
  • Avoid physical contact when the pupil needs comfort
  • Encourage competition to show who is weakest
  • Encourage assertiveness and criticise shyness
  • Tell children to pull themselves together and grow up
  • Do not check that children understand
  • Regard failure as stupidity.

This well describes part of my own school education.
Today, pupils bring emotional traumas from home and from the playground. Sometimes from a young age that makes learning difficult for them. Parents may be part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution. Pupils may be fine at home but be traumatised by school and become school phobic – this might be the result of bullying, or simply an inability to cope socially.
A successful school is one which adults and children are happy and fulfilled. Pupils in this context are likely to succeed and achieve. Emotional well-being leads to self-worth; being provides the foundation for caring for others. Praise leads to a can do attitude; however, especially when unjustified causes a can’t do complex. The latter is more common than the former. The aim of education is to develop habits of enthusiastic and independent learning, which involves a hunger to pass on knowledge and points of view to others. The educated person wants to help others to be educated too. The emphasis, as far as behaviour goes, is to develop self-control, and self-discipline. Education thus is about emotional understanding, self determination and motivation to learn.