Values, beliefs and biases

This is not quite the opening for this blog that I had anticipated. Yesterday brought the news that one of my students had lost her life, it seems whilst trying to save the life of her younger cousin. The teenagers appeared unaware of the dangers of open water swimming. We sadly see this type of news every year when the sun comes out.

She was ‘my’ student, but in reality, I only knew her for about three hours. In those three hours though, I learned a little about her past and a bit more about her hopes and dreams for her future. I can visualise her folder as clear as if it was in front of me now. A yellow folder with her name written in large, rounded letters by a member of staff. She wanted to work in a caring profession. She was an immigrant, she was an asset. She was a carer.

Some people simply make a bigger impression on you than others, whether for the right or wrong reasons. With this young woman, it is that indescribable quality that makes someone likeable. Of course, likeable to me may have a different effect on another. Why are we drawn to some people more than others?

I love my children, I think they are the greatest kids any mother could have, but I do not always like them! I have not always liked their friends either. I have always kept my nose out of it though. Parties, trips, they have always chosen which friends to invite. I am a great believer in Humanism, unconditional positive regard. It is not always easy when presented with a child who lies, cheats, bullies and snipes behind their friends’ backs. I have, as much as I can, avoided saying to my child, or anyone else’s come to that, ‘you’d be so much nicer/better/I’d like you more if you did this or that differently’. Not always easy when you are tired, stressed and on a timed agenda….

I should never have met the young student who died, I should not have been working where I am. I was to teach Health and Social Care at a different college, but I was made redundant on my second day. The college had not enrolled enough students and it needed to shrink its staff. Last in, first out for those whose jobs could be covered by others. Ironically, I would have been the only teacher of H&SC who actually had a degree in the subject.

H&SC was my second degree. One thing that struck me about doing my PGCE is the lack of models and frameworks used to support teaching practice. Having covered a large amount of social science ground during my first two degrees, I became accustomed to a model for this and a framework for that. In teacher training, we covered perspectives such as Humanism, Behaviourism, Social Constructivism, but nothing in the way of framing our own practices. Reflection, however, was a key aspect when it came to being graded for our work. Without a frame, I found it wandered towards being reflection for reflection’s sake.Many of us were at a loss as to what to write, so made it up as we went along.

A framework that was key to my course in Public Health Promotion, was Seedhouse’s Ethical Grid (1988)

Seedhouse

The model fits with social work’s principles of human dignity and worth; social justice; service to humanity; integrity; and competence. Seedhouse’s model is based on the premise that a practitioner will answer honestly and work through each action/decision in terms of key principles and potential consequences. The grid is to be used from the centre outwards into the four quadrants. This can never be value-neutral; an important part of this is the recognition of the influence of your own value and belief systems. Denying these exist will prevent true interrogation of the actions subsequently taken. There is a major difference between pretending you have no biases and putting those biases out there to be challenged. It may take some guts, but is necessary for open and true dialogue.

In many ways, such a model ought to be the pre-cursor to ‘SEND Support’. A teacher has made a value judgement about a student, but on what has it been based? Whose outcome are we supporting? Does it safeguard equity, respect and further the creation of autonomy? (Earle, 2007) I would like to think, in tandem with a Humanist approach, this is ‘my’ model of student support. It matters not if I am drawn to personalities, such as the student who died this week, or whether I struggle with the personalities of certain past friends of my children.

I am reminded of a paper I read concerning students in Kent in a past year. Kent ran summer schools for the gifted and talented, who were cherry-picked for their grammar schools, and a catch-up programme for those ‘lagging behind’. This particular year the two overran into each other. Some teachers quickly realised that some of the ‘bright’ kids were actually behind and some were mislabelled as requiring catch-up (sorry, no reference). The referring teachers had made value judgements based, perhaps, on likeability. It happened to my eldest at his school. He was in the gifted and talented enrichment classes, as well as enjoying a study centre opportunity designed for those who needed extra encouragement. Would it have happened if the class teacher/school had adopted Seedhouse’s model?

I wonder what difference it would make to students with SEND if everyone around the table worked honestly with the Seedhouse grid? Not just a school level, but also at multiagency review meetings? Have education, health, social care, the student and the student’s family all interrogating their positions, values, beliefs and assumptions before determining a course of action. Honesty, of course, is key. So, in my opinion, is Humanism. It is not what is ‘wrong’ with the student, but what needs to be challenged in a person’s own value and belief system.

Models and frameworks can be incredibly empowering. I can use them to tease out what I may dislike about a situation, or indeed a person, so that I can change my own self and put in place the best support I can. To me, knowledge is the key to empowerment and my social science courses have given a good step-up in gaining that knowledge. Why though, are they not seen more in education? In my Master’s, the closest I got was interrogating paradigms, but without the use of a handy grid in my back pocket.

I have no intention of ever pretending that my values do not create biases. I fear though, for those under the care of others who deny they make personal value judgement, or that their value is the one that is right. My values change with the knowledge that I gain by putting them out there. Like I am now.

Reference

Earle, S. (2007) ‘Promoting public health: exploring the issues’ in Earle, S., Lloyd, C. E., Sidell, M. and Spurr, S. (eds) theory and research in promoting public health London: Sage/Milton Keynes: The Open University

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