Articulating values, aims and commitments

In beginning to consider our personal sense of values, it is important to establish a basic point: our perspectives and viewpoints influence what we do both inside and outside the classroom. The values we hold are frequently evident in our behaviours, and thus, in our teaching.

Identifying values and aims is difficult - and so too is working out whether we are putting our aims into practice. The reflective teacher needs both to identify values, aims and commitments and to consider indicators of their actual implementation. Only then will we be able to judge whether what we say we believe matches what we actually do.

One important step is to see that our own individual beliefs reflect our social position, previous experience and historical location. This is one reason why beliefs can be so difficult to change, since there can be significant material and cultural foundations to them, or edifices built upon them. Indeed, beliefs can often appear to be representations of ‘objective truths', or ‘natural facts', rather than socially constructed perspectives. One useful way forward can be to group such beliefs and to link them to educational ideologies. These value positions and ideological perspectives can be labelled in many different ways – itself a challenging activity for a reflective teacher. We have identified seven positions below which we feel are, or have been, particularly important.

Social democracy. This is characterized by an egalitarian value position and a focus on the potential of education as an instrument of gradual social change. This was a prevalent ideology in the post war years and, for a period, seemed to have a degree of all party support in the UK.

Liberal romanticism. An example of this is the individualistic, ‘child centred' view of education focusing on the unique development of each child, a view which values diversity and individual difference. This is the ideology which is associated with the Plowden Report (CACE, 1967).

Traditional educational conservatism. A perspective that emphasizes the transmission of established social values, knowledge and culture through a subject oriented approach and which also has a particular emphasis on upholding ‘standards'. This was the explicit ideology of the Black Papers (e.g. Cox and Boyson, 1975; Cox and Dyson, 1969) and was an important element of the thinking of the 1970s and 1980s [e.g. Hillgate, 1987; Scruton, 1986]. This ultimately led to the Education Reform Act (1988), the National Curriculum, and new forms of assessment and testing.

Economic pragmatism. An instrumental approach focusing on the individual's acquisition of useful skills. The term ‘vocationalism' is sometimes used where the emphasis shifts, perhaps at times of high unemployment, to directing individuals to acquire skills economically useful to society. In England this approach was evident often surfaces in debates on the need for basic skills, the reformation of the Post 16 Curriculum, and development of vocational education.

Social radicalism. An approach which is based on a commitment to develop education as a means of combating inequalities in society and promoting social justice. Proponents support positive action regarding such issues as sexism, racism, homophobia, social class, disability, rights and the distribution of power and wealth (Arnot and Weiler, 1993; Gilborn, 1995). Some 1980s' policies of the Inner London Education Authority, before it was disbanded, reflected this approach and the commitments, if not the actions, are embedded in UK laws (e.g. Race Relations Act, 1976; Sex Discrimination Act, 1975; Disability Discrimination Act, 1996) and international conventions (e.g. United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, 1948; Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989).

Neo liberal conservatism. A set of beliefs, going back to Adam Smith, about the efficiency of free market forces in allocating resources and raising standards in the provision of goods and services (No Turning Back Group of MPs, 1986; Sexton, 1987, 1988); Chubb and Moe, 1990). As O'Keefe (1988) put it: ‘If you do not like the groceries at one supermarket, try another.' These ideas have been very influential in the restructuring of education in many countries and have been associated with the recent introduction by the Coalition government in England of ‘academies’ and ‘free schools’ to enhance ‘choice’.

New Labourism. An attempt, initiated by Tony Blair in the mid 1990s, to set a new social democratic agenda for the Labour Party, and aimed to distance new policies both from previous Labour Party commitments and from the neoliberal conservatism of John Major's government. Characterized by ‘toughness' regarding the quality and performance of public services, but also by a strong commitment to inclusion, this approach led to unexpected endorsement of private enterprise in public services.  Versions of this seem to be emerging from the contemporary Labour Party through the concept of ‘One Nation Labour’.

Such educational ideologies are often not expressed or experienced in their ‘pure' form. Indeed, the multiplicity of voices attempting to influence national educational policy has the potential to make it harder for teachers and school communities to clarify their own value positions. However, reflective teachers should aim to develop their own clearly defined personal perspective as a guide to everyday action and practical policies.

Reflective Activity

To investigate our value‑positions in greater depth the work of Eisner and Vallance (1974) is helpful. They distinguish three main dimensions upon which varied value‑positions are held. They suggest these are best represented as continua:

 

                individual <-------> society  

(i.e. whether education should be geared to meet individuals' needs and demands, rather than to educational provision being planned to meet the needs of society)

 

                values <-------> skills

(i.e. whether education should focus on developing individuals' sense of values in a moral and ethical context, or on developing their skills and competencies)

 

                adaptive <------->reconstructive

(i.e. whether education should prepare individuals to fit into the present society, or should equip them to change and develop it)

 

By identifying these three dimensions, it may be possible to clarify where each of us stands regarding our value‑positions. For example, a trainee might place herself at the ‘individual' extreme of the first dimension, tend towards the ‘skills' extreme of the second dimension and feel most comfortable with the ‘adaptive' extreme of the third dimension. Such a person would, therefore, be committed to an educational system which aimed at developing individuals with the skills and competencies to fit into the given present society. She would feel less ethical concern for the needs of society as a whole or desire to consider the possibilities and processes of change.

The importance of identifying our value‑positions is threefold.

First, it can help us to assess whether we are consistent, both in what we, as individuals, believe and in reconciling differences which may exist in a school between colleagues working together.

Second, it can help us in evaluating and responding to external pressures and changes to our work as teachers – as ‘creative mediators' of policy (see Chapter 1, Section 2.7 and Osborn, McNess and Broadfoot, 2000). For an excellent example of this, see Woods (1995).

Third, it can help us to assess whether what we believe is consistent with how we actually behave: that is, whether our ‘philosophy', or value system, is compatible with our actual classroom practice. For instance, although official and professional support was given to child‑centred teaching methods throughout most of the 1970s, there is considerable evidence that, in practice, they were not nearly so widespread as was once thought. Both HMI (DES, 1978) and the ORACLE survey (Galton et al., 1999; Galton, Simon and Croll, 1980) found only limited evidence for ‘progressive practices'.

Such gaps between aspirations and actual achievements are very common in all walks of life but for a reflective teacher it is particularly important to examine them. One useful way of monitoring such issues in ourselves is to identify and focus on key indicators of our value‑positions which we would expect to be reflected in our school and classroom practices.

In a sense, the whole process of ‘reflective teaching’ is about analysing our own behaviour and its consequences in the light of our own beliefs.