“The highest result of education is tolerance” – Helen Keller

I’ve been on Twitter for just over 3 years now and have found it to be the most wonderful place for ideas, help and have even made real life friends through Twitter. However, there is a dark side and one that I noticed quite quickly after joining (not long before the summer holidays) and one that I first wrote about in my first blog on 1st August 2017. I didn’t share that blog in the end, but this part in particular still resonates with me:

“Maybe it’s all the reminiscing of old school hymns and the lyrics ‘Living in perfect harmony’ that have brought this to the fore, but I do worry that sometimes we, as teachers, are not as kind to one another as we could be. We get enough stick from the media, Ofsted, parents etc. – can’t we be more supportive of each other?“

I think this was the summer when there were a lot of unkind remarks about people creating fancy reading areas. Every holiday it’s something: displays, silent corridors, booths, toilets, lists and most ridiculously Windowgate – if you missed that one you were lucky believe me.

The latest disagreement is masks and whether they should be worn in schools. Given the current situation this is of importance not just in schools but in society generally. We all have a duty to protect the more vulnerable and as Covid-19 is not restricted to the elderly, the BAME population or people with underlying health conditions it is not actually known who is more vulnerable – some people seem to be more genetically prone to a severe response to the virus. Therefore, we need to treat everybody as vulnerable.

Wearing masks has become common place in busy places such as shops and the government recently (at the last minute for schools who opened this week) sort of half followed in the footsteps of Scotland and said masks must be worn in corridors and communal areas in secondary schools – in towns and cities where local lockdowns are in action. Headteachers in other areas are free to decide themselves about whether to enforce masks in communal areas. Boris Johnson said masks in classrooms were “nonsensical” however.

There has been a lot of mixed messages around wearing masks from the government, and there is currently very little evidence worldwide of the effectiveness of wearing masks for longer periods of time, e.g. in lessons. This table comes from a report into social distancing and makes for grim reading. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it would seem that low occupancy is the key to the most effective prevention of spread.

 

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Meanwhile, back in edu-Twitter the ‘debate’ rages. A lot of the comments I’ve seen on Twitter have been opposed to the idea that pupils wearing masks might lead to behavioural issues. Rather than accept the professional judgement made by fellow teachers, who know their pupils and their settings, some outlandish statements have been made.

This is the part I struggle to understand. Some colleagues seem happier to believe that other teachers are lying or underestimating young people. Maybe their experience of secondary school was more idyllic than my own. I went to secondary school, in a rural setting, where behaviour on occasion was not good. I’m sure many of us can remember occasions where pupils pushed boundaries, e.g. hummed when the teacher turned their back. Imagine pupils wearing masks in the classroom and the opportunities for disruption that might bring. Is not accepting what fellow teachers are saying could be a possibility akin to saying, “Well they behave for me”? Would a more helpful response be finding out more about the problem through discussion as a way of finding ways of dealing with it?

As an advocate of oracy in the classroom, I am often horrified at the lack of engagement in discussion in our sector. The problem is that often the topic evokes an emotional response, e.g. booths – I personally find the idea of booths abhorrent but I’ve never worked in a setting where they are deemed necessary. I’ve heard of cases where they were in place but have been scrapped successfully, Parklands Primary in Leeds is an example.

As teachers, we wouldn’t accept children shouting down an idea they didn’t agree with, we would model good discussion techniques and perhaps provide sentence stems, such as “I’m not sure about X, could you explain more…” or “I really disagree with Y because…” and in retort, “I understand why you might disagree with Y but did you know…” Very little of this behaviour, that we would expect from our pupils, is modelled in our ‘professional’ interactions with colleagues.

I’m not against disagreement at all, in fact I believe it’s healthy to discuss disagreements, but what concerns me is the way that Twitter seems divided and we get shots across the bow, but at what cost? If you accuse a teacher of child abuse because their school policy is to walk silently in the corridor, not only have you lost the argument, but you’ve made yourself look unprofessional. Teachers often moan about being under fire from media/parents/OFSTED/government/the general public – often with good reason – but with this kind point scoring approach to debate we’re actually handing them the ammunition.

Listening to each other is key – really listening (not just waiting for your turn to speak) and asking questions to clarify… wait a minute – sounds a bit like SLANT one of the methods teachers have recently been accused of abusing children with (it’s not abusive in my opinion). Please listen to one another and if you don’t agree with someone that’s fine – you can agree to disagree – be tolerant.

Tolerance: willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them

 

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