TIME TO LISTEN

AN EVALUATION

Jean McNiff
Lucia Mc Geady
Mary Rose Elliott

Introduction
Chapter 1: The Background to the Time to Listen Project
Chapter 2: Contexts

Chapter 3: Methodology

Chapter 4: Action

Chapter 5: Findings

Chapter 6: Significance of the Findings

References

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July 2001

Introduction

This document is a report of an evaluation of the Time to Listen Project. Time to Listen is part of the wider Education for Mutual Understanding work sponsored by the Positive Ethos Trust, University of Ulster, Magee; and also operates in conjunction with the Southern Education and Library Board. It is funded by the European Peace and Reconciliation Peace 1 funds directed by the Craigavon District Partnership. The report has been written collaboratively by three people positioned as supporters of eight teachers working in five different schools in the Craigavon District area. While the voices of the three authors speak the main text of the report, the teachers’ voices are also to be heard. Collaborative writing is often problematic, not least in the use of ‘we’, and we, the authors, hope that we do justice to the democratic nature of the project and the production of the report.

This report of the work of the Project is contextualised within what has become known as the New Scholarship. In the 1990s, Ernest Boyer, then Director of the Carnegie Foundation, called for a new scholarship in education (Boyer, 1990). This new scholarship would move beyond the traditional focus on analysis, measurement, and categorisation, and would concentrate more on discovery, integration, application and teaching. Boyer’s work has been widely accepted, and it has been further developed by major theorists such as Schön (1995) and Zeichner (1999). It is possible today to see aspects of the new scholarship in action, particularly as influential theorists begin to integrate the new multi-media technologies into their theorising, and this helps one to see the actual processes of knowledge generation and dissemination. New literatures and bodies of knowledge are being established, and these act not only as sources of knowledge but also as networks to help people share their stories of practice, both their successes and dilemmas (MacLure, 1996), in order to learn together (see for example http://www.2.carnegiefoundation.org/gallery/index.html and http://www.actionresearch.net). We hope, in this report, to provide undeniable evidence that the Time to Listen Project could stand as part of these bodies of knowledge, to show how teachers have systematically reflected on their work in order to establish the kinds of educative relationships with their students and with one another which can achieve the objectives set out for the Project (see the next paragraph). The report suggests ways in which a new body of scholarship could be established in Northern Ireland which integrates the insights of projects such as Time to Listen for the future development of educational research for local and wider integration and dissemination.

The main objective of the Project was to improve the quality of community relations in the context of Craigavon. This area has experienced civil unrest over a prolonged period of time and could be termed a ‘microcosm of a contested society’ (Mc Geady, 2001). The initial planning of the Project, however, was informed by the work of critical theorists such as Apple (1993) and Popkewitz (1998), as well as by theorists working in other education research traditions. Critical theorists say that, while it is important to interrogate discourses, it is equally if not more important to interrogate the processes by which discourses come to life – that is, we need to be aware not only of what we say and do, but also why we say and do it. We need to locate our discourses within their historical and cultural contexts in order to be aware of visible and probably more insidious invisible influences. From such a critical perspective, the idea of community relations moves from being an object of enquiry, something that happens ‘out there’ with other people, and which can appear in school life as an aspect of a timetable, to become part of our everyday experience of school life. Community relations is not only something we talk about, but a form of practice in which we try to live out our values of care and respect for the other. We come to understand our work and judge its effectiveness in terms of whether we have established good relationships ourselves; the idea of community relations becomes a living standard of judgement (Whitehead, 2000) by which we assess whether we feel we are justified in saying that we have improved our work.

Our commitment to new forms of scholarship therefore led us to understand the improvement of community relations as beginning with people, ourselves, in our own living contexts. While community relations is clearly a practice of the wider community, we practitioners in school contexts need to recognise ourselves as part of that wider community. Change begins because people see the sense of and want to change, says Rizvi (1989). It does not make sense to seek to change the processes of external social interactions without first changing our own internal ones. We cannot call for changes in public consciousness and a revision in the way people think about one another unless we are first prepared to do so ourselves. If we stay with the old scholarships of abstract theorising it is possible to see change as a phenomenon which applies to other people in abstract social systems; if we embrace new scholarships and a commitment to discovery, integration, application and teaching, we see how we can discover our own potentials as change agents, how we can integrate our understandings into our processes of change, how we can apply our understandings to our contexts of practice, and how we can improve our teaching through reflection and wise action.

‘I have come to see myself as involved in my own process of change. Until this project I saw change as something which happened without me. Now I regard myself as an active change agent.’ (Teacher 6).

In chapter 3 we, the authors, will have much to say about issues of collaboration and participation, and how such practices can lead to the development of cultures of enquiry. Here we wish to say that, as providers and supporters, we regarded ourselves as reflecting on our own practice and finding ways in which we could address questions such as ‘How can I help you to learn?’ (Russell, 1995). We deliberately positioned ourselves as learners. While we might have been learning different things than the teachers we were supporting, we nevertheless presented ourselves openly as learners, and this positioning itself had a liberating effect for us all.

‘I have to say that I have learnt so much from the questions that teachers have posed to me, but what I am in the process of learning is, How do I actually help them so that they begin to answer their own questions? That is a brilliant process to be part of because it teaches me that I need to be challenging myself all the time, that I don’t get comfortable with the realities that I encounter on an everyday basis, because they aren’t the realities of the teachers I am working with. I keep reminding myself that I can’t provide answers for them, nor can they come up with answers for me, either. All we can do is more or less try to support one another in the learning process.’ (Lucia, Project Coordinator)

This report therefore constitutes our collective report on knowledge (Lyotard, 1984). It shows how we as a team of supporters, and the teachers we are supporting, have formed a research community; we are generating our own theories about the nature of community relations and how we have come to the insights we hold today. The production of this report is part of the dissemination process of sharing our theories and holding them up for critique in the public domain. The knowledge that the report reports on is in process of development; it is an evolutionary process as participants reflect on their ideas and revise them from within their practice. The report itself is a living document, open to amendment in light of further critique.

We are indeed offering our report as embodying our own living theories of education, as encouraged by Jack Whitehead, one of the leading voices in the new scholarship of educational research. Whitehead calls (1999, 2000) for the production of accounts which include the descriptions and explanations of educational practices and which constitute the living educational theories of practitioners as they ask questions of the kind, ‘How do I improve my practice?’ (1989). Jack Whitehead and others are responding critically to this effect(a discussion forum will shortly be available for issues arising from this report). We supporters and teachers claim that we are theorising our practice from within the practice, and that this process of action reflection has had, and continues to have, a beneficial effect on the quality of educational experience of the children in the classrooms which form the main research context. This is a serious claim, and one which we make with full awareness of its potential for educational theory; yet we are confident that we are justified in making the claim and we produce what we consider undeniable and validated evidence to support what we are saying.

The process of evaluation

The evaluation was itself a research project. However, rather than being a separate piece of research, a project within a project, so to speak, it was an aspect of the larger research project which was Time to Listen. The Time to Listen Project followed an action research methodology, which required all participants to monitor what they were doing, gather data systematically about their practice and its potential impact on those whom they were teaching and supporting, reflect on and analyse the data and present evidence to show that they could claim that they were positively influencing the quality of educational experience for those in their care. The evaluation process followed the same principles. We were all evaluators of our own practices. We reflected on how we were able to show that, and how, we had influenced the quality of educational experience for one another and for the children in classrooms. In this we departed from traditional evaluation practices where a researcher observes and describes the practices of others, and produces a report to show that the objectives of a particular programme have been achieved. In this project, we all held ourselves responsible for the success both of the project and its evaluation. We believe that we are living out the new scholarship ideas of Kushner (2000), that evaluation should not be seen as evaluation of programmes so much as evaluation of the people through whom programmes come to life. Drawing on the work of Barry MacDonald (1985), Kushner says that evaluation ‘should take the experience of program participants as the central focus of investigation’ (2000: 10). We went even further. As well as taking the experience of programme participants as the central focus of investigation, we, the programme participants ourselves, undertook our own self evaluations. Consequently we were investigating the experience of reflecting on our own work, which, as major contemporary theorists such as Bullough and Pinnegar (2001) say, is the main focus of an emergent tradition of self study, a tradition which has been described (Zeichner, 1999) as one of the most important innovations within the field of education research in recent years.

Cooperative practices were evident throughout the evaluation process. It involved, as did the wider Time to Listen project, systematic gathering of data, monitoring of practice, reflection on the data and the generation of evidence. For the evaluation process we used many of the same data gathering techniques as in the Project: reflective diaries, observations, field notes, conversations. Jean, who had been contracted to lead the evaluation process, conducted tape recorded conversations together with Mary Rose, the Project Officer, with teachers and supporters. Jean transcribed the tapes, which were given back to participants for their editing and approval. However, she as much as anyone else systematically reflected on her practice and invited critical feedback on how she might do things differently.

This was evident in the process of writing up. Kushner (2000) speaks about the evaluator who is positioned as a friend during the data gathering process but who becomes a scientist for the writing up of the report. This transformation can involve a betrayal of the participants. I, Jean, refused to see myself in this light. I was a friend during the project, and I intended to remain a friend during the writing up of the report. Therefore, while I accepted the responsibility of drafting the report, the report itself was distributed to all participants before publication for their approval, editing and rewriting. All participants were invited to speak. I am not naive about the kinds of power relationships which exist between academics and teachers, and between professional evaluators and participants; and how people say what they believe those with supposedly ‘higher’ status wish them to say; but I really believe that our group did reach a considerable degree of parity of esteem and all felt able to say what they wished, without fear of recrimination. In terms of reflecting on my own practice, I like to think that any power I exercised was of a transformative nature, as Wartenberg explains: ‘A transformative use of power is one in which an agent uses her power over another agent in order to help that other attain certain skills or abilities’ (1990: 7). I tried throughout to live my values of respect for others, to enable them also to live out their educational values, and I committed my energy to bringing people together on an equal footing to achieve commonly agreed goals (Chomsky, 1996) through the establishment of the kinds of educative relationships that can enable this value to be realised.

So what you are reading is an innovative document which tells of an innovative initiative. Only time will tell whether or not the venture has been as worthwhile as we participants believe, when we can make judgements about whether our work has indeed had some long-term influence in the lives of those with whom we work. One of the problems of traditional scholarships, with their emphasis on measurement and directly observable outcomes, is that the public comes to see immediate direct results as the only criterion of success, usually in the form of modified behaviours. We did not see our work as modifying behaviour. We saw our work in terms of the values we held about the nature and development of relationships among communities, and whether we were able to live those values in our practice, in order to help young people engage in their own experience of developing caring and tolerant communities. The words of Teacher 7 are instructive here.

Jean Do you think that the work you have been doing in this Time to Listen Project has influenced the children you are working with?

Teacher 7 Yes. I think it has in terms of my relationship with them because I certainly look at them in a different way. It has influenced my attitude towards the children and therefore how I work with them.

In terms of the value of the Project, Teacher 7 says:

‘Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but as far as I can see it’s not actually the children, but the main focus here is the teacher. It’s what I do, and taking part in this project has given me a chance to look at what I do in a different way. I think that is different from anything else that has ever been in the school.’

We as a group therefore set out in this report how we see our work as innovative and important, in that we are producing evidence to show that when educators reflect on their work they really can raise their own awareness of the kind of identities they can create for themselves, as encouragers of others also to create their own identities as caring, responsible people. We hope this report demonstrates some of the triumphs and dilemmas that we experienced (MacLure, 1996) as we struggled to find our way through what is a deeply complex and interpenetrated set of issues, and how we began to make sense of what the idea of community relations meant to us.

 

Chapter 1 Background to the Time to Listen Project

Time to Listen is set against two main sets of issues. The first set of issues is to do with the emergence and significance of Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) as an educational theme in the Northern Ireland Curriculum (NIC). The second set is to do with the the form of teacher professional education most appropriate for Education for Mutual Understanding. Both sets of issues raise questions about the forms of logic used to understand their nature and processes. (A further set of issues has arisen for me, Jean, through the writing of the report, to do with how self study is a form of evaluation that has deep implications for whole organisation development – see McNiff, in preparation.)

‘Forms of logic’ may also be expressed as ‘the ways one thinks about things’. The dominant form of logic in education research (the main way the education research community tends to think) uses a traditional linear cause-effect sequence: if x then y. This way of thinking underpins most education practices in the western intellectual tradition. It is often referred to as propositional logic. A less recognised form of logic in western intellectual traditions is dialectical; this way of thinking sees interdependent relationships rather than causes and effects. In propositional forms, a statement can be supported through the production of quantifiable data; these data can be turned into evidence if they meet identified criteria, usually of a performative kind. Quantitative measurement tends to be seen as providing sure answers – ‘proof’. In dialectical forms, statements also need to be supported through validated evidence which is generated from the data. How the quality of this evidence is assessed however is by means of criteria which are rooted in values and which often defy objective definition. Often values are tacit, yet these are our most powerful drivers in what counts as education and the kinds of relationships we nurture (see for example Sternberg and Horvath,1999). This theme will continue throughout the chapter and the report.

Education for Mutual Understanding in the Northern Ireland curriculum

‘The Northern Ireland Curriculum’, writes Arlow (2000: 5), ‘was introduced in 1990. In 1996 a five year moratorium was imposed on curriculum change in order to provide a period of stability for the consideration of future development. In 1998 the Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) hosted a series of conferences to stimulate debate. The Society 1 conference explored the role of education in promoting social, civic and political awareness and the specific challenges that are posed in the Northern Ireland context.’

Our report sets out why we believe the Time to Listen project could provide useful lessons for the transition from Education for Mutual Understanding to the proposed Social, Civic and Political Education initiative, suggesting that how issues such as cultural heritage and personal and social education are conceptualised influences how they are taught within classroom contexts.

Explaining the development of EMU, Morgan and Dunn write (2000:6): ‘The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) order (HMSO, 1989) … introduced Education for Mutual Understanding and the related theme of Cultural Heritage, as part of the statutory curriculum in all state-funded schools. Implementation began from the 1990–1991 school year. In defining EMU the Northern Ireland Curriculum Council stated: “Education for Mutual Understanding is about self respect and respect for others, and the improvement of relationships between people of differing cultural traditions (NICC, 1999)”.’

The objectives of EMU were:

Fostering respect for self and others and building relationships

Pupils should have opportunities to develop knowledge and understanding of themselves, and how to handle and react appropriately to a range of personal and social situations.

Understanding conflict

Pupils should have opportunities to develop knowledge and understanding of conflict in a variety of contexts and how to respond to it positively and creatively.

Appreciating interdependence

Pupils should have opportunities to develop a knowledge, understanding and appreciation of interdependence and continuity and change in the social and cultural process as it relates to individuals, families, local communities and the wider world.

Cultural understanding

Pupils should have opportunities to develop an informed awareness of the similarities and differences between the cultural traditions which influence people who live in Northern Ireland, and of international and transnational influences on contemporary culture.

(CCEA, 1997; Department of Education 2000)

In 1999 the document Towards a Culture of Tolerance: Education for Diversity (DENI, 1999a) recommended that the promotion of core values should pervade all policies. These core values are:

Pluralism – acceptance, appreciation and respect for the full range of diversity that exists within society in Northern Ireland;

Pursuit of Social Justice – the need for fair outcomes for individuals and groups within society across a range of social and economic issues, based on concepts such as equity and equality of opportunity;

Acceptance of Human Rights and Responsibilities – by introducing young people to human rights principles, namely that by virtue of the humanity we all share, each person has certain inalienable human rights, together with corresponding responsibilities and that awareness of these rights and responsibilities should govern our actions in the world;

Democracy – an understanding of how we govern ourselves; the implications of the concept of democracy as an organising principle in our society; its practical outworking and the obligations it implies for the active participation of citizens in community and political life.

(DENI, 1999a: 5)

To achieve the implementation of these core values, clear advice on teacher training and development is offered, including:

7. There should be an integrated strategy of support and capacity building for teachers engaged in EMU.

8. All bodies involved in ITT, INSET and professional development of teachers should review the content and impact of courses to address EMU values.

9. Consideration should be given to the inclusion of training in dealing with diversity and the management of conflict within the competency model of teacher education.

(Department of Education, Commentary on Recommendations, 1999b: 2)

However, against this backdrop of high-sounding rhetoric from official documents, problematics run deep. There is little common understanding about what EMU is, or how it should be integrated into the curriculum. The Speak Your Piece project (1996), for example, aimed to help teachers to deal with controversial issues within the Northern Irish context. The EMU Promoting School Project initially focused on adapting peer mediation techniques for helping primary school children develop strategies for dealing with conflict (Tyrrell and Farrell, 1995). The scope of EMU has been widened by Montgomery and Smith (1997) to deal with values education, citizenship education and moral education (see Morgan and Dunn, 2000). Morgan and Dunn also point to other problematics: the fact that statutory obligations require schools to engage in joint activities does not prevent, say, children from one tradition sitting at one end of the bus and children from the other moving to the other end. The authors also make the point that there are few evaluation studies available to show the educational impact of EMU: ‘The problems of conducting evaluation are considerable and include lack of clear agreement both about what should be evaluated and about the different methodological approaches to evaluation’ (Morgan and Dunn, 2000: 10).

A major concern has been, and continues to be, the professional education of teachers. With the introduction of EMU in the early 1990s, many teachers experienced anxieties relating to their lack of training in the area (Smith and Robinson, 1996). To compound these anxieties, no coherent professional education provision existed. Most in-service education was provided by the five Education and Library Boards, but there was no agreed plan or strategy for teachers’ professional education. Further, ‘teachers have often felt that they do not have easy access to the type of support which meets their particular needs’ (Morgan and Dunn, 2000: 14). Further still, no research seems to be available to show that providers have actually asked teachers what their needs might be, and what kind of support might be most appropriate to help teachers meet the objectives of EMU. This is a particularly problematic issue within debates about the educational impact of the curriculum, since there is a massive literature to support the view that teacher education is probably a key factor in providing a quality educational experience for children in classrooms. To lend this view credibility, however, it is important to establish what form such teacher education should take, and to ensure that the type of support offered does in fact meet the identified needs of teachers.

The EMU Promoting Schools Project (EMUpsp)

Time to Listen developed precisely out of the concern that teachers should receive the kind of support they felt was appropriate for their needs.

The EMU Promoting School Project focused initially on peer mediation (see above), and developed a methodological approach which was broadly based on the values and principles of action research. These values included participation, collaboration, a systematic reflection on personal practice, and a desire to see practice as a form of research. The EMUpsp has had significant impact on educational initiatives (see for example, Montgomery, 2000; Tomlinson, 2000).

Time to Listen

One of the projects within the EMU Promoting Schools Project was the Time to Listen Project. This project aimed specifically to provide the kind of professional education which teachers would find appropriate to their needs.

There were two main foci to the project: an improvement of community relations (see also the Introduction of this report), and the development of reflective practice. The first aim was explicitly stated; the second was implicit.

The aims of the Project were:

  • To address the need for a teaching/learning environment which is conducive to the modelling and promotion of community relations.

  • To support and enhance existing practice.

The objectives were:

  • To work with school staff to enhance the environment for community relations work within the school.

  • Using a Circle Time format, to train teachers, ancillary staff, parents and pupils in community relations skills.

  • To develop strategies for building self-esteem of pupils in the transition from primary to post primary schools.

  • To ensure a sustainable programme.

(Tyrrell, 2000)

The Project also aimed to meet the objectives of the Community Relations Core Funding Scheme, to:

  • support the development of programmes designed for the improvement of community relations in Northern Ireland through formal and informal education;

  • enable schools and organisations involved with young people to explore and address issues related to social, cultural, religious and political identity in Northern Ireland and their implications for community relations;

  • provide programmes to increase the confidence and capacity of teachers and other practitioners working with young people towards the improvement of community relations;

  • encourage the development of greater commitment, ownership and infrastructure for the improvement of community relations programmes by and within the education system.

 

In the event, the aims and objectives of the Project do seem to have been largely achieved; the objective concerning using a Circle Time format has not. The project developed as the teachers’ needs required: this is in accordance with Kushner’s (2000) view that projects and evaluations need to be allowed to develop according to the needs of the participants. And this brings us to the second set of issues identified above, namely the form of teacher professional education most appropriate to developing community relations in school settings.

Forms of teacher professional education

The dominant form of teacher education is still propositional in nature. There is an assumption throughout that a body of knowledge exists which has to be communicated to teachers, and they shall perform according to what is seen as official knowledge (Apple, 1993). While the underpinning philosophy of teacher professional education has moved from the disciplines approach of the 1960s and 1970s to take up a competences approach, there is still an overwhelming and largely unquestioned assumption that professional education draws on expert knowledge which exists ‘out there’, external to teachers themselves. Teachers’ professionalism is judged according to specified skills and abilities (see for example, the Teacher Training Agency, 1998). Some enlightened documents, while still promoting a competences approach, also emphasise the need for reflective practice and teachers’ own assessment of their performance (Department of Education, 1998). However, the situation remains that teachers themselves are not centrally involved in creating their own professional identities (Connelly and Clandinin, 1999). Showing that one is aware of one’s values and how to live them in practice is not an identified competence. Reflective practice is still regarded as a threshold competence, possibly because such practices do not fit neatly within a competences framework. Competences approaches are widely critiqued (for example, Barnett, 1994), largely because they ignore the values base of teaching and the need for teachers to develop confidence in their own capacity to respond imaginatively to everyday dilemmas of practice. Competences approaches do not even consider the possibility that teachers might ask questions of the kind, ‘How do I improve what I am doing?’ (Whitehead, 1989), let alone offer creative solutions to their own dilemmas of practice. Within the terms of reference of dominant traditional forms, teachers are expected to perform to identified standards of technical excellence. Teacher education is largely devoted to ensuring that teachers develop the skills and strategies to perform appropriately.

The same view extends to the education of young people in schools. The school effectiveness movement emphasises that bodies of knowledge are to be communicated to students, and students’ knowledge is tested against a set of technical performance indicators. The school improvement movement goes further. James and Connolly (2000) cite the widely accepted definition of school improvement from the OECD sponsored International School Improvement Project (ISIP):

A systematic, sustained effort at a change in learning conditions and other related internal conditions in one or more schools, with the ultimate aim of accomplishing educational goals more effectively.

(van Velzen et al., 1988: 48).

Stoll and Fink (1996) (and others) offer indicators of how one would recognise a school which might achieve sustained improvement. They (and others) however adopt an uncritical approach to school effectiveness and improvement movements, failing to problematise the situation by asking, as do some more reflective researchers, ‘School improvement for whom?’ (Slee and Weiner, 1998). The dominant literature, still focused on the old scholarship commitments to manipulation of variables and a quantitative analysis of the relationships between variables, still promotes the idea that teachers and students are objects of study which may be moved around in order to test hypotheses about the nature of what happens in school settings. The idea of education itself is hijacked for the purposes of consolidating official knowledge, and is a far remove from the thinking of widely respected scholars such as Dewey, Bruner and others, who believe that education is a value-laden activity which aims to foster the kind of relationships among people such that they will grow intellectually, morally, emotionally and spiritually (a view of a practice which might be termed ‘developing community relations’).

The Time to Listen Project was based on such educational values, themselves part of the liberal-democratic tradition, and which find voice in the new scholarship approaches of discovery, integration, application and teaching. From the outset there was no definitive agenda for teachers’ meetings, other than to meet teachers’ needs, provide supportive contexts to help them identify how they might improve their work, and care for them in the process. This would involve the development of the kind of educative relationships cited above, in the hope that teachers would raise their own confidence and self esteem such that they would feel empowered to make judgements about the quality of their own work and accept the responsibility of accounting for their own professionalism. This seeming lack of focus in fact often proved problematic, given that schooling in Northern Ireland (and elsewhere) finds its identity in the application of official knowledge. The problematics are well expressed by the Project Coordinator and Project Officer who explained that they were sometimes at a loss to communicate to Principals what the project would be about:

‘I remember going into schools and talking with principals and they wanted to know what the outcomes of the work would be. They were confused because I couldn’t identify clear outcomes. I spoke about helping teachers improve the quality of their practice. The principals and I were often talking from two different perspectives.’ (Mary Rose, Project Officer)

Time to Listen therefore aimed courageously to break with tradition and develop a form of teacher education which would proceed from the premise that teachers were best placed to make judgements about their own professionalism; it lived out of a value that teacher professional education should develop as a form of support (McNiff, 2002) to enable teachers to develop their own theories of education out of their practice. Such approaches have significant implications for relationships in professional education, and could be seen as destabilising established norms and undermining what is seen as received wisdom.

‘I think it is where you are offering people the opportunity to realise their own educational potential. I think this is the thing that principals sometimes see. … We’re almost going to cut the strings one by one … how then do you control this person once they are free? … And teachers are so afraid to let their students do that, too.’ (Lucia, Project Coordinator)

Our approach of applauding teachers’ existing professional knowledge seemed to be welcomed by teachers (see chapter 5) who felt respected, valued and pleased to have others honour their capacity to take responsibility for their own work. It is however a problematic path to tread in that it poses potential challenges to established orthodoxies, including normative organisational power relationships. There is a significant literature around the issues of resistance to colonisation, as well as the potential fall-out to be incurred by challenges to authority.

Let us summarise some of the key points presented so far in this chapter. Two sets of issues were identified as providing the key contexts for the Time to Listen Project. These were the issues of community relations and the issues of developing appropriate forms of teacher education for this area. We also said that the form of logic used in discourses about these issues was significant. Dominant old scholarship approaches depend on a propositional way of thinking, which sees community relations as an object of study ‘out there’; new scholarship approaches embrace a dialectical way of thinking which sees community relations as how people are currently positioned in their social settings. Old scholarship approaches to teacher education assume that there are discrete bodies of knowledge which teachers should internalise and apply to their practice; this professional knowledge will be tested via indicators for teachers’ performance. New scholarship approaches to teacher education assume that teachers already know what they are doing and can benefit from encouragement and support to help them find ways of doing it better.

The task for the Time to Listen support team was to find an appropriate methodology by which to communicate their own values of respect for teachers’ professionalism, and demonstrate how they might live out these values in their practice. The methodology they chose was action research, and in chapter 3 we explain the principles and practices of action research and why this approach seemed to work.

First, in chapter 2 we consider the different contexts in which Time to Listen was located, and consider the significance of these contexts for the overall implications of the project.

Chapter 2 Contexts

In this chapter we outline what are some of the most significant contexts for Time to Listen. We group these contexts under the headings Personal, Locational, Policy, Research.

Personal contexts

The participants in the project were:

Eight teachers (who remain anonymous by their choice for this report) working in five post primary schools. The cross section of schools ranged from Controlled Junior High Schools to a Catholic Grammar School and an Integrated School. In one school, three of the eight teachers adopted a departmental approach to the project. The other four teachers worked alone in their four schools.

Two supporters, Lucia Mc Geady and Mary Rose Elliott, located at the University of Ulster, Magee College. Lucia was the full-time Project Coordinator; Mary Rose was appointed as Project Officer to visit and support teachers on a regular part-time basis in their own school settings. Lucia is an experienced teacher at post primary level; Mary Rose, also an experienced teacher at post primary level, took early retirement from her work as a teacher of history.

A consultant/evaluator, Jean McNiff, previously a deputy headteacher, who now works in international settings supporting practitioners in studying their own practice, and developing higher degree programmes which lead to the accreditation of these self studies. Jean writes extensively in the areas of teacher professional education through action research and is an experienced professional educator. Her role was to advise on methodology and project design, and to co-ordinate production of the evaluation document.

The Director of the Project, Jerry Tyrrell, who supported the venture with full commitment and enthusiasm. Jerry has extensive knowledge and experience in the field of conflict resolution. He has led workshops in Britain, Ireland, the USA, Uganda and South Africa, as well as with teachers and educationalists in Northern Ireland. He has published widely in the field of peer mediation.

Lucia, Mary Rose, Jean and Jerry initially met, individually and collectively, with other representatives who were working in the Craigavon area. Key personnel in the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) were the EMU Advisor and the Chief Executive of SELB. Other personnel in SELB who did not have key roles were the English Advisor SELB who also worked in School A, and [Name], critical friend of Teacher 6, and the Principals and Senior Management Teams of the Project schools.

Locational contexts

That Time to Listen was located in the Craigavon area is particularly significant for what the Project has achieved educationally, and in terms of how education research can have influence on wider educational and political debates. The Craigavon area is contested territory in several senses. It is located in an area of acute political sensitivity, where a significant number from both religious and political communities strive for dominance of land and identity. Some of the teachers in the project spoke with resigned despair of how they were expected to maintain normal teaching and learning activities against the backdrop of the violence that can erupt during political confrontations, and the degree of hardship and that such ongoing disputes can generate, as well as disaffection among students. ‘Students say that if anyone asked them where they are from, they don’t like to say they are from Portadown. They find it embarrassing, because people associate it with the Drumcree conflict through the process of the media over the years. They don’t like that’ (Teacher 1). Teacher 6 felt the need to develop a bereavement policy, in view of the increased likelihood of loss because of the political turmoil: ‘I think that in the light of the Omagh bomb and how the schools have suffered bereavement there, it’s better to get ready for the situation before it actually occurs. It sounds defeatist that way, but it’s better to be prepared’. The idea of bereavement is especially acute given the degree of social instability as manifested in broken marriages and suicides. Children have to learn rapidly from an early age how to deal with the pathologies of conflict (Cairns, 1996).

The pathologies of conflict also manifest in adult relationships and discourses. It is a commonplace observation that people can talk a lot without saying anything important. The teachers in the Project felt that the wish to adopt neutral languages travelled to staffrooms. Teachers are often reluctant to talk about educational or professional development issues in staff rooms, preferring to stay with the safe discourses of sport or television viewing. The wariness transfers to involvement in innovatory practices; while current policy places an increased emphasis on the need for teachers to develop professional autonomy (see below), teachers themselves often find safety within established hierarchical relationships and definitive structures which remove choice. One comes to love one’s chains, even though they can be a useful target on which to vent one’s frustrations.

Policy contexts

There is increasing emphasis worldwide on the need for reflective practice, and a significant literature now exists which urges practitioners to become aware of the need to reflect critically on what they are doing with a view to improving it. In Britain teachers are offered incentives to encourage them to undertake action research projects which will help them to improve the quality of students’ learning experience in classrooms.

In Northern Ireland, the Teacher Education Partnership of the Northern Ireland Teacher Education Committee (NITEC) and the Committee for Early Professional Development (CEPD) (1998) draws extensively on the idea of reflective practice and how it might be realised in terms of a coherent professional development plan. In this, the documentation demonstrates thinking that is commensurate with other policy bodies, such as the erstwhile Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation (now reconstituted as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario), which developed innovative ideas such as professional learning pathways and produced resources to support the development and implementation of the ideas (see for example OPSTF, 1998). In developing such schemes, providers and policy makers need to be aware that, while the schemes might present significant opportunities for teachers’ enhanced professionalism, they also bring with them potential deep problematics. Providers and policy makers need to recognise that teachers might be anxious about the level of time and energy commitment expected; about the nature of the resources themselves and whether or not documentation is user-friendly or overly complex; about whether they will receive reimbursement for their efforts; about whether they will receive personal support from a professional tutor; about how they will be perceived by other colleagues who might have a more cynical view … and so on. The work of Fullan (1993) is instructive in this regard. To avoid the dangers of alienation or hostility, innovative ideas such as Early Professional Development and Professional Development Activities need to be presented with due regard for teachers’ sensitivities, recognising the real life situations of people in workplaces, and not be presented simply as unproblematic good ideas. The informal feedback from some schools on their reading of the draft version of the document for Early Professional Development: EMU/CH included the following mixed reactions:

  • Daunting, not user friendly.

  • Is it going to lie comfortably in a school with little tradition of critical reflection?

  • A good reflective practice document but we must ensure that the scale of the tasks set are appropriate to the stage of development.

  • Very positive opinions on the document – more concise language required?

Such comments reflect the problematics that while documents appear to be charitably received, some audiences will automatically build up what Argyris (1990) refers to as defensive routines, to avoid exposing their own vulnerability and potentially making themselves look foolish. Policy makers and implementers need to be aware that what they might consider as common sense givens can in fact be highly contested issues. Adlam (1999) for example tells the story of how he tried to introduce reflective practice into a culture which was hostile to the idea of reflective practice, and the difficult fall-out arising from the attempt. Those who extol the virtues of reflective practice and critical thinking need themselves to reflect and think critically about what they are doing.

Research contexts

Action research is the most widely accepted methodological framework for reflective practice. Both concepts are now high profile throughout the professions. While the ideas might have become popularised through education, they are now part of methodological discourses in management, health care, police training, and a range of other professional activities. Clear recognition is given to issues of non-cognitive ways of knowing; the ideas of multiple intelligences and emotional intelligence, for example, have become popularised in the writings of management education researchers as well as in education and social scientific research.

While the ideas of reflective practice and action research might now be almost normative in professional education discourses , more research effort is needed to explain what happens when people decide to reflect on their work and how they make judgements about its quality. Most of the literature focuses on offering ideas about reflective practice and action research (for example, Zuber-Skerritt, 1992a and b). Most writers about action research and reflective practice tend to adopt an externalist perspective and write about issues in an abstract theoretical way (for example Carson and Sumara, 1997). Others, however, working within the new scholarship, are presenting their ideas in ways which show their own commitments and practices as action researchers (for example Lillis, 2000). These researchers offer descriptions and explanations of their practice which constitute their personal theories of practice (Whitehead, 1989).

This view is growing in popularity, since practitioners tend to see the appropriateness of studying their own practice with a view to finding ways of improving it for themselves. This is the approach adopted throughout Time to Listen. As a group, we decided to reflect on our individual practice, to share our insights, and to learn from one another. In this way we believe we grew as a research community, a community of reflective practitioners, all of whom were concerned to help others. Our group lived out the values of care, concern, and commitment which underpin the practices of collaborative critical reflection. Our small group, as we met in various places around the Portadown and Lurgan area, demonstrated in action the most powerful ideas to appear in the literature of educational research.

These then are some of the most important contexts for Time to Listen. How it happened, and why it happened in the way that it did, is recounted in the next chapter.

Chapter 3 Methodology

In this chapter we set out the organising principles for the research. We describe the methodological frameworks for our actions and their practical implementation. We describe the values that underpinned the project. In chapter 4, we show, through our descriptions of our actions, how we tried to live our values in our practice. We also explain how the substantive issues of the project, that is, the development of community relations and the raising of participants’ self esteem, became the guiding criteria by which we came to judge our work. If we could show that we were living our values of developing the kinds of relationships that would foster community understanding, and show how we had benefited in the process, we felt that we could claim that our internalised values about community relations and self esteem had manifested as living realities in our own lives. We felt that we were justified in claiming that we were living according to our personal and social educational and communitarian values.

Methodology

The methodology we used was action research. Action research is a concept which refers to a process of people taking action on a problematic situation, thinking about what they are doing, deciding that they might do it a better way, trying it out, reflecting on that action, and continuing with what they feel is now better practice, but always aware that they will need to update their thinking and modify their practice as the situation requires.

The process has been described like this:

We review our current practice,

identify an aspect we want to improve,

imagine a way forward,

try it out, and

take stock of what happens.

We modify our plan in the light of what we have found and continue with the ‘action’,

evaluate the modified action,

and so on until we are satisfied with that aspect of our work.

(McNiff, Lomax and Whitehead, 1996: 47)

The focus of an action enquiry is the person, the ‘I’. It is a case of the self studying the self. The process can be described as an attempt by the person to live their values in their practice, and so involves asking questions of the form, ‘How do I improve my practice so that I am living my values?’ (Whitehead, 1989).

Often the process begins because a person is dissatisfied with an element of their work, and they decide to change it. Whitehead (1989) says that this situation can arise because the person recognises themselves as a ‘living contradiction’ when they think one thing yet do another. For example, they may hold values around democracy, but find themselves acting in undemocratic ways. Whitehead has expressed this situation like this:

I experience a concern when some of my educational values are denied in my practice;

I imagine a solution to that concern;

I act in the direction of the imagined solution;

I evaluate the outcome of the solution;

I modify my practice, plans and ideas in the light of the evaluation.

(Whitehead, 1989).

These ideas can then be developed into a coherent plan which involves action, and reflection on the action:

What is my concern?

Why am I concerned?

What do I think I can do about it?

What will I do?

How will I gather evidence to show that I am influencing the situation?

How will I ensure that any judgements I make are reasonably fair and accurate?

What will I do then? (see also McNiff, 1993, 2000, 2001)

The values that inform action research include the following:

It is participatory – action research is carried out by individuals, but individuals are always in company with others. Because they are investigating their work, and their work is always with others, they cannot do their research in isolation. They might do their research by themselves, but they are always in interaction with others in some way.

Self reflection is central – action research is not just action. It involves thinking about what we are doing, gathering and reflecting on data, and modifying our actions accordingly. Although self reflection is essentially an individual activity, it can also be participatory, because we tend to share our ideas with others and they can help us find new ways forward that we might not have thought of ourselves.

It is democratic – everyone’s opinions are valued in participatory processes. We might not agree with the opinion, but listening and finding ways of getting along together are part of democratic processes. We try to negotiate our positions through compassionate conversations.

It is open-ended – there are no final answers in life or in action research. As soon as we come to what we think is an answer, a satisfactory situation, the situation itself changes and we are prompted to find new ways of living well in that situation.

It is full of risk – trying to improve situations in public contexts is highly problematic. Often, for a range of reasons, other people are comfortable with the situation that researchers are trying to improve, so conflict can arise because one person wants to go in one direction while others might want to go in another.

As supporters with a good deal of experience of working in action research contexts, we were highly aware of the richnesses that undertaking action enquiries can bring, but we were also aware of the problematics, and we factored these awarenesses into our practice of supporting the teachers and encouraging them to become reflective about what they were doing.

Research design

Our research design was as follows:

Our research aim was to encourage people to find ways of thinking about their work in a constructive way, so that they could improve their teaching in order to influence the quality of learning experience for their students. We felt that improvement at our local level in schools might impact (possibly in the longer term) on students’ attitudes and practices in the wider contexts of their communities. In this way we felt we were using our influence to improve community relations: first we were improving our own local relationships with one another and with the children, in the hope that we would influence the children’s dealings with others in the wider community.

Our timing for our data gathering was January 2000 – June 2001. Time was also spent prior to that period for planning, so the research period lasted from September 1999 – July 2001.

Participants were eight teachers, three support staff, one director, and a group of advisors and observers, drawn from the Southern Education and Library Board, the Craigavon District Partnership, and various other individuals from a variety of institutions who were interested in the work. The proposed project was presented via workshops in various geographical regions to a much larger number of teachers, with an invitation for them to become involved. In the event, eight teachers committed fully to the work. Other agencies became involved in the teachers’ research: personnel from the Nerve Centre and an art therapist. The Nerve Centre, based in Derry, is an organisation which promotes the use of multimedia, film making, animation, and music technology. More recently it has been involved in creating a CD Rom of the 1916 Rising for the CCEA, to be used in schools to promote citizenship education. The Centre has a department which deals solely with promoting the use of creative technologies in education. The art therapists who were involved in the project were from an organisation called Make Your Mark. Their mission statement is ‘To provide a safe and supportive environment for children and adults, enabling them to purse their own healing and growth through the creative art process, thus empowering them to express and understand their inner conflicts and emotions’.

Methodology – we used an action research approach throughout. We also used interpretive approaches, such as when teachers interviewed students and interpreted the data using their own categories of analysis; similarly when Jean compiled the report and used tape-recorded interviews with teachers as part of her data.

Data gathering – the data gathering techniques used, both by supporters and teachers, and the students they were supporting, included: field notes, reflective diaries, audiotape recordings, videotape recordings, observations, letters, reports, official documents, live conversations, photographs and the use of a digital camera. All the data was carefully analysed by the researchers, and now resides in their various archives.

Ethics: throughout we were concerned that we should observe good ethical conduct. From the beginning of our work as supporters, we made it clear to teachers that all work was confidential. We did not produce written ethics statements, since we were aware of the sensitivities both around the project and also because of the wider political situation; we felt that formal documents in our small group might have appeared intimidating, so we decided, after much thought, to keep our interactions on as informal a basis as possible. We explained, however, and constantly revisited the issue, that participants’ rights would always be honoured: these involved participants’ rights to withdraw from the research with the promise that all data would be destroyed; guaranteed confidentiality; negotiated access and strict adherence to what participants felt would be acceptable for them; keeping others involved and informed. We supporters emphasised to the teachers the importance also of negotiating access and permission with the students.

Evaluation – we built evaluation in from the start. Evaluation is part of action research processes, in that we constantly reflect on our work and change it in the light of better ideas. We all kept reflective diaries, and shared our ideas when we met in various groups. People acted as critical friends and advisors to one another. Because we did not have a definitive set of outcomes in mind, the process of evaluation, along with the process of the project, evolved. We took opportunities to enhance whatever we were doing at the time.

Research diary

Here is an outline of the work undertaken during the project. It needs to be said that, while the list outlines the various activities undertaken, the project involved far more than these activities. The list presented here cannot capture the richness or complexities of people working together in such a variety of contexts and settings, nor of the quality of relationships which were developed through the interactions. In a possible further report, we hope to present a full diary of events, as well as show how the effort put in to sustain the momentum actually was a contributing factor to generating enthusiasm and commitment to the project by all participants.

2000

May – July 18 planning meetings between teachers and Project Coordinator and Project Officer, at schools and at cluster meetings. Planning also took place via email, letter and telephone calls.

August 31 Mary Rose gives INSET day at School A.

September 15 Planning day, Magee

September 18 Positive Ethos Trust review of projects

October 18 Planning day, LCVA

October 27 Planning day Magee

November 24 Support and planning day, School A

December 1st Planning day, Magee

December 12 Omagh Teachers’ Centre, strategic planning for Support Team

December 15 School A: Teachers 1–3, in-school support day

December 20 School C Teacher 5, in-school support day

2001

January 10 Project Officers at Magee, planning day.

January 17 Meeting with Make Your Mark Art Therapy group

January 18 Group meeting in Portadown, teachers, supporters, Board Advisors from SELB.

January 24 Interviews between Lucia Mc Geady and teachers, pupils and principal at School A.

January 31 Meeting at the Nerve Centre to begin film planning arrangements for School A.

February 2 Project Office at Lurgan, planning day and meeting with SELB.

February 5 Teacher 6, School D, in school support day.

February 7 Mary Rose at University of Ulster, Coleraine for inauguration of UNESCO Chair. Lucia at St Mary’s Teacher Training College facilitating work with third year teachers, supported by Mary Rose. Bullying awareness using circle time.

February 8–9 Anti-bullying conference, Omagh.

February 9 Community Relations Debate at Holywell House. The forum included representatives from the DUP, Community Relations Council, Peace and Reconciliation Group, and journalists.

Ongoing support was available to teachers every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from Mary Rose. Mary Rose made visits to all schools on these days and provided resources, advice and support for teachers.

February 14 Video skills training day for Year 10 pupils at School A, along with teacher 1 and film crew from the Nerve Centre.

Meeting with Assistant Senior Education Office, SELB Headquarters, Armagh.

Meeting with Chief Executive Officer, SELB Headquarters, Armagh.

February 15 Film planning day at School A with teachers 1, 2 and 3. Also present were Lucia and Producer/Director from the Nerve Centre. This day included finalising plans for filming that takes place on 22nd and 23rd February. A visit was also made to Drumcree Parish Church and Portadown city centre.

February 20 School E, Teacher 7, in school support day.

February 20 Evaluation visits to schools A, E and C by Jean and Mary Rose.

February 21 Evaluation visits to schools B and D by Jean and Mary Rose.

February 22 Evaluation visit to team staff based at Magee by Jean.

February 22 and 23 Film crew from Nerve Centre filming along with pupils from School A at Drumcree Parish Church, Oxford Island and Portadown city centre. The film included interviews with Rev Pickering at Drumcree Parish Church, people in Portadown city centre, and the teachers and pupils of School A.

February 23 School D, Teacher 6, in school support day.

March 6 Craigavon District Partnership meeting attended by Mary Rose.

March 13–14 Planning for the American Educational Research Conference. Lucia and Mary Rose aimed to meet with the Mayor of Seattle as well as make visits to local universities and schools who would be attempting Community Relations work in their own context. This conference was an opportunity for the University of Ulster, SELB and the Craigavon District Partnership to forge positive links between the Craigavon area and Seattle.

March 23 All participating teachers attended dissemination meeting in Portadown.

April 10–14 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in Seattle: Lucia and Mary Rose both present papers about Time to Listen. Both presentations well attended.

May 10, 17 and 24 School E, Teachers 7 and 8, Make Your Mark worked with a year 8 class who have experienced many difficulties since joining School E.

May 25 Attendance by Lucia and Mary Rose at NELB workshop for innovative approaches to citizenship education. Presentation from Angels video made by pupils in School A. Interest expressed by members of School of Education, Coleraine.

May 31 School D working with Make Your Mark Art Therapy Group. Teacher 6 planned a dissemination day for the Year 10 Pastoral Care team. The team of nine teachers looked at the strategies employed by art therapists in order to address issues relating to poor pupil behaviour, low pupil self esteem and helping pupils and staff cope with loss and bereavement. The teachers were given an introduction to Art Therapy as a means of addressing the needs of pupils who are experiencing many different levels of difficulty within their schools. The research of Teacher 6 in her efforts to develop a bereavement policy has been particularly influential here.

June 1 Evaluation of conference, project to date, and possible directions for the future.

June 6 Mary Rose and Lucia at FOCUS group meeting, a forum for bringing together people from contexts which promote education for mutual understanding.

June 12 Conference preparations, meeting in School A.

June 13 Conference.

June 14 School A Inspection (highly successful – Inspector left with copy of the Angels video).

June 14, 21, 28 Make Your Mark team at School E.

June 18 Lucia and Mary Rose at Craigavon District Council celebration of the impacts from the Peace I funding.

June 19 Final report back to task group of Craigavon District Partnership (Mary Rose). Meeting with Nerve Centre about future possibilities (Lucia).

June 25–29 Lucia attended management course in Belfast.

July 2 Lucia gave interview to the Nerve Centre about Time to Listen.

July 5 Lucia at Nerve Centre to view presentation of video montage created by staff at the Nerve Centre. Tapes of the interview mentioned above, and of the Angels Drumcree Church interview were shown. The invited audience included the Minister for Education, members of the Inspectorate, and representatives from the ELBs and Channel 4 television, all of whom expressed interest in Time to Listen.

Reflection on these activities

Certain aspects of the research process are important.

Group involvement

The research process was always seen as a participatory process. The research did not ‘belong’ to anyone. People were generous with their time and support of one another.

Emergent processes

The research process and its evaluation evolved in line with participants’ needs and developing ideas. As the process evolved, so did our thinking as a group. We began to see things differently, and to understand what we were doing more effectively. Kushner (2000) maintains that this is the way educational forms of evaluation should proceed, rather than the traditional view that evaluation has a fixed objective: ‘… the notion that an evaluation can be designed at the outset and then pursued relentlessly to its conclusions is to misunderstand the emergent nature of theory’ (p. 87). As we acted and reflected, our new theories of practice emerged. Our theories were embodied within our practice, and arose out of our practice, as Schön (1995) says is the way of the new scholarship. Our theories will, we hope, continue to develop as our work develops.

Significant outcomes from small beginnings

Margaret Mead said: ‘Never underestimate the power of groups of committed citizens to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has’ (Mead, 1973, quoted in Henderson, 1996: 123). We feel that the amount of activity and the quality of its educational outcomes can be presented as significant contributions to educational debates. We feel that we have not only achieved the stated goals of the project in terms of improved community relations: we have also contributed to the body of educational theory by presenting our research narratives for the critical scrutiny of others. We have learnt from our experience (Winter, 1989) and, like Polanyi (1958: 327), we have decided that we must understand the world from our own point of view, as persons claiming originality and exercising their personal judgement responsibly with universal intent.

Contributing to the new scholarship

By reflecting on our work, and producing our accounts of practice, we believe we are creating our own living educational theories (Whitehead, 1989) which show how we hold ourselves accountable for our practice. We can claim to have achieved high standards of evidence-based practice, and this evidence has been validated by external bodies of researchers. Our contributions are not based on opinion; they are rooted in quality scholarship which has been subjected to rigorous analysis and processes of judgement. We have deliberately made our work public, and continue to do so, because we believe passionately that groups of practitioners need to stand accountable for their work if they are to improve their situations. As J. B. Macdonald says (1995), it is our duty as professionals to profess, and this we do.

In our next chapter we outline the actual practice of the project. In chapter 5 we further discuss the potential significance of what we have done, and how it might contribute to educational theorising for the purpose of better understanding the nature of social formations.

Chapter 4 Action

In this chapter we tell the story of what happened in the project. We also offer our views of what was successful and what could have been done differently. We explain our own learning, and point to the significance of that learning for future work.

The comments from the teachers are taken from transcripts of tape recorded conversations. Data is also presented from papers written by teachers, comments from observers, and personal diaries and journals.

Developing the project

Initially Lucia and Mary Rose presented ideas about the project at meetings in six different locations in the area. They had invited teachers to attend the meetings to hear how the work might help them. Lucia and Mary Rose also visited with 11 principals to explain what the project was about and what it might achieve.

‘Originally when the Time to Listen Project was mooted there was a vagueness about it and senior management didn’t know what it was about, and they asked me, and in a way I volunteered to find out.’ (Teacher 6)

The ‘vagueness’ did appear to present a problem, in that some principals evidently would have preferred to have a clear indication of what the anticipated outcomes would be. However, principals did give their permission for staff to be involved, and all principals were most supportive of the work.

‘Our principal has been very supportive. He would see [my research focus] as an important issue and he thinks it is valuable work and something which we need to address.’ (Teacher 6)

Lucia began her planning and organisational work as Project Coordinator in January 2000, and Mary Rose was appointed in March 2000 as Project Officer. Lucia’s work was to coordinate and manage the project; Mary Rose’s responsibilities were to visit with teachers in their workplaces, and provide the emotional and practical support necessary to maintain teachers’ confidence and enthusiasm, as well as provide resources such as readings and equipment where possible. All teachers attested to benefit of the personalised support which both Lucia and Mary Rose offered.

‘Lucia has been so helpful throughout. All I needed to do was pick up the phone’ (Teacher 7).

‘What encouraged me was Mary Rose. She has encouraged me to say, “Don’t make firm decisions until you have thought it through.” … She has encouraged me enormously.’ (Teacher 4)

Initially it was anticipated that some twelve teachers would take part in the project. In the event, eight committed, and they sustained coming to meetings and also to doing a project in their own schools.

The projects varied in focus. They were:

School A [Name] Junior High

Teachers 1, 2 and 3.

Project: to work with a group of disaffected boys in year 10 on their pre-GCSE English Projects. The focus of the work would be to present Portadown and its surrounds in a light that would attract a visitor to the town. As part of the project, a group of boys made a video, Angels, with the help of personnel from the Nerve Centre (see chapter 3).

School B [Name] Integrated College

Teacher 4

Project: to devise a Religious Education Curriculum for non-GCSE students.

School C [Name] Grammar School

Teacher 5

Project: to develop a Health and Safety policy throughout the school, in order to raise awareness among the students of the need for care of the environment and for one another.

School D [Name] Comprehensive College

Teacher 6

Project: to develop a bereavement policy, given the high incidence of bereavement in the school itself and its environs.

School E [Name] Junior High

Teachers 7 and 8

Project: to work with two groups of children in years 8 and 9, to help them raise their own self esteem. The focus would be on developing personalised approaches to the children in form time and in RE classes.

It has to be remembered that the aim of the overall Time to Listen Project was an improvement in community relations. Subsidiary objectives included the raising of self esteem and a sense of achievement. We, the support team, held fast to the value that community relations referred equally to the process of developing good relationships among staff in schools and among staff and children, as much as to the development of good relationships in the wider community. While each project issue was eminently worthwhile in itself, each project was embedded in the context of the development of good relationships and the enhancement of self esteem, for the teachers as much as for the children. We saw the process of forming good relationships itself as the key to the development of good community relations; it was through personal reflection on, and understanding of, practice that good relationships at a local and wider level could develop. We therefore encouraged teachers to identify an issue which they personally felt committed to and to investigate that as their project. We as a team would support them regardless of their choice of topic. This we felt was also in accordance with good action research methodology, that it is important to begin where people already are, and not to attempt to force them into a position which they did not wish to occupy.

Our decision to maintain this stance in fact proved to be the right one. If we hoped to encourage the development of self esteem in teachers, the strategy certainly paid off. Teacher 6 tells of how she experienced slight pressure from a member of the Senior Management Team to redefine her project in terms of what he felt would be more beneficial to the school.

Teacher 6 When they heard there was support available they thought maybe I would consider another area, but after our initial meeting I thought it was important that it was about my professional development. … In a way I felt selfish, but … whatever I gain from this I can pass on to other staff and to other pupils. … By nature I am very much a ‘yes’ person, and whatever I am asked to do I will always say ‘yes’ to. But I prioritised what I considered to be an important issue for the school and I decided to pursue that issue, so it has been very much a learning experience for me.

Jean About your capacity to stick to your own ideas?

Teacher 6 Very much so. I feel more self confident and professional as a result of that.

Jean Is there maybe a direct link between being involved in this project and that improved self confidence?

Teacher 6 Yes. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

At the end of this particular conversation, Teacher 6 makes the comment:

‘Until now I have allowed other people to move me on rather than move myself on.’

This, we feel, is an example of how teachers can develop confidence in their own professional judgement if they are encouraged to do so. Here, we believe, is an example of a teacher developing her own standards of judgement from within the experience of reflecting on her practice and exercising her responsibility as a professional educator. In this we feel the aim of the project was entirely vindicated and that the idea of community relations itself has become a clear living standard of judgement by which teachers have come to assess their own professional practice.

A first step in developing the teachers’ work in schools was to bring the teachers together to discuss what they might investigate and for what purpose. The teachers’ meetings were held in various hotels around the region. We attached a clear value to the choice of venues; we felt that accommodation should be pleasant so that the group could develop a sense of ease and confidence. This was much appreciated. Teachers spoke of their developing confidence in one another as they became used to the idea of talking freely and without fear of judgemental responses. Teacher 4 writes in a paper presented at the final conference:

‘I decided to attend the first meeting of the Time to Listen Project in the [Name] Hotel and was quite relieved when we were given the opportunity to express and share our initial fears and questions concerning the purpose of this initiative. The aims and objectives of the project were clarified for us by the two facilitators present, Lucia Mc Geady and Mary Rose Elliott. I was most impressed by the immediate honesty and interaction amongst the teachers present …’

A member of a support agency, reacting to the presentations at the celebratory conference, comments:

‘I suppose for me the most significant part of the Time to Listen Celebration today was seeing the tremendous personal and professional development which had taken place in the teachers. I had attended meetings in the early days when the teachers were unsure of themselves and what they could do. It’s sad that [traditional forms of] teacher education to some extent deskill teachers so that often they feel they aren’t able to question methods or reflect on different approaches in the way that the Time to Listen teachers had the opportunity to do.’

The meetings aimed to address many issues: the substantive issues of how the teachers might undertake their action enquiries, as well as the more subtle issues of encouraging the teachers to come to believe that they were capable of exercising professional judgement and developing their own criteria for success in what they felt were educational ways.

Writing about the first teachers meeting, Teacher 3 comments about the support in developing an appropriate focus and methodology for her research: ‘Jean’s outline of action research helped us to realise that we needed to narrow the focus of our project, so we decided to concentrate on a small group of Year 10 boys.’

All teachers attest to the value of the support offered during the meetings, and the delight in being able to talk with colleagues from different contexts and share the dilemmas of practice.

‘The most important thing that came across at the meetings is that people just had time to sit down and actually talk to someone. I was talking to a colleague here in school last week and she said, “Isn’t teaching the loneliest profession?” I said to her, “What do you mean?” and she said, “Well, you spend your whole day with children, and you never have a conversation with an adult except when you are drinking a cup of tea or having your lunch. Other than that you spend your whole day with children.” … It’s nice to have a chance to sit down with other adults and discuss professional issues. Not only that. It’s nice to be able to talk with someone who understands what it’s like to be a teacher in today’s schools. … But also to hear other people’s experiences of their own school environment and what it’s like to be a teacher in a particular school, and also in subject areas.’ (Teacher 7)

One teacher, as well as expressing his pleasure in meeting with other colleagues and sharing professional interests, spoke of how teachers’ own awareness of other contexts can be heightened:

Teacher 5 When you teach within a particular school context you can become very closeted and you are not aware of what is happening in other secondary schools, the problems they have to contend with. I became aware of the problems and needs of the less able kids which until now I wouldn’t have had a clue about. … I became more sympathetic too. Aware of the level of disadvantage.

Mary Rose And yet we’re all part of the same education system. This is a very small area. From Lurgan to Portadown is only a few short miles.

Teacher 5 Just shows how cut off you are.

The meetings were a continuing source of encouragement to the teachers, some of whom were otherwise working in isolation within their own schools. Other than the frequent visits of Mary Rose and occasional ones from Lucia, they did not have many opportunities in the early days to talk with anyone about their research, mainly because of the shortage of time, but also because what they were doing did not always capture the interest of other staff. It has to be said, however, that as time went on more staff became interested in what the Time to Listen teachers were doing, and some expressed interest in becoming involved.

Scope of the projects

Each project developed its own focus. Each demonstrated progress in the areas of teachers’ professional awareness of their practice, an improvement in relationships among teachers and students and among students and students, and an enhancement of self esteem both for teachers and for students: these were the espoused aims and objectives of Time to Listen (Tyrrell, 1999).

We now offer a brief resumé of each project, and present evidence, drawn from the data of conversations and reports, to support our claim that the project did indeed fulfil the task it set itself.

School A

The plan here was to involve a group of Year 10 boys from the E band in some pre-GCSE English coursework. The project for the boys was to prepare A Visitor’s Guide to Portadown and the surrounding area.

Preparing for the project presented a challenge for the teachers. Project diary entries at the time record their comments:

‘These are the boys who will do nothing. They don’t like English because they have to write. They feel that there is no point because they are dumb. … How they’ll react to the filming I don’t know. We’ll probably need a valium before they embark on it.’

The pupils did however come to feel special because they had been asked to take part, rather than 10A or 10B. ‘They asked [Teacher’s name] if she would get the sack if it didn’t work out. They even asked her is she would like them to wear suits.’ (Teacher 2)

The teachers decided collaboratively that they would invite the boys to work on a project. ‘We interviewed the boys, and we gave them a lot of information …’ (Teacher 2). ‘Also they’ve been using a couple of web sites and they have been practically knocking each other off the chairs to get at the computer to look that up. And when somebody gets information the others extort it from them.’ (Teacher 3)

Jean Where did the video come in?

Teacher 1 Do you remember the initial teachers’ meeting when we were talking about gathering evidence, and I said it would be nice to video it. I was hoping that we would get a camcorder for the department … we didn’t quite get the camcorder but we have managed to get something better in that they have had an experience they wouldn’t otherwise have had, learning to use full-size cameras.

Lucia and Mary Rose put the group of teachers in touch with the Nerve Centre, who proved enormously supportive of the teachers’ work. A group from the Nerve Centre, including a camera crew, visited the school to work with the boys and teachers. Eventually the group arranged to meet with the boys to produce a video, Angels (the boys’ choice of title because, they said, ‘people say we are no angels’), about the area of Portadown. This included interviews with the parish priest from Drumcree Church, the proprietor of the local pub, passers-by and tourists. The video was deemed an overwhelming success by all, including the Senior Management Team at the school. At a presentation on 5th July at the Nerve Centre to members of the Department of Education, Lucia spoke about the Project and showed the video; the Minister commented that the video was most impressive, and that the Project seemed to capture the living essence of what teacher professional education should be about.

These fine words seem a far cry from the beginning phases, as told by Teacher 1:

‘We wanted to see if we could make the boys more comfortable with the community they live in, the community of the school, because without that there could be no progress in reaching out towards the other community that we share our lives with here. They say that if anyone asked them where they are from, they don’t like to say they are from Portadown. They find it embarrassing, because people associate it with the Drumcree conflict through the process of the media over the years. They don’t like that. … But when the film crew came in last week, I didn’t catch on at first, the boys were very keen to get outside at lunch time. They wanted to be seen with the cameras by the other pupils. They wanted everyone in the school to see them, and they wanted people to come and ask them what they were doing and why. … At the end of the day, and this was probably unheard of, they nearly all to a man said thank you to the producer, that they had had a great day, they had really enjoyed it, and they have been talking about it ever since.’

At one of the teacher meetings, in response to the issue of whether the boys felt better about themselves, Teacher 1 responded:

‘At the beginning of the project, one of the students said, “I’m lucky because we got picked because we are dumb.” This was their self perception. Now, however, they are seeing themselves as more important. They asked us teachers to please put up a notice so that everyone knows what they are doing.’ There seems a shift in self perception, as reflected in the kind of language used. ‘I have noticed a change in them; there is more cooperation among themselves. They are more cooperative with me.’

When asked what might have been a key factor in stimulating this kind of shift, teachers identified their changed practice of giving more individual attention to the boys: ‘The fact that we see them as individuals rather than just as the class. For example, the day we interviewed them, the fact that we were giving them one to one attention, something there is very rarely time for in a whole school situation because of the pressures of the timetable.’ (Teacher 3)

School B

Teacher 4, working in an Integrated School, has responsibility as Head of Religious Education to develop an RE syllabus for non-GCSE pupils. ‘At the end of year 10 pupils are given the option of choosing RE as a GCSE subject. About 50% of them do, but that means that another 50% don’t. According to legal requirements in years 11 and 12 we have to teach those pupils RE for one hour per week. My task therefore was to organise a suitable course which these non-GCSE pupils can follow, and enjoy the experience.’ Teacher 4 comes from a traditional background of schooling, in which RE was presented as a factual discipline, and taught in a didactic way and with plentiful use of textbooks. ‘The way I was taught RE, it was a matter of textbook open, copying out, learn it for the exam, that’s RE. It’s one of the reasons I became an RE teacher, to try to open the whole thing up, try to make it more enjoyable for the children, to let them see that here is a subject that is relevant to life. Therefore my aim is to let the children see that there are issues we can learn about which at some stage in their lives they are going to have to think about, form an opinion on, even face.’ By and large pupils did not respond well to the idea of RE: ‘when a child comes into my class in the first year, “Oh, no, not RE”.’ Yet how Teacher 4 is now developing his teaching has led to enjoyment and enthusiasm by the children and a renewal of interest in the subject: ‘From what parents have been able to say to me from parents’ night, they do like it, they have become involved in their work, they are learning what they are actually being taught in the class.’

By reflecting on his work, Teacher 4 came to the conclusion that he should depart from traditional interpretations of RE and develop a new form of syllabus, one which tapped into the real life experience of the children and which would capture their imagination. While this was the aim, he recognised the problematics of working in this way within a divided society. ‘The first year I came here I suggested that we do something new and go on a church trail around the different churches in the area. Here I had a lot of difficulty from both traditions. Catholic children would come to me and say, “I’m not going into a Presbyterian church”, and Protestant children would come and say, “I’m not going into a chapel. If my parents found out about that I’d be in big trouble, my community would reject me then.”’ So he found himself in the ironic situation of running the risk of fragmenting community relations through the process of trying to develop inclusive forms of relationships. ‘I try to get them to look for themselves and see those churches, and see that a lot of what they have been taught within wider contexts might be wrong. I say to the children, “By the time we finish your GCSE course you might realise that we actually have more in common than we have divides. It’s not for me to judge, but for you to make up your own minds.” I think that RE is an excellent opportunity to teach them values and skills of respect, tolerance, acceptance. Church buildings might seem a rather mundane topic, but there is so much which can be developed.’

Out of this commitment to encouraging the children to see through their own eyes and confront their own prejudices, Teacher 4 set about devising a new form of syllabus. This proved difficult. He had to find or develop materials which met the needs of the children to open their eyes. He found that some attitudes were entrenched: ‘First their attitude to authority, and second being in the integrated system. It meant I was being made aware of the many misconceptions the children have. When a child came to me and said, “I don’t want to learn Protestant RE” or “I don’t want to learn Catholic RE,” I had to say, “Look, we are following a common RE syllabus which all the main churches in Ireland have agreed to.” My main message was, “Be proud of what your tradition is, be proud of where you come from. I am not here to influence you or change what you personally believe. All I want to seek to do is try to get you to listen to what someone from the opposing tradition might believe”.’ Yet there were no materials available which communicated these ideas. Published resources did not seem to offer the personalised approach that he was looking for. ‘I have changed my mind on things three or four times, decided, and then changed again. My automatic thinking was to get a syllabus and work my way through it. What encouraged me was Mary Rose. She said, “Look at what is available. Find what might be stimulating materials for the children. Once you see what’s available, then get the process going to organise the course or syllabus yourself”.’ Teacher 4 took this encouragement to begin to believe that perhaps a published syllabus might not be the answer he was looking for; perhaps the answer was there in his already available resources: himself and the children.

Other colleagues at the teachers meetings offered advice, ways in which he might find out what the children’s interests were and build up his own syllabus in accordance with their wishes and identified needs. Acting on this advice he began to develop a research project which focused on inviting the children’s opinion on what they wished to learn. He talked to children on a one-to-one and also a group basis. He issued a survey to assess their areas of interest, bearing in mind his previous comments that he wished to deal with issues which they might at some time have to deal with in their lives. While wishing to deal with such areas, however, he was clear throughout about his main aim, that of establishing good relationships among the children: ‘… at the end of the day what I want to encourage the children to do is to make their own informed, responsible decisions. I want them to have the opportunity just to open their minds up a bit, to be able to listen to others in the class, to be able to listen to my point of view, and disagree if they wish, but in an appropriate manner. If I can do that, then I think I am achieving something.’

He gathered the children’s views by means of a small survey which invited them to rank issues in terms of preference: the findings revealed that most children wished to study, in this order, drugs, marriage, relationships, the Easter story, festivals, leisure, abortion and euthanasia. Some children had other orders of preferences, and one child in particular wished above all things to study the Easter story. So in communicating back to the class what the wishes of the majority were, Teacher 4 was also at pains to point out that individuals had different preferences, and their wishes were to be respected. In this way he was modelling for the class not only the practice of democratic choice, but also respect for minority opinions and commitment to letting all voices be heard.

Many important issues arise from the work of Teacher 4. In terms of his own professional learning, he came to see that he needed to depart from normative forms of teaching in which one teaches a set syllabus to children, and find ways rather in which they wish to learn. ‘Time to Listen has allowed me time to think seriously about what the children’s needs are. It’s helped me to go from what I can do to a situation to what do the children need, and that’s a big difference. … It’s probably a reversal of everything I was taught in college. There it was, “Look, it’s the end product we are after. How you get there doesn’t matter. It’s the end product.” Now I look at some of the work I produced and I think, How much really did I think about the kids I was going to teach? It was more a case of What am I confident of being able to teach? Is it something I can mark? When the principal comes to look at their notebooks, will they be seen to be doing well?’

The new focus fits well with the views of curriculum theorists such as Stenhouse (1975) and Elliott (1998), who call for a shift from an objectives oriented curriculum to a process oriented curriculum if the aim of schooling is to encourage young people to develop independence of mind and action. Curriculum should not be viewed as a syllabus, but as a creative conversation between teachers and pupils as they come to understand the nature of their identities and their relationships in the world. For Teacher 4 his own intuitive process of theorising led to the development of his own theory of curriculum as embodied in the lives of himself and the young people he was teaching. He developed his own living theory of religious education from within his own practice, and came to understand his work not as a performance which could be assessed through normative competences but as a social practice which took as its standards of judgement the way in which children learned to listen and learn from one another. During the early conversations with colleagues and supporters, Teacher 4 expressed his dismay at not arriving at a fixed understanding of which syllabus he should develop. As time went on he came to see that the very idea of uncertainty is part of the process of curriculum theorising. He held himself open to new possibilities, as he encouraged his children to do. His work is now having some influence throughout the school. ‘Colleagues have asked about it, and they have been impressed.’ In terms of what he has learnt about his own practice as an RE teacher, Teacher 4 has come to see that the focus of schooling should be on children’s learning: ‘The guidance which Time to Listen has given me is to try to base my teaching on what and how the children wish to learn. It’s communicating to them the importance of learning for themselves by experience and by shared experience with other children.’

School C

Teacher 5 was deeply concerned over the state of the school yard. He felt that the amount of litter was symptomatic of wider issues to do with care for the environment, and how that might also translate into a health and safety policy for the school. ‘I’m very worried that not enough people are conscious of the environment. I think we need to develop awareness of good habits, particularly in school life.’ So he set about doing something about it. ‘It’s the environment of school itself. It makes kids more aware of cleanliness and hygiene.’ Teacher 5 saw the deep connections between awareness of the environment and awareness of the needs of other people. From the perspective of the need to develop good community relationships in the whole area, it would be important to communicate messages to others about civic pride: ‘We are trying to develop tourism in this country. You have to be aware of the environment and treat it in a respectful manner.’

He shared his concerns with colleagues and supporters in our group and received a good deal of advice about how to tackle the issue. He recognised that he could not win the battle overnight, but could perhaps encourage children to raise their own awareness. In order to do this, he encouraged his form class to find ways of communicating their concerns to care for the environment. On the day of interviewing, Mary Rose and Jean were treated to an extravaganza of posters in Teacher 5’s classroom. The children, he said, had been working on them, and were now about to develop the images using software packages.

One of the main difficulties was to challenge and overcome a certain degree of apathy among the young people. ‘One guy said, “Let’s have a bin in every locker.” I said, “Why in every locker? Can’t you walk to the bin?” … Children take a lot for granted and it almost becomes instinctive to throw down a paper rather than walk and put it in the bin. Overcoming these attitudes is the most difficult part.’

He could however begin to show that his influence was having some impact. Three fourteen-year old boys, of their own accord, ‘went out into the school grounds at dinner time and gathered thirteen big bin bags of rubbish.’ At the Conference, these boys appeared and offered their own explanations for why they wished to be involved. They explained that they saw care of the environment as their personal responsibility, and said that if everyone were to develop awareness about the need for all contributions, this would go some way to changing attitudes on a wider level.

For Teacher 5, excellence in cognitive skills is not enough to be regarded as a complete person. It is essential also to engage our emotional and connative capacities. Often schools focus on academic skill, to the detriment of the education of the whole person. ‘When a school has a primary aim of passing exams, it sometimes takes away from the fact that the child can have problems. You can become so involved in the academic process that you forget about their inner turmoil. Maybe some kids are suffering and you are unaware of it.’

Being part of Time to Listen helped Teacher 5 to raise his own awareness around some of these issues, also because he found himself in contact for the first time with teachers from schools working in different ways and different contexts, and with priorities other than academic ones. ‘Contact with other teachers has made me aware of the need for sharing ideas. I became more aware of things that were going on in other schools that I wouldn’t have a clue about.’ For him, being involved in the project was a real journey into awareness.

School D

Teacher 6 wanted to develop a bereavement policy for the school. ‘Bereavement is a key issue for me; it has such an impact on the whole community.’ There had been a number of deaths in the school, one a year over the last 25 years, and the social context was one of personal instability and lack of cohesion because of the problematic political situation and the kinds of difficulties which such a context engenders.

Teacher 6 wanted to find ways of encouraging the children to deal with issues of grief, death and other forms of loss. She ultimately wanted to promote a view of death not as a final outcome but as part of the process of living; death meant an opportunity for new beginnings as much as closure of old ways of being. How to develop the idea however was the challenge, both in terms of developing appropriate teaching methodologies as well as creating and introducing such a policy at a systemic level. With the encouragement of Lucia, Teacher 6 decided to approach other providers to help her understand and develop both issues.

With the help of Make Your Mark (see chapter 3), an art therapist became involved in the work of Teacher 6. ‘Coming from my own art background I thought I would ask youngsters what was their view of death and express it through a picture. I thought this might be less intimidating for them.’ Teacher 6 learned from the art therapist, and in turn helped the children to produce some quality work. ‘I was absolutely amazed at the response. I targeted two groups: a Key Stage 3 and a Key Stage 4 class; this meant I had the views of 12–13 year olds, and of 15–16 year olds.’ Teacher 6 invited the children to express in visual form what the word ‘Death’ meant for them. ‘One lad in particular had drawn a picture of a man and he had just written, “Uncle, November 2000”. He had been a suicide, and it was very painful for him, and I think it took a lot of courage on his part to illustrate that, but in a sense it showed that he was open to the challenge of communication and he felt comfortable enough to do that.’

Teacher 6 took very seriously the idea of how she could view her work as research, and systematically gathered data both about the development of her own learning and that of her children.

‘I gathered evidence to show that this was an issue: I can produce evidence from the groups, the pictures, their poetry. One girl brought me her poems she wrote in response to D’s death’ (D was a pupil who had been killed in a car crash earlier that year). ‘It turned out her mum had lost a baby just before Christmas. … She actually asked if she could come in and speak to the junior class I had been working with.’

Following these experiences, Teacher 6 has begun to research the field for advice – ‘I identified the various organisations in the locality and asked their advice about what should be important in a bereavement policy’. Her feedback is helping her to identify key issues: ‘Identify clear aims of the policy and how they fit into school aims; if we all believe that school is a caring environment, how can we show we care for children who have been bereaved; an assessment of each situation – everyday things like that.’ She is also aware that teachers themselves need to be supported in their times of bereavement. Her awareness of the concept of bereavement has deepened to include issues such as loss of a pet, separation of parents or divorce; loss of childhood and the trauma of social turmoil. She has also begun to negotiate with other members of the school’s Pastoral Care Team how they might develop a bereavement policy together and recognises the inherent problematics: ‘People cope with bereavement in different ways and at different speeds. It might be difficult to write that into a policy, how we need to recognise the individuality of each person. But I think it can be done through clear support structures.’ She is aware of the need to involve the whole staff: ‘It would have to be a working document. It would not be a policy produced by me, end of story.’

The point of collaborative working and negotiation is key in the development of good relationships, and Teacher 6 has come to appreciate how one needs to live out the practices of the values one espouses. The development of community relations is her core value. She has therefore actively sought to involve all personnel in her work, particularly the year heads and others involved in the pastoral care system. As yet, while some individuals have expressed support, others do not seem to be aware of the importance of the issue. ‘One colleague could see more pressing areas.’ However, ‘Our principal would recognise this as an important issue and he thinks it is valuable work and something which we need to address.’

As noted above, Teacher 6 is highly aware of how her own learning and professional development have been encouraged through her participation in this project. ‘I have always known that I am a good teacher, but up until now my focus has been on the pupils. I related more strongly to pupils than to colleagues. The time out with Time to Listen has given me a chance to reflect on my professional identity. … I have changed the way I see myself. I feel that my professional status has improved. This has had a knock-on effect in terms of being prepared to become involved at a level of collegiality. Consequently I believe I am now a better teacher than before. I am saying this not in a boasting way. I have just become more aware and more professional.’

School E

Teachers 7 and 8 were deeply concerned about the level of self esteem among their form classes in years 8 and 9. The children, who were described as of low ability, did not value themselves. This went against the educational values of both teachers who felt that all children should be valued and helped to make their contribution, whatever it might be. In meetings with other teachers, Teacher 8 explained her deep concerns about an autistic boy, and about the low level of support he receives in the school. She felt almost helpless, she said, when she considers the intense needs of the boy, yet she realises that neither she nor other colleagues have received any specialist training in the area of autism. Teacher 7 identifies strongly with the children in her class who have such a poor image of themselves. The image seems to be reinforced by many with whom they come into contact. ‘I recognise myself there,’ said Teacher 7. Both teachers received sympathetic listening from colleagues in Time to Listen, and much advice as to how they might set about trying to improve the level of children’s self esteem.

Teacher 8 teaches maths; Teacher 7 is head of the RE Department. Over the course of several months Teacher 7 had gathered what she felt were appropriate resources and materials for use in class. ‘I’m trying to prepare worksheets for the children. I want to introduce them to basic terms like “achievement” so that they will know when they have achieved something.’ She was however encountering a problem in that commercially available resources were ‘aimed towards staff rather than pupils. I am trying to develop a more pupil friendly pack!’

Over the months, whenever Mary Rose visited, Teacher 7 would confess to not having produced any work. Mary Rose as always was reassuring: it did not matter whether there were any visible signs of progress; thinking was going on and that was progress in itself; the tangible material would emerge later. And indeed progress was going on, because Teacher 7 was developing profound insights about her work and what it meant to help build up a child’s self esteem. Teacher 8 was occupied with other school issues, so did not take such an active part in the project as Teacher 7. And Teacher 7 was developing her own theory of what the process of working with children of low self esteem actually involved.

First she decided to focus on the children, rather than the subject to be taught. ‘I changed how I react to them and how I work with them, and what I ask them in class. If we are doing a lesson say on one of the Bible characters, and an issue would be raised in it such as trust or forgiveness, instead of just giving them the usual material that they need for their exam, I also stop and say, “What do you think about this?” or “Would you react in this way?” Some very interesting responses come, things you wouldn’t expect kids to say.’

In response to what she felt she had achieved, Teacher 7 said that she felt she had done useful groundwork in getting to know the children as individuals, but that this was only the beginning. Now she had to develop lessons and resources which would help the children’s self esteem develop further. She was however quite clear that she could judge the effectiveness of her work in terms of the kind of relationships she had established with the children: ‘I feel that “relationship” is just showing an interest in the children. I mean, they will come into me and say, “She doesn’t like us, she doesn’t talk to us,” or “He doesn’t trust us, because he doesn’t let us do this, he tells us we can’t be trusted.” I try to talk with the children. If I know something has happened in a child’s life, for instance one girl whose mother has recently died, you don’t want to be blatant about it, and say, “Oh, tell me about it,” but maybe when something happens you’d maybe get alongside the child. Maybe the child would feel they could trust you. You try to do your best. I think that really tells children that you are interested in them.’

The question of evidence is tricky in areas such as how teachers can make judgements about whether or not children’s self esteem is growing. There are no definitive parameters, no yardsticks or measurements. Teacher 7 did however have clear standards of judgement as to whether her own work was having influence, as the following conversation demonstrates:

Jean Do you feel you are making progress with your group?

Teacher 7 I certainly feel there is a better relationship. There is trust there, and that’s good.

Jean Is it possible to produce evidence for that? Even reconstruct some of the things that the children might have said?

Teacher 7 I don’t know that the evidence is in what they said but the very fact that they said it. The fact that a wee girl who has big big problems, when she first came into my class she never spoke to me, she never even looked up, and now she came up this morning, she came up with sweets, “Do you want a sweet, Miss?” Now she had a bit of a problem with being bullied, and she came to me to tell me, so I thought that says a lot, that that child would actually come and say because she would never have done that. … My relationship with that child has changed.

Out of such episodes Teacher 7 has developed her own theory of practice in the area of helping children to value themselves. First, how children are treated is going to impact on their level of self esteem: ‘I think a lot of it comes from the attitude that you have for children.’ Then, if a teacher really wishes to establish an empathic relationship with a child, the teacher must herself actively find ways of getting through to the child. ‘I’ve worked in business for ten years, I’ve worked in industry too, and to me there is far more reward in teaching than you would ever find in business. You get so much back from children. You get a lot out of it as a result of giving, but if you’re not giving you’re not getting. That’s the way I look at it. You have to give to get.’ And it is the teacher’s responsibility to reflect on her practice and improve it for the benefit of the child, possibly one of the reasons why Time to Listen appeared to offer so much to teachers: ‘The emphasis is not so much on the children as on me, on how I teach and how I plan and what I see in it. And it’s not just the lower ability kids. I am trying to put this into practice with the best kids I teach academically.’

Like other Time to Listen teachers, Teacher 7 found the collegiality of the teacher meetings of paramount importance and benefit. She enjoyed the ‘time out’ and the opportunity to connect with others who shared similar concerns to herself. When asked whether she felt her work was having wider impact in the school, she responded, ‘People want to see if you talk the talk and walk the walk. I feel perhaps through what we are doing at the moment people are starting to see a few things and maybe want to find out what it is we are doing, and through that we might influence some people, but I think it is early days yet. … I think for a lot of them it will be what they see, not what you tell them to see that will matter, because people do judge you in that way, they like to see your work telling the story.’

This idea of the work telling the story is a most profound insight. We aim to live our values in our practice; we aim to live in a way that we demonstrate the meaning we give to our lives through the way that we live. All the teachers involved in the project, and the supporters too, made significant progress in their own thinking, as this chapter demonstrates, in how they view the nature of relationships in communities, and how those relationships are forged.

In the following chapter we discuss what we consider are the main findings of the work. We wish to end this chapter with words from the report of the three teachers in School A. While they are talking about their own context, they could be speaking for us all.

Women’s groups talk about ‘The Glass Ceiling’ where they can see opportunities but are unable to break through and reach them. Here in Portadown, we talk about ‘The Glass Floor’. We can see what has happened, layer upon layer, but we can’t change what has taken place. We understand why some individuals and groups behave as they do, but we can't undo the hurt, suspicion and trauma. We have to live in the present and deal with our situation on a daily basis. The problem about standing on a glass floor is that you can’t make drastic or sudden moves. One enthusiastic leap too many, and the floor cracks! Then you find yourself falling. Progress will be slow, and movement cautious.

Participation in this project has enhanced the boys’ perceptions of themselves, their school and their own community.

Time to Listen has taught us that standing on a glass floor does not necessarily mean standing still. We have taken the first step on a long journey!

Chapter 5 Findings

We all learnt a great deal from being involved in Time to Listen, supporters, teachers, children, other partners. In chapter 4 we have indicated some of the teachers’ learning. In this chapter we wish to focus also on what the supporters learnt, and how those learnings address wider issues with regard to the place of education in the evolution of social formations.

Brief reports such as this allow only main ideas to come through, and we recognise that the issues about which we are writing deserve volumes; indeed significant literatures already exist which deal with the issues, though not necessarily in the way in which we are dealing with them here. Here we want to communicate how we have learnt about these issues through reflecting on our practices which embody the issues, and how we can now draw on theories in the literature to inform the development of our own living theories of education for mutual understanding.

We organise our learnings into three categories concerning forms of classroom pedagogy, forms of teacher education, and what might be some of the implications for the development of personal and collective identity.

1 Issues of classroom pedagogies

Critical debates continue in the literature about child-centred and subject centred pedagogies, and about which approaches lead to most effective learning, and which approach influences what and how children learn. It is generally held that pedagogies which acknowledge the emotional and social needs of children will enable children to learn specific subject matters more effectively than if only cognitive aspects of learning are addressed (see for example Joyce et al., 1999). While there might be a good deal of research evidence to support this view, some current policies in Northern Ireland and Britain do not seem to accommodate it. Academic strands of the National Curriculum, for example, concentrate largely on the achievement of cognitive excellence. Cognitive excellence is tested by means of normative criteria whose results may be numerically assessed. The propositional view of ‘if x then y’ permeates the curriculum, which is ‘delivered’ by teachers who are often constrained within strict boundaries as to what and how they should teach. In a famous article of 1999, Chris Woodhead, the then Chief Inspector for Schools, called for the books of John Dewey to be banned, saying that ‘Too many teachers continue to think that didactic teaching is outmoded and ineffective.’ The irony is, says Kushner, that ‘at virtually the same time the Secretary for State for Education announced an initiative to stimulate citizenship education in schools’ (Kushner, 2000: 203n). And the existence of curriculum themes such as Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage suggest that learning has to be supported through child-centred pedagogies (see for example DENI, 1999b).

We as supporters and teachers knew this already. We knew our Dewey and Freire, yet the theory became real through our critical reflection on practice. We realised the most obvious lessons, that we needed to show interest in our children at a personal level, and encourage them to show interest and respect for one another, regardless of their background or social contexts. The data shows an increased awareness of the need for children to be at the heart of teaching, for substantive issues always to be contextualised within a clear awareness of children’s learning experience. We grew in our understanding that substantive issues should not be seen only as bodies of knowledge ‘out there’, but also as part of children’s life experience. How children make sense of what they are learning determines the value of what they are learning, the meaning they give to what they are learning. This includes issues such as citizenship and mutual understanding. Citizenship and mutual understanding are not substantive bodies of knowledge, separated from children’s experience, to be accessed at a cognitive level only. They are experiential bodies of knowledge which are given meaning by the way children understand themselves as citizens who are growing in mutual understanding. We came to understand that children are able to exercise their judgement in ways which show how they can become critically aware of how they are living their values in practice. The children were able to identify and develop their own standards of judgement, and these standards developed as they became increasingly aware of what their practice meant in terms of their potential wider influence in the social world. The boys who made the video thanked the film crew; environmentally aware children gathered bags of litter and set new standards of practice for themselves and their peers; a little girl began to communicate with her teacher and others; a bereaved child drew comfort from being able to confront her grief in a supportive atmosphere that encouraged her to grow in spite of her pain; children became confident in negotiating their own syllabi. These might seem like small triumphs. They are in fact highly significant, and show how one individual’s commitment to learn can influence the development of wider social formations (see McNiff, 2000).

2 Issues of teacher education

The same issues of which pedagogies are most appropriate to nurture children’s learning apply to the kinds of pedagogies used to teach teachers. Teaching, both for students and teachers, is still largely informed by the propositional idea that ‘if we do something to these people they will perform to a certain standard’.

Lucia recounts her experience of different forms of postgraduate studies, and these experiences seem to be common to many others. Forms conducted in a traditional vein did not encourage critique: ‘You are not encouraged to challenge. I would be sitting and the lecturer would talk. … I don’t think my grammar school education encouraged me to ask questions, and I don’t think my university education did so either.’ Her experiences however differed when she undertook her MSc Education Management course which encouraged her to adopt a critical reflective approach to study: ‘In the first weeks we were encouraged to challenge everything!’

There are clear indications that the knowledge base of teachers’ professional education is shifting. Books such as Laurillard (1993) show the need to problematise teaching for learning processes, and this emphasis carries into what are considered new developments in teacher education (see Bullough and Pinnegar, 2001). Contemporary literature is full of how teachers should be encouraged to undertake their action enquiries and to monitor the effectiveness of what they are doing. There is need for concern, however, about how action research is viewed. A popular view follows an interpretive approach to action research (see for example Zuber-Skerritt, 1992a and b) which suggests that teacher educators observe and monitor teachers undertaking their action enquiries into how their students learn. Little emphasis is given on a larger scale about the need for teachers to monitor their own practice, supported by teacher educators who are doing the same. Our learning from Time to Listen reinforced for us the overwhelming need, as stated in the literature of the new scholarship of teaching, for theory to be reconceptualised as embodied within practitioners, rather than be viewed only as an external body of knowledge to be applied.

This understanding, we feel, is what informed our own approaches to Time to Listen. We held values around the need for teachers to be respected, for their work to be seen as creative and valuable, for them to be reassured that they were contributing to their students’ welfare, for their knowledge to be confirmed as valid. These same values are the ones underpinning citizenship education. The methodologies we developed, of conversational learning, collaborative and democratic practice, are the same values as those underpinning efforts at mutual understanding. Our ways of teaching teachers, we believe, demonstrated our own commitments to living out our values of mutual understanding and compassionate consideration for the other. We practised the development of good relationships in community contexts even as we spoke of the need for the development of these relationships. We lived out in our practice the issues which were the aims of the project. All teachers spoke of how the supporters modelled the issues they were talking about, and how they, the teachers, were encouraged to try the same for themselves, and in turn encourage their children to do so.

These issues have profound implications for how the work might continue and be developed (see chapter 6). What we have done does not translate simplistically into a generic model. Our practices are not easily packaged in a propositional way. We as supporters actively reflected on what we were doing as real live people, and we developed our practice of listening together with the teachers as a living group. Our practice evolved as we practised. We can communicate the meaning of our work through the descriptions and explanations of that work, as it forms our living educational theories expressed here in this document and elsewhere.

Forms of teacher education which concentrate on encouraging individual teachers to investigate their practice need to prioritise the clearing of spaces within which people can talk and listen to one another. Reflective practice is not only something to be written about. It is a real life experience which needs to be accommodated within day to day work. It is all very well to speak about the implementation of action research methodologies in policy frameworks; unless the implications of what action research stands for are seriously considered, the frameworks are just so many words. How the words translate into action, in spite of the contested nature of the implications, is the issue.

3 Issues for the development of community relations

Lillis (2001) offers an account of his own learning journey as a professional educator working in rural development contexts. In his earlier work he was positioned as an ‘expert’ who ‘delivered’ programmes on rural community development; through undertaking his own self study as a practitioner who is supporting rural community development he has come to see himself as a learner who is learning with the people he is supporting. He has moved from seeing community development as an abstract phenomenon which can be spoken about in a propositional sense to seeing it as a living practice in which he is focally involved.

It is of course possible to talk in an abstract sense about developing relationships among communities. Most of us working in the field do talk in this way a lot of the time. Some of us go further, to show the reality of what we are talking about in practice. It is an altogether easier and secure practice to generate abstract propositional theories than to generate living generative transformational theories, a difficult practice which involves showing the process of understanding how to encourage the development of relationships in a lived sense. It is much easier to speak about one’s values than to show publicly how one is living in the direction of those values, and to invite critique on one’s own practice. This is what it takes, however, if we are serious about developing sustainable community relationships. But this also carries enormous implications, often to do with people’s identities and how they come to form their own identities, and the contested nature of issues of ownership of identity.

Lucia says:

‘The word “opinion” is a new concept in Northern Ireland, and the word “opinion” for Catholic teachers in Northern Ireland is something radical. I am speaking as a Catholic teacher. I realised at an early age that Catholics had a very different goal than Protestants, in terms for example of jobs and social status. I wouldn’t have had access to many opportunities; education was my only route to opportunity. So for Catholics it is currently a case of working out what it is to have an opinion in the North, and where do you actually come in, and is it safe to have an opinion, because you might cut yourself off from opportunity if you raise your voice. This also seems to be the case these days for Protestant teachers, who see the need to conform and not rock the boat. Ironically perhaps Catholic teachers are more able actually to embrace change, to try things out in different experiential ways, maybe because they have less to lose. The overwhelming control of the Protestant education sector seems to imply the risk of loss; change means you have to give something away. Research exists to support these ideas. Change for me means good positive returns and it challenges you seriously. In education we all seem now to be in the same boat, challenging established orthodoxies to create ourselves as the people we wish to be, regardless of our background or social commitments. It’s a case of all of us struggling together to reclaim education as an educational practice.’

If we are to take seriously the policy rhetoric that promotes a view of people as equal, to be honoured in their diversity, to create their own identities in terms of what they see as their cultural heritage, we also have to take seriously the issue that this really does imply tolerance and compromise for everyone. Accepting the need for tolerance and understanding can be uncomfortable. Even facing up to the fact that most of us have prejudices can be uncomfortable. The writings of Chomsky, Freire, McLaren, Said and others reveal how individuals and groups work systematically to persuade other people to create themselves in terms of how they, the dominant elites, wish. Programmes of cultural heritage and peace and reconciliation are easily subverted into the canons of official knowledge. The dangers are equally apparent in programmes such as Education for Mutual Understanding. If we really do honour the right of each individual to be the person they wish to be, and for people to come together on an equal footing to accomplish agreed social goals, we also have to accept that perhaps other people will become persons whom we do not approve of (McNiff, 2002). But these are the risks we take (Berlin, 1998) if we really do wish to live out the values of pluralism and deliberative democracy. How we resolve issues of inevitable conflict is a matter of negotiated settlement, and this involves careful listening, the recognition of the need for personal consideration about one’s own positioning, and the subsequent development and implementation of action plans that are informed by the need for people to care for one another reciprocally. There are huge implications here of the risk of discomfort: living out one’s values of tolerance and respect for diversity means inevitably accepting the realities of living with the dissonance caused by knowing that we will not get our own way and have to live with other ways.

If the genesis of respectful practice lies in education (wherever it happens), and education is about the development of the kinds of relationships that foster mutual understanding, as educators we need to find ways of reconceptualising the education of teachers and children and all members of the community as a form of tolerant practice which aims to go beyond individual self service and focuses on the development of caring communities. We need to show, through the development of our own living standards of judgement, how we are arriving at places where we can say we are living out our values in our practices. If we believe in reflective practice, we need to practise reflectively, and produce accounts to show the benefit of our work in terms of how other people’s lives are influenced positively. If we believe in mutual understanding, we need to show how we are prepared to compromise, to put our own selfish needs to one side and actively try to see the other’s point of view, and act for mutual – not one-sided – benefit. These are difficult things to do, but entirely possible, as Time to Listen shows. While the work might be extremely problematic, it is happening, and worth every bit of energy we care to expend in the creation of sustainable futures.

Chapter 6 Significance of the work

We return to the theme with which we began, namely, to show how our action enquiry meets the call for a new scholarship of teaching which aims to show the development and dissemination of knowledge as it is embodied within the lives of real practitioners. In our case, the knowledge is knowledge of ourselves in community, and how we might learn to get on together for the benefit of all people in our community.

Books on school improvement traditionally suggest strategies to improve schools to meet identified aims and objectives. Joyce, Calhoun and Hopkins (1999) for example, one of the more progressive texts, suggest that schools need to conceptualise themselves as ‘centres of inquiry’ (Schaefer, 1997). In such schools, all parties regard themselves as learners, working co-operatively to improve their own professional practice for the benefit of those they serve. To achieve this state, suggest the authors, schools need to follow seven principles, or what the authors call hypotheses: these revolve around issues to do with making time for the professional development of teachers as a workplace practice, for encouraging a culture of enquiry among teachers and what they call other Responsible Parties, and putting in place strategies to build up a knowledge base for good practice.

We agree profoundly with the rhetoric. We do believe, however, that while such books are essential for helping school personnel to imagine what schools of the future might be like, and for suggesting strategies and exemplars of how to reach these ideal states, they do not go far enough. They do not recognise the real life scenarios within which people work, or that these people are individuals, frequently from contested social contexts, and caught in the universal struggle for ownership over their own identity. The idealistic scenarios which such books paint do not show how people negotiate their struggles for dominance or freedom or peace. Idealistic scenarios do not recognise that different teachers hold different sets of values, or how those teachers might experience themselves as living contradictions (Whitehead, 1989) when they believe one thing but find themselves, for whatever reason, acting in another direction. So the hypotheses of how to reach ideal scenarios perhaps belong to a world which resounds with high sounding rhetoric, but in which the voices of real teachers, struggling to make sense of their everyday practice, are silent. We agree with the recommendations of writers such as Joyce et al. about how schools might improve themselves, but we feel that authors also need to acknowledge contexts such as those of the Craigavon district, and understand just how difficult it is to achieve these optimum states.

Our group has just started on the long haul. Not one of the schools in which we work meets the seven hypotheses of Joyce et al., though we are all trying to get there. Perhaps the trying is in some way more important than the arriving. What we feel we have achieved, however, as individual teachers, and as teachers in community, is to identify for ourselves how we can live our values of justice and understanding in our community contexts in a way that makes sense of our lives; and the meanings we give to our lives act as the living standards of judgement we use to assess our own professional practice (Whitehead, 1999, 2000). By this we mean that we believe in the values of pluralism, diversity and social justice, and we aim to find ways in which we can live those values in our practices. If we can show in a verifiable way that we are indeed living those values, we believe that we can claim to have improved the quality of community relations in our schools.

In this report we have produced what we think is undeniable evidence to show that the children in our care did benefit, personally and socially, from our own increased awareness of, and focus on, our professional learning. We believe we raised our own consciousness about what we are doing as professional educators, and that our heightened consciousness has influenced the quality of educational experience of our children. We believe that we improved the quality of our own relationships with the children, and that the children followed our lead and developed a community relational practice for themselves. We believe that we, the Time to Listen group of educators, developed our own sense of community, and our enhanced sense of collective identity gave us the confidence to move ourselves forward. We began to make professional judgements about our effectiveness in developing the kinds of relationships which would lead to negotiated scenarios in which people’s identities were safeguarded. We accepted that the criteria we used to judge our effectiveness changed and matured during our work together; we became more aware of the problematics of our practice and collaboratively found ways to negotiate our contexts. We came to recognise ourselves as actively involved in the process of change. Change was no longer something we read about in the books; we were actively changing our own contexts, but in ways which were commensurate with the standards we were developing to judge ourselves to be living our values in our practice.

We commend our story to principals, policy makers and providers. You probably already read books such as those of Joyce, Calhoun and Hopkins. We also urge you to read the stories of people like us. If you ask where are those stories to be found, we respond that they are there, latent in the embodied knowledge of every teacher, who is looking for ways to find time and space and encouragement to tell their story and be sure that their story will be listened to respectfully and not dismissed as mere problem solving. Given appropriate contexts of support and encouragement, teachers are able to generate their own theories of practice, as we have done, and to present these to public fora as their contributions to the wider body of educational knowledge. Teachers’ knowledge is potentially as valuable as the abstract knowledge of theorists in university settings. All are knowledge workers, though positioned in different settings and with different areas of responsibility. All are needed, as Schön (1995) says, to show how knowledge in its various forms can contribute to wider awareness of how we can make the world a better place.

As organisations mature, so they build up their capacity to support their members from within. Many schools in Northern Ireland are not at the point of such organisational maturity, given the strife they still have to cope with and the daily struggle for survival. With the outbreak of peace, still fragile, new opportunities are being generated by which the citizenry is able to take more and more responsibility for its own welfare. Such a brave new world should take its chances to espouse brave new theories of education, particularly as they manifest in teachers’ professional education. Small initiatives like Time to Listen need to be supported, for it is in the small things that hope for future social regeneration is to be found, in the local communities which can demonstrate how social disintegration can be transformed into social cohesion (Gray, 1996). If there is a model, it is that there is no standardised model, other than to encourage people in their own local communities to produce their accounts of practice and share those with other local communities, so that the iterative patterns of relationship will show how the local can transform into the global in a seamless whole.

Time to Listen is unique. Perhaps similar initiatives have been tried out before, and have also demonstrated their success in terms of bringing people together with a raised awareness of their responsibilities to one another. Each initiative is unique; each context non-generalisable. We are who we are; how we make sense of who we are, and how we are in company with one another, is for each local community to sort out for themselves, and then share their stories with others. There are certainly underlying principles and values on which community welfare is built, and certainly one could make recommendations for how individual initiatives in educational contexts can be supported. These would include adopting the seven principles developed by Joyce et al., which include making time for teachers to meet and discuss professional issues, and providing the kind of supportive contexts and relationships which will encourage supportive discussion. Time to Listen has done this.

At the end of the day, however, it is impossible to mandate personal change. Each individual is responsible for how they wish to live their lives, and they must stand over their decisions. What is at stake is the sustainable future of Northern Ireland. The current adult generations who have grown up with struggle for political and social dominance will soon be replaced by new generations who might have been encouraged to think in terms of tolerance and compassion rather than dominance. How they have been encouraged will have been, to some extent, through the influence of their teachers.

Recently, a colleague told Jean in conversation a story of how two children had been reprimanded severely by a teacher, unjustly, it seemed to the colleague (and other members of staff), who put her arm around the shoulders of the children in their distress. The conversation continued, and we came to wonder who had put an arm around the shoulder of the teacher who had acted in a way that had caused such pain to children. Teachers need comfort, too. If we are serious about deciding to influence the way children think about one another, and so bring those attitudes to their wider social practices, we need primarily to concentrate on the welfare of teachers, and ensure that they have the emotional and practical support that will encourage them to begin to change their minds about how they practise. We agree with Chomksy (1996) that to achieve these goals is very hard, but not impossible; and it is imperative if we are to live out the rhetoric of our official documents and show the international education community that we are struggling now for peace and democracy throughout our education system, for the future benefit of all.

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