A unique opportunity to discuss and learn from a committed specialist community of teachers and academics
Zoe Baker, Citizenship Teacher, Towers School, Kent, England
I had the pleasure to attend the Five Nations Conference in January 2018 and network with teachers of Citizenship and Values education from across Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. This really is a unique opportunity to discuss and learn from a committed specialist community of teachers and academics on subjects that so often you stand alone teaching in your own schools. Having space to discuss the current climate across our communities and sharing best practice and research is invaluable to many of us.
This year’s theme was ‘Democratic Talk: From Discussion to Deliberation’, a topic which most practitioners in the room felt was an essential part of their practice. However, it became clear from early on in the programme that there was a split within those attending on the reason why we value the ability to use deliberative talk or, as some describe it, oracy. There are some who believe that better skills or oracy leads to greater achievement in the curriculum and higher attainment in final examinations. They feel that by discussing the knowledge students are learning they are able to make better progress especially those from socially deprived backgrounds. Others view these skills as essential for success in future life: interview skills whether university or employment, success in a staff meeting or around a boardroom table. Others step away from this view and see these skills as essential for a different reason. They value them in and of themselves believing that as citizenship educators we should teach students to take part in a democratic society and to be able to do so in a deliberative way is essential.
As the weekend continued, debate and deliberation around this topic continued amongst colleagues and, by the close on Sunday, whilst there was still disagreement on the purpose of developing these skills it was clear that everybody was invigorated to improve their teaching around them.
The room was at its most energetic when the English-Speaking Union was modelling its new Dialogic Debate Format. Listening to a range of adults discussing how they would attack a zombie with a household object must be a highlight of the weekend.
The tour of the Palace of Westminster and seeing the education provision they offer was a welcome break from a seminar room. In addition to this, even as a teacher from England who had visited many times before, this visit was different. Normally you are supervising students, head counting and “being in charge”. However this time we could enjoy learning for ourselves which is a luxury so many attending this conference often do not have.
The conference had a well balanced mix of academic lectures and practical workshops so there was something to take away for everybody. The level of learning that took place during this conference was immense and not only in the formal sessions. The unstructured time also saw some really interesting discussions and professionals networking and sharing research.
On a personal level, this conference has left me feeling inspired to return to my classroom ready to re-engage with the use of talk in my planning. I need to focus on the fact that debate, while effective for some lessons, may not be the best skill to use for all topics. When dealing with difficult topics and the need to acknowledge the view of the “other” become important, the use of deliberative techniques become invaluable.
I must take this opportunity to thank the organising partners and funders for giving me the opportunity to learn so much again and to energise my practice. I am hoping to see increased confidence from students who realise their voice can be recognised through a process of deliberation rather than uncompromising sides on a debate or not heard at all.