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Teacher Education:  Character, ethics and the professional development of pre- and in-service teachers

Teacher

“If we want character education to be embedded within our curriculum and practised in our schools then it needs to be included in teacher training and explicitly developed and recognised in the assessment of trainee teachers. It also needs to be reflected and enhanced in ongoing continuing professional development for teachers”

Nicky Morgan MP (Taught Not Caught: Educating for 21st Century Character, 2017)

 

Recent Jubilee Centre reports such as Character Education in UK Schools have shown that the ideals of character and virtue have recently undergone a resurgence of interest in political and educational circles, and among the wider public, both internationally and in the UK. There is also strong support from parents for the idea that schools should promote character development; 84% of UK parents believe that teachers should encourage good morals and values in their students and 91% of UK adults say it is important that schools develop good character.

An indication of this resurgence can be found in the Department for Education strategy 2015-2020 World-class education and care document in which character and resilience have been made one of the DfE’s 12 priorities; the recent report, Developing Character Skills in Schools, also highlights the prominence of character development within schools. Within this it is shown that 97% of schools seek to promote desirable character traits amongst their students; however it is also reported only 17% of schools have a formalised plan for character education – only 43% of these offer all staff members training relating to the development of character.

With character education taking a more prominent seat at the educational round table, the current Jubilee Centre research project, Teacher Education:  Character, ethics and the professional development of pre- and in-service teachers, looks to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Previous research undertaken by the Jubilee Centre (The Good Teacher; Statement on Teacher Education and Character Education; Framework for Character Education in Schools) advocates the allocation of time and space for teachers to critically reflect on the moral aspects of their practice. It is recommended that initial teacher education (ITE) seeks to develop the moral agency of teachers and, to ensure the early enthusiasm of teachers wanting to make a difference is sustained, it is suggested that continued professional development (CPD) programmes include academic and theoretical input concerning the integral role of moral virtues in the profession.

Building on this previous work, the current project seeks to delve deeper into the important issue of how teachers are prepared and supported to meet the moral and ethical demands of their roles. In the current climate, schools and teachers are facing unprecedented pressure and unmanageable workloads as a result of the prioritisation of grade attainment (House of Commons Education Committee). The heavy reliance on academic progress and performance in league tables has led to many initial teacher training programmes and CPD activities being heavily laden with academic skill-based learning, often neglecting or minimising the role of moral teaching.

This research aims to take meaningful steps forward, intending not only to explore teachers’ (pre- and in-service) perceptions and experiences of preparation for character education, but to establish how best to train and support them for this endeavour. The project will explore the impact of reflection on teachers’ development with the intention of integrating evidence of good practice into a coherent programme which can be disseminated to schools and training institutions to be used within ITE and CPD.

Teachers are not being adequately prepared to fulfil all aspects of their roles as educators. Teacher Education:  Character, ethics and the professional development of pre- and in-service teachers, seeks to address this concern and facilitate the advancement of character education in schools.

Project Timeline:

Stage 1 (September 2017 – August 2018): Research, design and implementation of initial teacher training programme for pre-service teachers.

Stage 2 (September 2018 – August 2019): Research, design and implementation of continued professional development programme for in-service teachers.

Initial findings from stage 1 of the project can be expected in September 2018. Initial findings from stage 2 can be expected in September 2019, with the research report to follow.

 

Michael Fullard and Paul Watts are Research Fellows at The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. They are both experienced teachers working on the Teacher Education:  Character, ethics and the professional development of pre- and in-service teacher’s project.

 

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Kindness at Christmas

While it seems the run up to Christmas gets longer each year, with mince pies and brandy butter appearing on supermarket shelves well before Halloween, many still prefer to see the end of the month of November before decking the halls. Indeed, for centuries, the first Sunday of Advent (this year falling on the 3rd December) has marked the beginning of a season of preparation.

In its religious context, Advent is the time of year wherein Christians prepare for the coming of Christ, and includes practices of penance and charitable giving. Of course, in today’s increasingly secular society, the focus on penance has been diminished considerably. Nonetheless, there remains a certain yuletide commitment to higher ideals, or as it is sometimes known ‘Christmas spirit’. So evident is our appreciation and appetite for something more noble at this time of year, even adverts, produced to influence our spending behaviour, appeal to our better nature. It seems incongruous that adverts as touching as John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin are produced at Christmas time to boost sales; or that the aim of adverts like German chain Edeka’s, appealing to the loneliness of the elderly at Christmas, is to increase our consumption of material goods.

As such, if there is any time of year where people are particularly susceptible to ideas about virtue and character, it must be Christmas time. As Winston Churchill put it, ‘Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.’ It is a time to think about how we have done over the last twelve months. Have we advanced on our path to virtue? Have we spent the last year cultivating good character? Or have we slipped into bad habits?

For parents, these questions have another dimension; Christmas marks a time to think about the character formation of children. Many examples exist, both contemporary and historical, showing the prevalence of this parental reflection on children’s character. Perhaps the simplest and clearest is Santa Clause’s ‘Naughty or Nice’ list.

So, what can parents do to help children cultivate good character? Parents have been asking the Jubilee Centre this question a lot recently. In fact, there has been so much interest, on the part of parents, in activities and advice on how to foster good character in children that the Jubilee Centre has decided to create a dedicated parent section of its website. This section will provide parents with age appropriate character education resources. The idea behind this initiative is to give parents tools to help them help their children on their path to virtue action and practice. As an introduction to this initiative, and given the season that is upon us, the Centre has produced an advent calendar. In place of daily chocolates, the calendar will give parents/guardians and children opportunities to discuss various virtues (e.g. courage, good judgment etc.) and do something kind for themselves and others.

AdventCalendar

The Jubilee Centre has always recognised the role of parents as the primary educators of children’s characters. In fact, the very first lines of A Framework for Character Education in Schools say just that. It is encouraging that more and more parents are recognising the Centre’s work, and how its research and resources can be utilised in their pursuit of promoting virtue among their children. One new path the Centre’s research is taking is to learn more about this centrally important parental role through examining how parents/guardians collaborate with teachers on character education. At the core of this new research is the idea that:

If parents/guardians and teachers forge successful partnerships on character education, it will increase the likelihood of children and young people developing positive virtues constitutive of individual and societal flourishing

In sum then, Christmas is a time of year that naturally lends itself to character education; no one wants to end up on that naughty list. We here at the Centre hope you, and your family, enjoy our Advent calendar. We also hope you join us in our plans to use our research and resources to reach out more to parents, and help them in their pursuit of virtue for their children. In this, we might even keep the spirit of the season alive long after Christmas has ended. As Dr Seuss so eloquently put it, ‘Christmas will always be as long as we stand heart to heart and hand to hand’.

Download the Jubilee Centre’s 2017 Advent Calendar here.

Dr Katy Dineen and Dr Catherine Darnell, Research Fellows, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

Reflections on Character Education From a Former Secondary School Teacher

Before coming to the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, I spent three years training and working as a secondary school teacher. Working in this role fuelled my conviction for character education within schools and allowed me valuable insight into the concerns that teachers have about the idea of its implementation. This blog explores those concerns and seeks to remedy some of the confusions and apprehension that I’ve encountered from staff in schools.

There is still a lot of confusion as to what exactly character and character education is. I’ve always thought one of the best definitions of character and character education can be found in the Jubilee Centre’s The Knightly Virtues, which describes character as ‘the constellation of virtues possessed by an individual and character education is the deliberate attempt to cultivate these virtues’. To me, virtues are constructive traits that are beneficial to both the individual and to the wider society. Virtues include curiosity, courage, compassion, community volunteering, and confidence among others. Character education is the notion that by the time pupils leave school they should understand and view virtues as important – enabling them to develop into mature adults and to realise their full potential.

Character education is not new. It has existed as an idea from ancient times to the present day, however, the drive and focus in schools on academic attainment has resulted in character education having lower importance in the educational agenda for the past few decades. The issue is that this narrow focus on academic attainment has led schools having a great resemblance to factories, outputting students with different grades of quality for the benefit of the employment market. Such a narrow emphasis on attainment leads to pupils being perceived more like products than as the individuals they truly are.

Children with an education that is enriched with character development will be better equipped for the trials of adulthood, which requires more than just academic knowledge to flourish. I cannot claim that character education will lead to all children achieving better grades but it is within reason to think that children who have a language of virtues reinforced through their daily school routine will be all the more likely to see those virtues as important and to exemplify those virtues themselves. If pupils are more virtuous, then they will be more likely to strive to reach their full potential and to make themselves and their communities’ better places.

There is still confusion what character education looks like in practice. Some advocate character education as a discrete timetabled subject similar to citizenship or religious education. I am firmly opposed to this stance; relegating character to a weekly timetable slot will only strengthen the view that character and virtues are not something that should be regarded as a discipline for life but merely as instruments to be picked out from a toolbox when socially advantageous. Character is holistic and therefore it should both permeate and be reinforced throughout the whole school.

A reoccurring concern is that the introduction of character education will just add to the workload of teachers. However, the reality is that many teachers are already doing many aspects of character education, even if it is not realised.  If you work in a school and you monitor pupils’ behaviour on a day-to-day basis, embed values in lessons, run form-time activities, adhere to a school ethos or model good behaviour, then you are already doing part of what constitutes character education.

So why bother with character education if we are already doing it in some form? Schools are presently not legally obliged to shape the character of their pupils, although they are required to develop the SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural) dimensions of the child.

In my opinion, SMSC is an ambiguous and ineffective term. One school I have been part of took the idea that SMSC arose naturally through daily interactions and would therefore not require any additional emphasis from teachers, SMSC was relegated to a mere tick-box exercise on lesson plans with little follow-up assessment. This school also had no embedded school values or ethos when I initially arrived; perhaps unsurprisingly behaviour deteriorated over time and grades plummeted. It is clear to me that the schools that neglect the development of their pupil’s character in favour of focusing all their efforts on attainment will always fail to achieve in the long-term, as pupils will not have the right mind-set to overcome difficulty, leading to agitation in the school body which will eventually result in attainment suffering.

This experience was in sharp contrast to another school I have been part of, which proudly displayed their eight core virtues on their walls. Each week, the school would focus on one of the eight virtues that would be present throughout the weekly assembly and in form-time; pupils would have content structured around that particular virtue and subject teachers were asked to include references to the virtue in the planning of their lessons, wherever they were able.

The disparity between these two accounts is troubling, especially when we imagine this at a national level. A child can go to one school in England and experience a significantly higher quality of character development than that of a child in a neighbouring school down the road. Children who are in schools that have little consideration for the development of character are being failed by the education system. They are unprepared for their adult life and more needs to be done to address this.

The last concern is that teachers fear they would lose ‘subject time’ to ‘character time.’ I don’t see this being the case; teachers can ask questions which both shape character and are academically rigorous. A science teacher, for example, might ask questions that refer to past scientific pioneers who displayed courage in pushing the limits of human knowledge despite the risks they faced, such as Darwin, Galileo or Jenner. The history teacher might ask questions that relate to the qualities of important past figures, for instance, what are the virtues that Joan of Arc displayed? (Courage, hope, leadership) I am not suggesting that individual subjects should utilise one particular set of virtues but I do think some virtues may crop up more often than others within each subject. We would rightly think that sportsmanship is more likely to emerge in a physical education lesson than a cookery lesson, but there is no reason why the cookery teacher should exclude making links to the idea of sportsmanship. All subjects are able to make a unique but broad contribution to shaping the character of pupils.

In closing, teachers and senior leaders can help advance the cause of character education through raising ideas of character education in staff meetings; promoting an ethos which focuses on virtues in their school; and planning schemes of work and activities which will get pupils engaged and thinking about virtue and encouraging character as something which should be holistic through all aspects of school life.

Jason Metcalfe is a Research Associate at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

What Makes A Habit of Service?

Think about the last thing you did to help someone else or the environment. It might be doing the food shop for your elderly neighbour, setting up a change.org petition, or volunteering at the local Park Run on a Saturday. Did you enjoy it? Did you feel it challenged you? Did you see the benefit to others and to yourself? Did you get to make any decisions about it, or take the lead? Did you learn anything from it? Did you get any support from your school, college, university or workplace? Did it make you want to do it again?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then according to the #iwill campaign, you’re more likely to have had a high quality social action experience. #iwill is a UK-wide campaign to make social action (practical action in the service of others to create positive change, like volunteering, campaigning, or fundraising) a habit for life among 10-20 year olds. Their goal is based on the premise that if young people have a high quality experience of youth social action, then they’re more likely to want to do it again.

But until recently, we didn’t know for certain that there was any link between quality and habit when it came to social action. So we surveyed over 4,500 young people and conducted 7 in-depth narrative interviews to find out just that. Defining a young person with a habit of social action as someone who has taken part in social action in the past 12 months, and intends to take part again in the next 12 months, we found that young people with a habit of social action were more likely than those without a habit to have had a quality social action experience.Habit of Service infographic#iwill Campaign’s Six Quality Principles – you can view the full info-graphic here

Setting these in the context of a young person’s experiences can help show what these quality principles look like in practice. Let’s take Beth[1] as an example.

When Beth (now 18) was just 10 years old, her mum saw a poster advertising a first aid cadets programme, and took her along. Beth was surprised to find that she absolutely loved it:

You just think, why would a 10 year old want to join a first aid society? And my mum’s like, “Oh no, it’s gonna be absolutely fantastic, you can go”, gives you a friendly nudge. So your 10 year old turns up and goes, “this is not what I planned”, I asked my mum to do dancing or something … But, when you get into it, even at the age of 10, there is so much that you can do.

Fast forward 8 years, and Beth has not only won several awards for the volunteering she’s done, but she has also won a place on a trip to Hong Kong to compete against other first aiders from around the world. She’s been a Brownie leader, a Guide, represented other young people on charity youth boards, volunteered for an orchestra to help young carers learn instruments, and has volunteered at a museum. Throughout all this, we can identify those quality principles in Beth’s experience.

  • Challenging and enjoyable, and youth-led: On Brownies, Beth said, “it was a learning curve for me, having to plan my own schedule, provide my own resources, manage a team, at just 17, it was a bit crazy doing A Levels at the same time, but I had such a love for what I was doing, because I love working with youth”.
  • Reflective: “I feel like volunteering has developed me such as a person, where you just had to think on your feet … it’s kind of been, it’s very character building, it builds you as a person”.
  • Progressive: “as soon as you turn 18, you can’t be a cadet anymore, so, obviously you can help with cadets which is what I do but, there’s a…actually…a university first aid society”.
  • Socially impactful: Gained a BTEC in peer education, which meant she could “train to teach others, and I feel like that’s also a very vital skill, because it’s not only just doing first aid, but you’re also teaching others”.
  • Embedded: “My uni is very good for volunteering, so we have something called the college cup … you get judged on how much volunteering you do … which is why I actually liked my uni because volunteering is such a core part of it”.

So what does this all mean in practice? For the first time, youth social action providers have evidence that there is a link between the quality principles of social action and a habit. While this doesn’t mean we’re in a position to say that the quality principles are what helps young people develop a habit of social action – further, experimental research would be needed to do that – it provides a good rationale for exploring the connection between quality and habit further. What’s more, we now have a set of questions, tested and refined, to measure the quality of the social action experience, which can be used by anyone with an interest in this area.

The A Habit of Service research project was launched by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and the #iwill campaign on 22nd November.

Emma Taylor Collins is a Research Associate at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

[1] Pseudonym given to protect identity.

The Virtuous Poker Player: Is There Such a Thing?

The Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson, once said, ‘Poker actually isn’t about winning or losing; poker is about making the right decision.’ In my opinion, this is a very versatile saying. For example, if you were to substitute the word poker for life, you would have a quote worthy of an inspirational fridge magnet. Such is the nature of poker. It is a brooding, philosophical game; a microcosm of the peaks and troughs of life. This is why so much poker terminology permeates our language… it’s the fall of the cardswhen the chips are down… I’m going all in… Even Voltaire employed the poker/life metaphor in his writing, ‘Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.’

I find it interesting that poker is so often used as a vehicle to deliver life advice in spite of commonly being understood to be a vice. Certainly vices are present in poker; greed, envy and pride being the most obvious; but as Shakespeare said: ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ With this in mind, the rest of this blog post hopes to give ground to the idea that poker could in fact, in part, promote virtuousness and good character by exploring its relationship with the virtues of wisdom, temperance, justice and humanity.

Wisdom

In his vindication of Martial Arts as a means of becoming more virtuous (The Way to Virtue in Sport), Allan Bäck acknowledged that ‘People—even philosophers—often claim that practicing a sport improves moral character’ and that even ‘Plato advocated education of the body as well as of the mind: gumnastike as well as mousike.’ Now you’re not going to achieve a six-pack playing poker but I would argue that, like sports, games like poker can constitute an education of the mind, i.e. cultivate intellectual virtues.

In order to learn a game like poker you are going to need, or need to develop, a love of learning and curiosity, two of the five character strengths that comprise the virtue of wisdom according to the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. For beginners, just the rules of play can be difficult to grasp, and beyond this there are the endless annals of poker strategy in print and online. The successful player has to be interested, engaged and willing to learn. They will need to develop the grit and resilience expected of any serious sports player.

Judgement and perspective, also constituents of wisdom, are essential for the developing poker player. In my experience of playing poker, it is those players that develop a sense of entitlement that are those quickest to stagnate. This stagnation can lead to bitterness and cruelty (online poker comment boxes are a treasure trove of profanity, usually players mourning themselves and cursing others.) It takes an open-mind and a rational perspective in order to prosper as a poker player.

As Michael Austin writes in his article Sports and Moral Development, ‘A child learns how to play soccer by imitating those who are good at the sport. Similarly, a child can learn how to be virtuous by imitating those who are morally good.’ Just as football has its goodies and baddies, its role models and bad examples, so does poker. Fortunately, the game of poker has a vibrant community of players and tutors that encourage, through discussion and training, what Austin calls the ‘proper habits of the practice’.

Temperance

In the film Rounders (a film that is generally acknowledged as the greatest poker film of modern times) – Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), in an argument with his non-poker-playing girlfriend, exclaims, ‘Why does this still seem like gambling to you? Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table at the World Series of Poker every year?’ The point Mike is trying to make is that, though poker is fundamentally a game of chance, the player has the potential to put the odds in their favour. Thus the game becomes not solely about luck, but also a contest of skill.

Any poker strategy guide worth its salt advocates strict bankroll management. It is arguably the most important part of poker strategy and based on temperance. Bankroll management essentially requires you to have the prudence and self-regulation to play only at a level financially viable to you. You keep your poker bankroll divorced from the rest of your finances and you only ever play with a small fraction of it at a time. Doing so should hopefully mean that your losses are small enough not to affect you mentally and financially and also that you will be able to outlast any periods of negative variability.

Interestingly, the reason why Mike McDermott is in such hot water with his girlfriend is because at the start of the film he was a victim of his own intemperance, losing everything on a single hand of poker. This is why actively practicing the virtues is so important if you are going to play poker. Despite what Mike McDermott tells his girlfriend, poker is a game of chance, it is gambling, and gambling can be, and in many cases is, insidious. For those poker players who struggle to exercise control over gambling, the right decision would be to not play at all, or to play without the involvement of money, purely for the love of the game.

Justice and Humanity

Poker is a game that promotes sophisticated decision making. Players who do not exercise temperance and wisdom will quickly find themselves exiled to the spectator’s rail. But the virtuous character strengths developed through playing poker also have other applications; poker can develop a practical wisdom (phronesis) that can contribute to societal flourishing. Thus, to borrow from Allan Bäck, ‘it purports to be a serious part of life—and to transcend contests’. Raising for Effective Giving is a charity founded by poker players that uses a poker philosophy to maximise their philanthropy. As World Champion, Martin Jacobson, is quoted as saying on their website:

“Contributing to charity in any way, shape or form is really important for me and I have found REG to be the superior option. Their rational strategy to effective giving is something I can relate to because I use the same approach to maximize my potential as a professional poker player.”

Considering this, the versatile sentiment of ol’ Texas Dolly, Doyle Brunson, can even be applied to the character strengths of social intelligence, kindness, fairness and citizenship, strengths comprising the virtues of justice and humanity: ‘Poker actually isn’t about winning or losing; poker is about making the right decision.’

Vice or Virtue?

In this blog I have proffered that poker players who exercise the virtuous character strengths of wisdom and temperance are the most likely to succeed, and presented a shining example of charitable action taken by poker players (of which there are many), but is this enough to claim that poker itself, on the whole, is virtuous? You could argue that the game of poker is a morally neutral construct and it is each individual’s interaction with the game which is virtuous or not. However, poker is a zero numbers game, which means for every win there has to be a loss of the same amount. The circumstances of the game therefore directly promote the vices of greed and envy: greed because in order to win you must engage rapaciously in the pursuit of material possessions and envy because that which you covet is your neighbour’s chips. So is the gentrification the game has enjoyed in recent years merely a virtuous veneer atop a cankered core? Tell Shakespeare I am still thinking about it…

Richard Hughes is Research Administrator at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

Character in Sport – a virtuous act, or mere bouncebackability?

In the Flourishing From the Margins research report published by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues last week, one of the less notable findings deserves some greater attention. In Stage One of the study, nearly 3,000 young people (aged 11-19 years) were asked to quantify the level of influence that thirteen different factors had on their perception of living a ‘good life’. Whilst unsurprisingly close family and friends scored across all age groups as the factors having the greatest influence on young people, the influence of sport was the highest scoring ‘tertiary’ factor.  In aggregating the 13 factors, ‘tertiary’ factors included the perceived influence of sport, music, the news, television, celebrities, and social media. Overall, participants scored the influence of sport on their perception of living a ‘good life’ at 66.2 out of 100; higher than social media (55.4), television (53.8), music (53.2), celebrities (50.2) and the news (48.4).

This score was higher than secondary factors such as teachers or youth workers (59.0) and the people in your community (45.0). The Aristotelian concept of living a ‘good life’ in terms of both individual and societal flourishing was the lens through which the Flourishing From the Margins project brought the language of character into the worlds of marginalised young people.

Sport is performance, so it makes sense that character is viewed through this lens. However, drama, spoken word, and dance are all equally performance-driven, and yet the language of character is almost completely absent in reference to them. In the Jubilee Centre’s A Framework for Character Education in Schools, performance virtues are defined as ‘character traits that have an instrumental value in enabling the intellectual, moral and civic virtues.’  Whilst ‘performance’ can be defined outside of virtue, what the above definition suggests is that viewing ‘character’ only from a performance perspective is limited, and therefore insufficient.

The Jubilee Centre successfully debunked the myth that ‘character is borne on the sports field’ in its 2015 publication Character Education in UK Schools. In that report, findings suggested that young people who engaged in extra-curricular activities in drama and choir were better equipped to answer moral dilemmas from a virtue-based perspective than those who engaged in sport. Why is the language of character so prevalent in professional sport, then, particularly in the mainstream media?

‘He demonstrated his work ethic and character’; ‘I’ve never doubted the character of the players’; ‘the performance seemed very much out of character’; all direct quotes from articles on skysports.com posted over a 72h period (21st – 23rd October 2017). In fact, at the time of writing, there are 6,704 articles containing the term ‘character’ on skysports.com (correct to 23/10/17). But what does ‘character’ mean, in a professional sporting context? Or at least what do those who use the term so freely really mean by it?

A quick analysis of the use of ‘character’ in the most recent of the 6,704 articles suggests that it is used either by professional sportsmen across sport (footballers, rugby players, American footballers, Formula 1 drivers) to indicate a resilience, or a ‘bouncebackability’, from a recent poor run of form, or in a match where a team was losing at half-time, and came back to win.

Is that what the media wishes to present to their audiences, then? That character is demonstrated, lived, and presented in the sporting arena as resilience, being tough to beat, or coming back to take the lead, or hold on in the face of adversity? All are worthy concepts, and ones that can be used to influence the character formation of young people in a positive manner. However, should we, the viewing public, be demanding more from both our interviewers and pundits, and our sports stars themselves? Where there is talk of ‘the lads showing character’, should we challenge this, or qualify it. Is it good character? Is there a way to combine good citizenship, moral action, and critical thinking with a resilient performance to encompass the four types of virtue that the Jubilee Centre advocates for? Not diving to win a free kick, helping an opponent back to their feet, and restraining oneself from berating a referee when you disagree with a decision are quick and easy examples of demonstrating the moral, civic, and intellectual virtues on a sports pitch. They are not always the ones that come to the mind when the players are asked ‘if that was a performance of character?’ Maybe, given the perceived influence that sport does have on the character formation of young people generally, and the educationally marginalised as demonstrated by this study, there is scope for change. Phronesis in football; the discerning derby. Stay tuned.

Aidan Thompson

Director of Strategy and Integration

Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

 

Flourishing From the Margins – Marginalised Young People with Purpose

The newly published Flourishing From the Margins research report published yesterday (October 26th) provides a rich and comprehensive dataset for the study of character development in marginalised young people. The literature review that began the study found a gap in the research of marginalised, and sometimes NEET, young people, with a dearth of studies considering how a focus on character development can assist with counteracting the causes of educational marginalisation.

Such causes are many and varied, so it is important not to see character as a ‘fix’ for young people perceived to be without, or lacking in, something that those who are flourishing in education have already acquired. The approach that this project took was one that very much encouraged the young people participating in the research to speak for themselves, with the research acting as a medium through which young people could develop a ‘voice’.

Accessing the character development of the participants through two key concepts was important to bring the language of character to the participants, and specifically into the non-mainstream educational space. The key concepts used in this study were the Aristotelian idea of living a ‘good life’, not just for personal gain and acquisition, but for societal as well as individual flourishing, and the idea of finding or developing a moral purpose to one’s life. The idea of purpose was rooted very much in the work of Bill Damon, whose work in the US with the Youth Purpose Project very much informed the early discussions and developments in this project.

What became apparent through the course of the data collection, particularly with regards to Stage Two and the trial of an educational intervention for young people engaging in non-mainstream provision, was that where participants may not have been able to speak confidently in the language of character before the intervention, that did not diminish their abilities to talk about their ambitions and purpose for what they wanted to achieve, and what they felt it meant to live a ‘good life’.

Participants were clear on their ambitions, what career path they wanted to follow, and what they needed to do to get there. This is best exemplified in the film created as part of the project, and which is available to view below. One quote picked up on a poster in a Pupil Referral Unit read ‘one bad chapter is not the whole story.’ This project sought to support young people from marginalised backgrounds write not only the next chapter of their own stories, but draft the rest of their stories.

Aidan Thompson, Director of Strategy and Integration, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

Value in the Community

The Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership (CEFL) launched their Leadership of Character Education report at their National Conference in September. At the conference practitioners presented new character education initiatives used within their own schools; overviews of short case studies illustrated schools’ diverse approaches to, and examples of character education provision in both primary and secondary settings.

An integral message delivered through the Jubilee Centre’s A Framework for Character Education in Schools) is that schooling is centrally concerned with the development of children’s character, but that this education is not limited to school subjects and classroom activities. Schools, as well as providing an academic education to those they teach, provide opportunities for children to develop character virtues through caught and taught approaches, some of which may not be achievable at home; developing teamwork, for example, can be achieved through collaboration with peers during project work in schools (Harrison, Morris & Ryan, 2016). These important development activities may not be accessible outside of a school setting; due to the age of their children, primary schools in particular may find it difficult at a practical level to engage with virtues such as community awareness and citizenship, without the influence of external organisations.

As a former primary school practitioner, I’m acutely aware of the resistance and scepticism that new initiatives face at inception in schools, despite the potential benefit to the school community and children we teach. Schools and policy makers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to prioritise character education in schools, and many schools foster character implicitly or explicitly  through their ethos and clear vision for character education (for example, see the forthcoming Jubilee Centre’s Schools of Virtue report);  however, the unprecedented workload and pressure on teachers and school leaders to prioritise academic attainment and progress is well-recognised . Unfortunately, as these are the areas by which a school’s effectiveness is ultimately judged, schools may find providing more explicit character education opportunities problematic.

With this in mind, I was eager to attend one of the CEFL case study overviews led by Janet Gordge and Jon Coe (year 6 teacher and Deputy Headteacher, respectively) from Shaldon Primary School in South Devon. Their inter-generational service project called Pen Pals appealed as one in which community awareness and citizenship could be fostered, and the local community could be utilised as potentially valuable source of knowledge and learning.

This project was set up to provide a means of communication between year 6 pupils and elderly members of the local community and has recently been recognised by the Parliament Education Service and celebrated as the School Council Awards winner. In short, this project involved regular correspondence between elderly members of the community and year 6 pupils, providing mutually-beneficial outcomes; not only were school pupils able to practise composing purposeful and high-quality letters to tap into and share in the wisdom of experienced others, but the elderly members of the community were given an opportunity to engage in valuable discourse and be directly involved in the education of children in their area.

This developed into a number of events in which the pen pals visited the school to share in music performances, contribute to personal history books and share their experiences over a cream tea. These were small but significant opportunities for community members to feel and be valued, for children to learn from an otherwise unutilised source, and for inter-generational friendships to be formed. It is clear that this project enabled extremely important learning to take place that isn’t achievable in the standard school timetable. Janet Gordge explained that through taking part, the children were connected with those with a story to tell and: “This allowed them time to really think about experiences, backgrounds and things that are important to both parties.” She also provided moving examples of the benefits to individuals that emphasise the value of such endeavours.

Although the project, like any involving external parties, requires initial organisation and allocation of responsibilities, it can be easily maintained once in place; without doubt, the benefit to both the children and the local community involved in projects of this nature are well worth the time invested in their organisation. As well as being a fruitful character education activity through developing civic virtues of community awareness and citizenship; fostering the intellectual virtue of curiosity; and promoting shared wisdom, hope and dignity, the added benefits of such activities, for example in encouraging children to aspire towards high standards of purposeful written and spoken English and stimulating strong social skills, may function as an added incentive for teachers to implement them.

Through communication and commitment, those involved in the project have significantly impacted the learning and development of the children in their care and elderly individuals in the community. Primary leaders and teachers should view this as an encouraging example of how they can work effectively to promote citizenship and community awareness in their own schools.

The Jubilee Centre’s ‘Schools of Virtue: Character Education in Three Birmingham Schools’ research report will be launched on 19th October.

Paul Watts is a Research Fellow at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

Have NHS Pressures Caused UK Nurses to Lose Their Moral Compass?

A new research report, launched on September 28 by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, reveals that NHS pressures are hindering ethical practice and caring among UK nurses. The new research reveals that eight in ten nurses face barriers to working in a caring and compassionate manner, and that staff reductions, time pressures and ‘pen-pushing’ are leading to moral disengagement and compromising professional practice.

 The study, Virtuous Practice in Nursing, provides a moral snapshot of the profession at a time of unrivalled pressure on the NHS. It reveals that experienced nurses face serious challenges staying true to their moral character and values due to the demands on their time. The factors preventing nurses from ‘living out their own character’ on the wards include staff shortages, time constraints, bed management and administrative tasks, all of which stop them spending the time with patients they feel is required for good professional care.

More specifically, many nurses reported that they felt that conflicting demands on their time left them feeling as though they were not able to offer care in as compassionate way as they would like to, and that shortages in nursing numbers negatively affected their ability to care for patients.

The context and nature of the study

Motivated by the negative media coverage of the current state of nursing and the well-known 2013 Francis Report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry, this research project explored the ethical dimensions of contemporary nursing education and practice in the UK. The findings are drawn from survey and interview data from 696 participants across three-cohorts: first-year undergraduates in nursing, final-year students about to enter employment at the end of initial training, and established professionals who had been in practice for five years or more, as well as from interviews with educators from UK Schools of Nursing.

The Jubilee Centre has conducted a large body of work with students and professionals in a range of professions (lawyers, teachers, medical doctors) in recent years. As the Principal Investigator on this project, the present author was particularly struck by the finding that nurses stand out among all the experienced professionals we have surveyed. They are the only professionals where reliance on their own character compass does not pick up as they gain more experience. More specifically, we looked at the extent to which nurses rely on virtue-based reasoning (e.g. justifications about what is the compassionate thing to do) when facing ethical dilemmas in the workplace. While students entering nursing education rely heavily on such reasoning, during the course of their studies those considerations are overtaken by rule-and-code-based reasoning, and this trend continues among experienced nurses.

From the point of view of virtue ethics, which is gradually becoming the moral theory of choice in nursing ethics, this is a worrying trend. The tenets of professional ethics theory seem to be becoming increasingly irrelevant to actual nursing practice.

But there are some positives

We identified several positive findings about the profession. In particular, student nurses consistently name moral motivators like care and compassion as the principal reasons for joining the profession. Both student nurses and established professionals view the job as a vocation. Moreover, despite significant institutional pressures, nurses feel they can work autonomously and feel supported by colleagues. They also believe it is possible to maintain a level of emotional engagement with patients and their profession, which is encouraging given the motivational role of compassion and care in recruiting the nurses of the future.

The report recommends that moral role modelling is placed at the heart of nursing education. In the absence of adequate role modelling, the tendency will be to ‘go by the book’, circumventing individual reflection and responsibility and doing uncritically whatever the rules or standards of practice say.

In publishing this report, the Jubilee Centre calls for a greater emphasis on ethical theory in the education of student nurses, helping trainees to relate values and virtues to practice. The Centre also recommends a ‘robust approach’ to character evaluation at interview stage to assess the suitability of candidates for nursing, and to monitor the development of their character throughout the programme.

Food for thought

 This report shows that, given the challenges of nursing in the UK today, there is an increased pressure on nurses to get each decision right, under constraints of time and resources. To choose the option that is the best clinical one for patients, but also ethically correct, requires careful deliberation and the capacity to exhibit professional wisdom. The ability of the nurse to make such decisions on behalf of patients goes right to the core of what it means to be a nurse, whose first responsibility is to the patient. This study highlights ways in which shortcomings in the working and learning environments limit trained nurses’ and nursing students’ development of core values for nursing practice. It offers practical recommendations for improvement and paves the way for a fuller discussion of issues that are likely to be with us for quite some time.

Professor Kristján Kristjánsson was the Principal Investigator on the project ‘Virtuous Practice in Nursing’ report. The report was co-authored by  Jinu Varghese, James Arthur, Francisco Moller and Matt Ferkany. The full report can be viewed here

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