Author Archives: Gary Walsh

Putting the ‘character’ in 140 characters: my first ScotEdChat

Last night I hosted my first #ScotEdChat on Twitter. It is the third chat so far having accidentally started the ball rolling a few weeks ago. The first chat happened on 5th November hosted by @MrsPert1, the second on 12th hosted by @athole. Next week the host will be @DrewBurrett. Having started with basically zero followers, the @ScotEdChat account has 625 followers as of this second. Not bad for three weeks worth of fun.

The theme of the chat last night was a meaty issue that I have been fascinated by for a few years now: Character, Values and Citizenship. Initially I was a bit worried about the idea of hosting a chat on a theme that I have a personal interest in – however I was reassured by various people that it would be of interest to others too and to just get on with it.

If you don’t know me, I work as a consultant for the charity Character Scotland and I recently curated a major international conference for them on the theme of ‘Character, Culture and Values’. I am now delivering a Pathway Project, which includes a call for evidence to practitioners, designed to build on the successes of this event. I have a range of other potential projects lined up in these areas for 2016 involving Character Scotland and other organisations. Hopefully you will see more developments on that front soon. Please get in touch if you want to know more: gary.walsh@character-scotland.org.uk. That’s me.

Here are the questions I proposed for last night’s ScotEdChat:

scoted_questionsScotEdChatQ1ScotEdChatQ2ScotEdChatQ3ScotEdChatQ4ScotEdChatThankYou

It was a steep learning curve. I felt like I imagine the wee dude on the skateboard must have felt seconds after the photo above was taken. I have never hosted an online chat before and participated in only a couple, all the while wondering how on earth the host is supposed to keep up. So there I was with all my tweets scheduled (I used Hootsuite for scheduling and Canva to produce the images), and Tweetdeck open so I could follow the thread as it happened in real time and prompt as necessary.

It was another successful (I think!) and interesting chat that raised lots of issues and questions. You can view the summary on Storify here.

You will notice that I have proposed that the conversation carries on using the #SlowChat format unti Wed 25th November. There are a few reasons for this. When I was lucky enough to have a loose and completely voluntary ScotEdChat ‘team’ in place, we had some conversation about the format of the chats. Concerns were raised from the off that the one hour format can be too fast and frenetic. We agreed that a week-long SlowChat could be more effective and therefore worth a shot. However, you need a following to do that. So we’ve had three fast chats partly to establish a critical mass of followers. I think we have now done that pretty effectively. So you might see more ‘slow chats’ happening as #ScotEdChat continues to evolve.

The other reason why I think #SlowChat could work better for an online conversation about character, values and citizenship (among other topics) is that there is a danger that the dialogue only reaches a superficial level. There were sparks of engagement with deep questions and critique last night that I think we could build on in a #SlowChat format, such as:

  • What is meant by character, values and citizenship, and who decides what they mean?
  • If we can agree that the purposes of education extend beyond a utilitarian and economic model of individual ‘cashable’ capacities towards something that is about character, values and citizenship – what exactly are those purposes and to what extent are we fulfilling them at the moment?
  • What is the role of character, values and citizenship in a liberal democracy and just society?
  • Are ‘character, values and citizenship’ the right words to use? Does it matter what words we use? What are the dangers here?
  • What are the key influences on character, values and citizenship and what is the role of formal schooling in this regard?
  • What is the role of parenting, early years provision, communities, informal education and collaboration with 3rd sector organisations in this regard?
  • How could teachers address these issues safely in and out of the classroom? Constructivist approach? Psychological interventions? Enquiry? Critical pedagogy? Socratic dialogue? Aristotelian virtue ethics? Indoctrination? Experiential learning? Collaborative learning? Outdoor education?
  • A great question raised last night: is it easier to address the issue of character in Catholic schools? Why? And what does that mean?
  • What type of citizenship and what type of citizen? Responsible, global, local, social, digital, active…?
  • To what extent is it possible to discuss character, values and citizenship in an online environment? Is it useful to do so or is it just pain silly?

(I am aware that several dissertations could be written on any one of these topics…)

Sue Palmer from Upstart Scotland emailed me after the chat with this wonderful quote from Neil Postman, comparing ‘Brave New World’ (Huxley) and ‘1984’ (Orwell):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no-one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

Neil Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood, in a 1995 interview on PBS

I share the fears of both Orwell and Huxley regarding an exploration of the slippery issues of character, values and citizenship. I have had the thought in mind for a while now that the way forward with regard to this exists in the ‘spaces between’ various tensions.

As a musician, Claude Debussy’s comment appeals to me:

Music is to be found in the spaces between the notes

The spaces I am referring to might fall between tensions such as knowledge and skills; knowledge and character; progressivism and traditionalism; liberalism and conservatism; evidence-based and research-informed; economic, social and human capital; freedom and conformity; rights and responsibilities; globalism and localism; all of which could be false binary distinctions by the way.

So where do we go from here? As educators we often fall into the trap of trying to find the right answer when really we should be looking for the right questions, or indeed looking for the spaces between all of these.

Nobody can really comment with authority on any issue of remote importance within 140 characters of text, particularly and ironically, when the subject itself is character without the ‘s’. Having said ALL of that – and thank you for reading to the end – the other option of doing nothing about it, to me, is no option at all.

So why not tweet or blog as part of the first #ScotEdChat #SlowChat on this wonderfully bewildering theme. If you need a reason to do so, this image shared last night by @KatyKingUK during #ScotEdChat is as good as any.

BeAboutIt

#ScotEdChat is here!

It started with a tweet

tweet

“RT if you agree – educators in Scotland should be sharing & connecting on Twitter using the #scotedchat hashtag – pls using it!!”

I have never caused a mini Twitter-storm before so this was new territory for me… I haven’t been using Twitter very long but in a short time I have found it to be one of the most valuable learning and development tools I use. I also observed that trailblazing teachers have come to the same conclusion – see the success of @UKEdChat and our very own @Pedagoo, as well as Twitter champions such as @cijane02, @mrkempnz and @markrpriestley to name just a few.

So I thought to myself:

thought

Given how popular #UKEdChat is: why isn’t anybody using #ScotEdChat? And what would happen if I suggested that we should be using it?

It turns out that others might have been thinking the same thing. Previous attempts had been made at establishing #ScotEdChat but perhaps the timing wasn’t quite right. Before I knew it the tweet above had 214 engagements including 24 retweets and 41 hashtag clicks, it had started a few conversations, with ‘early adopters’ such as @fkelly, @mrspert1 and @athole getting right on board with the idea straight away. All of a sudden there was an expectation that #ScotEdChat might become an actual ‘thing’ so I continued to push it out there to see who else might like to get involved somehow, with no real idea of what #ScotEdChat was or could become.

Since then the hashtag has received more and more attention and people have been making suggestions as to what it could be and how it could run. So here is my summary of feedback received so far and where I think we are at now.

#ScotEdChat is:

  • a regular week-long #SlowChat happening on Twitter – each chat has a voluntary host who chooses the topic, offers to pose the questions using the @ScotEdChat account and collates responses in a summary blog for the Pedagoo website, all using the #ScotEdChat hashtag,
  • an inclusive grassroots movement open to anybody wanting to continuously improve education in Scotland – this includes teachers, young people, parents, youth workers, 3rd sector organisations, etc,
  • a place where people can freely chat about key issues in Scottish education (some of those mentioned were the attainment gap, teacher workload, professional learning/development, recruitment, standardised testing, learning using technology and a host of other issues)
  • not a #moanathon,
  • a place where the main objectives are (probably) learning, connecting and sharing,
  • a place that allows for dialogue and “messy progress” – get involved to see where it takes you.

We even have a logo…

ScotEdChat

 

How to get involved

  1. Have a look at the #ScotEdChat forum on Pedagoo and contribute your ideas
  2. Get chatting on Twitter using #ScotEdChat
  3. Tune in to the first #ScotEdChat – 5th November at 8.30pm

scotedchat

Values and Education conference

Values and Education conference – 20th and 21st November, University of Edinburgh

Hello Pedagoo!

Are you interested in values and education? The Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC)Character ScotlandLearning for Sustainability Scotland and Lifeworlds Learning are joining forces to bring you this two-day event

What does an education system based on “values” and “character” look like? How do we enable good values-based learning? What resources can help us do this? These questions and others will be addressed over two days of workshops and talks, inviting anyone who is interested in, or already applying, a values-based approach to education. Day 1 focuses on practice and day 2 focuses on policy.

There are two main ways you can contribute to the event:

  • Come along! There is a small fee to help cover costs – £25 for one day or £40 for both days – click here to register.
  • Share your idea! Whether you are able to attend or not, you are welcome to send a short video which outlines an idea for character or values-based approaches in education. It could be an example of classroom practice, an idea for a whole-school approach, an extra-curricular or community-based activity or a school/national policy.

In keeping with true TeachMeet style, your clip should last no longer than 2 minutes (countdown timer optional…). You can send your clip using the following methods:

Click here for full conference details. Hope to hear from you soon!

Gary

Educating for Character

What is Character?

There are many schools of thought on this but let’s not get too bogged down with stuff like Aristotelian Virtue Ethics!

For the sake of argument let’s say that character refers to our dispositions to think, feel, and act in ways which reflect our values, virtues, capabilities and strengths. Evidence suggests that while there are genetics at play, character is largely ‘caught’ through experience and role modelling. It also suggests that parents, family and teachers are the primary educators of character for children and young people.

Watch the Science of Character video on our homepage for more details – Character Scotland

Can we educate for character?

Yes, but it shouldn’t be taught in a top-down, didactic, ‘transmitting knowledge’ style of teaching, or in a way which simply tells children and young people who they should be. Character can be effectively taught using open and exploratory dialogue e.g. giving young people opportunities to focus on their own character and that of others and asking them ‘what do you think?’. Character Education as Critical Pedagogy perhaps?

In 1998, UNESCO offered a set of aims for schooling world-wide:

Learning to know – Learning to do – Learning to live together – Learning to be

Character is relevant in all of the areas above. Arguably we are getting quite good at teaching for knowledge, doing and living together (tongue firmly in cheek). But what about teaching how to be? This is where character can really come into its own.

How can character be taught?

Let’s focus on a maths lesson as an example.

  • Stop teaching maths for a moment and start teaching people. Instead of teaching pupils how to DO maths, teach them how to BE a mathematician. How would you do that? Perhaps you might start by exploring the relationship between maths and curiosity. A discussion starter could be something like the following:

Maths and science are manifestations of curiosity: a quest to figure things out. Discuss.

  • Discuss role models – Try focussing on Einstein. Show a clip about his life story and ask pupils which character qualities he demonstrated: his sense of curiosity, creativity, imagination, determination etc. Better yet – ask the pupils to choose their own mathematician, learn about his/her life and get a sense of the person’s character qualities.
  • Discuss quotations – for example:

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

Albert Einstein

  •  Discuss self-awareness and perceptions – ask pupils in groups to discuss who is the most curious person in this group? Or the most creative? Or the least creative for that matter? What are our perceptions of ourselves and others and what do they tell us? What is the character of the group as a whole? Can a group have a character?
  • Bring the language of character into your professional practice  – one tool you can use is to complete the VIA Survey (www.character-scotland.org.uk/resources/via-survey) and learn the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. It takes 15 minutes and it’s free. Once you’ve done that you can become a “character strengths spotter”. When you spot a pupil demonstrating a particular strength, tell them about it. Name the character quality they have shown and ask them if they agree or if they see it differently. Ask them if they can see a link between the creative thing they just did and “that lesson on Einstein 6 months ago”.
  • Encourage your pupils to talk about character – they can do the VIA Survey too – there is a Youth version depending on what they prefer. Pepper your lessons with references to character using the common language you and your pupils now share. Encourage your pupils to become ‘strengths spotters’ for each other.

Other examples for different subjects might be teaching empathy during a history lesson, teaching scepticism in modern studies or politics (showing some liberal bias here…), teaching determination and focus during PE etc. The general point is that you can explicitly link disposition with learning by bringing the concept of character to the forefront of thinking and practice in your classroom.

Before you know it, you will realise that in fact you teach character all day and you always have.

 

What do you think about this post?

Let me know by leaving a comment or you can contact me directly by using the form below.

Thanks 🙂

Gary Walsh – Character Scotland

#TeachCharacter

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