Values matter in teaching!

Recent surveys conducted by PiPL and researchers from Oxford and Reading found that it’s really important for languages teachers that teaching aligns with their beliefs and values.  Yet discussion of teachers’ values rarely forms part of mainstream education discourse, perhaps linked to an assumption that teachers principally “deliver” a curriculum.  The DELTEA study has found that primary languages teachers have strong values and that these are intertwined with their decisions around teaching and learning. 

We know that sometimes, teachers’ sense of autonomy can be affected by feeling pressured to teach in ways that conflict with their beliefs and values: “I have started to teach less creatively, trying to ensure that the children have made substantial progress and that they can remember phrases that I feel people are going to expect them to know”.  In this comment, a teacher with high levels of autonomy acknowledges that their capacity to teach in the way they’d like is impact by external factors. We also found that teacher and pupil motivation for languages is affected when their schools cut lessons and class time. 

This all sounds interesting, but we wanted to find out more about teachers’ values and started to code teachers’ comments on professional development reflective tasks.  So far, almost 50% of teacher responses refer, either directly or indirectly, to empathy.  We decided to explore these through lenses of “functional” and “profound” empathy (Cooper, 2011).  Functional empathy is classified as empathy linked to practical decisions to support learning across children, for example pair work.  Teachers also referred to “profound empathy” which is characterised as an awareness of the feelings that learning activities could evoke in children.  Their commitment to supporting children’s learning alongside children’s sense of self was evident time and time again: “…particularly the children who struggle with Spanish respond better if they are given a creative task and the level of language they achieve is better as they seem to relate to it better as they have more ownership.” 


DELTEA policy takeaway:  Whilst curricula and frameworks can support practice, teachers should also feel “permitted to personalise” their languages teaching to align with their values and deep, professional expertise.   

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