Learning from real life experiences is central to the Primary curriculum and we recognise that vulnerable children may not have a range of experiences as building blocks.
However, when it comes to emotional learning, these pupils may have lived a lot more!
This learning may not have been healthful, reflected upon or made coherent. So when it comes to listening, accepting other points of view, arguing a case and dealing with difficult feelings, they may not be ready for sensitive or controversial issues. What they have is deep personal impact of political and social issues.
There is a need, therefore, for sensitivity when dealing with discussions about family values and lifestyles, health, physical and medical matters, law and order, finance, unemployment and environmental issues.
Here are guidelines for use in a staff meeting or for reflection outlining how teachers may like to be ready for handling sensitive and controversial issues- including being asked about their own views.
Dealing with sensitive and controversial issues
What teachers need to do:
- Judge when to allow children to discuss issues confidentially in groups and when to support by listening into those group discussions
- Ensure that pupils have access to balanced information and differing views
- Decide how far they are prepared to express their own views, bearing in mind that, as a teacher, you are in an influential position
- By preparing, beforehand, any child for whom the content is highly sensitive and that they are made aware before the whole class session
- Being aware that the words used may make for unexpected vulnerability e.g. loss and bereavement words are many faceted and may spark a connection to a sadness.
Teachers need to avoid bias by:
- Trying not to highlight a particular set of facts that give it greater importance. There is a need to find equally relevant information
- Actively encouraging pupils to offer contradictory interpretations
- Making it clear that they, as teacher, are not the sole opinion
- Helping pupils to distinguish opinions and value judgements from facts
- Opening opportunities for all pupils to contribute
- Challenging a consensus of opinion that emerges to quickly or easily.