Sharing knowledge, handling controversy in schools in Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria (SKHC)
1.03.2021 – 15.11.2021
The Sharing Knowledge, Handling Controversy Project (SKHC) held in schools of Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria is part of the Multilateral Co-operation Projects of the 6th Cycle of the CoE/EU Joint Programme “Democratic and Inclusive School Culture in Operation” (DISCO). The overall aim of the project is to respond to the common controversial issues that appear in the three bordering countries and to build a peaceful and inclusive school environment through jointly developing and using appropriate educational practices and tools within the three countries’ school communities. To succeed in this, the three partner countries build on the EU/CoE handling controversy training tool “Managing controversy. Developing a strategy for handling controversy and teaching controversial issues in schools”.
Encourage discussions and the sharing of best practices for addressing EDC/HRE issues.
Awareness and promotion of importance of education for democracy and human rights education in every aspect of society.
Promoting cooperation between national, regional, local authorities and civil society organizations.
Contribute to the promotion and continued development of citizenship and human rights education in Europe.
- Translation and sharing of the “Managing Controversy” training tool.
- 8-hour training curriculum, based on the “Managing Controversy” educational tool
- Twenty-four 8-hour online training workshops in different geographical areas of the three partner countries
- The present educational toolkit is produced in four languages (English, Greek, Macedonian, Bulgarian).
- Three Electronic Tools (one per partner country) including information on handling controversy as well as pedagogical material related to human rights education are being developed for each country.
General information about the SKHC project
What it’s about…
About the SKHC project
The Sharing Knowledge, Handling Controversy Project (SKHC) held in schools of Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria is part of the Multilateral Co-operation Projects of the 6th Cycle of CoE/EU Joint Programme “Democratic and Inclusive School Culture in Operation” (DISCO). The overall aim of the project is to respond to the common controversial issues that appear in the three bordering countries and to build a peaceful and inclusive school environment through jointly developing and using appropriate educational practices and tools within the three countries’ school communities. To succeed in this, the three partner countries build on the EU/CoE handling controversy training tool “Managing controversy. Developing a strategy for handling controversy and teaching controversial issues in schools”.
Based on previous EU/CoE publications on handling controversies, partner countries train the local teaching community and come up with new educational material appropriate to facilitate upper primary and secondary school teachers embed human rights and citizenship education in their everyday school practice.
Furthermore, through the project’s activities, school administrators, officials for educational planning and other regional or national educational stakeholders are motivated and supported in promoting democratic education using human rights education participatory methodology and techniques. The main aim of the project is to build a peaceful and democratic school environment, which is inclusive and participatory for all members of the school community.
Specifically, the project will impact the educational policies and practices through:
– The introduction of non formal education methodology and practices to the teaching community, with ensured participation and direct results.
– The involvement of official educational bodies that run under the Ministry of Education in the three partner countries to the promotion of a democratic and human rights-oriented school culture.
– The empowerment of schools in adopting a community-based operating model including all its members meaning school teachers, directors, students as well as non-teaching school staff and parents, educational officials, CSOs related to education etc.
– The sustainability of the project through related educational programmes and activities run by school teachers with the support of the partner NGOs.
– The sensitisation of the broad community on the importance of democratic education.
The project duration is from March till November 2021.
The DISCO program
The Joint Programme provides funding to enable cooperation in at least three States, in the framework of the European Cultural Convention, in the fields of education for democratic citizenship and human rights education (EDC/HRE). At least one of the participating states should be a member of the European Union.
The main goal of the implemented projects is to inform the participating countries about the current educational practices in the field of democratic citizenship and human rights, as well as to mobilize them for the implementation of similar practices.
In addition, the Programme intends to:
• Encourage discussions and the sharing of best practices for addressing EDC/HRE issues.
• Raise awareness and increase visibility of the role of EDC/HRE at all levels of society.
• Promote cooperation between national, regional and local authorities and civil society organisations.
• Contribute to the promotion and continued development of citizenship and human rights education in Europe.
ANTIGONE – Information and Documentation Centre on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non-Violence (leading partner)
ANTIGONE is an independent, social, non-profit organisation based in Thessaloniki, Greece. Since its launch in 1993 the organisation is active in the struggle against racism and discrimination and promotes social ecology, peace and non-violent conflict resolution.
The main aim of ANTIGONE is to contribute to the development of a democratic, open society, capable to ensure that everyone has access to good living standards and quality of life.
The objectives of the organisation are the following:
- Assurance of equal opportunities and equal treatment for all people without any discrimination in terms of gender, race, origin, social, economic, and educational level, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation etc.
- Information and awareness raising on issues related to human rights, social ecology, and non-violence as well as actions against racism, xenophobia, and any type of negative discrimination.
- Improvement of the institutional, political, and social framework towards the integration and equal participation of all.
- Active participation of people, collectives, and social groups in activities for the promotion of solidarity and respect to diversity.
In pursuit of these objectives, ANTIGONE designs, develops, and implements various national and international projects and organises a wide range of voluntary activities. The organisation collaborates with organisations and actors that share a common vision, philosophy, and goals at a local, national, and international level. With the decisive participation of many board and staff members, volunteers and supporters ANTIGONE has profoundly developed activities inspired by a collective and holistic vision for people, society, and the world.
Indicatively, ANTIGONE implements projects for the vocational training of migrants and refugees, capacity building programmes for Roma youth, programmes for the professional and social empowerment of artists with disabilities, the psychosocial support of imprisoned women, among others. In collaboration with school communities all over Greece, the organisation implements various experiential educational programmes for teachers, students and parents / legal guardians. Furthermore, it runs various non-formal educational initiatives that take place not only at schools but also under other frameworks such as European youth exchanges, trainings of volunteers, etc. It designs and implements participatory, interactive programmes of adult education in the fields of social ecology, degrowth, social entrepreneurship, etc. ANTIGONE participates in local and international networks where it jointly organises and participates in conferences, festivals, and other events. ANTIGONE organises the “Round Table Against Discrimination” that is held yearly in Athens, offering information on social integration, human rights, hate speech, and racism. The organisation has its own “ANTIGONE Editions” as well as an extensive electronic library, which is updated regularly. In Greece, ANTIGONE is the official Focal Point of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
JHR – Journalists for Human Rights (implementing partner)
JHR is a non-governmental, non-partisan and non-profit organisation based in Skopje, North Macedonia. It was formed in 1996 as a non-formal group and registered in 1999 and is actively working to achieve greater transparency and objectivity in reporting, promotes children’s rights and gender equality, understands women’s rights as human rights and aims at the elimination of discrimination against women in society and within their families, and strives to uphold the right to a clean environment.
Its aim is to bring together the citizens of Northern Macedonia whose objective is to share information, foster dialogue, while respecting traditional and moral values in the country, regardless of religion, language, sex.
JHR is active in 8 sectors: Media; Sustainable Development and Environment; Gender equality; Social Entrepreneurship; Health; Youth and Employment; Rights of children; Tourism.
- The mission of JHR is for the public to learn about and to respect human rights.
- It envisions a strong civil society which fosters participatory respect of all community stakeholders and is achievable only through the information, communication, education.
- It promotes values such as peace and reconciliation, respect of human rights, respect for the dignity of every individual, reduction of poverty, equal opportunities, participation and promotion of socially responsible behaviour, professionalism and transparency.
As part of its mission, JHR implements national and international projects that cover a wide range of social problems. The most important resource of the JHR is the large number of volunteers who are involved in its initiatives, and who, through all the activities that they participate in encourage citizens to reach out to each other. JHR activities bring together local people and the business community. Young people are one of the core target groups of JHR — projects promoting peace and non-violence are addressed to them. These are core values of the North Macedonian society and an important goal of JHR is the growth of peace education through its incorporation into the formal educational system or through non-formal educational programmes.
JHR reaches large audiences, as it also works with journalists, educating them by offering trainings on women’s and children’s rights, as well as seminars on the protection of the environment, health issues and peace journalism courses. The most important stakeholders of JHR are its users. Through direct help and addressing their basic needs, education, advocacy, participation, and other types of support, JHR aims to encourage its beneficiaries and motivate them to continue working on reducing poverty, strengthening the development of civil society, fighting for respect of human rights, against all forms of prejudice, marginalization, and discrimination.
JHR forms part of many international coalitions, and collaborates frequently with WECF (Women in Europe for a Common Future), CMC (Cluster Munition Coalition), ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms), IFEJ – (International Federation of Environmental Journalism), GREEN ACCORD (International Association of Journalists for Sustainable Development).
JHR is part of the expert team of UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) office on the protocol on water and health, the UNECE group of the Aarhus convention for access to information, public participation and access to justice on environmental matters, the UNECE office for transport, as well as the UNCCD for the protection of forests, an equal member of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and actively involved in the ECPAT International Network for Child Protection.
AMALIPE Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance (implementing partner)
Amalipe Center for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance is a leading Roma organisation working for the equal integration of Roma people in Bulgarian society. The organisation plays a central role in organising the Roma civic movement and advocates integration with state institutions. Amalipe Center is a member of the Public Council of the Ministry of Education and Science, the National Patient Organisation, the European Women’s Lobby and others. The chairman of the organisation, Deyan Kolev, was elected as a representative of Roma NGOs in the Monitoring Committee of the Operational Program “Science and Education for Smart Growth”, 2014 – 2020.
Amalipe Center believes in the equal integration of Roma people in society, based on the preservation of Roma identity and the modernisation of the Roma community. The community’s knowledge of its own history and culture is an important factor in raising its self-esteem. The introduction of civic values and the development of civic leadership in the Roma community will help to overcome social exclusion and marginalisation. Roma organisations working at the local and at the national level are a catalyst for the modernisation of the community as a whole – they express its needs and could actively participate in changing the existing policies, attitudes and prejudices towards the Roma community, which are embedded in institutions and society as a whole.
The mission of the Amalipe Center is to promote the active participation of Roma people in the social life of Bulgaria, the empowerment of the Roma community, and the achievement of equal access to:
- Access to quality education and other resources
- Quality healthcare and social services.
To achieve these goals, Amalipe Center uses:
– Innovative methods and practices at the local level.
– Regular monitoring, feedback, and advocacy to achieve changes in existing policies related to the social inclusion of Roma people.
– Systematisation of the practical results of various organisations and their inclusion in the national policies for achieving effective results in the integration of the Roma community.
– Mobilisation and organisation of the civic capacity of the Roma community in order to implement joint actions for successful integration.
– Advocacy activities for the formation of a sustainable model for Roma integration, through the implementation of a policy of good practices tested at the local level.
Amalipe Center is currently working on over 20 projects in the field of education, healthcare, provision of social services and support, funded by the European Commission, Operational Programmes, Trust for Social Achievement, UNICEF and others. Amalipe Center works with a network of over 250 schools across the country to reduce dropout rates, introduce intercultural education, promote lifelong learning in the Roma community and improve the educational status of Roma. An essential part of this activity is to encourage Roma parents to take an active part in school life, making the school a community centre. The organisation has established 14 Community Development Centres which promote the self-organisation of the Roma community in the six regions of Bulgaria. Each one of these centres works with a network of local community groups and has educational mediators, who are employed by the organisation or the respective schools and municipalities. Currently, nearly 30 educational mediators work at the Amalipe Center. In parallel, the Amalipe Center supports the work of over 250 educational mediators appointed by the schools in the “Every student will be a winner” Network.
In addition, the Amalipe Center cooperates with many Roma and non-Roma organisations from all over the country jointly organising activities with them in various fields such as education, health care, social services, doing advocacy campaigns for Roma integration, etc.
The three bordering countries face similar problems of in terms overcoming negative stereotypes, intolerance and discrimination. A lot of good practices could be implemented to promote non-formal education for democratic citizenship and human rights education as a solution. Developing democratic competences is a key element to creating an inclusive and supportive environment in the schools of the Balkan countries of Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria, where high levels of intolerance and discrimination is still a crucial issue at the national level.
The partnership was built to develop a joint targeted intervention for the prevention and the handling of violent conflicts due to on controversy within the school community, with an emphasis – but not solely- on the hatred reproduced among Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria. Based on long-term experience working with schools the conclusion is that there is still a high level of school violence due to prejudice. Managing controversy can be activated as a part of human rights and citizenship education appropriate for making school communities safe and inclusive spaces of self-expression, communication and collaboration.
Stereotypes and prejudice in many cases is expressed by teachers (mainly in terms of gender, sexual orientation, nationality, race etc.) and keeps on being reproduced without being addressed. In their vast majority, school community members are aware of cases of school violence but select not to act since they believe “someone else should”. Also, students who attack their peers used to be targets themselves previously in their school life (vicious circle of violence). Bullying and school violence due to prejudice is a reality in every school environment and needs to be prevented and solved through peaceful communication and in democratic ways.
Given the situation, which is common in all three partner countries, the SKHC project is an opportunity to educate teachers on how to recognise controversial issues within their school environment and educate their students using human rights education as an opportunity to bring school members closer together. The project is relevant, especially nowadays, in a period when mutual hatred seems to be on the rise. It is necessary to deepen the student-parent-teacher model in order to increase everyone’s commitment to the educational process. The project will support the inclusion of students in local schools and also encourage parents and teachers to work together in preventing exclusion. The project’s activities will contribute to the development of an inclusive school environment free of of violent conflicts where students, teachers, families, and local community will be able to peacefully resolve conflicts democratically and with respect to human rights. Negative stereotypes poisoning the relationships between students, principals, and students form part of a serious problem that needs to be overcome.
The three NGOs of this project, have a strong presence in the school networks of the three bordering countries and therefore have a significant advocacy role for integrating educational policies and non-formal education in the public educational service. Non-formal education is one of the most efficient educational methods for including all children, youth and adults in the educational process on an equal basis, can help bring changes in their behavioural patterns, their motivation, communication and ideas. The three NGOs will keep in contact with the participant schools, re-evaluate the situation on a regular basis and communicate with schools and relevant stakeholders periodically, in order to check and follow up results, changes and improvement.
Through the experiences gained in this project, the participating NGOs promote the principles of human rights and citizenship education as an effective means to handle controversy. Educational stakeholders of different fields and regions will form networks and co-design and implement democratic citizenship and human rights activities. The results from the school workshops will be presented at a final conference and conclusions will be drawn as to what are best practices and inspiring the audience consisting of educators to apply these practices in their own schools.
- NGOs of Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria develop a common participatory methodology and educational tools of human rights education addressing controversy for local school communities.
- Local teaching communities and national administrators, school principals, and teachers, in the three countries are empowered in their efforts to address controversy in schools and to put into practice non-formal education on human rights.
- Local school communities become aware of the relevance of human rights in managing controversial issues.
- Non-formal education for human rights becomes mainstream teaching practice in the three countries.
The main target groups of the project are primary and secondary education teachers and school principals in Greece, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria. The project also addresses decision-makers in educational planning, school administrators, pedagogical advisors, school psychologists, educational mediators, educational experts, and any other interested educational stakeholders in each country.
- The “Managing Controversy” training tool has been written in Greek and is being translated into Macedonian and Bulgarian. It is printed and widely disseminated in educational communities of Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
- An eight-hour training curriculum based on “Managing Controversy” toolkit is jointly developed by the partner organisations’ educational experts during a 4-day meeting. This common curriculum is designed taking into consideration the three countries’ local contexts, policies, controversies, existing good practices, expectations and needs.
- Twenty-four eight-hour online training workshops for the teaching community are organised in various geographical regions of the three partner countries (8 in Greece, 8 in NM, 8 in Bulgaria).
- The present educational toolkit is produced in four languages (English, Greek, Macedonian, Bulgarian).
- Three Electronic Tools (one per partner country) including information on handling controversy as well as pedagogical material related to human rights education is developed for each country.
- Information on the project activities and the content is disseminated on the partners’ websites and social media accounts, as well as via articles, interviews etc.
- One Final Event for networking and dissemination of results among the three partner countries takes place.
It is expected that with its completion the project will have made a positive impact towards the development of a more democratic, participatory, and inclusive school that runs under the principles of human rights and peace.
- Teachers in various regions of Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria are trained to handle controversy through human rights education activities and initiatives.
- Participant teachers in the SKHC project activities offer human rights related programs in their schools in an effort to prepare the ground for handling controversy in democratic and inclusive ways.
- Children and adolescent students learn how to communicate their feelings and thoughts democratically and peacefully among their peer groups, gradually becoming active democratic citizens.
- Educational officials, administrators and other educational stakeholders related to educational planning are given a chance to understand the importance of human rights education and press for its introduction into the official school systems of Greece, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria.
- Local school communities actively get involved and become more open to collaborations with local CSOs, local actors, community actors, etc.
“This webpage was produced with the financial support of the European Union and of the Council of Europe. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of either party.”
CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES IN SCHOOLS
What are controversial issues?
The definition of controversial issues differs slightly from place to place. One definition for controversial issues is that they are significant academic, social, political, and ideological matters involving opposing viewpoints and/or multiple perspectives. A controversial issue is also defined as one which results in dispute and disagreement due to a difference of opinion.
According to another definition, issues typically become controversial when the parties involved have competing values and interests; when they strongly disagree about statements, assertions, or actions; when the subject touches on some particular sensitivity (e.g. political or religious); or when they arouse an emotional reaction. These topics may relate to events in the past, to a current situation or to some future desired outcome.
In European educational practices controversial issues are defined as “issues that evoke strong emotions and are related to our values and ideals and can divide a community and society”. They generate strong emotions, conflicting explanations and solutions based on alternative beliefs and values, competing interests that lead to the division of society.
Types of controversial issues
Controversial issues range from local to global and vary from place to place. For example, religious and sexual orientation issues are relatively uncontroversial in some countries and very controversial in other countries. Some controversial issues have a long and enduring history, like divisions and conflicts among different groups within countries, while others, such as cyberbullying and the threat of youth radicalisation, have emerged only recently. In that sense, what is controversial in one school or even one class may not be a concern in another.
Potentially controversial issues in a school curriculum:
- History-related issues, including different narratives and perspectives; and sensitive topics such as past conflicts, the origins of nationalism, fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
- Questions related to contemporary issues e.g., social, political, economic, religious, moral, philosophical, etc. (covered in several classes, such as history, religious education, health education, civic and social education, literature, science and more).
Some school subjects are more likely to cause controversy than others:
- Literature – social issues, such as racism and equality, and changes in attitudes towards issues over time.
- Language – insight into other countries and cultures, cultural ties.
- History and history-related issues, as before.
- Science – evolution, climate changes, animal experiments, stem-cell research, genetically modified food.
- Religious education – religious diversity and use of religious symbols such as the crucifix and the hijab may be concerned.
- Health and sex education – sexual orientation, abortion, drug use.
- Mathematics – different number and measurement systems, use and misuse of statistics, such as related to crime and immigration rates.
- Civic and social education – political systems, political parties, policies, and ideologies.
- Physical education – cultural attitudes towards sports, gender patterns in sports and doping.
- Art – cultural attitudes towards art, art as propaganda and protest, use of art to raise awareness.
- Information and communication technology – radicalisation of young people through social media, pornography, Internet privacy, democracy and online campaigns.
- Geography – including local issues, pollution control, planning and segregation, and global issues, such as fair trade, migration, climate change and ethical tourism.
- Music – cultural attitudes towards music, music as a means for propaganda or protest, racist and sexist lyrics in music.
While not every issue is suitable for discussion in every age group and keeping in mind that there are no ‘quick fixes’, controversial issues should not be avoided in schools and classrooms. Moreover, these issues, cannot be confined to classrooms: they spill out into other areas of the school, corridors, cafeterias, playgrounds and staff rooms. Furthermore, students are exposed to controversial issues more than ever through mass media, and, therefore, they need to have a safe space to discuss and demystify them. Discussing current controversial issues can be a good way of helping young people learn how to engage in democratic dialogue.
How can teachers use controversy constructively?
Teaching should be seen as rational but artful endeavour rather than an exercise of mechanically applied formulated techniques. Part of the rational act of engaging students in discussing controversial issues is judging what approaches to take in a classroom and at what moment during a lesson. Teachers have to manage moments of tension among their students daily – this is something unavoidable in a school environment. For this reason, they need to appropriately select and use conflict resolution techniques effectively in order to handle “taboo” topics that were not dealt with in the past.
The effective responsiveness to address controversial issues that emerge during class can gradually lead to the development of an inspiring school culture of acceptance, understanding and inclusion. Handling controversy democratically can lead to a deeper understanding and learning process, facilitating the students’ cognitive, social, and emotional development, and rendering students capable to cope with controversy peacefully, at school and in any other social environment. In order to achieve the desired dynamics in discussions and analytical thinking, it is important that teachers are well-informed and trained in the various techniques and strategies of handling controversy, and, sometimes, combining approaches, depending on the students’ profile, cultural and social context, and other related factors, is more effective.
Some possible approaches teachers may take in addressing controversial issues in class are the following:
- Neutral (the teacher does not express personal views, only facilitates the discussion)
- Balanced (the teacher presents a wide range of alternative views)
- The devil’s advocate (the teacher intentionally takes the opposite position from the majority opinion)
- Declared commitment (the teacher openly expresses his / her position)
- Ally (the teacher supports “marginalized”, “ignored” social groups)
- Official line (the teacher echoes the dominant views or takes the side of public authorities).
Teaching controversial topics besides being an opportunity for students to have an opinion and debate about important political, social, ethical, and moral issues, may also improve their self-esteem, as they become more confident in expressing views or formulating ideas.
Teaching and learning about controversial issues may support enquiry and analytical thinking, and improve students’ awareness of current debates, helping them to better understand real life situations. It also helps students in evaluating media messages that they are exposed to outside school, which are sometimes confusing.
Strategies of handling controversies in schools
When handling controversial issues teachers, students as well as school managers and leaders need to have a strategic approach and some necessary skills.
When preparing to address controversial issues, teachers need to plan class discussions by considering whether they should:
- Identify a clear purpose
- Establish ground rules
- Provide a common basis for understanding
- Create a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow
- Include everyone
- Be an active facilitator
- Summarise discussion and gathering student feedback
- Address issues related to the teacher’s identity
- Utilize school resources, involve experts, use available materials, equipment, and school facilities, take advantage of funding and training opportunities, etc.
In determining their strategy in terms of managing controversial issues, teachers may use different techniques and approaches, depending on the situation, while always keeping in mind the following important points:
- Self-reflection and awareness of the teacher about own beliefs and values
- Perceiving the composition of the group of students in the classroom, school, neighbourhood
- Training for the use of different teaching techniques and their selection from case to case, critical thinking of the teacher
- Information on the nature of controversial school issues and their consequences
- Creating a climate of trust and security in the classroom and school
- Training in the use of peaceful and democratic methods of communication in the classroom and at the school
- Training for recognising and responding to biased behaviour through democratic means
- Training for democratic dialogue and decision-making in the classroom and in their school group
- School open to society: contribution of specialists, representatives of social groups, etc.
In their planning on addressing controversial issues, teachers may:
- Prepare for inclusive teaching by finding out, before class and to the extent possible, about the students’ cultural and educational backgrounds; anticipate material that is likely to cause controversy and actively plan to manage it; include assessment tasks for students to reflect on their own skills for managing controversy or show they can critically analyse and argue about an issue.
- Create a positive classroom climate of trust by ‘getting to know you’ activities, focusing on similarities rather than differences in order to enhance students’ ability to communicate and enhance participation; promote self-disclosure on matters relevant to the topic but remind students of the importance of confidentiality; help students to evaluate the costs and benefits of self-disclosure; promote tolerance and respectful behaviour; respond neutrally to statements which teachers find controversial by listening, paraphrasing, asking for evidence, analysing underlying assumptions and asking for other points of view.
- Challenge the ideas expressed by someone without offending or discouraging that person and emphasising the conditional nature of knowledge – explaining how knowledge is developed; encourage students to explore what they don’t know and set new learning goals.
- Ensure inclusive discussions by establishing classroom norms with students at the beginning of the year by using discussion strategies which encourage students to listen carefully to each other, for example the next speaker needs to paraphrase the views of the previous speaker; require students to reflect upon the quality of evidence underlying claims expressed in theory, research, experience, media, family folklore; ask students to interview a person with a different perspective and report their views verbally or in writing; respectfully use student diversity in the classroom when it is helpful to understand different cultural perspectives of the student body.
- Encourage critical thinking through the use of debates, for example students may take one position one week and the opposing position the next week and write briefly about their current position, using evidence; or have students defend a position they disagree with in a debate; use critical observation activities allowing students to distinguish between observation and interpretation; use media items to encourage critical thinking, differences in reporting by different sources, analysis of sources of information and misinformation; invite credible guest lecturers to discuss different perspectives and opposing views; avoid assessment tasks which accept only one answer as true, such as true or false questions and multiple choice questions.
- Manage emotions by anticipating strong emotions such as anger; anticipate student cynicism or demoralisation if they start feeling powerless in terms of making changes; manage your own emotions as a teacher and share experiences with other staff.
- Anticipate and overcome resistance by planning to return to some issues on several occasions; offer interpretations of resistance gradually; manage students’ emotions, as well as your own and afterwards ask students to analyse their resistance; instead of personalising resistance focus on strategies to challenge ideas.
- Use experiential activities to reduce the sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’, for example role plays, simulations and field work.
In addition, teachers may also have the option to set family as an item to the agenda of a school staff meeting in order to develop a strategy tailored to the school and its wider community, and they can also consult national/regional policy to ensure that guidelines are followed. In their communications with families, teachers can also mention that their approach is designed to encourage students to read and to consider sources that have multiple perspectives, and to practice critical thinking and follow democratic methods. By being positive and proactive, teachers can help build a bridge to important partners in their students’ lives. It is helpful to gather and to take into consideration student feedback about the value of discussions, when communicating with administrators and parents.
A whole-school approach to handling controversies needs to be active, responsive, and proactive, and school leaders and leadership teams might take a range of actions when developing a strategy for handling controversy that include:
- Reviewing guidance and policies
- Reviewing current policy and practice
- Policy development
- Action planning
- Monitoring and evaluation.
CHALLENGES AND HANDLING OF CONTROVERSY
Teachers may hesitate to bring up controversial issues in a classroom for a variety of reasons which may relate to the students, the teacher, the system, the parents, or the school administration.
When addressing controversial issues in schools, some challenges that may need to be taken into account are the following:
– Protecting students’ emotions and sensitivities (for instance, when extreme views are expressed)
– Ensuring a peaceful climate in the classroom and fostering constructive dialogue
– Lack of knowledge about an issue
– Lack of time especially when the material to be covered is too extensive
– Lack of experience and confidence in teaching controversial issues
– The majority opinion on the issue may conflict with the teacher’s views, values, and beliefs.
The teachers’ attitudes can also make teaching controversial issues challenging because of barriers like the following:
-Denial – when the teacher does not acknowledge an issue as being controversial and does no adjust his/her teaching style accordingly but teaches it in the usual way, looking for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers.
-Privilege – when the teacher assumes own views as ‘right’ and tries to influence the pupils so that they end up adopting them
-Avoidance – when the teacher avoids a topic, feeling unable or unwilling to teach it
-Academic views – when the teacher has an academic viewpoint on the issue, which it does not reflect the real situation.
What is also becoming increasingly challenging for teachers is to facilitate discussions, create a supportive learning environment and keep the students engaged in virtual or hybrid classroom settings.
Overall principles and key issues in handling of controversies in schools effectively
What needs to be in place for effective handling controversies is to have a clear understanding of how controversial issues are being addressed in the school which means assessing the skills and attitudes of teaching staff, their levels of self-confidence and their ability to deal with conflicting opinions.
Some teacher attitudes which can enable successful handling controversial issues include:
-Acceptance: the teacher acknowledges an issue as being controversial, is aware of its complexity and opposing viewpoints
-Remaining open-minded: the teacher acknowledges own views as just one perspective on the matter, recognises that other views are valid, and researches the issue further, formulating views based on multiple perspectives and a wide range of evidence
-Pragmatism: the teacher understands the academic perspectives on an issue but relates them to a real-world context, in a way that pupils can easily understand
-Being prepared: the teacher develops experience of teaching controversial issues, from training and researching issues and teaching methodologies to developing confidence and competency and is better prepared to successfully teach controversial issues
Dealing with controversy needs to be acknowledged as a whole-school issue. Controversies arising in the classroom are related to what happens in the school as a whole as well as the community outside the school and need to be understood in this wider context.
Some important ways for understanding and effectively handling controversies in schools are:
– Controversy should not be seen as a problem, but as a natural part of life in a democracy.
– Controversial issues should not be avoided but should be openly discussed according to the principles of democratic education.
– Discussions on controversial issues are an essential part of democratic education.
– Controversial questions can arise anywhere in the school at any time.
– All school staff should be willing and able to contribute to the handling of controversial issues.
– All members of the school community (students, teachers, parents, and other school staff, in addition to teachers) should participate in addressing controversial issues.
– Training for their management is directly related to training for active citizenship.
Everyone has the potential to influence in one way or another how school controversies are resolved.
Some conditions also need to be met for effective handling of controversies:
– Consent in terms of managing controversy at school.
– Existence of a democratic atmosphere at school.
– Formal programme that enables and encourages teachers to take initiatives to implement more democratic teaching methods
– Emphasis on the free expression of all members of the school community in a democratic way
– Guiding and supporting members of the school community
– Consent and active participation of parents
– Education and training
– Assessment and “risk management”.
How important each one of the above is may differ from school to school, depends on the situation on the ground but also on how the school administration perceives the task of managing controversial issues. Staff development and training will always be important.
What remains crucial, is to encourage teachers to create safe spaces where students have the opportunity to explore and discuss controversial issues within the framework of education for democratic citizenship, human rights, and inclusive education.
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