Values, Attitudes and Philosophies – a foundation for pedagogic literacy?

“The language of education is one of managing, training and delivering and there is a danger in this context that the ‘actual practice of education becomes detached from moral perspective.’ (Pring, 2001:102)” Fitzmaurice (2008:341)

Our values, attitudes and philosophies (hereafter referred to simply as values) are part of what makes us who we are. They are the lens through which we perceive the world, impacting on our beliefs concerning issues such as politics and the environment. This makes values central to any activity we undertake as individuals as they guide our thinking and act as a framework which scaffolds the decisions we make and the reasons we find important in justifying our actions. This is no less true of the decisions we make as teachers regarding the pedagogies we believe we should foster in helping students develop to reach their potential than it is for any other aspect of our lives.

Skelton (2012) emphasises that values are partly the result of the learning experiences we have in early childhood together with our relationships with parents and other influential adults. Whilst these lay the foundation of our values, our experiences and our reflections on those experiences can also play a big part in how our values develop and emerge over time; as moral agents we constantly have the opportunity to reassess the things we find important and ethical as we experience new things, reflect on our actions and discuss issues and ideas with others. Therefore, as teachers it might be argued that we not only have an ethical duty to reflect upon and consider our practices and how they relate to our own values, but also how they impact on others. Sikes (1997) argues that our educational values can change and develop over time as a reaction to social attitudes, politics and the significance of our own and others’ life events. As a consequence, everyone develops a highly distinctive set of values in relation to teaching and learning, values which are deeply held and not easily shifted. As Nixon et al (2001:234) state:

‘why I do what I do is of the utmost significance…. Without this emphasis on the moral purposefulness of practice, there could be no claim to professionalism.’

This is crucial in understanding three main facets of pedagogic literacy. Firstly, how and what we develop as practitioners is fundamentally based on our values concerning education. Our belief systems help us make decisions on how we use the energy we have to further and develop our practice. Secondly, it takes a deep engagement with ideas and values to affect changes in the way individuals work as professionals. A day-long course might be good for fancy biscuits and a nice coffee, but many such courses work at the level of process rather than belief and as such often lead to little, if any, longer term impact. Thirdly, it is in the dissonance between organisational expectation and personal values that stress and disillusionment can begin to occur. Kreber (2010) argues that with increasing complexity in the relationships between research, teaching and administration together with greater accountability in higher education, authenticity in the work of lecturers can be diminished. Nixon et al (2001) argue that this has led to a shift from the good of education to education as a good!

So we need to make values, attitudes and philosophies central to our work. We need to consider and reflect on what we believe to be important in developing our practice, whilst remaining open to new ideas and influences – values are not fixed. Values will develop as part of experience and practice as well as through reflection. However, values cannot be seen in isolation, the only element which is central to the development of pedagogic literacy. In an early post, we proposed a multiple-layered model of pedagogic literacy (shown again below).

PL outline

Skelton (2012) argues that higher education environments influence the ways in which we work and may support or contradict our values as teachers. He argues that these influences occur at three levels:

-micro-level: includes the physical environments in which we teach. We may not find some of these spaces conducive to supporting the type of pedagogy we value. Likewise, the number and types of resources available to support our work as teachers may aid or hinder.

-meso-level: at the departmental or organisational level there might be statements as to what ‘good teaching’ looks like which do or do not agree with our values. Often these statements are produced by those with positional power.

-macro-level: external quality assurance frameworks and government policy set the context and framework for much of the work in higher education.

In these ways to understand the degree to which our pedagogic values can be realised, or undermined, we need to have an understanding of all of these levels of our work. We need to understand and develop our personal attributes, we need to achieve this by acting collaboratively (at least some of the time), whilst understanding the impact of organisational and societal values and processes. But in developing our own work and the work of others, we need to be conscious that:

‘Initial and continuing professional development…about teaching and learning represent[s] important spaces where people can explore and develop their educational values and learn from the examination of value conflicts. To be authentic, such spaces need to acknowledge the micro, meso and macro level constraints that may make it difficult to realise particular educational values and to support people in developing personal responses to such circumstances.’ (Skelton, 2012: 267)

In this way, values, attitudes and philosophies are at the core of pedagogic literacy, but simultaneously need to flow and operate through micro, meso and macro processes as part of an emergent process to help us make sense of, and impact upon, the complexity of the pedagogic process.


Fitzmaurice, M. (2008) ‘Voices from within: teaching in higher education as a moral practice.’ Teaching in Higher Education, 13(3), 341-352.    

Kreber, C. (2010) ‘Academics’ teacher identities, authenticity and pedagogy.’ Studies in Higher Education, 35(2), 171-194.

Nixon, J.; Marks, A.; Rowland, S. & Walker, M. (2001) ‘Towards a New Academic Professionalism: A Manifesto of Hope.’ British Journal of Sociology of Education, 22(2), 227-244.

Pring, R. (2001) ‘Education as a moral practice.’ Journal of Moral Education, 30(2), 101-112.

Sikes, P. (1997) Parents who teach: stories from home and from school. London: Cassells.

Skelton, A. (2012) ‘Value conflicts in higher education teaching.’ Teaching in Higher Education, 17(3), 257-268.