Paid to Love?
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Do your pupils know they are loved?
How do you know this and why does it matter to their education?

"I'm not paid to love my pupils, I'm paid to teach them."

I remember overhearing this comment in a staff room on a visit to a primary school.  I would be curious to know your response to such a remark. Do you think it is our job as teachers to love our pupils and does it really matter to their education?

My opinion is that it all depends on what we mean by the term love.  For me, the love shown by a teacher is of the kind that may be best summed up by a powerful expression first used by the psychologist Carl Rogers, who said that we should have unconditional positive regard for everyone.

When visiting schools, I notice that unconditional positive regard is at the heart of good relationships, as they create a meaningful connection between the teacher and pupil.  Such empowering behaviour allows the adult to have a good relationship with the child, whilst maintaining clear boundaries for acceptable behaviour.  Simply put, it means that teachers should never tell off children only their behaviour. Such a maxim, if fully understood and practiced, could positively enhance so many relationships both at school and in the home.

Do you share my concern that schools are being driven, through the inspection system, to focus on a narrow range of performance measures? That a greater emphasis is being placed on getting good SAT results rather than developing pupils holistically? Does our educational system inadvertently create the conditions that make it difficult for teachers to establish appropriate loving relationships with their pupils? Far from loving children may we be unintentionally emotionally abusing them? What do I mean? Let me give you an example from abroad.

This term, I have been supporting the development of values-based schools in the town of Skövde in Sweden. Chatting with early years teachers, I learned that they believe that there is a growing number of parents who find it difficult to fully engage with the role of being a parent. I asked what was behind this phenomenon? The teachers explained that about thirty years ago the Swedish government began to encourage more women into work to boost the economy.  To bring this about, it was agreed to state fund a pre-school system that would look after young children.

However, there has been a lack of awareness of the unintended consequences of this radical policy.  Skövde teachers told me that Sweden currently has a generation of adults who were cared for in early years settings by a range of people but their own parents had limited involvement with them. Some of these people tell teachers that they are unsure how to parent their children. Increasingly, it is the early years setting that is expected to 'parent' the children. Currently some children are in wrap-around care from 6am until 10pm, being looked after by a team of adults. 

Teachers notice that the unintended consequence of this situation is that some children are not developing secure attachment with one or two significant adults.  Secure attachment develops from the physical loving contact established through good enough parenting, which meets our basic human need to feel loved.  If children do not feel this secure attachment then they desperately search for recognition - often through inappropriate behaviour.  (For details on attachment theory see the work of John Bowlby.)

Now, think of a child who you are concerned about because of poor behaviour.  My understanding is that this may be because they failed to make a secure attachment to an adult before they were three years of age.  Until this age events that we experience become part of our somatic (body) memory. The consequence is that we don't recall them later in life but they remain remembered at an unconscious level.  Swedish teachers are finding that they have to try to compensate for the lack of love (secure attachment) from a prime caregiver. They say that it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this as children are faced with so many different carers and find it challenging to form trusting relationships.

We, in the UK, lag behind Sweden in terms of the development of universal wrap-around childcare.  However, recent governments of all political persuasions advocate comprehensive childcare without appreciating the unintended consequences of such a policy. If you are a teacher you may be beginning to see the result, as have your Swedish counterparts. Do you notice that children who have 'too much' childcare display inappropriate behaviour, poor attention and a reluctance to form relationships with adults - all aspects that in my view will depress academic and social standards? Therefore, children who struggle to form secure attachments in their early years need love from their teachers.

I believe that to promote mental health and well being we need to place an emphasis on ensuring that all children feel that they are loved as unique, wonderful human beings. That we, as teachers, work with parents to establish loving, safe, relationships with consistent boundaries for children; thus forming the bedrock for them to grow as confident, compassionate human beings.

In my book, From My Heart, transforming lives through values (2013, Independent Press) I draw on the excellent values-based teaching of teachers around the world who understand that love is central to the establishment of good relationships in the classroom.  I describe how values-based schools and communities lead to outstanding educational practice. If you are interested in knowing more then visit and discover why teachers are embracing the transformational practices of values-based education.

Dr. Neil Hawkes
Teacher and Founder of the international Values Education Trust (IVET)