Pride Matters: 5 actions for inclusion and quality for leaders

David Weston portrait

Written by David Weston

Co-CEO of Teacher Development Trust; Chair DfE CPD group; author, campaigner and speaker.

The annual month of pride comes around and it can be a difficult one for school and system leaders to tackle. The will is there, so what’s the best way? How can LGBTQ+ inclusivity be  approached effectively and sensitively with staff, and with children and young adults? 

In this article, David Weston, Teacher Development Trust’s co-CEO (Innovation & Research), draws on his experience as a founder of an LGBTQ+ teacher community, a trainer for LGBTQ+ school leaders and as a campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights. TDT is  a national charity that supports schools to tap into the power of school improvement through people development, inclusive of all.

It’s worth reflecting first that while parties and celebrations are often the visible part, this month is an annual moment to focus all of humanity’s mind on what we still need to do to remove barriers, decrease inequality and create greater inclusion for all people who fit under the LGBTQ+’s broad rainbow. Even here in the UK, pride matters:

  • Because countless LGBTQ+ individuals are still subjected to conversion therapies that attempt to erase their identity, and the government’s promises to deal with this remain unfulfilled.
  • Because LGBTQ+ children are much less likely to receive proper relationship and sex education that helps them navigate their lives
  • Because many LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of homelessness due to family rejection.
  • Because LGBTQ+ people often face discrimination in healthcare, leading to worse health outcomes.
  • Because transgender individuals are often denied their right to self-identify and face additional barriers in accessing legal and medical support.
  • Because LGBTQ+ individuals still face significant barriers in the workforce, including wage gaps and discrimination.
  • Because LGBTQ+ history is often overlooked or omitted in education, leaving many unaware of the community’s contributions, rich heritage and ongoing struggles.
  • Because suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately high, which speaks to the urgent need for societal acceptance and support.
  • Because many countries around the world still criminalise homosexuality, and LGBTQ+ individuals face persecution and violence, whether as citizens or even as visitors.

There has, of course, been a huge amount to celebrate as well. Pride marches and celebrations now are also a joyful and colourful reminder of the progress made. The ability to legally live freely, to love who you want, to marry, to have children – all these things represent such extraordinary progress. But no matter how far things have come, there are always hurdles that others won’t face. The emerging sense through childhood of feeling different, the attitudes of some groups and traditions that range from making LGBTQ+ people feel unwelcome all the way to genuine fear for their lives.

As a leader, making sure that staff and young people feel included is not just a moral imperative, it has genuine advantages. When adults or children feel afraid to be honest about their lives, constantly policing how they look, what they say or how they react in case they give something away, it affects their performance, their learning, their wellbeing. When workplaces and classrooms feel inclusive, open, with a celebration of difference, it allows everyone to give their best.

Here’s 5 actions that every leader can take:

  1. Policy Review and Implementation: School leaders should ensure that policies are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. This includes anti-bullying policies, codes of conduct, dress codes, and any other rules or regulations. It should include the way that the school recruits and supports staff and pupils. These policies should explicitly mention protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and should be enforced consistently.
  2. Staff Training: Provide regular training for all staff on LGBTQ+ issues, ensuring they understand the importance of inclusive language, the challenges that LGBTQ+ students and staff may face, and how to address discriminatory behaviour. This knowledge will help them to create a more supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students and staff.
  3. Student & Staff Support Services: Establish or strengthen support services for LGBTQ+ staff and students. This could include setting up an LGBTQ+ Alliance (or similar group), providing counselling services with counsellors who are trained in LGBTQ+ issues, and ensuring that health and sex education classes are inclusive of LGBTQ+ experiences.
  4. Promote Visibility and Awareness: Celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, participate in Pride events, and integrate LGBTQ+ history and contemporary issues into the curriculum. This helps to normalise LGBTQ+ identities and experiences and can contribute to a more inclusive school culture.
  5. Engage with the Wider Community: School leaders should communicate with parents, carers and the wider community about the school’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion. This can help to build a supportive environment not only within the school but also in the students’ lives outside of school.

Together, we learn and we evolve. If you would like to explore how TDT can help your school or trust to embed a thriving, research led culture of professional development that sticks, please get in touch.

Footnote:

LGBTQ+ is an umbrella acronym that includes people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer (or sometime Questioning) and the plus indicates that it encompasses all other related communities around gender and sexuality, including those who are Intersex, Non-binary, Asexual, Aromantic, Pansexual and more. 


The impact of COVID pandemic on the mental health of school staff

Amy Sayer portrait

Written by Amy Sayer

Amy Sayer is an associate, consultant, mental health trainer and content writer. She is a Leading Diversity advisor for the Chartered College of Teaching. She is the author of the book ‘Supporting staff mental health in your school’.

I work with many teachers and school leaders today from a range of settings across the country, and I am often reminded of the fact that they have had such little time to talk about and process any tricky feelings they experienced during the pandemic. It’s almost the elephant in the room. 

The emotional impact of the pandemic for teachers was huge. They were having to quickly navigate  setting up online classrooms, complete risk assessments to enter the building if they were classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’, support key-worker children, alongside trying to manage the general fear and uncertainty around a fatal airborne virus. Many were juggling caring for loved ones and making sure they could provide them with enough practical resources and emotional support whilst also carrying the emotional load of reassuring the children they were working with. Not having access to the usual self-care routines and social support due to the lockdown restrictions meant that there was no respite and recovery time in the way that staff would have needed to support their mental health.

Adapting to teaching ‘live’ lessons from their homes, reassuring worried exam classes about their grades, navigating moving between ‘bubbles’ to teach in a number of different classrooms across huge school sites etc. It all cumulatively increased the emotional load that teachers were expected to carry. 

The feelings of powerlessness and fear caused by the pandemic may have ‘triggered’ really painful and tricky feelings linked to previous traumas in teacher’s lives which may not have been processed at the time. Many school staff found themselves feeling scared, unmanageably anxious, and unable to cope with the demands of school life in the way they had been able to prior to the pandemic. They may have felt ashamed of their feelings and alone because things were going back to ‘normal’ and outwardly they had to spend their emotional capacity reassuring all their anxious and worries students and their families. 

Schools were one of the biggest institutions in society to be the victims of the ‘return-to-normal’ narrative, but the day-to-day reality was far removed from this. Protective masks were removed, the existence of the ongoing threat of COVID was normalised, and protective ‘bubbles’ were removed in an attempt to carry on ‘business as usual’. However, for many school staff, feelings were suppressed in order to function and get back to the jobs they loved. That may have been necessary at the time, but it does not work in the long-term. Many school staff today are finding themselves struggling with anxiety and need support.

Schools need to invest time and money into providing training for schools to ensure that all leaders are aware of how they need to talk to staff who are struggling with their mental health. They need to create a culture where asking for support is not a source of shame or embarrassment, but a strength. They need to look after their staff and give them the same time and support they will have given to others. Staff mental health support systems and services must be put in place to help staff who may be struggling to process the events of the pandemic. Those feelings are completely valid, and they may not be quick or easy to process. 

Staff may have different types of support in their lives, but it is important not to assume or take for granted the support they may or may not have. People may feel too ashamed or vulnerable to talk to their partners or family about how they are feeling, and an appropriate and well-considered conversation from a caring colleague may be the first time they have felt able to talk about how things really are for them. A range of both in-school and external support options needs to be part of a staff mental health policy which is discussed openly so it can be accessed when required. Schools and MATs need to carefully consider how they can invest in telephone or in-person counselling services for staff so they will not have to wait for a number of months accessing NHS services. They need to understand the signs and behaviours of staff who may be struggling with their mental health so that they can pro-actively have supportive and caring conversations. The power of a safe space to be heard and validated cannot be underestimated and it is the least school staff deserve considering how much of an emotional load they have had to carry throughout the pandemic. 


Languages in the Community

Mair Bull portrait

Written by Mair Bull

Former teacher and content writer for BBC Bitesize. Now works at Manchester Metropolitan University in the Curriculum and Rise teams.

Recently, we launched our first flexible learning Short Course, a trailblazing Office for Students pilot, part of the Government’s lifelong learning and upskilling agendas. We started with the unit ‘Languages in the Community’. We have a fantastic first group who really enjoyed learning about the course structure and being introduced to Urdu. Each week we will explore another of Greater Manchester’s most popular languages and learn more about the city and our community. In addition, the unit explores how we communicate (using both verbal and non-verbal forms) and create inclusive and welcoming spaces, no matter the level of spoken English.

This innovative pilot enables students to study flexibly and from 2025 to ‘stack’ their courses to build up to a full degree. We have started initially with Level 4 and students can ‘stack’ to achieve a Certificate of Higher Education (equivalent to first year of a degree). 

Initially, our Short Courses are aimed at those working or volunteering in education, health and social care. Most students in the pilot do not have degrees and so this new and exciting opportunity offers them a chance to gain a qualification whilst still working in roles such as classroom assistants, nursery staff, childminders and social care associates. However, the flexibility of the structure means the courses have also attracted those with degrees, such as teachers, using the courses as part of on-going CPD, especially as they recognise the importance of staying up to date following the significant impact of Covid-19 on young people and families. 

The Short Courses have been developed each step of the way with equality, diversity and inclusion at the core. Initially, we hired independent consultants from Diverse History UK, as part of our quality assurance review panel to scrutinise our inclusion curriculum planning.

The courses aim to role-model the best in flexible, inclusive and innovative practice. We want these courses to inspire and empower students, building that bridge between their previous experiences and these new level 4 opportunities. Our structure means that students come together in-person weekly for workshops, plus additional asynchronous online activities, which students work through independently at a time that suits them. There are no essays or exams, instead the assessments are authentic and can be applied directly to the students’ own setting. 

Key to the success of the Short Courses is the importance of creating a welcoming community, where students from all backgrounds and experiences feel they belong and can enjoy sharing the learning journey with others. 

The potential of the Short Courses model has really captured the attention of the sector and beyond, and we are exploring opportunities with our engineering employer partners creating a CAD (Computer Aided Design) and 3D printing course, with our award-winning Print City team. In addition, we are bringing on new units all the time, including Speech, Language and Communication; Mental Health and Wellbeing; plus Risk and Safeguarding.

To find out more visit: www.mmu.ac.uk/study/short-courses


Bye bye Birmingham – a personal reflection on EDI work

Gemma Hargraves portrait

Written by Gemma Hargraves

Assistant Head (Pastoral), Deputy DSL and History Teacher.

After seven years teaching at a wonderful school in Birmingham, I’m moving on. This felt like an opportune moment to reflect on what I’ve learnt from leading on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the youngest city in Europe. I was asked to take this on in Spring 2020, (whilst on maternity leave) and I hope I have done the role justice (although I know there is so much more to do). I have also visited dozens of primary schools as part of my responsibility to oversee transition, and whilst my experience has perhaps been limited due to the nature of my school (independent, selective) I have some sense of what makes Birmingham such a fantastic place to teach and learn today. 

It has to be acknowledged that EDI work is challenging – it can be incredibly rewarding, frustrating and demanding in equal measure. Conversations about race, gender, sexuality and class are not universally welcomed, and some colleagues are sensitive, defensive or disinterested when inclusive language is discussed. Here I would add a Maya Angelou quote that guides me and helps me appreciates even small gains (because she says it better than I ever could) – Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know betterdo better.

A challenge and opportunity of a Birmingham school, especially a selective one, is the range of family backgrounds. Some have same sex parents, whilst some have strong beliefs that this is not acceptable. Some embrace SEND support, others shun it. Some welcome conversations around identity, others shut this out. As Josiah Isles mentioned in his April blog  here We need to step into the shoes of a Muslim student who attends school five times a week, an Islamic school on Saturdays and their local mosque every evening. This quote is more meaningful to me as Josiah’s school is actually where I went to school 11-16. For me, to see that my old school is undergoing this important work as I myself am reflecting as a senior leader in education means a great deal.

Reading recently The Birmingham Book: lessons in urban leadership and policy from the Trojan Horse Affair really made me appreciate the wider landscape I’d walked in to when I started at a Birmingham school. Initially, I hadn’t fully appreciated the context and impact of all the publicity on schools not far away. The book, edited by Colin Diamond, professor of Education at Birmingham University (just across the road from my school), is a collection of essays from people who “have lived and breathed Birmingham education for many years”. The accounts opened my eyes to a challenging period in recent educational history, but also to positives to have come out of it – relationships between school and communities, a greater understanding of the impact of deprivation and a celebration of the potential of Birmingham. This is reiterated in the aforementioned blog by Isles where he says A school is, after all, the heart of the community. The leadership takeaways at the end of chapters are useful reminders – about values, integrity, culture and understanding community dynamics, I plan to take this forward to my next school. I’ve also discovered some great YA fiction from Birmingham authors such as If Your Read This by Kereen Getten who we are lucky enough to have visiting our school to talk to pupils soon. 

Birmingham Commonwealth Games showcased the city and featured volunteers from our staff and student body (and countless other local schools). To see the city receive this positive attention was heart-warming and well deserved. The beauty of the Commonwealth Games coverage was in the showcasing the heritage and identity of modern Birmingham and this is where future EDI work must focus, in any area – an appreciation of the history and heritage but also a celebration of modern identities. As a History teacher, it is also clear that we can critique previously accepted interpretations of the past, and view the past anew through lenses of today.  This is how we can promote an authentic sense of belonging.

I am incredibly grateful to have worked at my school, which is playing a leading role within the King Edward VI Foundation in the city. The Foundation values state that The schools … should be rooted in the communities that they serve and be responsive to the nature of those communities. In particular, all of the schools are committed to making themselves as accessible as possible to all pupils, whatever their background or circumstances. I have to believe that this is achievable and that my school, with an excellent and developing Assisted Places programme, will be an appealing option for academically able students from across the region regardless of socioeconomic status. Personally, it may be indulgent but I have to acknowledge here how much I value the incredible pupils I’ve taught along the way; many of whom have driven EDI and helped maintain momentum at times of conflicting priorities. And of course, the staff – those who lead tirelessly, those who teach incredible lessons and support pupils every day, and those who support the workings of a school in subtle but vital ways. 

Over the past three years of leading on EDI I’ve realised that we need to shout about the work – raise the profile. Avoiding performative activism on social media, but celebrating progress (whilst acknowledging that the work goes on).  I’ve nominated colleagues for Rising Star Awards and National Diversity Awards and have nominated pupils for National Diversity Awards, NASEN Young Advocate of the Year and West Midlands Young Active Citizens Awards. I hope this helps people feel valued but also shows the whole school community that EDI work is valued and recognised. I would encourage more schools to recognise their staff and pupils in this way, alongside small daily acts of gratitude and recognition that mean so much to colleagues and pupils.

We are now three years on from when many schools stumbled or strengthened their EDI efforts following publicity around the Black Lives Matter movement and then Everyone’s Invited. There is more to do but I have faith that the schools of Birmingham, especially the King Edwards Foundation can lead the way.


Addressing the Legacy of Section 28 & Supporting Diverse Families

Troy Jenkinson portrait

Written by Troy Jenkinson

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, children’s author, public speaker and former Primary Headteacher and Executive Headteacher. https://troyjenkinson.com/

Today, more than ever, we should strive for equality in our schools. Seeing how LGBTQ+ culture has been embraced in colourful Pride events and the peppering of queer characters in the media, you could be forgiven for thinking we had turned a corner in equality. We have come a long way, triumphing over the Section 28 policy (the 1988 amendment to the UK Educational Bill silencing queer teachers) and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. We have fought hard for rights to marry, adopt and live our lives showing our “True Colors” to quote Cyndi Lauper. 

Digging deeper, you realise how far we still need to go. The ILGA (2020) reports 70 countries still criminalise homosexuality; 6 punishable by death, 57 with lengthy prison sentences. Only 68 countries offer broad protection for their LGBTQ+ population. High profile media events point to continued educational need. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill (March 2022) mirror’s Thatcher’s vindictive 1988 Section 28. We have not learned. Cripplingly unfair acts such as harsh laws to imprison LGBTQ+ people for life in Uganda reported by the BBC in March 2023 marginalise our community.

The UK once topped the ILGA table of European countries for LGBTQ rights (2015), but slumped 14 places by 2022, accredited to governmental failures and its abandonment of its promise on gender recognition and equality plans. The statistics speak for themselves. Galop (2021) reported “LGBT+ hate crime is disproportionately on the rise in the UK.” Two thirds of LGBTQ+ people experienced homophobic violence or abuse. This likelihood only increases for ethnic minority and trans people.

The question we have to ask ourselves is; why? 

Bullying is borne from ignorance. Section 28 has long-lasting effects on our educational establishments. Stonewall reports LGBTQ+ students are twice as likely to have been bullied than their non-queer compatriots (42% compared to 21%). Teachers echo this; 85% of secondary and 45% of primary staff acknowledge homophobic bullying in their schools.

With less than half of LGBTQ+ students (48%) experiencing positive messaging to support them, it is high time we as educationalists did something about it. The government introduced Relationships and Sex Education Guidance (2019) but left it open to interpretation stating:

“Schools should ensure that all of their teaching is sensitive and age appropriate in approach and content. At the point at which schools consider it appropriate to teach their pupils about LGBT, they should ensure that this content is fully integrated into their programmes of study for this area of the curriculum rather than delivered as a standalone unit or lesson. Schools are free to determine how they do this, and we expect all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point as part of this area of the curriculum.” (DfE, 2019)

Robert Long (2023), concludes schools are still not required to “promote” same-sex marriage:

“Governors, teachers and non-teaching staff in schools, parents and pupils, are free to hold their own religious or philosophical beliefs about marriage of same sex couples.” (Long, 2023)

Schools need help to sensitively support all pupils and tackle the endemic victimisation. They need to address inequality and inclusion in their curriculum and how they support diverse families. There is little guidance for parents themselves.

From my own experience of coming out, my parents found it traumatic; relating it to grieving as they tackled a myriad of questions, hyped by media negativity: 

  • Would I grow up happy and fulfilled? 
  • Would I be bullied? 
  • Would I die of a terrible disease? 
  • Would they have grandchildren? 

Though this was in the 2000s, it is still a very real issue for some individuals today.

Recently, I worked with international colleges supporting staff and students from countries with poor human rights for LGBTQ+ citizens. I became fascinated by the term “Straight Privilege.” Those not identifying as LGBTQ+ do not have to come out, or seek out role models in the public eye. It is an interesting concept to explore.

As a headteacher, influenced by Andrew Moffatt, I introduced weekly “No Outsiders Assemblies.” Using news images, I positively identified people who stood up for their rights or succeeded despite potential marginalisation. This ranged from Malorie Blackman’s interpretation of historical figure, Rosa Parks for Doctor Who and Jacinda Ardern’s maternity arrangements as New Zealand’s Prime Minister, to discussing the controversies of a gay kiss at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Working with a family whose children experienced bullying for having same sex parents, inspired me to publish my first children’s book “The Best Mummy Snails in the Whole Wide World.” Since, I have delivered countless assemblies, workshops and key notes speeches aimed at fighting the corner and being the role-model, I never had in school.

 


What Does it Mean to Belong?

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

Some people think that framing DEI work under belonging softens it and dilutes it, whilst I do understand this critique, I personally believe that belonging is the door-opener to the conversations about DEI, it is the way-in for many to enter the space.

Belonging to me is being seen, being heard, being valued, being safe. Belonging is not about fitting in but about being accepted, loved and respected for who we are. When we belong, we feel included, we feel connected and we can flourish as we can be ourselves without fear of judgment. We belong when noone makes us feel like an outsider, noone others us. We belong when we are celebrated, not tolerated.

I always start my training session with any stakeholder group by exploring the language and unpacking the acronyms that can inhibit the work. I share the linguistic/ acronym journey of DI (Diversity and Inclusion) becoming EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) and iterating into DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). With the J for Social Justice appearing with some saying DEIJ and others saying JEDI. Noticeably, the addition of the B has been a more recent  trend in the last 3 years.

Belonging appeared in our consciousness and in our vocabulary in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. As we saw corporate commitments to doing the work, I observed a trend on LinkedIn. People in my network who were Heads of DI/ EDI/ DEI were becoming Heads of Belonging. A subtle shift in language which reframed their role. Their remit was to be responsible for levels of belonging in their organisation and to use this lens to scrutinise policies, processes and practices.   

I started sharing this observation with the school people I was training and it always resonated – show me an educator who would answer No to the question: Do you want all of your learners to belong in your classroom/ school? In some ways it is a bit of a trick question when you then follow up with more probing questions about belonging in the curriculum and in the library.  They have already said Yes so how do they now do a U-turn and say No? 

I began to extend the questioning to the adult experience: Which adults belong in your school? Which parents belong in your playground? Who belongs in our education system? Each question was a provocation to invite some reflection and discussion, to shift people out of their own bubbles and to exercise some awareness and some empathy for others.  

Using my coaching skills to create a safe space, to take people beyond their comfort levels and to increase their consciousness is a facilitation strategy I am constantly refining. A safe space means that we can be courageous and that we can challenge one another but that we do it in a mindful way. The wheel of power of privilege exercise I regularly use is a tool that can create high levels of discomfort but it is a great way to unpack the ‘perception gap’ and emphasise why some people might have a greater sense of belonging than others. 

Linking the census data for the country to the workforce census for our profession to attrition data for the sector to hate crime data in society to staff and student survey data, is another way to increase awareness of who belongs and why this might be. As an English teacher I use the data to tell the story of a space and I ask the question: What story is the data telling us about who belongs here?

So when I am delivering keynotes and workshops on Creating a Culture of Belonging, with the acute awareness that I am a cis-het, white, able-bodied woman who is facilitating the conversation, I am not letting people off of the hook, but I am instead creating a container for some radical candor. I am holding up the mirror to myself and to others to recognise that we might have taken our own sense of belonging for granted and that we might assume that others feel/ experience our spaces in the same way as we do, when the reality is that there are gaps which can quickly become gulfs.  

I remind people in our training sessions that belonging and love are at the centre of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Noone can progress to the upper tiers of esteem or self-actualisation without a sense of connection. More importantly it is also a reminder that we do not belong if our physiological and safety needs are not being met. A stark example of this is found in the Just Like Us 2021 Report – Growing Up LGBTQ+ published as we came out of lockdown. 

Belonging is the goal of our DEI work. Belonging is also the outcome of our DEI work. Belonging surveys can be helpful as they baseline how people are currently feeling about their experience – we can baseline and benchmark belonging by role, by group, by identity and listen to/ learn from what we are being told. Belonging is not fluffy, when used intentionally, it instead creates insight from the different portals it opens up for us to explore.    

For example, women between 30-39 who are parents/ carers and who are seeking flexible working vote with their feet and leave our sector in droves each year. How can we create more family-friendly schools to create a greater sense of belonging for that group of professionals? 

For example, mixed race is the fasting growing racial identity in primary school pupils nationally. How can we recruit and retain more teachers of colour who represent the communities that we serve? How does having increased role models in the staff increase the levels of belonging for our pupils?       

A culture of belonging is one where we are courageous and curious, one where we are open to challenge and committed to change. It is one where we ask searching questions and where we listen to the often hard truths that are revealed. 

So as everyone jumps on the ‘Belonging Bandwagon’ and it becomes the newest buzz word at edu-events, can we make sure we are not skirting around DEI issues but getting to the heart of the matter? And when we are talking about belonging at events and in our schools can we be more aware of who is in the room, of who is talking, of who is listening and what that also tells us about the sense of belonging or the lack of?   


5 Ways to Imbed Inclusion and Diversity in EYFS Lessons

Jess Gosling portrait

Written by Jess Gosling

An experienced international Early Years teacher, blogger and writer. She is currently writing a book for international teachers, 'Becoming an International Teacher'.

I am currently in my ninth year as an international teacher, and this article was written when I was working in a school with mostly local children in Taiwan. The problem I aimed to solve then was how to showcase and embed diversity and inclusion into our classroom environment. 

Therefore, I have developed, and continue to develop here in Poland, a series of ways to bring up issues of diversity, gender, disability, and culture in a way that is relevant, informative, and engaging. 

These are big topics for EYFS pupils but there are ways to bring them up organically alongside other areas of learning – often using texts to help naturally raise questions and discussions.

Cultural cues

Although in an international school, the children are from a similar ethnicity and therefore notice differences often.

One example of this was when we viewed a speech over which the guest had a strong Spanish accent. A child remarked, ‘that sounds funny’, and laughed. 

As a class, we talked through her view. I related the experience to my own, speaking Mandarin with my ‘funny’ accent. I asked in this case if they would laugh at me. The class was in agreement that they would not. We explored the child’s perception and reasons why, overall, we have accents when speaking another language. I encouraged them to instead think about how smart the speaker was using a different language than their own. We created parallels with their own experience, as bilingual learners. 

Gender

We have had a few instances where we have challenged and discussed gender as a class.

A boy in my class expressed his love of ‘Frozen’ and the character of Elsa in particular. He frequently leapt up to sing ‘Let it go’. Gradually, other boys have begun to join him. In this context, however, initially, there were some giggles. We unpicked this reaction and talked about how some girls love ninjas and superheroes and does it matter. Reversing the context helped those children understand that we are free to like whatever we like. 

In another situation, I was concerned when several of my children were remarking that a new member of my team was a ‘boy’ as she had very short hair. I could see that the staff member was a little upset by the comments, so I stopped the whole class and I asked them to turn and look at the staff member. We do a lot of work on feelings and it was clear that she was upset. The children who had made the comments paused and looked at the floor. In this instance, I asked the class whether calling out gender names as a joke was a nice thing to do. The class, and the particular children involved, decided as a collective it was not. This behaviour was not repeated.

Discussing individuals who have taken different pathways

Integrity forms part of our school’s ‘learner profile’. To develop their understanding of this concept, I showed a recording of ‘We will Rock You’ by Queen and their frontman, Freddie Mercury, to prompt a discussion about him. 

I wanted to illustrate how being honest and true to yourself is as important as being honest to other people. 

We looked at how he took a different path in life than what he was expected to do, to remain honest with his hopes and dreams as a musician. The children were incredibly engaged in both the music and his life story. 

Recognising cultural differences

When texts are selected carefully, they can illustrate a diverse representation of cultures. This includes environments, rituals, clothing, and religions that differ from my students. Following a book share, we discuss any perceived differences and similarities, encouraging questions.

However, it is important these stories show children living around the world, often with similar experiences to the children. One example is ‘The Proudest Blue’ about a little girl’s first day at school experiencing at the same time her sister’s first day wearing a hijab. 

The little girl, Faizah, feels so excited for her sister but instead, other children use harsh words which confuses Faizah. 

The children are drawn into the book by the fabulous illustrations. They picked apart what was unkind about the situation but also why others’ may make these remarks. Often I find children are not sure why people would say cruel things to point out a difference. We discussed together how certain words can not only affect one individual (Faizah’s sister) but also ripples to others, who hear and see them.

Showing differences, such as disability, as part of the ‘norm’

Furthermore, I endeavour to show texts which show children and adults with disabilities. One such example is ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, which shows a child in a wheelchair. These messages are more discrete as it is not a central aspect of the book. Additionally, I don’t always point them out. As these differences have been already discussed early in the year, I want the children to recognise, as with different racial identities that diversity such as disability is commonplace and part of our lives. 


Indigenous Knowledge is Integral to Diversifying the Curriculum

Robert Power portrait

Written by Rob Power

Dr Rob Power is an award-winning teacher, educational consultant and cultural historian specialising in global history and indigenous knowledge. Before returning to academia as a lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2018, and more recently as founder of Powerful Histories, Rob was Head of History and Politics at a leading independent school in Oxfordshire.

Indigenous Knowledge should be central to curriculum diversity initiatives

On 13th September 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Enshrined in the document was a commitment to uphold standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world. 

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of incorporating indigenous knowledge into education. Indigenous knowledge refers to the unique knowledge, traditions, practices, and beliefs of indigenous communities. It is knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation and encompasses ways of knowing, being, and doing that are rooted in a deep understanding of the natural world and the relationship between humans and the environment. 

As schools throughout the world begin to consider ways in which to develop sustainable practices, the prioritisation of connection to our living environment occupies centre stage. It is in this context that Indigenous knowledge can be particularly impactful. Inclusion of non-appropriated Indigenous knowledge into our teaching – on issues such as the environment, community, climate, medicine, economics and science – isn’t just about creating a culturally relevant and culturally responsive curricula. It can also help to create a more equitable and inclusive learning environment that recognises and values diversity within our own communities. 

The community-based approach to problem-solving that lies at the core of Indigenous knowledge systems should have a place in every school. Whilst honouring the robust and deep knowledge held by Indigenous communities, we help our learners to bridge divisions between cultures and constructed knowledge hierarchies and develop a holistic understanding of history, culture and the natural world. It can be a powerful tool for promoting social justice, encouraging pupils to critically reflect on the effects of forced assimilation, cultural genocide, and ongoing social and economic marginalisation of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Knowledge in the Curriculum

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge into our teaching should go beyond rudimentary case studies. Prioritising the voices and experiences of indigenous peoples and communities, involving indigenous community members in design of curriculum and assessment materials, and utilising knowledge acquisition pathways of the communities we are studying is essential.  Prioritising Indigenous knowledge thus not only affords an opportunity to diversify our curriculum, but to globalise our teaching.

Valuing, respecting, and integrating Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum involves developing an understanding of knowledge and knowledge acquisition within Indigenous communities. Oral tradition, ceremony, connection with the natural world and spiritual practice are integral to the continuation of Indigenous ways of being and convey deep meanings and concepts that are not easily translatable in Western codes of learning. It can thus be helpful to focus on four principal pedagogical approaches when teaching Indigenous stories and experiences: land-based teaching, storytelling, performance-based teaching and experiential teaching. The incorporation of Indigenous languages can also be beneficial. 

When incorporating Indigenous knowledge into your curriculum, it is important that that knowledge takes centre stage. This means refraining from treating the study of Indigenous communities as case studies and instead placing those communities – and their ‘ways of knowing’ – as the lens through which we learn. Not only does this create an opportunity to truly globalise our pedagogy, but so too it affords space for interdisciplinary learning. Let us say, for instance, that rather than teaching the topic of ecology or biodiversity through a Geography or Biology curriculum, we instead delivered a series of lessons focusing on the semi-nomadic Chahdegal Balouch peoples in Iran. A focus on the community would not only allow the study syllabus-specific content – on environmental management, land distribution, sustainability and migration, for example – but would open opportunities to consider the interconnectedness of socio-cultural values and the living world. This is of course an isolated example, but think of the possibilities that a curriculum centred on Indigenous knowledge could offer.

Global Teaching in Practice:

Incorporating indigenous knowledge into the classroom is an essential step towards providing a more inclusive, diverse education. It is about reimagining what education means and looks like, developing an approach where knowledge hierarchies are deconstructed, disciplinary barriers are challenged and all communities are valued and respected. Collaborating with those communities is essential, not only in providing a culturally relevant education for pupils, but also as a means to develop culturally sustaining pedagogies that frame diversity in a truly global context.

My work with schools through the Global Teaching Project primarily involves supporting teachers to recognise the importance of Indigenous knowledge and de-centring dominant narratives responsible for the creation of exclusionary barriers. In a recent project at a school in West London, teachers came together to transform a Year 8 module on ‘The Americas Before Europe’. Together, they worked to challenge dominant Western narratives presenting Indigenous American communities as homogenous, passive, and situated within the past. Drawing on newly-made connections and interviews with Indigenous American artists and community leaders, teachers centred the perspectives of indigenous voices. Pupils responded by curating a virtual exhibition which celebrated the stories and experiences of Indigenous communities. This was not co-option of community knowledge but a conversation between learner and community members. 

The Global Teaching Project, and its focus on Indigenous knowledge and global pedagogies, forms an important part of ongoing learning and self-reflection about issues of power and privilege. More work is sorely needed in this regard, not only in critical reflection of what our pupils learn, but also in consideration of the impact that diversifying a curriculum through content change alone can have in the long term.