Disability Awareness in Secondary PSHE

Sophie McPhee portrait

Written by Sophie McPhee

PSHE Coordinator in a West Midlands grammar school and Programme Director for the national Year 12 health and wellbeing enrichment programme Change Your Mind.

As committed life-long learners (I hope!), we sometimes get those ‘Oh wow!’ moments where suddenly, our eyes have been opened to a concept we’ve never considered before, and may even be obvious once we’re aware of it, but now we see part of the world in a completely new light. This is exactly what happened during a workshop Liz Wright (http://www.elizabethwright.net/) delivered at my school for our annual Mental Health Week in 2020, where she introduced to me and my students the social model of disability. Up to that point, the closest I had come to really thinking about disability in my 36 years was as a child, when my mum said she didn’t like a particular word beginning with ‘s’ commonly used as an insult when I was growing up in the 90s, because it was derived from the accepted term for people like her sister, who had cerebral palsy.

I feel ashamed to admit that I had to actually be taught to view disability as something created by society and not someone’s physical or mental difference – I had never even given disability the space in my brain for that thought to emerge independently. However despite my shame, it was a blessing, too, as it led to the firm decision during that workshop that disability awareness was not going to be a one-off session for an event week, but become a firm fixture in our PSHE curriculum. I will honestly say that I had never even considered doing this before – but isn’t that the point? If something is not within our lived experience – and I use that term broadly, to include having close contacts who are disabled – then the problem is not that we consciously think it doesn’t matter, but that it doesn’t even enter our head in the first place. I guess that this is a kind of unconscious bias – we only grant an issue more than a fleeting awareness if it relates to us in some way.

To be honest, I was also a little scared of covering this topic in my lessons, even if I did firmly feel that like me, my pupils should be woken up to – and the use of ‘woke’ is not accidental here, nor is it a pejorative – how they can be an ally to people with disabilities. There is absolutely such a thing as ‘non-disabled fragility’ (albeit not as catchy as the ‘white’ equivalent), whereby those of us without disabilities are so scared of getting it wrong, or speaking for or over those with lived experience. I am careful to point out in all my lessons that as a socially privileged woman, I am passing on what I have learned, but am by no means done with that learning. I made sure that once I had finished creating my lesson, I sent it to Liz and she kindly checked it over, patiently and gently pointing out a couple of places where I had used ableist language. It was a model of what educating others should look like – non-judgmentally uncovering and explaining problematic language which could have otherwise embedded problematic thinking.

I have now delivered this lesson to classes in Y9-11, some as live lessons, others as a pre-recorded version followed-up by a post-learning quiz. It appears that it has been successful, gaining an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 from students, most of whom said that they intend to change their language as a result of this lesson, both when referring to and talking to disabled people, and now know that common insult words are often derived from terms used in the past to refer to disability. Very often, pupils judge their lessons on whether they need to know the content for an exam or future career, but in PSHE, it’s not always about that, it’s about what others need them to know. We need, through these and other lessons which explore the vast range of human experience, to help pupils understand that creating a more inclusive and just society does relate to them. It might not do so always in a tangible sense, yet it weaves its way into not only our institutions, systems and processes, but also the quotidian, such as our face-to-face and social media interactions. Additionally, I would argue that there is most certainly a personal benefit to this kind of learning. It is incredibly enriching to understand better those whose experiences of life are different to yours. However, our pupils will only appreciate that benefit if they can first move away from viewing the purpose of education as leading to their future in purely material terms. And that is something all schools have in their power to influence.

You can access the disability awareness lesson at theother16hours.wordpress.com.

 

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Is the sketch "Gerald the Gorilla" on "Not the Nine O'clock News” racist?

Ninni Makrinov portrait

Written by Ninna Makrinov

Organisational Psychologist with over 20 years' experience in Higher Education. Currently the Chair of Governors at Water Mill Primary School.

Someone I respect, who works in education, recently shared the sketch on a social online meeting as one of the best comedy sketches of all time. My immediate reaction was physical discomfort. It felt totally inappropriate. I strongly believe this material is racist and we need open conversations about why people still find it funny. In this blog, I share the reason for my reaction. My aim is not for you to watch the sketch (although I have added a link below), but to share some points that might help a conversation if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

About the sketch

Gerald the Gorilla is a short sketch that portrays an interview where a white professor talks about his work on communication with a gorilla. The gorilla is a white man dressed in a gorilla suit. The gorilla acts as a human and acts as more intelligent than the professor acts. The professor dismisses every comment the gorilla makes.

My reaction

I suppose it is useful to know I am white; I was born and grew up in Chile. It is also useful to know that I have been learning about anti-racism for the last 4 years. I should also point out that I share the view that we are all racist because we live in a racist society (if you want to know more about this, explore Critical Race Theory). I am not judging the individual who shared this, but the specific choice to have shared this material. I am quite sure I might have had a different reaction to the sketch had I watched at some other point in my life. I take this as a sign we can all learn to be more sensitive to the lived experience of people of colour.

When I watched Gerald the Gorilla now I reacted with disgust and disbelief. My visceral reaction was so strong that my body ached for an hour after the meeting. Even as I was experiencing this, I doubted myself. Was the material inappropriate or was I being racist for seeing the link between a man dressed as a gorilla and a black man?

My immediate actions

I did not call the sketch out as racist during the meeting. I wish I had. But I did not. Instead, I looked shocked on camera. I also sent a message off meeting to a friend who was also there to gauge if I was overreacting. They did not see anything wrong so I downplayed my reaction and was saved by the bell, as I had to leave for another meeting.

After 1 hour, I was still uncomfortable. So I Googled: Is the sketch “Gerald the Gorilla” on “Not the Nine O’clock News” racist? I did not find a response. I learnt a little bit more about the programme. I also learnt that people seemed to agree it was very funny. This did not sit right with me.

I then contacted two other great friends who are involved in anti-racism. They both thought the content was shocking and inappropriate. I am sorry I did this, as I caused them additional pain. They both have mixed race children. But I am also glad I shared it with them, as their conviction gave me the energy to take the next steps.

 

Why the sketch is racist

Historically, black people have been compared to (non-human) apes. This has been used as an excuse for slavery and genocide. You can find out more in this great article on the Historical Foundations of Race by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. For a more specific example, read the article “The man who was caged in a zoo” in The Guardian.

Black people are still mocked by being called monkeys. The term ‘monkey chanting’ is defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary as “rude and offensive comments shouted at a black player by white people who are watching a contest, especially a football (soccer) match.”

I am focusing my reaction on racism. As this was the most obvious to me. I also noticed homophobic and misogynist comments. I might have missed others.

Being anti-racist

The day after the incident, I took action. I posted a comment on the meeting chat. I said:

Dear all, anyone who saw my face on camera during one of the skits shared yesterday will know I was shocked. I will not explain further here. However, if you want to know more about what I felt, or just drop me a line or call. I did not raise yesterday as I did not feel comfortable about it, but I have been reflecting since and cannot leave this unsaid.

Also, if anyone else felt there was something inappropriate and would like an ally, an informal chat or even a confidential one, please let me know.“ 

This has sparked conversations. At various levels. Mostly very personal. I am glad that I felt safe to share. I also wonder if others, particularly people of colour, felt othered or directly offended; I imagine they might also have felt that they could not speak up. I hope the conversations keep going. I still have questions: What conversations do we need? How can we understand the lived experience of others? How can we be allies?

Moving forward – how can we prevent this happening (again)?

To finalise, my top ideas on what we can do to prevent situations like this:

  1.       Make a point of meeting and understanding people who are not like you, whatever ‘what you’ means to you. I have learnt a lot about how judgemental I could be through my friends. Those who don’t have the same level of education, who come from different places, who look different, who disagree with my views.
  2.   Organise conversations about race. For me, participating in the anti-racist pedagogies forum at the University of Warwick has been life changing. I have since also organised an anti-racist book club with my (white) friends. I am thinking of an anti-racist film club at work, it feels more relaxing. For those who work in Further or Higher Education, this Box of Broadcast curated list on Law, Race and Decolonisation by Dr Foluke Adebisi is a great starting point.
  3.   Ensure your organisation’s diversity policy is clear on behavioural expectations, available support and formal procedures for complaints.
  4.   Let people know that you support antiracism.
  5.   Be an active bystander, I took the step a little later than I would have wanted. I hope next time I will speak on the spot. Think back to occasions where you have acted, what happened? When you did not, what could you to when you experience something similar again?

I thought this YouTube video proves my point. You can see a family’s reaction while watching the original sketch. Spoiler alert: they were not shocked. Please beware that the contents might be sensitive (it angered me so much I wrote this blog).

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It is about time Initial Teacher Training and Education embraced diversity and inclusion

Davinder Dosanjh portrait

Written by Davinder Dosanjh

Executive Director Leicestershire Secondary SCITT

Thirty-five years in education as a teacher, senior leader, Her Majesty’s Inspector, senior lecturer, teacher educator, I had hoped we would have moved much further forward when we talk about Diversity, Equity and inclusion. I am still not seeing Initial Teacher Training and Education embracing the diverse voices and representing BAME. The decision makers and those on the working groups advising the Department for Education, are the same white faces, from the same organisations.

Policies and initiatives such as the Core Content Framework, Early Careers Framework, have missed opportunities to embed diversity. We are still wedded to the Teachers’ Standards. Teacher Standard 3 and Part 2 of the Teachers’ Standards make no strong statements about embedding diversity, equity and inclusion. The Core Content Framework and Early Career Framework opportunities have merely amplified the Teachers’ Standards into ‘Learn that..’ and ‘Learn how to..’ statements. Examples of systemic racism. These frameworks are a minimum entitlement, so they imply diversity is not part of that prerogative.

Those that train teachers are predominantly, white and middle class. I have been involved with teacher training at a university and a SCITT. Whilst working with both organisations I have asked and sought to be on national bodies which represent these sectors. Never managed to get through the red tape and procedures which maintain the institutional racism. I am just as qualified, have the experience and the track record. Still working out what I am doing wrong or to flip it the other way, what are these national organisations doing which perpetuate these barriers? You have got to be voted on, seconded and then your mates vote you in because you have had the time to network with them. Time to re-examine the criteria for national bodies, working parties, time to have a transformation, give others a voice.

If you have been on a national working group, advisory once, you are to be commended, then pass the baton onto someone else. Insist these groups are diverse and heard at a strategic level. 

We need to undertake a more wide-ranging review at the trainee’s journey from pre-application, application, interview, the programme and actual training experience. We need to ask ourselves some critical questions. Then follow the sequence of auditing, action planning, accountability and assessing impact. A starting point are some self-assessment questions below:

Pre-application

Is the marketing diverse and showing a range of positive diverse role-models?

Are we appealing to a diverse range of communities, using a range of networks (Asian radio) not just the traditional career fairs, university, school events?

Application

Who interviews?

Are all interviewers trained beyond safer recruitment, such as Diversity training?

Do we interrogate the data? (those made an offer, rejected, reasons why)

Teacher Educator and Placements

Who are the teacher educators?

Are they diverse?

Can we talent spot and seek out diverse teacher educators?

Are we carefully matching the right teacher educator to the trainee?

How do we deal with any issues of discrimination?

Curriculum

What is the golden thread of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

Where is it? What is it?

Who is delivering/facilitating?

Are the role models diverse?

Do we share the mic and encourage allyship?

Evaluation and Quality Assurance

Are the trainee’s voices being heard?

What questions are we asking about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

Governance

Is the Steering/Partnership Group diverse?

How can we seek out colleagues from our partner schools to be part of the group?

Is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a regular agenda item?

I would hope we have moved forward and that any teaching training provider, whether school or university could not ignore a trainee being called a ‘paki’ by pupils like I was. Despite me raising objections, I was told to get on with it, despite this being a regular occurrence. We have policies and procedures to formally report such incidents which were not in place when I undertook my training. More importantly, great communities such as Diverse Educators and BAMEed Network.

I am proud to say the Leicestershire Secondary SCITT has increased the diversity of its cohort from 29% in 2015 to 49% in 2020.

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Doing the Inner Work, to do the Outer Work

Ellie Lister portrait

Written by Ellie Lister

Ellie leads the Big Leadership Adventure programme at Big Education. A multi-academy trust and social enterprise whose mission is to rethink and reshape education.

We have spent the weekend working with our 2020 Big Leadership Adventure group. It is always an energising and uplifting experience – as we learn together as part of their journey as leaders who believe in a ‘big’ education that can change the system. The commitment, passion and dedication of this group of 30 leaders can not be overstated. We salute you all!

 

The overall theme of the two days was Design Thinking – how can we re-imagine practices by using a range of tools which get us to understand problems differently and then go about solving them in new ways? Inspired by the work of Ideo, this powerful methodology has much to offer us in the sector. 

 

As pupils return from lockdown, many more schools are looking to do things differently. Our leaders are all working on Innovation Projects that harness the learnings from lockdown, to help us to rethink and reshape education. 

 

We know that we cannot achieve ‘a big education’ unless our system values and embodies diversity, equity and inclusion. Having some of the sector-leading experts and trainers as part of the cohort gave an incredible opportunity to draw on their expertise and really explore how this is explicitly linked to our work on the programme. We explored the themes of user-centred design, really actually listening to what those with protected characteristics are saying, and creating the spaces where those conversations can happen. 

 

Adrian McLean and Hannah Wilson skillfully created a safe space for participants to learn, challenge and understand. It was so powerful to start with checking our knowledge of the equalities act – what are the 9 protected characteristics and how many can you name? Between the group we got there – but I for one would not have managed to get all 9 on my own. 

 

We were challenged to think about which of these are visible in our organisations. Where are there explicit practices in our organisation in supporting or addressing these protected characteristics? It was clear that for so many of us, there is not an equal balance of focus on each of those within our organisations. There were some fascinating reflections on the ‘emotional tax’ associated with some of the invisible characteristics, for example disabilities that are non visible.  Some areas of practice are much stronger than others, and it was powerful and, at times, very uncomfortable to delve into why this is the case. It was also fascinating to reflect on the difference between what is written in policies and what is actually happening which again can expose some uncomfortable truths. Adrian and Hanah recognised this and urged us to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” These reflections and conversations need to happen. 

 

A large focus was on encouraging us to look inwards first. “Doing the inner work, to do the outer work.” This means we need to look personally inwards and consider our own perspectives, privilege and biases before we can meaningfully bring that conversation into our wider organisations. We used the Wheel of Power and Privilege as a tool to consider our own identity and experience and as a way to consider what might be going on for others.

 

We made an interesting link with our concept of ‘making entry’ – the idea that an essential prerequisite of meaningful work together in a trusting relationship, and that this is achieved only through self disclosure and sharing information about ourselves. It raises many questions about what we choose to disclose – how much, about what and to whom. What is clear is that if we do not tell our own story, others will make one up for us.  Some of that story is based on what they can see – the visible characteristics – and some about assumptions they make. Whether we choose to inform them further is our choice.

 

What is also clear, however, is how powerful it is when people are open about aspects of themselves. We heard stories of the impact of staff sharing their sexual orientation with students and the transformation in attitudes this can enable, as well as safe spaces where students were empowered to be openly vulnerable and really challenge a culture of toxic masculinity.  

 

The group all made pledges for actions to undertake and we will hold ourselves accountable for these commitments.

 

Day 2 shifted us into some practical action in developing our leadership skills – what we call developing ourselves as a ‘leadership artefact’. We passionately believe that being able to clearly and effectively deliver a ‘stump’ speech is a tool in the changemaker’s tool kit. The ability to convince others, create a compelling narrative and inspire action is essential. Our leaders revisited their stump speech they had delivered as part of the application process, redrafted it in light of the philosophy of education module they have completed, and delivered it to colleagues in small groups. 

 

It was an incredible experience, for both those speaking and those listening and feeding back. Drawing on the 4 oracy strands as a framework for listening and observing, each leader then received detailed feedback about the impact their speech had had on others in the group. We were all reminded again of the power of feedback – such an important part of developing our self awareness and understanding the effect our behaviour has on others. We referenced the ever useful Johari’s window model as a framework where we consider what is known and unknown to self and others.

 

The energy, commitment and positivity from this group of school leaders, after the first week back at school, was quite a joy to experience. The power of the cohort and drawing on expertise and support from the group could not have been stronger. It is a pleasure to work with this group of leaders and the future feels a little brighter in their presence.

Are you passionate about the need for a holistic education for young people? Applications are open for the Big Leadership Adventure – closing at midnight on the 3rd of May: https://bigeducation.org/bla/

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Claim the Room

Annemarie Williams portrait

Written by Annemarie Williams

Executive Head Teacher of Humberstone Infant Academy and Humberstone Junior Academy, where she has been Headteacher / Executive Head Teacher for 12 years.

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer. Because I feel like right now there is a lot of highly expressed emotions and publicity around the issues I’m writing about. Many people will have an opinion and this is mine. 

Last weekend I was proud to be part of the online celebrations for International Women’s Day  – last night I lit a candle for the horrific crimes against Sarah Everard and cried.  I woke up to some of the most distressing and brutal photographs from the vigil that was held in her name. In between this, I watched a woman admit to an international TV audience that she felt so overwhelmed by her treatment in the media and by an institution, that she had thought about taking her own life. I have spoken to friends, family, colleagues and the overwhelming feelings are the same. Women are expressing their sadness and anger and the sense of powerlessness that they have felt in so many of these situations. The lack of power in preventing crimes like these, the lack of power in challenging the institutions responsible and the lack of power in affecting meaningful change. 

I’m a mother, a daughter, a niece, an auntie, a best friend, a leader and proud to have been a regional leader within the #WomenEd community for 5 years. I’ve spoken to women of all ages and stages in life and each and everyone of them has a story about being followed home in the dark, shouted at in the street, groped in nightclubs, patronised and interrupted at work and called names on social media because of their body shape. It is heartbreaking. 

I do not attempt to speak for all women but it seems to me that many women who were taught to take a seat at the table…now realise that they will always be sitting on the chair with shorter legs because equality and equity are not the same thing. It’s not enough to have a seat at the table if you don’t feel that your voice is heard. And really to be genuinely listened to and heard is what many women are asking for. In their statements for the media today, the spokesperson for Reclaim the Streets spoke repeatedly about women wanting to be heard and about the need for constructive discussion and dialogue. 

Brene Brown speaks of the difference between “power over” and “power with” and this is the bones of what many women experience on a daily basis. “Power with” can only happen if the people at the table acknowledge their position of privilege and actively and deliberately seek to change the status quo. In this case that means men doing more to address the issues at hand here. In my life I am fortunate to have some truly wonderful, brilliant, enlightened and courageous men who have absolutely and sensitively tried to conduct themselves like the brothers and allies women need. But there still feels like there is more to do. I know that these are the men who would intervene in the case of a woman being harassed in the street, or call out an inappropriate joke in the office or challenge the use of sexist language in the locker room. But there’s more subtle forces at work than this. It’s more than calling out bad behaviour – we need men to actively demand better behaviour and not because they are husbands, fathers and brothers, but because it is the right thing to do if we believe in a fair and equal society. 

This is challenging and requires an active and deliberate awareness. It is almost asking too much – to feel the day to day experience of being a woman. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #choosetochallenge. Women all over the world are providing that challenge but it is not enough if men do not do the same. So what could this proactive stance look and sound like? 

  • Questioning the diversity of a panel that you are asked to speak on
  • Asking what the diversity and inclusion policy is where you work
  • Offering to give up your space at an event for someone who would benefit from the opportunity
  • Initiating open conversations with women about their experiences of everyday sexism and being prepared for the fact that this might feel uncomfortable
  • Insisting that recruitment is transparent and that there are no secret backdoors to get that seat at the table
  • Providing opportunities for women to have open discussion, forum groups and other ways of giving anonymous feedback

If we want things to change then there needs to be an acknowledgement that this is an active and proactive process and if you are not willing to help find the solution, then you are probably part of the problem. 

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Engage, Educate, Empower Mantras for Inclusive Leadership

Hannah Cotton portrait

Written by Hannah Cotton

Founding director of Inclusive Leadership firm, EquALLIES and promotes global inclusion on Twitter under #FFBInclusion.

I’ll confess, I’m getting a little sick of the three word mantras.  I’ve come to liken them to vacuous cross-party political promises and safety-critical health advice alike.  They’ve been over-used, over-simplified and under-estimate the intelligence of many to accommodate more.  

But I’m also a realist, relying heavily on my analytical skills to draw conclusions that support facts.  So, somewhat reluctantly, I acknowledge that three word mantras are highly effective at delivering a message.  They are effective at activating people to change.  

All else being equal, what’s required for change?

Our need to learn how to change has never been greater. Be it covid, Brexit, inequalities and social injustice or climate change, we must all grapple with the “new normal’; and that means change.  Maybe it’s just at the fore of our thoughts as we find this “new normal” may be so significantly removed from the old. 

Change is constant.  Risks change, rules change. Priorities, processes and systems change. Change is not tied to global pandemics or social injustices. None of it needs a rising of the people, form T216 or social media.  If the driver of a deadly efficient biological virus has taught us anything, it surely must be that. 

Many I move amongst embrace change lovingly; change is opportunity, growth and progress.  Through discussion, I’ve found most with this perspective draw from negative experiences of a need to change to reach this conclusion.  Many have grown through change linked to pain; loss of a family member, loss of a job, loss of safety or health, or recovery from addiction.   

Experience of the process builds confidence in change management. With knowledge and understanding, we can lead others with positivity to not just face change, but also to identify opportunities for change, and how to promote it.  The drive to build on past improvements spurs the next, and shared enthusiasm facilitates taking others on the same journey. 

 

There are also those that I recognise approaching change with a different mindset; when one equates change with fears of the unknown and loss of a comfort blanket.

However, let me clearly state at this point, there is a huge difference in those who require routine and consistency and those resisting change.  Neurodiversity is not a problem to be moulded into homogenous thinking.  Neurodiversity is a positive example of ‘different’ that we require change to embrace. 

So, with over 100 years of collective experience in cross-industry leadership, psychology, business and cultural expertise, EquALLIES have defined this three word mantra to effectively manage meaningful, inclusive change.  We’ve worked hard to condense our knowledge to provide the skills, learning, experiences and opportunities to lead oneself, and others, progressing the individual, their workplaces and communities. 

We go beyond the protected characteristics to embrace all stakeholders, including socio-economic, social capital and geographic inequalities.  After all, diversity is nothing without inclusion, and inclusion is impossible when it excludes. 

Engage: Get Ready To Work 

Engagement combines the need to inspire someone to do something. EquALLIES understands that means leading ourselves to change and also leading others. 

No-one is absolved from action.  Ask yourself some questions; 

  • Why?  Define your purpose.  Understanding the reasons for change will be key to keep you focused and motivated when times are tough. 
  • What? Define your goals, plan a course of action, understanding risks and measurable outcomes.  This will keep you on track for delivery. 
  • How? Outline the resources you will require to achieve your goals.  Knowing your strengths and your barriers to achievement will help you source the services, products and collaborators for success. 

For example, in the context of school, where the goal is learning, we have two cogs; pupil and teacher.   To engage, the pupil may prepare for the year with a new uniform and pencil case, but without corresponding resources from the teacher, their shared goals will be destined to fail. There is a requirement for individuals to prepare for cohesion and collaboration to address the issue at hand. 

Educate: Do the Work! 

Once you have engaged yourself, employed the resources you need to move forward towards a shared goal you must get ready to grow. Becoming mindful of yourself, knowing what growth feels like, how you address challenging situations and how to approach new ideas will be key.  When you understand your own learning style, you can then do the work to improve your knowledge.  This is when education yourself leads to educating others.  

Empower: Get to Work!

Once the individual and collective are engaged and educated, it’s time to act.  

Understanding barriers to action will include the process of liberating yourself from inaction, apathy or denial. Empowerment gives you the tools to challenge yourself, and others from issues that may be deeply ingrained, have formed bad habits and institutionalised ways of thinking. Enabling you to remove these barriers and act on behalf of yourself, and others, can safely be used towards realising your individual and collective goals. 

Conclusion

For one to change, one must be able.  Having the confidence to be you and to know your authentic brand of leadership is important.  Having a network to support you, to inspire, to share successes with and to draw from when further strengths are required is important.  Having a safe space and opportunity to practice your skills and reflect on your learning are important. 

Mantras may not always hold the detail we need to effect change. However, if they grab your attention and engage the individual enough to learn how to act on them, the journey transcends the need to re-skill in future.  By focusing on understanding self AND others, the fear of change, of loss and exclusion are replaced with practicing what we so often preach.  

Individually important but collectively successful, Engage > Educate > Empower is the three word mantra embracing leadership, diversity and inclusion.  

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To make change, we must learn to listen

Donna Burkert portrait

Written by Donna Burkert

Primary school teacher living and working in Essex.

There is an inherent danger in judging others before we know them, in excluding before understanding, in condemning before listening, and yet it happens all the time.  

It wasn’t until the Laurence Fox scandal hit the headlines that I really became aware of the title ‘white privilege’.  A title that Toria Bono recently discussed in her podcast ‘Tiny Voice Talks’ when talking with Shuaib Khan.  A title, that like Toria, I have to own.  

I am white privileged and I have realised this means that, although I try to use diversity, equity and inclusion in all that I do, I may not always be truly aware of the wider picture.  

It is only through listening to experiences and questioning my own actions that I can begin to understand how to become more diverse, more inclusive, to bring more equity to my classroom and the way I conduct my life.

It was whilst attending a #BrewEdEssex event in June 2019 that I heard Pran Patel speak.  Pran was talking about descriptions, judgement and social equity in a way that I had never considered before.  He addressed bias, privilege and the damages of the ethno-centric curricula. His words made me stop and reassess what I was teaching in my class.  

Pran talked about the need for children to see role models of their own culture, background or religion and so I set about ensuring that I had examples from across the world, throughout history and today, to represent the broad spectrum of difference within my own class, the impact was immeasurable.  It opened up discussions between children who were now questioning moments in history that had specific impact on their lives today.

It was whilst listening to podcasts of Desert Island Discs that I was given a tiny insight into the lives of Bernadine Evaristo, Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University and Booker Prize winner for her novel: Girl, Woman, Other; and Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE – A Trinidadian-British broadcaster, writer and politician, that I learned of the struggles that they and their parents faced, the lack of equity, the lack of inclusion felt.  

Sue Perkins: An hour or so with David Harewood – the first black actor to play Othello at the National Theatre and David Tennant does a podcast with George Takei – Star Trek icon, similarly opened my eyes to the struggles so often felt by others that I was simply not aware of.

I reflect back to the focus of Toria Bono in her podcast with Shuaib Khan where she accepts the title of ‘white privilege’ with the acknowledgement that she cannot change that this is what she is, but that we can develop our understanding with the constant need to question and push for diversity, equity and inclusion.  That by continuing to have conversations with a broad range of people we can all gain a better understanding of others that will influence our decisions and actions.  

The conversations I have with my own three sons about the effects of sexism in order for them to have some understanding of the barriers often faced by women are as important as the discussions I have with the children in my class about their own struggles, my colleagues and the wider communities that I am part of through Twitter and other forums.  I am aware that I need to have continued discussions with a broad spectrum of people, beyond my immediate circle, to ensure that I am being as diverse and inclusive as I can be.  

I need to accept that I may not always term my questions correctly but that the only way to learn about the constraints that restrict me, and others, is to ask the questions; and to break down the barriers that hold us back from being truly diverse within our own practice.

It is only through widening our circle, through talking and really hearing what others’ are saying, in taking action where needed, that we will truly begin to move forward.

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February is UK LGBT+ History Month and the theme this year is ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

Different groups of people have been impacted in different ways through Covid-19 and lockdown. There are growing concerns about the mental health wellbeing of our LGBTQI+ young people who may not be a safe space to show up as their authentic selves.

Here are 10 things you can do as a teacher, a school leader or as a school to get involved, from resources to events, from training to awards to help to raise awareness and increase understanding:

1. Schools’ Out have a directory of fantastic free resources for schools here:

https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/resources/  and you can download the free posters here: https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/resources/lgbt-history-month/  

2. The Proud Trust have a free downloadable resource pack for schools:

https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/LGBT-History-Month-Pack-2021.pdf

3. Check out all of the organisations listed on the Diverse Educators’ website under the Protected Characteristic of Sexual Orientation:

https://www.diverseeducators.co.uk/sexual-orientation/   

4. Diverse Educators partner with the Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett, home to the LGBTQ+ Centre for Inclusion in Education, find out more about their research and their Schools’ Award:

https://www.diverseeducators.co.uk/centre-for-lgbtq-inclusion/  

5. Read and share a #DiverseEd blog about the lived experience of a LGBT teacher, Jared Cawley, and understand how to support the wellbeing of our colleagues:

https://www.diverseeducators.co.uk/my-wellbeing-as-a-lgbt-teacher/

6. Dual Frequency have created an interactive digital calendar for all things Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Download and start using your copy here:

https://www.diverseeducators.co.uk/dual-frequency/

7. Diversity Role Models have released season one of Role Model Stories that includes six episodes, with stories from Vicky Jane, Simeon, Mon, Barry, Richy and Simon, packed with inspiring personal stories covering a range of topics from history, intersectionality, faith and LGBT+ inclusion, gender identity, different families and more. Each video comes with a downloadable teacher resource.

https://www.diverseeducators.co.uk/diversity-role-models/

8. Diversity Role Models have also recently published a report: ‘Pathways to LGBT+ Inclusion: Report’ revealed only 20% of secondary students learnt about LGBT+ identities and HBT bullying at school, while only 27% of secondary students said their school would be safe for a fellow student to come out as LGBT+.

9. #LGBTed have recently published a book: Big Gay Adventures in Education and they host a weekly twitter chat:

https://www.diverseeducators.co.uk/lgbted/

10. Find out how your LGBTQI+ staff feel about your workplace culture with Edurio’s free EDI survey:

https://home.edurio.com/edi-review

Reflections:

  • If we believe in a whole education to develop the whole child, how are we enabling our staff to bring their whole self to school too?
  • How can we be inclusive allies to support our pupils and students, staff and governors, parents and carers, in feeling physically and psychologically safe in our schools? 

As a tangible action for change we recommend that you check out the Queer Knowledge Organiser created by David Lowbridge-Ellis in our Cross-Curricular resources drive and review your provision.

 

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Being an Inclusive Ally; a Way of Being

Rachel Lofthouse portrait

Written by Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Professor of Teacher Education and Director of CollectivED in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University.

An ally is someone who supports under-represented groups and takes action to bring about change. Adrian McLean suggests that inclusive allyship is a ‘way of being’. This strikes a chord with me because at times we use the same phrase about coaching. 

A ‘way of being’ means taking an active stance in the world and making conscious decisions about our relationships with others. A ‘way of being’ allows us to transform ourselves, positively influence the lives of others and create fairer, more just and more successful institutions and society. As a ‘way of being’ inclusive allyship alters our thinking and our actions, making what at first is likely to need deliberate work and to sometimes feel uncomfortable, become a non-negotiable part of our identity and positionality.

But what does it mean to be an inclusive ally, what does it require of us and why is it necessary?

These were the underpinning themes of a recent webinar which I was proud to chair. The event was co-hosted by CollectivEd, the Carnegie School of Education and DiverseEd, with panellists Adrian McLean, Bennie Kara, Hannah Wilson and Damien Page. Through their provocations and responses to questions we gained opportunities to explore the theme. The panellists’ contributions blended personal narratives with challenges to participants to reflect on their own roles and actions as allies. Childhoods, school and family experiences, spheres of influence, the need for personal advocacy and opportunities to disrupt and challenge the status quo were discussed.  I have taken their words and propositions and threaded them together as my personal way of making meaning of my learning.  

Though we have privilege not everyone shares it.
Have intention and be bold. 
We can challenge what happens in front of our eyes,
Call out inequality and hand-over the mic.

With commitment we learn. 
With energy we act. 
With empathy we change. 
With power we lever. 

Show solidarity and live with discomfort.
If we share the work, it will be done sooner.
Lives will be richer and our society fairer. 
Expect equity for all. 

Webinar Panellists

Bennie Kara:

Bennie is a deputy head teacher. She is also a professional associate of the Centre for Race, Education and Decoloniality at Carnegie school of Education, Leeds Beckett University. She is the author of ‘Diversity in Schools and a co-founder of #DiverseEd. 

Adrian McLean:

Adrian is a MAT leader, and a trustee of Governors for Schools. He is also a speaker, trainer and mentor.  

Damien Page:

Damien is Professor of Education and Dean of the Carnegie school of Education, Leeds Beckett University. His research interests include alternative provision and surveillance in education. 

Hannah Wilson:

Hannah is a leadership development consultant, and former principal.  She is co-founder of #DiverseEd and #WomenEd. Hannah is a CollectivEd Fellow and works in a range of coaching roles. 

The Diverse Educators’ Inclusive Allyship Toolkit:

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How do we deal with racism in the classroom?

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

So, what do you do, as a teacher, when a student uses a racial slur against you in the online classroom?

This week I had a disclosure in a NQT training session I was hosting from a trainee teacher. The trainee was a woman of colour. She was distressed as she shared an incident from her week at school and asked for advice. She shared that in a lesson with her Year 10s last week, whilst using the platform Kahoot, one of her students referred to her using the N word. She broke down as she finished her story and turned her camera off to gather herself. The zoom room went quiet. Everyone looked deeply uncomfortable. I watched everyone take a breath and pause to see who would speak first.

One of the facilitators, a woman of colour,  unmuted herself and said: “I am sorry. I am really sorry that happened to you”. She went on to share her advice on what the NQT could do. Her co-facilitator, a man of colour, added his advice on how he would handle it if it happened to him. Both gave sound advice, but it struck me that it was centred around what the individual, the victim, should do. It is also struck me that both were talking from a position of lived experience.

As a former teacher trainer, I was aggrieved on her behalf that she had experienced this. As a human being, I was outraged that anyone would think that using a word was acceptable. As a teacher, and a former Headteacher, I was disappointed to hear how the school had handled it. As a white person I was embarrassed and felt sick. Having reported it to her mentor, who had rung her that night to check in, she had been told that they (the school) could not identify the student responsible and she had been advised to send an email (herself!) to the class about the incident.

I was horrified at this response from the school. Why are schools asking the victims of racism to deal with it themselves? Moreover, an early career teacher at that? Why were the SLT not dealing with this racial abuse to show the severity of the situation?

I chipped in and advised that she should escalate it to the SLT responsible for behaviour. That if she did not get a satisfactory response, that she should be escalating it to the Headteacher directly and to consider contacting her union. I DMed her my email address and offered to support in her challenging this failure of the school to protect her. The next day I received an email from her professional tutor assuring me that it had been dealt with internally and that the NQT was being supported the next lesson and that the DHT would be calling each student in the class to identify the culprit.

But the incident has been bothering me ever since… How many other people of colour who have entered  our profession are navigating how to deal with prejudice themselves? Who else is being failed by their school and by the system? Who else is feeling isolated, vulnerable and unsupported?

I tweeted out the scenario to see what others thought and how common place this is. You can see the thread with a myriad of responses here.

Below is a summary of the different perspectives on the situation of a teacher being racially abused by a student:

  1. The teacher should be offered support.
  2. The student should be offered support.
  3. The incident needs a full investigation.
  4. The class should all be asked to write a witness statement.
  5. The student should receive a Fixed Term Exclusion.
  6. The student should have a Permanent Exclusion.
  7. The whole class should be sanctioned.
  8. The incident should be recorded as a racist incident in the school’s racist log.
  9. The governing body should be informed.
  10. The incident should be reported to the LA.
  11. The next lesson should be replaced with an Anti-Racism workshop for the class.
  12. The class should be issued with an Anti-Racism contract.
  13. The parent/ carer should be brought in for a meeting.
  14. The student should write the teacher a letter of apology.
  15. The student/ teacher should have a restorative conversation before the next lesson.
  16. The student should be removed from the class.
  17. The community police officer should be involved.
  18. The student should receive an intervention prior to returning to the next lesson.
  19. The student should sign a behaviour contract on re-entry.
  20. The online teaching/ behaviour expectations should be reinforced to the class.
  21. The behaviour policy should be reviewed for how it tackles racism.
  22. The trainee teacher’s mentor should intervene.
  23. The SLT should attend the next lesson to speak to the class and re-establish boundaries.
  24. The year group should have an assembly on prejudice and discrimination.
  25. The next citizenship / PSHE lesson for the year group should deal with racism.

25 possible and probable actions that should take place to ensure that this member of staff feels safe and is supported, moreover, that another member of staff is not subjected to racial abuse in this school.

But other questions were also raised around the context of the incident:

  • Where do we draw the line at explicit and deliberate racism in our school?
  • How are ITTE providers preparing trainee teachers to deal with prejudice?
  • How are schools supporting NQTs with dealing with discrimination?
  • Should schools be using platforms where you cannot identify students?
  • Should all lessons be recorded so that incidents can be reviewed?
  • Should early career teachers be delivering solo lessons?
  • If the N word is in an extract should the teacher say it out loud? Is it ever okay to use the N word if it is in a teaching resource? Does it make a difference if the teacher saying it is a person of colour?
  • How is the curriculum being reviewed to tackle prejudice?
  • How is the culture of the school being reviewed to educate the students about expectations?
  • How has the mentor been trained to support a NQT from a diverse background?
  • How have the SLT been trained to deal with racism?
  • What is the school’s behaviour policy for prejudice?

There were a lot of comments about attacks based on characteristics being on the increase in our schools, and also in our society. In fact, I have seen several posts on LinkedIn and Twitter this weekend from educators sharing that they have been racially abused at work, but also about people of colour being racially abused in the street.

There were several concerns about the anonymity of online platforms meaning that teaching staff are not protected. Moreover, that there is more room for students to push boundaries. We need to remember that diversity, equity and inclusion work is part of our safeguarding responsibility. Every member of our school community needs to feel physically and psychologically safe.

There is clearly a lot of work for us to do across the system, across the curriculum with both children and staff, around addressing discomfort and intolerance. This incident is indicative of a wider, deeper piece of work that needs to be done. We can sanction the incident in the short term, but how do we prevent it from happening again in the long term?

We all need to be angry at this behaviour no matter what our skin colour. We all need to be part of the solution and take collective responsibility for creating change. We all need to challenge the institutions, the policies and the practices that do not protect people. We all need to speak out, stand up and not only state that this is not okay, but also do something about it by holding others to account.

So, the question should have been: what do you do, as a school, when a student uses a racial slur against a teacher in the online classroom?

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