Making the Judgement Call

Ellie Garraway portrait

Written by Ellie Garraway

Chief Executive of Grit Breakthrough Programmes, a youth charity that delivers personal development and coaching programmes in schools, colleges and universities across the UK.

Recently I’ve been reading through the bank of case studies we’ve collected here at Grit.  In these extraordinarily trying times, they really are a thread of hope and I’ve just loved reading through them. As I’ve absorbed them I’ve noticed a theme emerging: the critical role a place of non-judgement can play.

Time and again this has shown up. Young people talk about the impact made by a coach who doesn’t judge but simply listens and challenges, who is not a parent or a teacher, comes with no agenda or ulterior motive of their own. 

“There was one young man who was always getting in trouble at school, getting kicked out of lessons and fighting with other students. But what made him really angry was that he felt he was being labelled ‘bad.’ What made the difference, what cut through with him was someone, other than a teacher or his Mum, who ’said it straight.’” 

Judgement, judgement everywhere

We all remember the paralysing fear of being judged: being afraid of what the bullies might say, about looking stupid if we put a hand up in class and got it wrong. But when judgement is solely based on how you look, how you sound or where you come from, it can have you denying your own identity. A black student recently told us how “I’d always be finding ways to make my opinions more palatable. For instance, in a seminar about Malcolm X, I softened my support for him for fear of being labelled ‘radical,’ a term which does not fit who I am.”

This has all had me reflecting on the preciousness of the times and spaces that are free from judgement. And is it really that rare?

So I started looking for the spaces where judgement didn’t dominate. I was hard pushed to find any. If you’re curious about this, just notice for 24 hours how many conversations you have each day in which you are talking about how things should or shouldn’t be, what agree or disagree with: judgement is everywhere. It’s in the ether, it’s the air. Social media largely exists to produce and consume it.  To be human means, it seems, is to be entirely inhabited by judgement. 

I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise. The way our society operates is predicated on judgement. We are brought up within an education system designed to measure us, grade and sort us, judge us by some external criteria that tell us what we’re good at, and what we aren’t. These norms tell us who we are and where our place should be while our institutions are structured to divide and protect around race, gender, class… From then on it is natural that we look for experiences and opinions that confirm our biases, affirm the judgments we have inherited.

Judgement in the way

Of course, judgement IS important. There are those of us who have careers that depend on making the right judgement call: doctors save lives, pilots land planes, sports managers pick the teams. Judgement is essential. Without it we can’t we decide how and when to act.

But are there times and spaces where judgement really gets in the way. When young people we know are finding their way we can be very keen to agree or disagree with their judgment, keen to deliver our judgement, or even keen to try really hard not to give a judgement. 

The more I listened out for it, the more I realised that – just as these Grit participants had reported – judgement-free space is a rare and precious thing. So, if that is the case, then, how do we create a space of non-judgement? And what does it really mean to be non-judgmental?

What it takes

The first step is to recognise when we are being judgmental.  Judgement is a reflex, an impulse so automatic that often we don’t even notice we are making it. It dominates: we have a ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ about everything. Our responses, our actions are determined by our judgements unless we actively and deliberately seek out another way of responding. 

Those of us familiar with coaching (either formally or informally) are used to supporting another person to achieve their goals. As a coach our role is about questioning, inquiring, testing – all in the service of the ‘coachee’ reaching their goals. It is not about our judgement, our opinion. It is not about what we think of the other person. It is all about creating the conditions, providing the space for the coachee to work through what needs to happen for them to achieve their goals.

And here’s the rub. We still agree, disagree, compare, want to fix, can’t wait to speak, are frustrated: we still judge. But, each time we notice it, our job is to put it aside and come back to our commitment to the goals of the person we are coaching. 

This does not come naturally. It takes effort, practice and commitment. But we know it can be transformational. 

Judgement serving

Of course, even in the coaching scenario we have to make judgements: we judge the boundaries of the relationship, the most useful questions to ask, the right time to wind up a session, when to move from ideas to action.  But the difference is that we are using our judgement to serve the goals of the person we are coaching. And that is distinctly different from our judgement ‘using’ us.

This is liberating for the young person being coached: “It was such a huge release to be speaking thoughts and ideas that I’d been suppressing since school – sharing my story with no filter; genuinely empowered to be completely honest with myself and with everyone else in the room.” 

And it is liberating for the coach: “To achieve what I want to achieve with students means that I have to let go. The choice about whether to behave in school is theirs and theirs alone.

So, we can never be entirely without judgement (aside from in certain meditative states) but what we can do is build muscle memory that enables us to create spaces where judgement doesn’t determine our responses and our actions. We are calling on our judgement rather than BEING it. 

We live in divisive times: everywhere young people look they see and hear stark and polarising judgements about gender and race, about who they should be and how they should behave. So how do we look after our own (and their) sense of humanity, of hope, of progress? How do we free them to truly explore who they really are?

Perhaps it’s in the small things. Actively creating judgement free spaces for those young people in and around our lives might just be the best gift you have to give. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll discover that when you offer this, you don’t only liberate them, you give yourself a much needed break from those judgement-dominated conversations that swirl around us everyday. 

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Blogs of 2020-21

Diverse Educators Logo

Written by DiverseEd

Diverse Educators started as a grassroots network in 2018 to create a space for a coherent and cohesive conversation about DEI. We have evolved into a training provider and event organiser for all things DEI.

We love to amplify the voices, share the journeys, and celebrate the stories of our community.  Our blogs vary from sharing lived experience, to reflecting on classroom practice and curriculum design, to evaluating the impact of policy changes. We published 150 blogs from our network last academic year. You can meet our bloggers here and you can review our collection here.

Deepening our thinking around DEI starts with who and what we are reading, helping us to develop our confidence and our competence, both individually and collectively. Reading the blogs by our community provokes reflection and stimulates conversations to help us all understand the breadth and the depth of issues we need to develop an awareness of. 

Themes explored in the 2020-21 blog collection include: allyship, belonging, careers, coaching, commitment, community, curriculum, culture, governance, HR, identity, ITTE, language, leadership, policy, recruitment, reflection, representation, research, safeguarding, strategy, teaching, wellbeing. 

 

Here are our Top 10 Most-Read #DiverseEd Blogs in the 2020-21 academic year:

  1. How do we deal with racism in the classroom – Hannah Wilson 
  2. How to promote an anti-racist culture in social work – Wayne Reid 
  3. Interactive diversity calendar 2021 – Carly Hind/ Dual Frequency 
  4. How does material deprivation intersect with ethnicity to understand the variations in the achievement among BAME students – Nicole Edwards 
  5. Don’t tuck in your labels – Bennie Kara 
  6. Dear Secretary of State – Hannah Wilson 
  7. Gender is wibbly wobbly and timey wimey and gloriously so – Matthew Savage 
  8. Engaging with diversity – giving pupils a voice – Gaurav Dubay 
  9. Black lives matter, then now always – Wayne Reid 
  10. Breaking the cycle anti-racist plan term 1 – Dwain Brandy 

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to our #DiverseEd date and please do get in touch if you would like us to publish you. You can find out more about how to submit here.

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Coaching and Mentoring Diverse Leaders

Jill Berry portrait

Written by Dr Jill Berry

Thirty years teaching across six different schools in the UK, state and independent, and was a head for the last ten. Has since completed a doctorate and written a book.

Since I finished headship in 2010, I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with aspiring and serving leaders at all levels, supporting and challenging them to step up, to be the best leaders they can be and to fulfil their personal and professional ambitions.  It’s been a hugely satisfying and energising part of this ‘post-career’ phase of my life.

I was involved in and supportive of #WomenEd from the very beginning, and as initiatives like #BAMEd, #LGBTEd and #DisabilityEd have come on-stream, and as our awareness of the crucial importance of diversity, equity and inclusion has grown, I’ve been committed to supporting diverse educators, and this has involved my learning more – reading more, watching and listening more, in an attempt to raise my awareness of the perspectives and experiences of those whose lives may be quite different from my own.  I’m committed to being an ally, and to encouraging all educators to be allies – and to exhorting all those with leadership responsibility to use any influence they have to empower others, especially those from under-represented groups.

We need strong leaders at all levels – Middle Leaders, Senior Leaders, Heads, Executive Heads – whether you’re leading a specific team, a school or a group of schools.  And we need a diverse and inclusive workforce which reflects the communities we serve, and the world we live in, so there are role-models and high profile examples of what our pupils can achieve, and so that we make the most of the strengths and the range of talents of absolutely everyone.

So in terms of coaching, mentoring, supporting and developing leaders – whatever their background, their identity and their lived experience, these are three things I think are especially important. 

  1. Leading is about getting the best from others, and to do that we need to ensure we can see the best in them, and that they see it themselves.  Strong leaders can spot potential in those who don’t yet believe it themselves, so that’s my first point.  Can you help those you lead to give themselves credit for what they have achieved and, crucially, what they could achieve in the future? Find the bright spots, and ensure they don’t undervalue themselves, or their potential.  Show them you value what they are now, and what they are capable of becoming.
  2. Secondly, but clearly closely related to the first point, this is about building the most positive, mutually respectful and trusting relationships, and communicating.  Really listening, being receptive, showing empathy, and trying very hard to understand each other’s point of view.  To borrow Nancy Kline’s words: “seek to understand” rather than “seeking to convince”.  When you’re working with others, focus on building bridges and not walls.
  3. And thirdly, finally, never lose a strong sense of hope and a sense of the possible.  It’s ten years old, now, but back in the early days of my headship I read a book called ‘The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life’ by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, and I did FIND it transformative.  We need to see what’s possible, for ourselves and for others, and to help them to see it, and to believe it too.  We can be constrained by our fears, our anxiety about facing failure, or disappointment, our aversion to risk.  If you are coaching, mentoring and developing diverse leaders, you need to have a clear sense of, and commitment to, what is possible.  I recently supported a woman who was applying for an Assistant Principal role in her own school.  She almost didn’t apply, and when I asked her why, she said, “I don’t like to fail.”  No one likes to fail, but if we aren’t prepared to risk failure we won’t achieve success.  What made a difference to her was her 13 year old son saying to  her, “But, mum if you don’t apply, you HAVE failed…”  And she applied.  And it was a really rigorous, robust, challenging process, and she got the job.

So if you’re supporting diverse leaders, remember:

  1. Find the bright spots – and help them to see them too
  2. Connect and communicate
  3. Have hope and see what’s possible.

You can read more blogs by Jill here: https://jillberry102.blog/2021/06/12/coaching-and-mentoring-diverse-leaders/

You can watch Jill’s input at the #DiverseEd event here: https://youtu.be/wnanDncf6Xc 

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Diverse Educators: A Manifesto

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

In August 2020, at the end of the first UK lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, Bennie and I sat in the sun in my garden, down the road from the school that we had started together a few years previous and we drafted a proposal for a book. We had met through Twitter and #WomenEd 5 years before that, we were both English teachers and secondary school leaders, we are both feminists who are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion in the school system. When I secured my headship, Bennie applied to my Deputy Headteacher, and led on our values-based  curriculum with diversity and equality embedded across it. A regular topic of conversation in the time we worked together was about the books we were reading and the books we were going to write, individually and together. We knew it would happen one day! 

 

Many of you will know that Bennie is the reason Diverse Educators was started, she came to my office one day and shared her frustration with me at having to split herself multiple ways to go to different events each weekend to explore her intersectional identity. I checked my privilege as a heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied white woman and reflected on this. We discussed the idea of hosting one event and inviting the communities from #WomenEd, #BAMEEd, #LGBTed and #DisabilityEd to come together, at the same time, under one roof to have a joined up conversation about identity. Our inaugural Diverse Educators event was in January 2018, at which #LGBTed officially launched  and Bennie closed the grassroots event with a powerful message: ‘Don’t Tuck in Your Labels’. 

 

Fast forward three years and Bennie is now a Deputy Headteacher at an all-through school where she is leading on curriculum and I am working independently as a Leadership Development Consultant, Facilitator and Coach specialising in diversity, equity and inclusion. We launched the Diverse Educators website, with the help of our partners, in the middle of a global pandemic in response to the spotlight on racial inequities, and the amplification of Black Lives Matters, triggered by George Floyd’s murder. At our first virtual event in June 2020, we were joined by over thirteen thousand people. 

 

The world has finally woken up to the need for social justice, society can no longer ignore it and the school system can no longer not prioritise the urgent need to embed the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda strategically into our schools. Bennie has recently published her first book: A Little Guide For Teachers: Diversity in Schools and we are now inviting the #DiverseEd community to lean in and contribute to our book: Diverse Educators: A Manifesto.    

 

Our book will be structured, like our website, around the Equalities Act. There will be ten chapters, one for each of the nine Protected Characteristics (Age; Disability; Gender Reassignment; Pregnancy and Maternity; Marriage and Civil Partnership; Race; Religion and Belief; Sex; Sexual Orientation) with a tenth chapter exploring intersectionality.

 

Each chapter will have a chapter editor who will work with ten contributors offering a multiplicity of perspectives on the protected characteristic being explored in the chapter. Each submission will be 1200-1500 words long. Each contributor will interweave personal and professional narrative, framed in theory, to respond to current and historic debates. The chapter editor will write the introduction to the chapter to give context and to frame the chapter’s narratives, arguments and provocations.  

 

We are committed to capturing the collective voice of our community and to showcasing the diverse lived experiences of educators. We are keen for Diverse Educators: A Manifesto to be both academic and accessible. You can review the style guide here. We intend for the book to be solutions-focused with high-quality input on practice, pedagogy, people management and policy. 

We would love to hear from you if you would like to contribute. You can submit an expression of interest here. Thank you in advance for your time, energy, experience, expertise and support in contributing to our #DiverseEd book, we are looking forward to celebrating the collective commitment and amplifying your voice. 

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