Time for Men to ‘Woman Up’!

Patrick Ottley-O'Connor

Written by Patrick Ottley-O'Connor

Executive Headteacher/Principal, Coach, Wellbeing Advocate and #HeForShe Ally.

The United Nations @HeForShe movement has reported that they are seeing the stereotypical gender roles of women at home become more apparent during lockdown and want to highlight positive male models with their new lockdown hashtag of #HeForSheAtHome. Globally women do more than men at home and @HeForShe are asking men to share photos to amplify support & show how you are being #HeForSheAtHome and amplify the aspiration for gender equality.

Although I agree with the aspiration, I felt a little uncomfortable simply sharing an image of me cooking and vacuuming at home, basking in the ‘likes’ and comments telling me how good I am for being #HeForShe. In recent years, I have become more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with myself; understanding the systemic and societal issues which may have played out in my lucky career is eye opening and allows me to use this privilege to amplify those who do not have it. However, I also know that my #HeForShe allyship must not be self-defined, instead, the work and efforts must be recognized by those you are seeking to ally with.

Consequently, I asked the wonderful #WomenEd community how they think I should respond. As usual, I was not disappointed by the support and challenge that I received! Hannah Wilson, @Ethical_Leader and @WomenEd Co-founder offered support, shared some LeanIn articles exploring this, as well as providing a simple cartoon image to highlight the plight of women.

Alison Kriel, @AlisonKriel raised some important questions:

‘…it’s great that the world is waking up to the fact that most women do at least two jobs, one that’s paid and one that’s unpaid. I think it’s great to share positive images of men supporting in the home, and I’ve no doubt that it’ll be retweeted and celebrated widely. My question is, if #HeForShe is about amplifying the voice of women so that we can be heard, what can be done to celebrate women in the same way. If an image is shared of a man washing up (‘doing the right thing’ as you say), it will be ‘liked’ many times over. What can the movement do to get as many ‘likes’ for a woman doing exactly the same thing? …so how do we level the playing field? How do we highlight the disparity? How do we all become heroes for doing domestic chores?’

There is a danger that my words could sound patronising, or ‘Patrick-onising’ as Mel, my wife, likes to call it! It’s against this backdrop and advice given to me that I cautiously offer my opinion as a man who passionately believes in gender equality and genuine allyship as #HeForShe. That involves me continually investing my time in supporting others, holding myself accountable when mistakes are made, apologising and being prepared to rework my approach towards gender equality as needs change. I’m listening to women to ensure my words and actions are in sync with their message. Without this, words without actions can be detrimental and work against changing the culture.The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all reflect on life, priorities and what really matters. It’s affected all of us in some way. In addition to those who have contracted and suffered the consequences of Covid-19, many families are struggling with financial hardship, bereavement, domestic violence and mental health issues. In addition, many men are now discovering what it’s like to spend much of their time juggling work, childcare, and a household to manage! The work/household juggling challenge is nothing new for many women. Despite women being a significant proportion of the paid workforce, they still do disproportionately more than their fair share of unpaid household work and childcare.

The pandemic has closed schools and childcare providers, exacerbating the stresses and strains of home-schooling, childcare and household tasks. Naomi Ward, @Naomi7444 told me that:

‘This theme is arising in my coaching, especially for the #MTPTproject. My observations are that when this happened and all cards were thrown into the air, is when they feel we defaulted into traditional gender roles. So, caring for the children, housework and teaching / on-line learning pile up into many more hours than usual. Work is interrupted so it takes longer. And there is the mental load of keeping everything going which traditionally falls to women. It’s about communication, honesty, the vulnerability to ask for what we need. The pressure on relationships is real…I guess we all know that this is more complicated and messier than a social media campaign! If it starts a conversation, that’s a good thing.’

The increase and ease of communication, for those with digital access, has enabled working flexibility from home during lockdown’ but not necessarily made life easier when parents are juggling job responsibilities, full-time childcare, and supervision of children’s education…again, this juggling has left many women doing more than their fair share. With almost 1.6 billion children out of school globally, combined with non-keyworkers working from home, more men are in a position to do more housework and childcare during the pandemic.  What a great opportunity for men to dive into the daily routines of running a home and caring for their children. Men are increasingly taking shared paternity leave; however, most men have never worked from home for an extended period, as well as managing the housework and childcare.

The pandemic lockdown presents a perfect opportunity for more men to share more fully in-home duties for an extended period of time. This has the potential to start to turn the tide of gender inequality, both at home and work.

Men homeworking during the pandemic could grasp a greater appreciation of more traditional women’s experiences. They could develop a greater understanding of the value of flexible work arrangements. They could adapt to create a new gender balanced role model, to become more equitable gender role models for their own children. Hannah Wilson shared some of her MA research into flexible working:

‘research shows that an organisation is more likely to agree flexible working arrangements if men are requesting these adjustments to their working patterns. I anticipate a surge in requests for flexible working to include part-time, job share and compressed hours as a result of the pandemic. The business case against flexible working in schools has imploded. Perhaps more men will consider fully leaning in to domestic responsibilities?’

#HeForSheAtHome needs men to do their fair share of household tasks, childcare, home learning, planning of activities, and supporting their partner’s career. A genuine equal partnership at home, will surely support gender equality at work as well. In short, I believe that women with equal partners at home have the potential to be more successful at work. If women are less concerned with the impact of their work role on family responsibilities, they should be able to focus more fully to their work and be able to take advantage of career development opportunities.

Mel and I try to role model gender equality for our 5 sons, shaping expectations for their futures. We have to believe that our sons, who have seen us role model equal partnership in our household duties, have a perspective of greater equality for women’s and men’s roles at home and work.

Although I found it difficult as a younger leader, I am now not afraid to ask for and talk about why I need flexibility in my work schedule, e.g. with my children’s/parents’ medical appointments. If it’s only women who request and use flexible work arrangements, paid sick leave, and parental leave, it perpetuates the perception that this flexibility is just for women. In turn, this perpetuates a stigma that stops men from even asking for flexible working. If men do their fair share in creating equal partnerships at home, then we could begin to normalise flexible working for everyone.

My 10 tips for how men can help to bear the load of unpaid work and do their fair share as #HeForSheAtHome:

  1. Deliberately prioritise work and family responsibilities…and then stick to it, model being #HeForSheAtHome;
  2. Have a genuine conversation with your partner about household tasks and childcare. Don’t become defensive, but use it as an opportunity to do your fair share;
  3. Engage with the social family planning and organisation, e.g. organising birthday arrangements, holiday planning, shopping lists, medical appointments;
  4. Let go of your purely personal aspirations and make a concerted effort to support your partner’s career without reservation. Once you’ve done this build your own aspirations back up in genuine partnership, establishing a clear and shared priority for careers, childcare and household tasks;
  5. Model how to navigate the messiness of life, by openly communicating family and career goals. Life is messy, so show your kids how to disagree, respecting each other’s viewpoints. Let your children see how and why decisions are made through balance and compromise;
  6. Develop a positive attitude towards childcare and household responsibilities, to send an enduring message of commitment as #HeForSheAtHome to your children and partner;
  7. Be authentic in what you do and say. Most people are living the same reality of juggling work, household tasks, childcare, pets, sharing space etc, so avoid creating a utopian image of peace and quiet;
  8. Let people know that you are doing your fair share at home, by being transparent with your family, friends and paid work colleagues. This will help you to manage your availability and work schedule, to enable you to prioritise family responsibilities;
  9. Shine a light on what you’re doing as #HeForSheAtHome by talking about the highs and lows in achieving genuine allyship and partnership, so that others feel more comfortable to sharing their own reality;
  10. Use your #HeForShe as a badge of honour to call out unacceptable language and behaviour towards woman and be heard, don’t just leave it for women to challenge everyday sexism and discrimination.

I was once explaining a strategy to a senior group of executives, when the most senior man interrupted me and stated: “We need to man up and grow some balls!” Although several there had previously warned me about his behaviour, both male and female jaws dropped at his comment.

I paused, before suggesting that in my opinion: ‘…they were a very vulnerable and delicate part of the male anatomy, that when only slightly knocked leave a man writhing around on the floor. Why not say ‘woman up and grow a vagina’, because women seem much more resilient after passing humans out of their bodies?’

The pandemic is presenting new challenges, but the opportunities are now greater as we move forward out of the pandemic. Men now have the opportunity to reinvent their allyship and the ability to act on gender equality to create a new future. The more that men can become #HeForSheAtHome, then the closer we will get to achieving equality for women in the workplace as well. These actions will support your journey in becoming the dad and partner you know you want to be!

In conclusion, my call to men is to:

  • regularly communicate and listen to your partner, adapt your thinking, continually revisit and rework what you believe to be correct and become more comfortable being uncomfortable;
  • ‘Woman up’ and in the words of @WomenEd be 10% braver in using the pandemic as an opportunity to become more #HeForSheAtHome;
  • join the United Nations @HeForShe movement in challenging stereotypical gender roles of women and use your voice to highlight positive male models during lockdown by sharing an image and message with the world to champion gender equality with #HeForSheAtHome.

 Access further articles and resources here from Leanin.org:

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Why Are Pictures of Prophet Muhammed Forbidden in Islam?

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

Zahara is founder and editor of the blog and podcast, School Should Be, a platform that explores a range of topics helping students, teachers and parents on how to ‘adult well’, together. She is a DEI lead across 2 secondary schools and advises schools on how to create positive and progressive cultures for staff and students. Zahara is a previous Head of English, Associate Senior Leader and Education and Wellbeing Consultant.

I want to make it clear from the outset that pictures of the Prophet and revered figures in Islam are offensive to the Muslim community. My article below addresses the treatment of the event and school culture. This is a very sensitive subject and one I hope I have managed with respect and empathy.


The news surrounding events at Batley Grammar School has sparked a wave of outrage and controversy across Muslim communities and the media. For those of you who don’t know, a teacher was suspended pending an investigation into the alleged use of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his lesson, which has offended Muslim community members and students.


As a teacher, when I first heard this on the news I personally was not offended, I was intrigued. I was then perplexed as to whether I should be offended as a practicing Muslim. In any case, there are three things I want to clarify:

  • Idolatry and depictions of the Prophet Mohammed and other prophets are prohibited in Islam as they are ‘’infallible’ and revered figures, and ‘according to the Islamic faith […] should not be presented in any manner that might cause disrespect for them.’ (Dr Azzam Tamimi to the BBC in 2015); 
  • A teacher has every right to spark learning and engagement within the parameters set out by the UK teaching standards, their experience, knowledge and understanding of their students;
  • In no way are death threats and aggressive behaviour a reflection of Islam. 

 

WHY ARE PICTURES OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD FORBIDDEN? 

 

This is a pretty fully loaded question and let me start by saying the accuracy here is only as good as Google and the references I have sought. Also, as a practicing Muslim, I don’t feel comfortable tagging archives and historical documents of Islamic images here.


There are apparently no transparent references as to why pictures of Muhammad are forbidden in the Quran. However, in the Hadith (quotes, events and experiences from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)) it is said that the idolatry and the creation or worship of images is prohibited – it is deemed disrespectful as stated above and the only One able to create is Allah (swt). Of course, Islam dates back to the 7th century, and there are plenty of historical artefacts and pictures where you will often find the Prophet with no facial features. From the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire (13th century) to colonialism tearing through the world, there were fewer and fewer depictions of the Prophet too – whatever way you look at it, whether it be from the perspective of power, history or religious instruction, this is followed by a large majority of Muslims if not all and it dates back to religious scriptures and historical narratives. 


I haven’t answered this question in its entirety as it’s not something I know enough about. However, it is something I respect as a practising Muslim, just like I respect the principles and truth of all other faiths too. I may not agree or follow them, but I respect them and I would never want to knowingly offend anyone or any faith. And, I really don’t think the teacher in question did either. 


TEACHING AND LEARNING THE UNCOMFORTABLE

 

In previous blog posts and in the many conversations I have had since launching School Should Be, I am constantly reminded of the glaring gap in our education system when teaching the uncomfortable. Whether that be racism, prejudice, classism, sexism…in this case, religion, adults seem to have a deafening problem with students learning about the uncomfortable. It’s interesting; when I googled ‘learning the uncomfortable’ I was presented with a range of articles from Forbes, Harvard Business Review and a few more all concluding that ‘being uncomfortable’ is the key to success.


These articles all link uncomfortable learning to a new skill and pushing outside the ever-cliched and demonised ‘comfort zone’ (which, I love by the way). As a teacher and a student, I’ve realised the uncomfortable isn’t a new skill, it’s the courage to address, discuss and explore taboo and socially accepted norms that remain unchallenged because of fear. 

What this teacher tried to do was teach and enable learning. What the community are doing is in defence of their faith, perhaps triggered by a history of damaging criticism. What the media did was present an angle of Islam tinged with negative bias. 

 

What the school choose to do is up to them – however, it just goes to show the world how multifaceted the role of a school is in the lives of young people, teachers and communities. And as a previous Head of Department and experience on senior leadership, I really do empathise with the decisions they are having to make.


I think back to my time in teaching and the many roles I’ve held in education (including this one at School Should Be). I taught a wide variety of things: To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, a variety of Shakespeare, Austen, Chaucer, alongside writing to argue, writing to persuade, creative writing….all the fun stuff, some might say. There is a great deal in all of these texts that is offensive, but how we manage and respond to that offence is another question entirely – death threats and aggressive behaviour isn’t the answer, unlearning, compassion and allyship is.

 

It is a teacher’s responsibility to be mindful of the different beliefs in their class. It is also one massive feat.

 

Should this teacher maybe have checked with parents beforehand, addressed it with their line manager, considered the consequences of displaying this image, and the context of recent events? Probably. Do they deserve to be threatened, cancelled and potentially used as a scapegoat? Absolutely not. There are now several articles reporting on this event and I’ve read through a few too many of them. What I’ve concluded is that this teacher is sincerely apologetic, did not mean to be provocative, in no way wanted to offend anyone and if anything, wanted to encourage a healthy debate. 


Was the teacher’s use of the image offensive? 

 

For Muslims, yes. As a practising Muslim student and parent however, I would’ve liked to have been consulted and perhaps discussed the images as opposed to presenting them on the board. Bottom line is we all make mistakes in our professional careers and I hope this teacher is supported by their school and given the chance to learn and reflect on this experience. Islam is a forgiving and compassionate religion; in my opinion, this teacher deserves that.


NEGATIVE BIAS AND ISLAM 

 

Death threats, aggression and threatening behaviour are in no way reflective of the Islamic faith or any faith for that matter. Someone once said to me, religion is only as good as the people who practice it. I think that’s a very weak argument, but one that is valid as it just comes from a different lived experience. As a practicing Muslim, the truth of my religion is more powerful than any individual or ‘people’ – those choosing to practice it in ill faith, or in my opinion, use the religion to front their aggression are the problem, not the religion.

 

 

Unfortunately, the images of the protestors and the response from community leaders have been presented in a negative light. I won’t lie, when I first saw the video footage and images, I was disheartened by yet again another media debacle, which only serves to fuel the negative bias around Islam. However, I can equally sympathise with the protestors – and I really hope you have the patience to reserve judgment until the end of this piece. 


My earliest recollection of my religion in the media is the event of 9/11. I’m not going to go into detail, but ever since several reports, films and the like have always presented Islam and Muslims in a rather negative light. I’m not going to explain why or how, or go into the nuances, because frankly, it’s exhausting to constantly justify the way a POC feels – or in this instance, a person of faith. I’m not somebody who is easily offended, but I am someone who cares and is deeply compassionate. If you are too, then please understand that although the threatening behaviour is absolutely wrong, the hurt and anger around the events at the school come from a place of historical exhaustion and pain.


Many Muslims may have seen the teacher’s actions as another way of presenting Islam in a negative light. Why that image? Why not just a discussion? Why were parents not consulted? I am in no way condoning the threatening behaviour, but I think if we all want to live in a peaceful world (the idealist in me can only hope) we have to at least try and see where people are coming from and figure out a way to live in harmony with different viewpoints – not continue to antagonise and polarise. 


When it comes to schooling, teaching and learning, approaching education with an open mind, without fear and I guess, with the knowledge you may cause some form of discomfort and controversy is important. Is it possible to cause offence? Of course! However, being offended and how you respond to offence is something to learn too.


I don’t want students to be scared of asking questions, to rely on social media for knowledge or to live in fear of their opinions. If anything, it’s important to just approach all discussions from a place of empathy, compassion…and sometimes (if not most), sheer common sense


References: 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30814555

https://hbr.org/2019/08/learning-is-supposed-to-feel-uncomfortable

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sujanpatel/2016/03/09/why-feeling-uncomfortable-is-the-key-to-success/?sh=bb7104719133

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/01/16/how-images-of-the-prophet-muhammad-became-forbidden/

https://nypost.com/2010/01/10/jihad-jitters-at-met/

 

Please join our upcoming SSBChat event to discuss how to have conversations about religion in the classroom via Zoom. 

 

School Should Be is a platform to encourage students to find their voice and discuss topics and issues they should and want to be learning at schools. It is a place other educators and professionals can share lessons and learnings they think should be centralised in schools too. 

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Think Equal – Equality Education in Action

Ben Mearhart portrait

Written by Ben Mearhart

M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and in his 10 years as a senior leader developed practices and curricula which progressed teaching, learning, outcomes and personal development to ‘Outstanding’ levels.

Intent

 

As a joint-Headteacher of a forward-thinking primary school I was always on the look-out for initiatives which spoke to the heart of what I most value – the children’s actual experience and equipping them for leading rewarding lives. Think Equal’s social and emotional literacy programme achieves this and so much more.

 

I can’t think of anyone I know who wouldn’t benefit from enhanced social and emotional literacy.  From engaging the compassion that it can grow, for ourselves and everyone around us.  What do you do when you feel completely lost?  When you feel you’ve made a terrible mistake?  How do you support yourself or others when they feel this way?  How do you treat people as they would like to be treated?

 

This, to my mind, is the true work of a curriculum, of a school; namely to cultivate an authentic social and emotional literacy which is steeled with a depth and breadth of real world understanding that together can make the world we leave for our children better than the one we inherited.

 

Implementation

 

You may of course learn such things through trial and error.   Or, to be more certain of success, you can embrace social and emotional literacy as a golden thread of your learning and understanding as a student, of your pedagogy and support as a teacher and of your vision and impact as a leader.  The mission, content and execution of Think Equal’s programme achieves this too. Bold claims I know, but treat those seeds of doubt to a quick glance at Think Equal’s Committee of Advisors and Academic Partners to see how this might be possible.

 

From Understanding the World to Personal, Social and Emotional Development – and all the fertile vertical and horizontal links between and beyond – Think Equal’s programme can instantly enhance your curriculum, pastoral care and ultimately the love and cohesion that unites your school community. And at a time when children’s minds – at their most plastic – can be so ripe to engage with what so many adults, myself included, can find paralysingly-awkward and difficult to negotiate in reality.  What is true fairness?  How are we different and how are we similar?  How do I show you that I genuinely appreciate you as a human being? The programme largely enables these developments through consistently engaging and inspiring stories and activities.  

 

Diverse narratives:

At age- and stage-appropriate levels, the children explore and embrace vital concepts like equality, emotion and race within the comparative safety of the experiences and choices of a beautiful range of characters.

 

Emotional intelligence in action:

Their discoveries are then reinforced with the help of the programme’s carefully scaffolded and inclusive activities so that they are ready to respond when reality calls.

 

Impact

 

And oh the difference! At its most essential, we found that our planning for Personal, Social and Emotional Development for the year was pretty much covered.  Done.

 

More importantly…within weeks we saw elevated levels of kindness and consideration.  We saw children often reserved and tentative now emboldened and asserting their values.  We saw children who knew themselves and their friends with deeper understanding and confidence, who had normalised the range of emotions we experience but not the negative actions they can drive. 

 

Children who, self-confident and upright, were happier, more engaged, independent and much more likely to approach conflict with courage and solutions(!).   The positivity rippled through our staff and to home too. These days there is rightly much talk of a mental health and well-being crisis (pre- and post-Covid 19).  In times of joy, sorrow and everything in between I don’t think we can expect more than to ride those waves to the best of our ability. Pursuing the Think Equal programme enhances that ability and not as a reactive solution – a bolt on – but as a pro-active and living, breathing and growing reality.

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Using Students Voice to understand Diversity

Roma Dhameja portrait

Written by Roma Dhameja

Secondary Vice Principal responsible for Teaching and Learning with a particular passion for Student Voice and teaching students Business, Economics and about Money.

Google ‘What is Diversity’ and you will see it defined as the ‘process of involving people from a range of different social, ethnic, gender, sexuality backgrounds.’ However, the way we often portray it is through a lens of polarisation. White or non-white. Male or Female. We know life is more complex than that. I, as a woman in her 30s of Indian heritage, cannot speak for every woman with that background and in that age bracket. Our experiences vary. It also doesn’t mean I have nothing in common with a middle-aged white man.

 

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t endeavour to ensure diversity in our board rooms/staff body. It means we have to pay closer attention to experiences rather than the way we classify ourselves, and that’s why I want to focus on the element of ‘involving people’ in the above definition. Because unless the communication channels are open, our understanding of unique experiences and similarities will remain stunted.  

 

With this in mind, I have loved conducting student voice activities throughout my teaching career. Our students’ backgrounds affect the way they engage with education. I know this, I have experienced this. At age 4, I joined the British education system with English as my third language and not entirely fluent in it either. Rather than celebrate my trilingual abilities, I was always innately aware that having not mastered English first I was seen to have a disadvantage. This became more apparent as I studied English Literature at A Level and whilst my peers could reference Greek Gods I had a wide variety of Hindu God’s I could refer to with an impressive array of powers but none that were going to make me understand references in the poetry required on the syllabus.

 

Often this lack of exposure to Western cultural references can be seen as a gap, something to fix and fill, and I understand that. After all, we have to prepare our students to pass exams and wrestle with the demands of the English language. But we also have an opportunity to unpick what they come to the table with.

 

I recently spoke to a group of students with English as an Additional Language and was in awe at the experiences not only they, but their parents had. One spoke to me about his parents being refugees from Pakistan and how his dad had obtained a degree in the Netherlands, which is where he was born and had then moved to the UK at eight. When I asked him of his experience moving to the UK he spoke about how he was going to one up his dad by making sure he did his A Levels in the UK, degree abroad and then an MA in another country. To him the world was his home, he just needed some time to figure out society in each country. He was a global citizen.

 

I’d gone to speak to these young people to look at home/school communication. Many of the questions had been asked before.

  • Do your parents receive the letters we send home?
  • Do they read them?
  • Is it ok to send them in English or would you prefer them in a different language?

 

Yes, Yes English is fine, had been the response.

 

Digging a little deeper, it became apparent that the students were reading the letters going home to their parents. When asked if they read everything, their initial reaction was yes, of course. When I asked them to translate a paragraph for me in Urdu, it became apparent they would skip some bits. This made the school simplify the language of their home communication further, with students giving feedback.

 

I learnt a lot that day about the way we communicate with our young people and their parents. I learnt a lot about ensuring that we know who we are writing for. I learnt a lot about how many students are happy to talk about their background if they feel comfortable, and we are willing to listen and celebrate the richness of it.

 

On another occasion I learnt a lot more about why some of our students from diverse backgrounds were not applying to Oxbridge despite having the grades than I ever would sitting making assumptions. I won’t tell you why because their reasons may not be the same as those of the young people not applying at your school. And that’s what we need to unpick, all of us, through regular, consistent student voice activities. What I did love however is how many of them were making the right choices for them, taking into account their culture and the lifestyle they wanted to lead.

 

We also need to be careful about the way we interpret student experiences. For instance, students’ parents may not attend parents evenings because they have no experience of the British education system and may send older siblings, uncles or aunts instead. In these instances you can have a very engaged extended family. How do we work with that? The cultural experiences of our young people can be very rich and we have to ensure we are not, at some level judging them as good or bad when they may just be different.

 

Listening to our students’ voices can teach us so much: what our students value in their homes… what shapes their perspectives… who are their role models… This is all powerful knowledge. It is a two-way gift. Not only does it give us an insight into their world, it also encourages them to talk confidently about their experiences, no matter how different to the status quo they may be.

 

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The False Flag Flying of ‘No Institutional Racism’

Rachel Clarke portrait

Written by Rachel Clarke

Working with many leaders to improve schools, Rachel is a "passionate, dedicated and inspirational educator, who strives for success with students and educators".

The absence of any acknowledgement of the existence of institutional racism in the UK education system, is a sad indictment of these times. In the context of George Floyd’s trial, the Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan and the glaring difference in response to Sarah Everard’s murder compared to Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman’s, much of the nation has been discussing race and the existence of racism. It felt as if education was slowly waking up to the systemic racism that exists within it. To then hear the outcome of this report, feels as though the conversation is firmly ‘off’ the agenda now. 

The meritocratic framing of how well ethnic minorities achieve, makes no reference that where this is true, this is in spite of the racism that exists, not because it doesn’t exist at all. The ‘well if you have families with high aspirations, children will achieve’ sentiment is firstly not comprehensive enough and secondly, echoes the long held belief that it’s the fault of the individual and no responsibility needs to be taken by the institution to ensure all children achieve their potential.

Then we have those who are of Black Caribbean heritage, who appear to have outcomes that start off quite strong (68%) at the end of EYFS, then plummet to 26% at GCSE. The high exclusions are referenced, as is the need for more ‘diversity’ training to be on ITT programmes. However the report fails to unpick the link between individual racism, institutional racism and structural racism that exists that facilitates these statistics. The silence on this is shameful. Yes, wider factors do affect outcomes of children and young people but it is no coincidence that the group whose ethnicity is still framed around negative 17th century hierarchies of race, are the ones being over-represented in negative statistics. 

With a workforce of approximately 90% from a White British background, our education system has a duty to ensure that biased views/opinions aren’t given the opportunity to thrive, but are deliberately challenged, so all children achieve their potential. Racism is not just a one off act of violence/aggression but more often, is the drip, drip, drip effect of racial action over time that has to be explored as being central to these poor outcomes.

Despite the report stating that “if there is racial bias within schools or the teaching profession, it has limited effect …”, it is clear that we have to change our approach if we genuinely have a desire to have an education system that meets the needs of all. Now is the time to educate the educators to start the hard work of challenging racism. 

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The Power of Multiple Perspectives

Paulina Tervo portrait

Written by Paulina Tervo

Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Lyfta; an immersive learning platform for educators.Her background is in documentary filmmaking and web production.

I’m holding a heavy camera in my arms, which are shaking from the sheer weight. It’s 35 degrees; hot, humid and I’m standing in the middle of the biggest slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, filming a UK A-list celebrity who is crying and talking to the camera. We have just visited several homes in the slum, where we have met young mothers, who are still children themselves, who live in abject poverty and whose children are malnourished. My brief for the day has been to make the A-list celebrity cry in front of the camera, because that’s what will make people donate to the charity that I am doing the work for. I start crying myself, because of the absolutely devastating stories of hopelessness that we are telling, and because I have been told by the local staff that the families we filmed are not beneficiaries of their aid, and therefore will not be helped. 

What this narrative was doing was problematic for many reasons. Not least because it reinforced the white saviour narrative, portrayed the poor as a helpless one-dimensional group who are only going to be saved by our charity. It also showed only one side of the story. What we didn’t tell was how the young mother might have been part of a women entrepreneur’s group, saving together to launch a business, or how she is a resilient and resourceful person. We didn’t humanise her, we victimised her, objectified her even. 

I felt disgusted and embarrassed for being there. It was the first time I had ever taken an assignment like this, and it was absolutely going to be my last. It was clear to me that what we were doing would not bring about sustainable change. I realised that I wanted to tell stories that were empowering, and even if they had tragedy or difficulties in them, they would humanise and have hope. 

A very different story

Fast forward 5 years, I am filming another young mother, this time in Helsinki, Finland. This is where I come from. 

Habiba was a child when she came to Finland in the early nineties as a refugee from Somalia. To give you some background, in 2018 over 50% of Somalis in Finland were unemployed, and when it comes to women, that figure was even higher. Many Somali women become nurses or work in other caring professions. When Habiba told me that as a teenager she had been told by a school counsellor that she would be best off becoming a nurse, as that’s what most other Somali women do, she decided that wasn’t going to be her route. Her interest was in citizen activism and politics. 

Habiba always knew she wanted her own career while also fulfilling her duty as a mum. By her mid-twenties, she was the proud mother of 7 children when the relationship with her husband broke down. Committed to her aims towards social justice and advocacy for others, she chose to become a city councillor and started to work for her community, to help young people who faced institutional racism which put them at risk of marginalisation. It hasn’t been easy for Habiba to do what she is doing, she faces constant hate speech and racial abuse. 

The story we ended up telling about Habiba, like the other stories on the Lyfta platform, is emotionally powerful, yet hopeful, inspiring and empowering. Habiba is an incredibly resilient and positive person, reflective and committed and provides a powerful role model for us all. She makes us see that despite adversities, we can still follow our dreams. 

Habiba’s story has now been seen by thousands of children and teachers in the UK and Finland. For many people, she is an incredible role model, and for others, meeting her has given them a window into someone’s life, whom they might otherwise never have met. They would have heard a story that showed them a new perspective.

Habiba’s story is one of many human stories featured in Lyfta’s learning environments called storyworlds. At Lyfta our mission is to share beautiful human stories from around the world to better understand ourselves, each other and our future – as individuals, as communities and as an entire planet. 

Storytellers and media outlets have a big responsibility as to how we tell stories, because stories shape our world and shape perspectives and attitudes. So it really matters how they are told. The world is nuanced, complex and beautiful and there are a million ways of telling someone’s story. At Lyfta, we choose to tell stories that humanise people. 

What is Lyfta?

Lyfta is an award-winning teaching platform made up of interactive 360° spaces and soundscapes of real homes, workplaces and environments from around the world. Students are invited to explore, unlock rich media content, and get to know real people through powerful and inspiring short films.  

The resources are ideal for teaching a range of subjects, skills and values and the UN SDGs. The ready-made lesson and assembly plans cover a range of vital themes such as sustainability, wellbeing, human diversity and compassion, and are ideal for nurturing skills and values such as empathy, resilience, and critical thinking.

Lyfta offers free training and trial access – find out more at www.lyfta.com/training

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Decade of Diversity: a cross-industry coalition of organisations and individuals supporting schools to increase diversity and inclusivity

Temi Akindele portrait

Written by Temi Akindele Barker

Inclusion Labs offers a custom programme for schools, grounded in research and best practice, but most importantly on the lived experience of students and families, particularly those from underrepresented groups.

During last year’s global BLM protests, I watched as friends and schools scrambled to find more diverse books to share with the children in their care. It struck a chord with me – the realisation that for many like myself this is a daily practice ignited from the moment you know you are bringing a child into this world.  As a mother raising two ethnically diverse daughters in a dual heritage home, surrounding my daughters with true representation: female empowerment, ethnically and culturally diverse stories and role models, is a necessity.  But I also passionately believe it is just as essential if you are not from an underrepresented group – it is about “windows and mirrors”.

 

When I think of my children, my hope for them really boils down to wanting them to know they have a place in this world.  That they truly belong.  That they are seen for who they are.  But for that to happen they have to recognise themselves in the world they inhabit.  They need to feel represented; they need to see others who look like them in leadership positions.  There can’t be a ceiling to their hopes and dreams.  And whilst I strive to emphasise this at home, I need the wider world to reemphasise this.

 

From my work with Inclusion Labs, I am acutely aware that the influence and impact a school have on a young person is profound, whether it is positive or negative.  And it endures.  From the moment they step into reception until their final day of sixth form, and they carry it with them long after that, shaping their perspective and expectation of the world around them.  Ideas and attitudes are formed simply from who and what is placed in front of them on a daily basis.  This is why representation of every form is vital.

 

The Decade of Diversity initiative is about representation.  It is a bold and ambitious call to action and a way for schools and organisations to plant a flag in the ground on its importance.  It is a visible and vocal commitment to do the work of diversity and inclusion, but significantly it is not an expectation that we do this alone.  This commitment is a two-way one: Inclusion Labs and our partners are committing to supporting and guiding schools that are brave enough to plant that flag.  We reached out to individuals and organisations of every kind and we all connected on this shared purpose and belief that we all have a part to play in the development of young people. “We were all children once – and we are now the parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts of children” (Kofi Annan) and by virtue of that, we must all be invested in their development.  And so, a cross-industry coalition was formed, one to create inspiration and action around the Decade of Diversity pledges: 25% Diverse Literature and Diverse Governing Boards by 2030.

 

We asked ourselves the questions: “what needs to be done?” and “what part can we play in the answer?”  We recognised the work being done by many schools, individuals and organisations and knew we must contribute to making change happen, recognising that together we are more impactful.  It is a long-term commitment, a shared vision of a collective journey over the next ten years.

 

This coalition cannot end with words but must be about actions.  And our founding partners’ commitments cover a breadth of support, everything from creating support materials; workshops and training; access to diverse role models; developing programmes; and so on.  Each and every partner rallied around this initiative and committed to actions with only two stipulations: 1) they must be about diverse literature or diversifying governing boards, and 2) they must focus on supporting students and/or teachers as well as the overall school community.  Crucially, our support will evolve every year in response to what is needed by our signatory schools.

 

To embed diversity, equity and inclusion into every young person’s educational, cultural and personal development, Inclusion Labs focuses in on our four outcomes:

Learning: what they learn, how they learn and who they are learning from; 

Accessibility: having access to a diverse and inclusive community; 

Balance: embedding equity – the different elements of any setting in the correct proportions; 

Society: preparing them to be active participants in the world, including positive representation and interactions with those from underrepresented groups.

 

At Inclusion Labs, we believe that every teacher can have a role to play when it comes to leading DEI in their school.  For us, the literature pledge is the moment where a school librarian can lead, and we have ensured that our partners can support them and their colleagues.  From library management system organisations to independent publishers, booksellers, writer development agencies and authors – we bring them together to inspire, support and guide schools.  And of course, we are fundraising to donate diverse literature directly into our signatory schools.

 

Recently, a student questioned the role of their school governors and why they were invisible to students.  As the conversation progressed, many in the group raised the point that their school governors felt far removed from them as individuals.  Our governing board pledge partners are all working together with Inclusion Labs to increase the diversity of board leadership in our schools, with outreach campaigns across industries, including alumni and families – after all, parents can do more than bake sales! In addition, we are supporting schools to create the optimum environment in which both pledges can thrive for the long term.

 

The Decade of Diversity pledges are for our young people.  They deserve and need diverse literature and leadership, whether they inhabit a state or independent school, primary or secondary, in the centre of a city or somewhere rural.  Our initiative echoes their protest whilst being about ambition and action – “we are tired of talking about this” was a phrase that was aired in many of our focus groups as well as meetings with our founding partners. From these two pledges, we believe much else flows (diverse curriculums, diverse staff, a greater sense of belonging and awareness).

 

We do not claim to be the silver bullet – the truth is, there is no one answer, and no one way to solve these issues.  We have to apply different methods and involve as many as possible to actively work towards breaking down barriers and transforming our world to one that is inclusive for all.

Join our movement for change – let’s turn intent into action!

Find out more about the #DecadeofDiversity pledges and become a signatory school or a partner:

https://inclusionlabs.co.uk/decade-of-diversity/ 

Follow us for updates about this initiative and our partners:

Twitter: @inclusion_labs

Instagram: inclusionlabs

Linkedin: Inclusion Labs

#InclusionLabs #DecadeOfDiversity 

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Taking an intersectional approach to understanding mental health and self-identity

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

During my time serving as a school leader, I cared deeply about our culture and ethos. We spent a lot of time reflecting on our school values, and how they shaped our inclusive behaviours. As a school we were committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, at the same time as being committed to mental health and wellbeing – both underpinned our strategic vision and our approaches for our curriculum, our staffing, our policies and our practices. This intersectional approach to who we are, how we feel about ourselves and each other, our awareness of our place in the world as global citizens, created our sense of belonging as both individuals and as a community.    

I now work independently – I am the Founder of Diverse Educators and I consult, coach and train with these two specialisms in mind. When I am commissioned to do a piece of work with a school, a trust, an educational organisation or training provider for one of these areas, I interweave the other focus back in as I find it hard to speak about one without reflecting on the other. For me this intersect is really important as we often consider mental ill health in isolation from one’s identity, and we need to remember that individuals with a protected characteristic are more vulnerable to experiencing mental health issues, as a result of how authentic and accepted they feel.  

Various factors make up a person’s actual identity, including a sense of continuity, a sense of uniqueness from others, and a sense of affiliation based on their membership in various groups like family, ethnicity, and occupation. When we have a positive view of our identity within a group, we are more likely to relate well to other others in that group and feel positive emotions about ourselves. This social identity fulfils the psychological need for esteem from others.  

Struggling with various parts of our identity is also natural and normal. It takes time to develop an identity or sense of self and the traits we desire to nurture in ourselves may be challenging. Not having a strong sense of self or struggling with identity issues can lead to anxiety and insecurity. Our sense of self comes from our self-esteem, something I worked on with many of my students over the 19 years I spent teaching and leading in schools. The value we place on ourselves creates a positive self-image which in turn creates our sense of self-worth. When we feel loved by others and by ourselves, we also feel trusted and accepted which boosts our self-esteem. A strong self-identity increases our self-confidence and enables us to assert ourselves and exercise good boundaries with our family, friends, and partner. 

Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people which can include depression, anxiety and conduct disorders, often as a direct response to what is happening in their lives. But what does the data tell us about children and young people and their race, their gender and their sexual orientation and the intersect with their mental health?

A significant risk factor for a mental health problem manifesting is the experience of race, religion or sexuality. Anyone experiencing a mental health problem should get both support and respect. However, for many people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities this is still not the case. The reasons for this are complex but include systemic racism and discrimination as well as social and economic inequalities and mental health stigma. People from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities living in the UK are more likely to: be diagnosed with mental health problems; be diagnosed and admitted to hospital; experience a poor outcome from treatment. The disproportionate impact of coronavirus on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities has further highlighted the inequalities in the system and has made many people’s mental health worse at an already difficult time. Furthermore, research has found that children of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority heritage are suffering disproportionate damage to their mental health, as a result of the pandemic than their white peers. There has been a large rise in anxiety, stress and self-harm in non-white under 18s. 

Some questions to consider as a school regarding the intersect between race and mental health:

  • How engaged are children and young people from black and minority ethnic communities in your mental health and wellbeing activities?
  • What are the barriers which put young people from black and minority ethnic groups off from accessing mental health services in your context?
  • How culturally sensitive are your mental health processes and services in being appropriate and acceptable to children and young people from diverse families?

Returning to the risk factors, we also need to consider the layers to our identity which are not always visible nor known. Young people establishing their self-identity do not always feel the psychological safety at home and at school to be out but one in every 25 Britons aged 16–24 years old identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Cross-sectional studies consistently report that sexual-minority young people have poorer mental health profiles than their heterosexual peers, including higher prevalence of self-harm and suicide attempts. The pandemic has exacerbated many existing dangers, and introduced a few new ones, in particular, social isolation may have been especially challenging for LGBTQ youth. They may have been quarantining with rejecting family-members and have lost contact with supportive social networks. The nature of quarantining means that these problems may have been invisible to the school. Even before COVID-19, LGBTQ youth were at higher risk for depression, suicidality, and tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use than their heterosexual peers. Moreover, this increased risk stems from increased rates of rejection, discrimination, and victimisation. During the pandemic, risk was further compounded by loss of relationships in school, clubs, or other community venues where LGBTQ youth find support and affirmation. 

Some questions to consider as a school regarding the intersect between sexual orientation and mental health:

  • How engaged are children and young people from the LGBTQIA+ community in your mental health and wellbeing activities?
  • What are the barriers which put young people from the LGBTQIA+ community off from accessing mental health services in your context?
  • How have you made efforts to address gender and sexuality-based inequities so that they might be appropriate and acceptable for children and young people who identify as being LGBTQIA+?

As our schools fully re-open and our support systems are mobilised once again, we need to consider how we can support our marginalised youth groups to rebuild their sense of belonging. Some ways we can do this:

  • Recognising that representation matters and that we need to be intentional about the make up of our teams so that there is increased visibility of diverse role models in our schools. 
  • Reviewing school policies and practices for how inclusive they are in meeting the needs of all our children and young people so that they do not harm nor further alienate individuals with diverse lived experiences.  
  • Creating safe spaces for young people to explore their self-identity and to surface their lived experiences to be supported and signposted to appropriate interventions. 
  • Developing resources and peer advocacy programmes that will empower young people to nurture their own resilience whilst at the same time engage them in supporting others. 

Which is why Diverse Educators are collaborating with Worth-It CIC on their Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme as we believe that by nurturing peer to peer relationships that we can build trust and increase feelings of belonging and connection for individual young people. The programme coaches them to develop the internal resources and strategies to learn how to develop positive relationships and positive support networks. Come and join us for our free webinars on April 27th to find out more.  

Supported by


Bitter Sweet Sugar

Caroline Verdant portrait

Written by Caroline Verdant

Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) and Performing Arts Co-Lead. 40+ years of performing arts and dance choreography experience and 20+ years of experience teaching children.

After our London City Airport campaign win, the door opened for my school, St. Antony’s Catholic Primary, to engage with Tate & Lyle, where I found myself sitting at the table with Britain’s most iconic sugar company, based in our borough of Newham.

 

What immediately comes to mind when you hear the word ‘sugar’?

 

Sweets? Chocolate? Dessert? Perhaps, a diet.

 

For me – it’s sugar cane.

 

At the age of 4, I remember once standing in the middle of a field, watching my dad chop sugar cane. It was my first trip to Barbados, where sucking on fresh and raw, sweet sugar cane is one of my fondest memories. “White Gold” is what they called it; named so because of the great wealth, fame and status it produced for Barbados – the richest of all European colonies throughout the West Indies. However, I also learned many horrendous stories – about the treatment of my forefathers, who worked as slaves on plantations. Slave labour was of course the cheapest way to produce sugar, and turn a profit.

 

During the 18th century, sugar was a powerful commodity which came at a great human cost. Chained and crammed onto slave ships for journeys that would last anywhere between 6 to 11 weeks, it was expected that some slaves would die during the voyage from Africa. For those that made it to the cane fields of the Caribbean, they would be branded and spend the rest of their days beneath the hot West-Indian sun, planting and harvesting sugar cane, from dawn to dusk. Whilst suffering from malnutrition and tropical diseases, slaves were often whipped for not working hard enough. As the most labour intensive crop, 70% of slaves brought to the ‘New World’ were indentured to producing sugar. For this reason, it’s hard to separate sugar from slavery.

 

Even though the UK abolished slavery 188 years ago, its legacy still lives on to this day. It was only in 2015 where the debt incurred by compensation to Britain’s slave owners was finally paid off, at cost to the British taxpayer. This is a debt that I have contributed to settling for the past 32 of years of my life; a legacy I was born into, as a British-Bajan woman.

 

Being the only black person sitting at the table with the leaders in the UK’s sugar industry (since 1878), Tate & Lyle’s commitment towards paying the Real Living Wage speaks volumes to me. Their accreditation is far more than just a positive step towards economic equality, but very much also a step towards racial equality—a step towards reversing a cycle that has lasted for centuries by ensuring every worker is lifted up from in-work-poverty, and given back a sense of dignity.

 

While our students weren’t directly involved in this campaign, they were recognised by Tate & Lyle’s director and Local Affairs Manager; who both praised the children’s performance of their song ‘Realise’ and their campaign achievements. For my role as a mother and a teacher at St. Antony’s, it is essential that every child learns there are no barriers to what they can pursue or accomplish. By leveraging the power and unity of voices through Community Organising, neither their age, colour, cultural background or socio-economic status can dictate which path in life they choose to take.

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