SEND Perspective: Why is it important to introduce intersectionality conversations in UK schools? Exploring seven top tips to address it.

Dilma de Araujo portrait

Written by Dilma de Araujo PhD (c)

SEND specialist. She has more than ten years of experience in education working in different educational institutions in the private and public sectors from early years to higher education levels, addressing special education needs; education policy research; gender inclusion and diversity.

‘A year nine  boy of Black Caribbean heritage, claiming free school meals and with special education needs to represent a ‘typical’ student likely to be excluded from school.’

(Hawkins, 2019 p.14)

The Special Education Needs field involves a broad spectrum, where intersectional topics and issues such as gender, race and socioeconomic status are susceptible to emerge and often become a matter of great concern if the appropriate support and awareness initiatives are not in place. Hence, reflecting in the above statement by Hawkins (2019), it suggests that there are some significant points concerning financial, social and academic disadvantage and vulnerability indicators that should be addressed differently in our schools and educational institutions, raising awareness and incorporating a culture of dialogue, involving parents, carers and local communities actively in dynamic and creative activities in which different participants and agencies work in constructive partnership and collaboration (e.g. mental health and wellbeing practitioners; Local Authorities representatives, teachers, special education needs coordinators, local and national community activists and artists) aiming to improve not only black students, but all the multicultural and non-multicultural spectrum of school.

Thus, the role of schools, teachers and educational leaders can represent a crucial transformational factor. Hence, schools are designed to be a place where inclusion patterns and strong affinity bows of compassion, understanding and unity are consistently nurtured by adults, children and local communities. Aiming to generate diversity and equal dimensions within our multicultural society. To provide a healthy, safe and inclusive teaching and learning environments. Thus, school leadership teams have the responsibility to explore and address the following issues:

  • Bias in the assessment process indicating over, under, misidentification and diagnosis; 
  • Rational parental response to historical discriminatory bias in the identification;
  • Assessing migration’s resulting in different family health and cognitive endowments;
  • Differential parenting behaviours and home learning environments;
  • Differential experiences of deprivation between ethnic groups (Haye, 2021).

             School senior leadership teams’ responsibility towards the implementation of an inclusive and diverse curriculum, programmes, initiatives and cultural activities in order to improve the multicultural perspective in their schools, taking into consideration students mental, cognitive, physical, emotional conditions, needs and circumstances raising the bars towards a positive learning performance and outcomes. In this line of thought, seven essential foundational strategies focus on the improvement of a culture of dialogue and reflective approaches concerning language, thoughts and actions, aiming to clarify different points of view and perspectives related to race, social, cultural inclusion.     

Tip 1: Nurturing a culture of dialogue

Promoting dialogues involving racial matters in school can reduce bias, prejudice and pejorative attitudes. Thus, it is important reshape the teaching and learning approaches and behaviours may improve mutual respect, compassion, self and multicultural knowledge. E.g. cooperation involving students, teachers and other school staff. They can organize special pod-cast, webinars and school radio where life testimonials and experiences could address topics related to racial discrimination, macroaggressions and microaggressions.

Tip 2: Promoting reflection in and on action

Applying reflective practices to enhance teaching and learning is crucial to obtain valuable and effective results. Reflecting in-action provides the opportunity to explore and evaluate the academic practice and activities while the learning is taking place, opening the horizons not only for behaviour alignments and changings but also delivering and feedback strategies. Thus, promoting reflection-on-action practices is essential to improve the educational experience and activities built after interaction between teachers and students, mitigating biased attitudes and thoughts during teaching and assessment practices. 

Tip 3: Preparing for and welcoming different perspectives

For many children and young people, teachers and school endeavours are the primary sources of information and knowledge. Hence, education institutions should be ready to face and address complex ways of think, behaviour and acting. To introduce potentially challenging conversations about race is essential to give quality training to teachers and staff, organizing regular meetings with parents and local communities and invest in multicultural representation in senior leadership posts in the educational organization.

Tip 4: Identifying students’ mental & emotional, cultural and traumatic journeys

The mental, emotional, cultural and traumatic journeys can impact and determine how children and young people absorb information and knowledge. Therefore, continuous evaluation, assessing, screening and reviewing students is vital to support teachers and students. Teaching practices can improve effectively when students’ needs are identified and properly monitoring based on child-centred approach, diverse curriculum, strong values and beliefs. Consequently, a positive impact can be generated in students’ performance, experiences and outcomes.   

Tip 5: Encouraging the use of inclusive and diverse materials, resources and activities

The art of generating a culture of promoting human and racial rights, educational acceptance between adults and children, and constructing positive and dominant social and educational role models becomes the lynchpin of approaching complex topics. As a result, curricula, educational materials, schools’ displays and decorations, learning and leisure activities can be practical tools to combat the nature of privilege, supremacy and oppressive attitudes.

Tip 6: Exploring affective and embodied dynamic of learning

Starting from years early to higher education, recognizing and embracing the critical pedagogy in the daily schooling environment impacting teaching and learning practices through literature and other forms of creative arts aiming to explore and obtain the best of students’ ideas, beliefs, thoughts and aspirations. Learning dynamics could pass through a moment in which creative reflections are based on realistic expectations about a sense of identity, belonging, and existence, thus they could be co-related with all topics, disciplines and courses.

Tip 7:  Creating a safe community learning environment 

Local communities are an extension of the classroom and learning environment. It is crucial to the communication, interaction and mutual respect between school staff, local organizations and communities. Solid connections can be established through parents, governors and charities. It can help exchange experience, knowledge and update policies and general information.

In this context, addressing race paradigms and curriculum decolonization in the special education needs field can potentially represent a way to liberate bias, discrimination, preconceived thoughts, pejorative language. Additionally, all the changes and adjustments should be raised with the desire to generate productive and constructive empowerment by implementing effective anti-discrimination, SEND race and multicultural policies (also addressing migrants and refugee students). Thus, the field of SEND involving multicultural, race and education can essentially be empowered when individuals from different social, cultural, racial and educational backgrounds join forces not only to change policies but to be the ‘maker, developer and keeper’ of each one of them, aiming to embrace an open door of opportunities to nurturing the teaching and learning best practices.

Reference:

Hawkins, A. (2019) School Exclusion: The Parent Guide. London.

Haye. M, (2021). Special Education Jungle. Finding the racial minority voices in SEND. Retrieved [07/12/2021] from https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/finding-racial-minorityvoicessend/?utm_source=hootsuite&utm_medium=linkedin&utm_term=special+needs+jungle+ltd&utm_content=SocialOroMedia.

PjBL, (2020) Project Based Learning Toolkit. Retrieved [17/12/2021] from https://project-based-learning-toolkit.com/reflection/.

Thurber, A., Harbin, M.B, & Bandy, J. (2019).Teaching Race: Pedagogy and Practice. Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching, Retrieved [07/12/2021] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-race/.

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New Music Track Supporting the UK’s Leading Neurodiversity Charity and Celebrating Difference, Inclusion and Equality, in Education and Beyond

Gary Grange portrait

Written by Gary Grange

Consultant and neurodiversity advocate with a passion for supporting young people who are neurodiverse and working with NGO’s and businesses to create positive social impact.

On the 24th June the Neurodiversity charity the ADHD Foundation launch the Umbrella Project which for the first time ever will feature a new dance track called We Will Rise, by songwriter, rapper and neurodiversity advocate J Grange (ft London Community Gospel Choir)

This project aims to help raise awareness of the 1:5 people who are neurodiverse and to celebrate equality in society, especially for those who are neurodiverse, many experiencing inequality and struggling in the education system.

What is neurodiversity? 

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently. We have different interests and motivations, and are naturally better at some things and poorer at others.

Most people are neurotypical, meaning that the brain functions and processes information in the way society expects.

However, it is estimated that around 1 in 5 people (around 20% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Neurodivergence includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.

J’s educational experience

J experienced an horrendous time in education. As a young person with ADHD, which was not diagnosed until weeks before he sat his exams, he was constantly excluded from school and eventually sent to a Pupil Referral Unit. This impacted on his mental wellbeing and he suffered severe anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

Sadly, teachers and schools just did not know how to support J. With around 1:5 young people thought to be neurodiverse the education system needs to change. It needs to embrace the “difference” neurodiverse young people bring and to have a strength-based approach to learning. 

The current statistics are both shocking and show that 39% of children with ADHD have had fixed term exclusions from school and that children with ADHD have more than 100 times greater risk of being permanently excluded from school than other children.

Compare this to the fact that around 35% of businesses owners are neurodiverse and you can very quickly see that with the right support neurodiverse young people can be successful.

Schools, academy’s, colleges and universities are slowly beginning to change but they need help. 

J’s track is about his journey but also a message of hope and a call to end inequalities and divisions. To watch the music video from the 24th June and to support the need for the education to be more inclusive for neurodiverse young people please click here 

If you are a school, academy, college or university for more information about neurodiversity visit the ADHD Foundation Neurodiversity Charity online, or follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram    

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On Kindness: Intentionality, #DEIJ, and Difficult Decisions

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

Former international school Principal, proud father of two transgender adult children, Associate Consultant with LSC Education, and founder of #themonalisaeffect.

A few years ago, there was lots of talk about “random acts of kindness”, and many a school assembly took place across our schools, using that idea to encourage kind words and actions among and between staff and students. 

However, I have since realised that kindness is never random. It is intentional. We make a conscious choice to be kind, or, conversely, not to be.

I reflected on this today, as a disabled, wheelchair traveller, treated like livestock at Madrid Airport: dumped in a corner and facing the wall, ignored, patronised and humiliated, and denied access to food, water or a bathroom, for 3 hours. 

When finally pushed to the plane door, after every single able-bodied passenger and with minutes until take-off, I shared my experience so far, and then explained that I had mistakenly also been allocated a seat at the back of the plane, which I would not be able to reach without risk, pain, discomfort and delay, if at all. 

I politely asked if the steward could request a passenger in a row further forward in Economy to swap with me, so as to avoid those things. They repeatedly, and emphatically, refused. 

On hearing our conversation, a traveller in the very first Business row immediately stood up and insisted he swap with me and take my seat instead. The steward tried to persuade him not to do so, as he would lose his Business seat, but he made it quite clear that it did not matter, as my wellbeing and safety were more important.

I wish I could thank him properly. However, I suspect he would not mind. After all, when we intentionally choose kindness, we do so unconditionally and without expectation.

On the subsequent flight, I reflected further on this. In the leadership of our school communities, we also have the opportunity actively and intentionally to choose kindness, every single day – in our conversations and our actions; in policy and strategy; and in the decisions we make. 

Sometimes this is easy, but when it feels difficult, we can and must still make that choice. We must ask ourselves what would be the kind thing to do. And then do that.

If kindness remains random, it will also be inequitably applied, and, in turn, perpetuate the marginalisation of those who need it most. Therefore, kindness should be at the heart of any #deij strategy too, and that strategy can help propagate intentional kindness as a result.

If we choose kindness, always, not only will kindness infuse the climate and culture of our schools, but others will follow our lead. Just like its absence, kindness cascades.

Does intentional kindness guide and permeate your school, or is it still random?

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Wellbeing: Why it’s Time to Take an Ecosystemic Approach

Nikki Levitan portrait

Written by Nikki Levitan

Nikki ​started The Visionaries out of her passion and commitment to supporting young people and those working with young people to discover their visionary potential. She helps to resource others to play their part in building a healthier, just future.

A whole systems approach to wellbeing is a growing buzzword and tactic, one that is becoming higher up on the agenda to improve productivity, retention and a sense of belonging within the workplace.

The science of wellbeing also shows us the importance of taking a preventative approach to prevent mental health reaching crisis point later down the line. Something that is still all too common amongst young people.

But when it comes to changing a whole system and culture, it is natural to feel a sense of stuckness and overwhelm.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.’ – Alan Watts

A great way to explore how to enact lasting systems change is to look at the healthy functioning of natural ecosystems, like a rainforest or a national park. They remind us of the importance of diversity, interdependency, collaboration, and to embrace  cyclical thinking. We can use these as a way to reflect on and improve our own education systems. 

Like the species within an ecosystem, members of your organisation act like a community network of interactions between organisms and their environment. They create together, influence one other and are all affected by external disruptions and change outside of their control.

At The Visionaries we are passionate about supporting youth organisations. Burnout and endless firefighting is a common reality for teachers, youth workers and informal educators. Many struggle to take the time to look after themselves and leave working days feeling a sense of helplessness, wishing they knew how to do more to support the needs of the young people.

This cannot be left on the shoulders of individuals, none of us has this capacity to hold what we do alone. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”, and it is only when entire organisations, institutions and communities commit to a culture of wellbeing that the mental, physical and social health of their members and beneficiaries can truly be supported.

Our one day training on 31st May 2022 will give you space to explore your work within an ecosystemic framework, providing simple ways to weave wellbeing into the everyday culture of your organisation, that anyone can lead, and which can be put into practice immediately.

You can expect;

  • Self and collective enquiry: How do we create a culture of wellbeing? What does it mean to be well individually/collectively? How does tending to our wellbeing have a positive impact in communities we are part of?
  • Appreciative Inquiry: Discover what you are already doing well; Dream into what could be; Design what should be; Deliver what you can do and how to do this.
  • An introduction to our ways of wellbeing – We apply biomimicry and nature’s intelligence to enhance our education systems for the long term.

The intention is for you to retreat: come away from your busy work environment, slow down, tune in, learn together and create space to map out your ecosystem. Who is in it? What roles do they play and what needs to happen to affect positive change for the whole?

See more details here and book your place now, there are only a few spaces left. We keep these training days small and intimate to ensure space for deeper enquiry and relationship building between education leaders.

https://www.tickettailor.com/events/thevisionaries/673864

You can see our full Regenerative Educator Training Course online here and see the other ways we support educators to create more life-affirming learning environments on our website here.

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Queer Clubbing – Creating Intentional Queer Space in Educational Settings

Edel Cronin portrait

Written by Edel Cronin

Secondary school senior leader and co founder of Bristol Queer Educators, very Queer and very Irish.

During my PGCE I had one lecture where the lecturer spoke about being a LGBTQ+ Educator.  They spoke of their experience growing up LGBTQ+ in the 1960s onwards.  One of the messages that stayed with me is the importance of Queer spaces for LGBTQ+ people.  For that lecturer living in a society where there was active policing of LGBTQ+ lives, Queer people found ways to create space and community.  Without these spaces LGBTQ+ people become isolated, lack space where their sexuality and/or gender is affirmed and don’t get an opportunity to learn their history.

During our school Pride last year, I spent a term doing all the usual things that it takes to help coordinate a school Pride.  Our Pride events ended with a whole school Pride Day, as part of that day LGBTQ+ club had a lunchtime party where the focus was celebration.  Students had a Pride Photobooth, we had music playing, the school canteen made rainbow cupcakes for the party, students dressed in rainbow colours and wore their LGBTQ+ flag like capes.  While sitting in that room taking a moment to observe what we had created I realised that what was happening in that room, Queer Joy free from risk of homophobia or transphobia, this was the most important work I could do.  If you have a regular space where you are free from the ‘risk assessment’ that comes with being a LGBTQ person+, a space where you can learn your communities history, share your favourite books or films that celebrate your lived experience and bask in the joy that comes with the freedom of being in a Queer Space, over time you will become more affirmed in your own self, you will be able to move around the world with the self-assurance needed in a society that tells us we shouldn’t exist.

Schools should absolutely spend intentional time and resources educating all the people in their community about LGBTQ+ history, provide anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia training and celebrate LGBTQ+ people.  Doing so will help use build coalition between LGBTQ+ communities and those outside the community, reduce homophobia and transphobia and liberate us all from the burden of heteronormative stereotyping.  However, it is also important that before doing this work school leaders have policies in place to support the work, provide staff and students with scripts on how to have difficult conversations and challenge homophobic and transphobic language.  And provide space for Queer people in the building, should they want to access it, where they do not have to worry about being the ‘Gay Oracle’, experience homophobia, transphobia and risk assess how Queer they can be.  For some people a virtual space will provide them with the best support, others will benefit from sign posting of networks or groups that exist outside of the school community and for others it will be having a physical space.

Ensuring that in person or virtually student and staff groups are available to LGBTQ+ people also allow Queer people the space to be surrounded by people who have similar lived experience that can provide or direct them to Queer inclusive support, learn about Queer stories and histories and experience the joy that is being Queer in a Queer space.  It removes the burden that can come with moving from a Pride assembly to a classroom where you are only Queer person.  By making intentional Queer spaces in educational setting, we are also making an active statement as Educators that we are taking up space in educational spaces that are traditionally positioned as a battle group for LGBTQ+ rights. Let us ensure that all our educational spaces move with intentionality to liberate and acknowledge loudly that Queer people have always been and will always be in educational spaces.

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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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Weaving Diverse Narratives into the Curriculum with Human Stories

Anna Szpakowska portrait

Written by Anna Szpakowska

Professional Development Lead at Lyfta

The importance of using a wide range of diverse human stories in our classrooms cannot be underestimated. There is clearly a desire amongst staff and students to broaden the curriculum to include these stories. Beyond that desire, however, there are numerous benefits to using diverse narratives in the classroom that include improving student engagement, nurturing character development and supporting academic progress too. In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of using diverse human stories, how this can be done and the potential impact it can have for your students. 

Why diverse human stories? 

It’s clear that the past few years have seen a heightened awareness and desire amongst the teaching profession to make the curriculum a more diverse and inclusive one. All teachers are bound by an adherence to the Equality Act of 2010 as well as the Public Sector Equality Duty, but recent polls have shown that there is still a desire to do more. For example, one survey commissioned by Pearson and conducted by Teacher Tapp revealed that 89% of secondary teachers and 60% of primary teachers felt that there was more diversity required in the set texts that they teach. 

However, this clearly isn’t just an issue that concerns English teachers. Pearson’s own report, Diversity and inclusion in schools, reveals that teachers feel that their curricula are not fully representative of the communities in which they work. The results reveal that teachers feel most concerned by the under-representation of people of identify as non-binary and people identifying as LGBT+. The report goes on to list a variety of different reasons as to why this representation is important. These reasons include:

  • creating a sense of belonging for staff and students alike
  • reducing instances of bullying and mental health problems 
  • reducing barriers to achievement

So how do stories help us achieve this? Narratives have long been at the heart of teaching and learning and  real-life stories have the potential to inspire students. For example, research conducted by Immordino Yang shows that experiencing human stories can motivate students into action and that the best learning takes place when students care about what it is they’re learning. 

If stories have the potential to motivate students and to make them care, it’s clear that there’s a reason to embed them in our curricula. More than that, it’s clear by ensuring there are a wide range of diverse voices included, it has the potential to improve student wellbeing and progress too. 

How can this be achieved? 

Lyfta is an educational platform that allows students to travel the world without leaving the comfort of their classrooms. Teachers can teach lessons or set lessons for students to complete independently, that take them into Lyfta’s 360° storyworlds. Storyworlds are immersive environments that contain images, 360° videos, articles and short documentary films. These short documentary films connect students with individuals from the communities that they are visiting. All of Lyfta’s documentary films contain an inspiring central character who models resilience, problem solving and positive values, supporting students to think creatively and critically. 

Lyfta has a wide range of lesson plans for teachers to use, to support them to successfully embed diverse narratives into their curriculum. These lesson plans are mapped against 12 different subject areas, cover a range of protected characteristics and all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

We’ve seen great success of teachers using the platform with students from key stage one all the way up to key stage five. We know that students enjoy their lessons with Lyfta with 94% of Lyfta users indicating that their students are highly engaged or enjoy using Lyfta. 

What impact will it have? 

When assessing the impact of our work, we’ve seen that not only do students enjoy using the platform but that there are a number of other effects on their personal development and educational achievement too. Students at a sixth form college in Kent describe the experience of recognising the shared experience of humanity across the world, describing the moment they realised that the people in Lyfta’s documentary films were ‘thinking about the [same] things we do in our everyday lives’ and that preconceptions or ‘assumptions’ the students may have had beforehand ‘were undone’. 

In addition to this work done at a secondary school in Essex revealed that Lyfta’s wide range of documentary films and storyworlds helped teachers to embed school values, with the vast majority of students finding that their understanding of their school values increased after completing a unit of work, using Lyfta lessons. In exploring values across the world, students are able to see our shared human values, thus normalising diversity and helping students to understand that we have more in common than our perceived differences. 

These findings are also supported by independent research, conducted by the University of Tampere in Finland. This research revealed that ‘the multi-sensory and participatory nature of immersive 360° experiences led to a decrease in learners’ sense of social anxiety about meeting people from different cultural backgrounds. Engaging with new people in an immersive virtual setting gives students the opportunity to identify common interests and, as a result, develop more positive feelings towards them.’ Therefore, the way Lyfta helps to normalise diversity has two significant implications; first, it helps to reduce anxiety and prejudice amongst those students who feel worried about others who are different from themselves. Secondly, for those students who may have experienced discrimination or marginalisation, Lyfta’s storyworlds and documentary films also allow them an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the stories presented to them at school. 

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Creating Change – The World I want to Live In

Ann Beatty portrait

Written by Ann Beatty

Chief Executive, The Steve Sinnott Foundation

There is an urgent imperative for young people to learn about themselves, where they come from, their sense of place in their community and the wider world and most importantly their human rights. Do you have human rights? Do others have the same human rights as you do? Do you actually have human rights in your school?

The recent events of a school girl being assaulted in a school by police officers, the many wars across the world and the ways in which we see people being treated differently because of their skin colour, gender or social status has shocked many, but we know that many people experience discrimination on a daily basis in more subtle ways. 

Wherever you find yourself in the world there are different challenges in the provision of education. For us working in Cuba and Haiti brings different challenges in providing access to education than our work in The Gambia and Sierra Leone or the U.K, but we are all connected and have much to learn from each other. As a team Covid reminded us of that connection in many ways.

We believe in the potential of education to invest in each young person to flourish and as an investment in a more inclusive world in the future.  We want students to choose the topic that’s important to them right now and develop their ideas through creative arts, spoken word, painting, drawing, mime, drama, photography, or any creative medium they choose.

Working in partnership with the National Education Union and the Gambia Teachers Union we have produced a resource pack for schools Creating Change – The World I Want to Live In. We have launched a competition inviting students to give their voice to the topics that are important to them right now in this moment. We hope that students and educators will find the resource useful, return to the resource pack in the future and develop their own ideas.

You can register your interest here and download the free resource pack:

https://www.stevesinnottfoundation.org.uk/human-rights-competition

We hope that this creative approach to learning will cultivate healthier ways of having conversations about the topics that matter to young people; allow them to relate to one another and to society, whilst enhancing their wellbeing, promoting inclusion and encouraging them to engage with and find solutions to the many social challenges of today.

The deadline for competition entries is 1st June.

If you have any questions, please contact ann.beatty@stevesinnottfoundation.org.uk 

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The Great Hypocrisy - Racism in Arab Communities

Jenin Al Shalabi portrait

Written by Jenin Al Shalabi

Jenin Al Shalabi is a speaker and writer who is passionate about highlighting diverse stories that break barriers and ignite change. Within her school community, Jenin established a school-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council.

I am seven years old. My grandmother and I drive through the streets of Jordan. I see billboard after billboard with images of women with fair skin, blue eyes, and Eurocentric features proudly plastered across them. None of these women look like the Arab women I know. All of them preach strange creams that apparently lighten their skin. 

I don’t think much of it.

I am ten years old. I sit in a classroom and listen as a teacher mocks a student for having monolid eyes, calling her eyes ‘little Chinas’. We all laughed it off. 

I am twelve years old. I frown as I hear family members mimic and mock a typical ‘Indian’ accent, coupled with exaggerated hand movements and facial expressions. I scowl, but I don’t speak up. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Racism is a virus that has embedded itself into the heart and soul of Arab communities, thriving on ignorant perpetuation.

The matter of the fact is that racism is, and always has been, deeply ingrained into Arab communities. It’s ironic: I have, on countless occasions, heard fellow Arabs express great frustration at the amount of bias and prejudice they received from those outside their communities. Arab communities have long been the target of belittling stereotypes, harmful remarks, and heinous micro aggressions. 

So – how can these same communities then so freely indulge in displays of racism towards other minority groups? How can we eternalize the same racism that has brought down our own communities for so long? 

Many Arabs don’t feel compelled to question their bigotry, because it has been so deeply ingrained into our cultural hegemony, that it becomes second nature. Take a quick flick through some Arab TV channels – the only time you would see people with darker skin tones was when they were portrayed as servants or villains. Ideally, the actors had porcelain skin that glistened on screen. Despite the fact that in the US alone, 20% of the Muslim population is Black. TV constructed an unobtainable beauty standard for the Arab population – teaching them to equate dignity with Eurocentrism. 

And it doesn’t stop there – growing up, many Arab children would have been introduced to a desert called “Ras ilabed”, which literally translates to ‘the head of the slave’. This dessert is composed of a marshmallow center dipped in chocolate, said to resemble the head of a slave due to its dark color. Thousands enjoyed this sweet without caring to confront its racist origins.

All the examples I’ve provided above may seem like mere jokes, silly comments, or meagre coincidences. But the actuality is, these insignificant occurrences are indicators of larger webs of underlying prejudice that can easily spawn into something much bigger, and much more horrifying.

A prime example is the murder of George Floyd – which shone a light on the ever-growing racial prejudice that dominates many corners of society today. Many of us have become increasingly familiar with the murder via social media. 

But, something that the media might’ve neglected to tell you: the corner shop that had originally called the police on Mr. Floyd was run by a Palestinian American man, Mahmoud Abumayyaleh. Mr. Floyd was murdered right in front of his store. We enabled the atrocious murder of an innocent Black man. We stood on the sidelines. We allowed our deeply ingrained prejudices to interfere with our humanity. 

We think we aren’t a part of this story, but we are. 

We cannot complain about the hatred towards Arabs that has been promoted by Western media if we are willing to project that same hatred onto other communities. Contributing to a cycle of such hatred is the epitome of hypocrisy. 

Racism in the Arab community doesn’t stop at anti-blackness, unfortunately. The Arab community has also been an epicenter for appalling portrayals of bias against South Asians. All this, despite the fact that Arabs and South Asians have many cultural beliefs and practices in common.

I went to a predominantly Arab school, in which there were only two South Asian students in our entire year. These students were constantly isolated and ostracized. Any open expression of their culture was met with frowns and whispers. Living in Dubai, I had always believed the country to be a hub for diversity; a cultural melting pot. Hence, I found it sickening that in what was meant to be such a culturally aware landscape, many felt it difficult to move past archaic stereotypes that they had been spoon-fed.

What do we, as a community, gain from ostracizing and belittling other communities of color? Should we refuse to acknowledge the poisonous biases that lay deep within all of us, we will be feeding a cycle of hypocrisy and contributing to the suffering of many.

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The Cure for What Ails Us: Reigniting a Healthy Sense of Well-Being and Belonging in Schools

Jennifer Johnson portrait

Written by Jennifer Johnson

As a parent, a former educator, an entrepreneur and a passionate change-maker, Jennifer is on a mission to empower young people to be their best selves to create a better world. She has an M.A. in Education in Curriculum, Teaching and Organisational Learning.

Since launching the Captains & Poets Program in schools in 2019 we have been exploring the ins and outs of what it means to be human – and all with the backdrop of a series of crises at home, at school and on the world stage. 

The erosion of the social fabric in schools over the past two years has led to notable increases in issues around mental health and well-being, and in bullying and hate crimes. While the two may or may not be directly correlated (a topic for another blog perhaps), what they have in common is the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the minimizing of interpersonal connection, an absence of ritual, a sense of complacency and rudderlessness that has set in, the shrinking of young people’s worlds and the associated loss of opportunities for identity formation – do I need to go on?

The premise of the Captains & Poets program is that there is a unique Captain and Poet in each and every one of us that, in partnership, enable us to be our best, most authentic selves. And, when the Captain and Poet are operating in full partnership, we are better able to live from a place of “emotional courage” and “inspired action”. Today, we need Captains and Poets everywhere.

Emotional courage is about being brave enough to be vulnerable, to feel the uncomfortable emotions and follow your inner truth in the face of conflict with the outside world. 

Inspired action is the ability to live from a place of meaning and purpose, where our values inform our actions, where we let our passions guide us. It is about truly being the change you want to see in the world.

To quote 12-year-old Sam in our documentary video: “When the Captain and Poet come together, they give you courage which is different than confidence. Because confidence is thinking you have the ability to do something, but courage is knowing what’s right in your heart.”

But how do we thrive when the world is in such a state of upheaval? One of the main things that keeps me afloat and even thriving in these times is having a sense of purpose and agency in the world with the work we are doing at Captains & Poets. As challenging and depleting and heart wrenching as these times have been, they have helped us peel the onion on what we all need, not only to survive, but to thrive. We are all at risk of developing the same set of symptoms in these times: languishing, anxiety, complacency, overwhelm.

What we have learned in the delivery of the Captains & Poets program thus far is that many of the issues society aims to remedy seem to lead back to the same thing – having a positive sense of identity in the world. The journey to Self is a lifelong one and at its core is self-awareness and the ability to connect with the world around us in meaningful ways that have a positive impact on ourselves and others. 

The message we need to send to young people now more than ever is that they are whole, resourceful beings who have everything they need inside of them to thrive; and, that what they yearn for deep inside is similar in spirit to what others want. Perhaps now is a time in history where we can all draw on our collective Poets to guide us, and our collective Captains to bring that vision to life.

Imagine a world where we all lived from a place of emotional courage and inspired action. We would take care of ourselves and each other. We would derive an innate sense of belonging from the shared journey we are on. We would seek to understand before judging. We would be more fully expressed in who we are. Connection with ourselves, others and the world around us would be our lifeblood.

While it may sound idealistic, this is the human journey we are on. For some of us it takes a tragic event or a significant life change to connect more deeply with what matters most and to begin operating with a greater sense of purpose. But what if we could make having a sense of agency in the world more accessible for everyone? 

Perhaps the cure for what ails us is closer than we think. The phrase we use to help young people embrace and celebrate their uniqueness is “We are all the same because we are all different.” We all want to be seen, to connect, to matter. And we all have a Captain and Poet inside of us ready to help us heal. 

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