Doing the Inner Work, to do the Outer Work

Ellie Lister portrait

Written by Ellie Lister

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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How to Communicate Inclusively

Karen Dempster portrait

Written by Karen Dempster

Written with Justin Robbins. Lifetime communication experts, founders of Fit2Communicate and Fellows of the Institute of Internal Communications. Authors of How to Build Communication Success in Your School: A Guide for School Leaders.

Have you ever been in a conversation when …?

  • You’ve not felt you had a voice or even if you’ve spoken you’ve not felt heard?
  • The language or jargon being used has made you feel like an outsider or confused?
  • Worse still the language used has been insensitive and upsetting simply because the other person did not put themselves in your shoes?

You may even have done this to someone else, without even realising. However, these common experiences are simply not inclusive. And they are absolutely avoidable if you consider these points when you communicate.

Listen first to understand

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that you listen through filters, which shape what you hear. They are built up through life-long conditioning and create bias. It’s important to practice regular self-reflection and question your bias, supported through on-going education.

In addition, there are different levels of listening. Some we all do instinctively, for example when we jump to conclusions, are impatient to share our views or listen to surface details.

Inclusive listening takes a little more work but will take your listening to another level. For example, it requires you to acknowledge there are two conversations going on at any one time. The first being what you hear from the person in the conversation, the second is the chatter that naturally happens in your head. To listen fully, consider asking yourself the following questions internally:

  • Do I fully understand what they are saying?​
  • What can I sense from their energy, body language and facial expressions?
  • Am I showing them that I am listening?​
  • What could I ask to help me understand better?​

Now consider asking questions as part of your conversation with the other person to better understand their perspective, such as:

  • I heard you say … is that correct?
  • Can you give me an example to help me to understand better?
  • Can you tell me more about that?​
  • Can I do anything to help?

This will help you to stay present and fully listen. As a result, people will see that you are focused on them, what they are saying and that you value their opinion and ideas.

Watch your words

The words you choose clearly have a huge impact on how inclusively you communicate. The wrong, insensitive words can have catastrophic effects – often simply by not thinking before speaking.

It’s sometimes tricky to know what words to use when is comes to protected characteristics. However, through ongoing education and talking with the right people and groups, you can stay respectful and inclusive.

Also, consider you can be more inclusive by using words that mean something to those around you. Certain phrases or words that you use quite naturally with friends or colleagues, may not be understood by others. For example, those from a certain part of the country may talk about ‘going around the Wrekin’. The same applies for jargon, acronyms and highly technical language. 

It may seem innocent enough but speaking in words that mean nothing to the person you are communicating with can at best confuse them or worst annoy and alienate them.

Recognise that people communicate differently

Without recognising that people communicate differently based on their behavioural and communication preferences, communication diversity cannot be considered. Psychologist, William Moulton Marston, created a personality profiling tool called DISC, to understand these preferences.

Simply speaking, people communicate based on four preferences that are explained below. Everyone is a mixture of these, they are situation dependent, but will have a stronger preference for one type. Which one do you believe is closest to you?

  1. Are you outspoken (extroverted) with a focus on getting things done? Do people sometimes consider you to be direct, blunt, decisive, competitive, assertive and often impatient? If so, you may have a red communication preference.
  2. Are you outspoken (extroverted) with a focus on people? Are you considered social, confident, optimistic, inspiring, collaborative and often emotional? You may have a yellow communication preference.
  3. Are you reflective (introverted) with a focus on people? Are you considered to be calm, co-operative, patient, good listeners, deliberate and often stubborn? You may have a green communication preference.
  4. Are you reflective (introverted) with a focus on getting things done? Are you considered to be independent, systematic, diplomatic, reflective and often detail focused? You may have a blue communication preference.

Each colour has a different filter through which they communicate. If you are red speaking with someone who is green (who are opposites), it could literally be like talking to someone in a different language.

However, there are simple things you can do to spot preferences and adapt your style to communicate inclusively. It takes practice at first but it’s worth the effort to enhance your communication and relationships.

Find out more about your DISC preference (and those of others) here [What’s your communication colour? (fit2communicate.com)].

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When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression

Wayne Reid portrait

Written by Wayne Reid

Professional Officer & Social Worker

Black History Month has passed but we must not stop ringing the alarm on racism in social work.

The level of inaction from many within the profession’s establishment is both deafening and revealing. To quote US novelist and activist James Baldwin: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you [don’t] do.”

Being ‘let in’

I write this article from both personal and professional perspectives. I do not speak on behalf of all Black and ethnic minority people or social workers as we are not a homogenous group. Also, I refuse to be the tokenistic ‘Black voice’ of BASW. I’m one of many Black voices in the profession. I realise that I’ve been ‘let in’ (to some extent) to express my views because, to quote Black historian and TV presenter David Olusoga, I “won’t scare the horses”: I am supposedly well-spoken and middle-class or so I’ve been told.

For the record, I’m not aspiring to be a ‘nice guy’ when it comes to combating oppressive regimes and systems. ‘Niceness’ is often weaponised against people of colour. My motivation is not for career ambition or financial gain. It’s for the cause, not applause – and the cause is Black Lives Matter.

My narrative is based on my lived experiences and those of other people who are routinely judged on the basis of their skin colour. 

Minimisation Street

The prevalence of anti-black racism and the stealthy manoeuvres to gloss over our contributions and downplay our legacies is discombobulating. Some of us learn to live with the burden of our exposure in white spaces, even though it punctuates the rhythm of our everyday lives, and some do not. 

Most Black and ethnic minority people recognise early on that we are forced to try harder and tolerate multi-layered oppression for our endeavours and to be recognised. This is evidenced by the tiny number of Black people honoured with a statue or trophy name; the groundswell of racism aimed at Marcus Rashford for campaigning to provide meals for disadvantaged children and the avalanche of complaints and relentless racism targeted at Ashley Banjo for leading a BLM-themed dance

Interestingly, some people have likened Black actor John Boyega being cut out of the Chinese launch of a perfume advert to a photo tweeted from a Guardian Social Care Lives 2020 event in which I was cut out as a panelist.

People must make their own minds up about any similarities. The reality is the list of minimisations and omissions (accidental or otherwise) for me and other Black people is endless and normalised.

Critics argue that politics is for politicians and Rashford should ‘stick to football’ and Banjo should ‘stick to dancing’. These modern-day revolutionaries are accused of ‘playing the race card’ by some. Reducing our life experiences to a game of cards serves only to undermine the importance of what we say.

This minimisation strategy disturbingly correlates with attempts to de-politicise social work policy, practice and education. Have social workers been ‘dumbed-down’ to simply become agents of the state? This debate has continued for decades to a point where social workers are now regarded by some as agents of social control. Being politically and socially aware is essential to promote social work values and ethics – otherwise, surely, we are just automated robots.

To quote Black activist Guilaine Kinouani: “Any attempt at portraying [social work] (or any scholarly discipline) as an apolitical, decontexualisable and ‘neutral’ field of knowledge production which can operate outside of the realm of politics and ideology is not only ill-informed, it is naïve.” 

Does the automation of tasks that social work has become in some places stifle this type of critical and free thinking? I’d argue it does and that there has been a silent (but deliberate) shift to devoid social workers of their political nous and social activism.

I’m not talking party politics here, but all the local and national activities through which people make, preserve and amend the written and unwritten rules under which we all live. The activities associated with making decisions for groups, power relations between individuals and the distribution of resources or elevated status by central government.

From this perspective, politics is inextricably linked to the phenomena of conflict, cooperation, fairness, social justice and human rights.

It’s a bad state of affairs when those in power use the media to corrupt our societal world view, so that to be ‘woke’ or to ‘do-good’ is considered something to sneer at. Accusations of ‘virtue signalling’ and ‘victimhood’ do not evoke compassion or humanity, but provide an insightful measure of their sensibilities.

For those politicians of colour who deny ‘white privilege’ and denounce critical race theory, ‘Skin folk ain’t always kinfolk’ is an apt mantra from my upbringing.

Nowadays, I take the view that some white wolves exist in Black sheep’s clothing. Let’s be clear, these people are cleverly disguised gatekeepers and handlers. White supremacy is often more palatable when it is communicated by people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds. Of course, the incentives of money and power are enough to seduce most human beings regardless of their ethnic background.

I’m Black all year round not just for one month 

Black History Month (BHM) is not really a celebration of Black history. It’s more a filtered window of remembrance to pacify us. If those in power were serious about Black history, they would integrate it into all aspects of mainstream education. 

There is a very real danger of BHM, the BLM movement and anti-racism all being caricatured and side-tracked by the insidious multi-dimensional forces that exist to suffocate them. Namely, different manifestations of white supremacy and institutional ‘whiteness’. 

This is why we have ‘bigger fish to fry’ than Rule Britannia or whether Adele should have her hair in Bantu knots! Examples of this suffocation in social work include: racial harassment, gaslighting, and marginalisation. When white people attempt to police the dialogue and language of Black and ethnic minority people (based on what they view as palatable), this is how the ‘psychosis of whiteness‘ is socialised and teaches perceived entitlement and superiority over Black people. An example of this can be seen in the responses to rap music and Black culture.

Also, there are attempts to derail, discredit and devalue Black lives through social media, including through auto-generated ‘bots’ which is deeply sinister. The mission to educate, equip and empower hearts and minds on anti-racism has never felt more urgent in my lifetime.

The mainstream media and politicians think BLM is old news. However, since the resurgence of the BLM movement, BASW has been at the forefront of anti-racist social work activism. BASW England has championed anti-racism in social work on a scale unrivalled by any other organisation in the profession.

As an organisation, we also realise that we are not immune to the perils of white supremacy and institutional ‘whiteness’. However, BASW has shown a willingness to address and tackle these issues internally and in the profession more broadly.

Cringe position statements, feeble blogs and noteworthy silences

Since my last article in Community Care on promoting anti-racism in social work, there have been some decent position statements from some organisations and prominent social workers. However, there have also been some cringe statements, some nauseatingly feeble blogs and some noteworthy silences. 

Unfortunately, there remains a scarcity of cast-iron and explicit actions and/or commitments to anti-racism. Lightweight placatory comments like: “we are against racism and oppression in all its forms” is just not good enough anymore. Also, shamelessly flogging a blog from the only non-white staff member is a glaring attempt to tokenise the issues at hand. This is semi-skilful subterfuge to avoid addressing the real-life cause and effects of racism in social work. 

What message does this really convey?  Far from transformative, this approach is performative allyship or lacklustre window dressing at best.  You know it, I know it – we all know it. 

To quote Kinouani again: “When organisations perform anti-racism, it does not take long for the mask to fall… When performative committees are formed, they soon give themselves away. Justice is actually hard to fool.” Less fakery and more authenticity please.

Here is a reminder of the three typical organisational responses to racism that you might want to cross-reference with the white identities table by social work academic Gurnam Singh. How does your organisation match up?

  • Keep silent, keep things the same and hope all this Black Lives Matter (BLM) ‘stuff’ just blows over. This kind of inaction and paralysis of fear correlates with and reinforces perceptions of ‘white fragility’, ‘white privilege’ and white supremacy for some Black people. Such an organisational response usually commends staff for being resilient and deflects attention away from the essential redesign of systems that routinely make people suffer.

 

  • Publish lukewarm organisational statements that recycle and regurgitate previous rhetoric on workforce unity with predictable (and borderline offensive) platitudes – often proposing only superficial changes. For example, publishing a sympathetic, but non-committal brief statement; possibly delegating responsibilities to an already overworked equalities officer or proposing minor changes to already vague policies and procedures on ‘valuing diversity’ with little or no accountability. Approaches at this level are usually well-intended, but tokenistic and overlook the nuanced obstacles and pitfalls Black people face every day. Unfortunately, this response is common.

 

  • Publish an authentic anti-racism action plan, outlining significant reforms that commit to specific, measurable, achievable and realistic targets (suggestions below). Examples include publishing a strong mission or position statement condemning George Floyd’s murder and racism in all its forms and committing to the British Association of Social Workers’ code of ethics, anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-racist practice. This approach interlinks with the Anti-racist Commitment Framework. It sees white allies fully involved in challenging, deconstructing and dismantling racist systems in solidarity with Black people.

It is fantastic that Brighton & Hove Council are recruiting a lead practitioner for anti-racist practice on a permanent contract. My hope is that other social work employers will follow suit. At BASW England, we hope to work with employers to promote these types of innovations.

Equally fabulous news is that De Montfort University have developed a fully-funded PhD Studentship on BLM, which seems like a pioneering opportunity. Also, the progress being made on Frontline’s Racial Diversity & Inclusion Action Plan is encouraging. Social work organisations must build on this impetus and swiftly (and proactively) embed anti-racist strategies into how they operate.

BASW England are pleased to be working in partnership with the chief social workers for adults and various cross-sector stakeholders in developing the Workforce Racial Equality Standards for Social Care (WRES). The aspirations for the standards and interest from local authorities is promising. At this juncture, I’m unaware of any national provisions in the pipeline specifically for children’s services.

Dr Muna Abdi, a leading anti-racism educator, says: “The work of anti-racism is to fight racism wherever you see it… even in yourself. The struggle cannot be found in the pages of a book. You can’t read yourself into activism. Sooner or later, you’ll have to make a choice…  Do what is safe or do what is right.”

I will continue with my own activism. If my contributions remain that of a muzzled, side-lined agitator, on the fringes, throwing rocks at the throne – then I’ll just continue to be authentic and stay true to myself.

 I do not want to appear ungrateful, but I can live without the acclaim, the ‘likes’, ‘retweets’, plaudits etc. I want revolution! So, brothers, sisters and allies – if you know your herstory, if the ancestral spirits live within you, if you know right from wrong – then now is the time to show and prove yourself. What have you done to enforce anti-racism and promote Black liberation lately?

Let’s not forget the saying, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. The only real enemy of progress is ignorance and ‘wilful blindness’.

‘One world, one race… the human race!’

[This article was originally published by Professional Social Work magazine on 11/12/2020:https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/psw-magazine/psw-online/%E2%80%98when-you%E2%80%99re-accustomed-privilege-equality-feels-oppression%E2%80%99

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To make change, we must learn to listen

Donna Burkert portrait

Written by Donna Burkert

Primary school teacher living and working in Essex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Say My Name

Raisa Shaikh portrait

Written by Raisa Shaikh

English Teacher, Head of Key Stage Five English, Diversity and Inclusion Co-Chair

Despite it being an absolute classic (tune…banger…whatever else my students call it), this isn’t a piece about the Destiny’s Child song. 

It’s about how your name is the gateway to your identity. Think about it. 

Your name is the first thing you reveal to complete strangers in any scenario. Not only that, but it brings with it many layers including your heritage, family history, language and meaning. 

To learn a person’s name is to acknowledge and engage with who they are at the most basic level, with the hope of forging a strong, meaningful relationship as time goes on. I believe the exact same ethos applies within education whether it be fellow staff or students.

However, pre-Covid I was reminded that this is not always the case. 

This reminder came in the form of being put on last-minute cover (the joys) for a Year Nine English class. Once the students had settled in the classroom and were reading in silence, I began taking the register and read the name “Adua” out loud. The serene silence was broken by a flurry of hushed whispering amongst the students and after asking what the matter was, a boy raised his hand and said to me:

“It’s nothing bad Ma’am, just that it’s the first time someone’s gotten Adua’s name right”. 

He was seated next to Adua, who smiled at me in a way that read “Thank you, but can we also all stop looking at me right now”. I didn’t linger on it for much longer and mentioned to her that I’m glad I’d gotten it right, but it did make me think: 

  1. They’re in Year Nine, is this really the first time someone’s said her name correctly?
  2. Do others ask her before-hand how to pronounce her name? 
  3. Would she or any other student feel confident correcting a mispronunciation? 
  4. What’s the right way to even tell someone that they’ve mispronounced your name? 

A similar thing occurred when I found out that I’d been saying the names of one of my Year Eleven students incorrectly for a while without even realising. When I apologised to them, they said with a very dejected tone that it ‘didn’t matter’ and that I could ‘call them whatever’ I wanted because ‘nobody gets it right anyways so it’s just easier’.

Strangely, my attempt to comfort them came out as a loud “NO!”, followed by a rapid explanation in response to their raised eyebrows that names are important and that teachers need to get the basics right with their students. Upon further reflection, I also began thinking about growing up with my own name as a student and throughout my teaching career so far. From having a co-worker tell me that “Ray” would be much easier for them to say, to a university professor combining my name with a classmate’s name and addressing us both with that ‘new’ name multiple times, I realised that the gateway to my identity had not always been acknowledged. 

So why didn’t I say anything? 

In the past when I tried to correct people’s mispronunciations or misspellings, I would be met with a barrage of laughter followed with the all-too-familiar “It’s just a joke”, “Take a bit of banter”, “Stop being prissy” or was just ignored altogether. It became incredibly hard to say something only to be met with dismissal or the feeling that you were being the difficult, awkward one by drawing attention to yourself instead of just “getting on with it”.

This is not to say that those who repeatedly mispronounced or misspelled my name were automatically racist. Rather they displayed a sense of laziness, ignorance and a profound unwillingness to accept that their actions made another person feel devalued and invisible simply because it was not their “intention”. However, with the discussions and actions that are taking place amid the global outcry against injustice last year it is clear that a person’s intention does not automatically equal exoneration. There is no excuse anymore. 

Sometimes as teachers we forget how much power we actually have in the classroom and that our words and actions carry permanence. When it comes to pronouncing and spelling names of our students there is nothing wrong with taking the time to ask. Instead, it provides students with the agency to establish communication and assert their individuality from the outset.  

The exact same can be said of the workplace. Staff members deserve agency just as our students do and we can all afford to take that extra two minutes to make sure we get it right. Nobody should have their name morphed into something else by someone else and then be made to feel as though they have to capitulate to that person’s ignorance (regardless of intent), in order to avoid being labelled “difficult”. 

Your name is the gateway to your identity. 

Own it. 

Say it. 

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Reflections on My First Term as D&I Lead

Jami Edwards-Clarke portrait

Written by Jami Edwards-Clarke

Director of D&I at Hurstpierpoint College, Housemistress and PE Teacher

As I sit and reflect on my journey so far as Director of D&I at Hurst, I am overwhelmed with positivity, hope and joy. What has been achieved since March 2020, is something Hurst’s community should be extremely proud of. Every initiative has been fantastic and that’s down to our pupil platform. They have been the engine throughout this journey and the work they have put in to ensuring its success, is phenomenal. It’s evident that there has been a visible amount of real, meaningful and immensely valuable progress and I am so proud of what has been achieved. 

  

Upon returning to the college in September, the platform began arranging our first big event: Black History Month in October. As curricula still all too often erases Black existence and achievements in history, we wanted to encourage students to engage with this annual celebration as a starting point for learning outside the curriculum. We put up posters just about everywhere and kicked each week off with an email full of resources like books and films which could help students learn about Black history. 

 

The next date on our agenda was the UN Disability week in December, with the theme ‘not all disabilities are visible’. Students often receive little education about disability and how to treat people with disabilities. We started to change that, with daily emails containing videos or articles that we hoped would broaden people’s understanding of disability. A shout out to Luke Morris and Mrs Naumann for heading this up, the work you put into making this a success was superb. 

 

As well as celebrating such events, Hurst pupils have been inspired by several speakers. Outside speakers include polymath Sophie Cook, the first transgender woman to work in football’s Premier League; Abdi Omar, a motivational speaker and Youtuber who lives with cerebral palsy; and Siya Twani, who was imprisoned for speaking out against injustice in South Africa – to name but a few. Additionally, members of the D & I group have delivered assemblies to the Shell and Fifth form on the aspects of Diversity & Inclusion that the platform hopes to promote across the college. The D & I group also created a PowerPoint slideshow, like the assemblies, to be presented to Year 7 & 8 by the D & I pupil ambassadors in the Prep School – who’re equally as keen and motivated to enact change in the college as those in the senior school.  

 

We have not been deterred by lockdown either, with Teams Q&A sessions with figures like Harry Hitchens, an ex-Hurst pupil who is now a key figure in the fight to Ban Conversion Therapy in the UK, and Devin Ibanez, a USA rugby player who is openly gay despite the stigma which remains in the sport. In fact, one advantage of online talks has been that parents can tune in too: 57 families watched Jude Guiatamacchi’s talk on their experiences as a non-binary model and campaigner. These thought-provoking talks have been incredibly valuable in giving students, parents and staff an authentic and ‘real life’ perspective on such important topics. 

 

D& I’s weekly Friday lunchtime meetings continued remotely and have also provided the opportunity for more talks – this time by teachers within the school. Highlights include Miss Cave and Miss McNeill’s talk on mental health, and Mr Cuerden’s frank discussion of his experiences at the time of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Additionally, Mrs Watson-Saunders delivered a powerful speech during the staff inset on her experience of being a person of colour in the UK. This teacher engagement with D&I is incredibly exciting – HoDs have been encouraged to reflect on their department’s curriculum to make it more inclusive; the History department have done a talk reflecting on Black London, hosted by Olly Ayres, the Drama department is planning to put together an LGBTQ+ themed monologue and the Art department have had a Black Lives Matter focus; a sign of change across all levels of the school. 

 

D & I have also been looking for ways to engage not only pupils but also parents. That’s why we have teamed up with Hurst’s Climate Awareness Group to create the Engage for Change newsletter, a monthly newsletter, sent to all Hurst pupils and parents. It contains articles written on a broad range of issues, from pollution to body positivity – all written by Hurst pupils from Shell to UVIth under the direction of Ms Lewis, Mr Jordan and Mrs Edwards-Clarke. The newsletter includes think pieces, advice, and interviews with pupils, staff and parents. Look out for the third volume in your inbox next month!  

 

The READI group (Rainbow Education Alliance of Diverse Identities / Individuals), a subsection of D & I, also began meeting during a Monday lunchtime towards the end of the second Half of Michaelmas term. The aim of this sub-group was to provide a safe space to talk about the experience of being LGBTQ+. In the first meeting of the group, we introduced ourselves, with those who were confident talking about their experience of being LGBTQ+, something which allowed people to overcome barriers – if individuals thought they were previously alone in their experience of being LGBTQ+, they knew that this was no longer the case. Something that came from this group was conversation over ‘identity and gender’. This got us onto the development of a gender-neutral uniform for the college. This takes time to get right, and there have been numerous meetings with SLT and discussion groups between staff and students to ensure pupils feel heard. However, we still have a bit of work to do in this domain, as we do not want to rush this process. We want all voices heard and a plan that suits all. We are hoping for some changes to come into place for September 2021. 

 

Lastly, I think it would be completely outrageous if we didn’t talk about what we are celebrating throughout February, so far, I would say it has been our biggest success. Hurst has thrown itself into celebrating Pride History Month with a push from the pupil platform and our marketing team. Planning started in January, with guest speakers taking the stage (Teams) for whole school tutorials. These events saw up to 500 pupils all tuned in for very exciting Q&As. The month started with a Prep and Senior School wide video made by a range of staff and students responding to what ‘pride’ meant to them, and why it’s important we celebrate this month. It was fantastic to see the prep school speak alongside senior school – feeling like a true moment of community during online learning. The weekly emails sent out by the amazing Ms Lewis highlight a few media options for staff and students to engage with and this has been well received. There have also been some initiatives for students to get involved with, like an Art department creative challenge to produce a timeline of events in LGBTQ+ history. Additionally, we offered LGBTQ+-themed books to any students and staff who wanted to get involved, sharing their views after the half term in a book-club session and even a PHM Bake Off! The involvement is going well and hopefully we can make this an annual initiative. Something that I personally enjoyed was connecting with OJs ( some dating back to 1979!) on their own LGBTQ+ memories back when they were at the College. It’s safe to say, that the work we are doing presently, has brough much joy and it’s evident that huge progress has been made. I really do hope we can form a stronger bond on all things D&I in the future with our Hurst Foundation programme, as it’s all about creating a strong relationship of past and present to really encapsulate the ‘community’ feel.  

 

What has easily been the highlight of the month is the fantastic tutorial talks we have had. Speaking from a pupil, staff and parent point of view, the feedback and engagement has been first class. The range of experience and viewpoints from Jude (a transgender, non-binary activist and model), to Harry (a gay, male activist) to Sarah and Leah (professional athletes, competing for GB and Wales in hockey). The eloquence, respect and genuine interest the student-body has reinforced why it’s important we as a school engage in celebrating LGBTQ+ History month. We are really proud at Hurst to be taking such a lead in celebrating all things diversity and inclusion, and we appreciate the active support the parent-body has shown us this month. Something that has really resonated with me from all of the online CPD sessions and Q&A discussions is how effective having a positive presence of allies and role models. Typically, people get inspired to do something when they see others like them do it and I believe as educators we have a huge responsibility in supporting, guiding and listening to everybody as the individuals they are, both academically and pastorally. We also have a significant responsibility in challenging those who do hold adverse opinions. Standing up for respect and kindness is something I stand by and with our mantra #Be #Yourself at Hurst at the forefront of this initiative, I will continue to do my absolute best to make sure every pupil and member of staff feel that they can stay true to just that.  

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

Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections:

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

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

 

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Why Being a Sikh Woman is My Superpower

Gurjeevan Malhi portrait

Written by Gurjeevan Malhi

A Sikh female Head of Year who works at the forward thinking @OfficialNUSA

My Sikh heritage is my inner superpower, it makes me stand out from the crowd and educate those around me. I believe in ‘Seva’, the Sikh concept of selfless service. Sikhism is led by the teaching of Guru’s and the word ‘Guru’ translates into ‘teacher’. So it seems perfect that I work within education; my values align perfectly. 

I applied for a school in Nottingham completely by accident in my training year. I had no desire to leave Birmingham but I went to the interview for experience. I grew up in Smethwick, a very multi-ethnically diverse area; a place far from perfect but one of cultural comfort. When I got to my interview, I noticed that the pupil demographic was predominantly white working class; a world away from what I was used to, but I was intrigued. According to The Guardian, almost half of English schools have no BAME teachers and it’s easy to understand why. During the interview, I was the only person of colour. That can feel very isolating! However, I was privileged enough to get the job and I had a decision to make. I was away from home, didn’t know a soul but I wanted to risk it and accept the role. 

The first few months were difficult. Some parents were not as kind and pupils had limited understanding of culture. However, it wasn’t all uncomfortable; a favourite memory of my NQT year was a pupil tentatively asking me ’Miss, I don’t mean to be offensive, but do you like curry?’ The answer was and still is a resounding ‘YES!’ It made me think. 

Our sector’s very core aim is to educate and these pupils were curious about the world around them, albeit maybe fearful of offending. Fate transpired that by the end of my first year, an internal role came up for the Coordinator of PSHE. I didn’t have the experience, but I went for it. I used my life experience in the interview, took the risk and it paid off! 

I ended up sharing the role but it meant that I could evoke change. We did. We do every day and it’s made an impact to the community we serve. The pupils are more comfortable to ask questions and more importantly, are more prepared for life in Modern Britain. We cannot allow our young people around us to be unaware of multi-cultural Britain. 

We are overlooked yes, we have experienced dark days, yes but we are no victims. The reality is that we carry our culture on our backs, are expected to and whilst it’s tiring, we have to ensure we do. The work we put in now ensures the next generation have it a little easier. Whilst some of us may not feel comfortable with standing out, we’ve got to own that we do. 

As a woman, more specifically a Sikh one, it’s difficult to explain just how much we’re overlooked within the wonderful world of education but if you’ve experienced the same, my message is clear. You have value, you have life experiences that we educators can enrich our pupils with. 

I’m grateful that I have wonderful female role models to look up to and learn from. Find your advocates and don’t be afraid to stand out and accept that you’re a role model for your community. Stick to your vision and remember, lift those around you; empower them. You have power within you, use it. We rise by lifting others! 

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Anti-racism in Social Work: No More Questions – Just Actions Please

Wayne Reid portrait

Written by Wayne Reid

Professional Officer & Social Worker

A senior social work manager joked to me recently that I “was the only authority on anti-racism in social work”.  Although she was jesting, it did make me wonder what accountability and protections actually exist to support social workers of colour within the profession, given what we know about the omnipresence of racism. It didn’t take me very long to conclude – very little.

 

I write this article from my perspective, not on behalf of all Black and ethnic minority people or social workers – as we are not a homogenous group. I refuse to be the tokenistic ‘Black voice’ of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). I’ve had a diverse social work career and anti-racism is in all our interests. I’m one of many Black voices in the profession. It’s just my reality that my role at BASW enables me to be heard more broadly than others. Also, I realise that I’ve been ‘let in’ (to some extent) and ‘won’t scare the horses’, to quote the playwright and critic Bonnie Greer, in relation to the historian David Olusoga. I use Black and ethnic minority people here for ease.

 

Yes, social work is institutionally racist

 

Sensible people know racism is not just an isolated event or incident. It’s also a reflection of institutions, structures (including micro and macro socio-economic and socio-political factors) – which all interact with each other and shape the lived experiences of Black people. When will we accept that the philosophy of white supremacy runs deep in most organisational cultures? It really is not that hard to see.

 

Since my previous article on promoting anti-racism in social work, there has been some decent position statements from some organisations and prominent social workers. However, there have also been some cringe statements, some nauseatingly feeble blogs and some noteworthy silences. Unfortunately, there remains a scarcity of cast-iron and explicit actions and/or commitments to anti-racism.

 

Clearly, anti-racism in social work is not universally accepted as high importance or as urgently needed.

 

The response from the social work elite has been about as coherent, convincing and speedy as the government’s response to Covid-19, the A-Level fiasco and the Windrush scandal combined.”

However, the social work profession (like many others) is not broken. What we are experiencing and witnessing has been designed. If we truly want an equitable and inclusive profession that really encourages critical thinking, prioritises social justice and truly values diversity of service users and staff, then we need to reimagine new structures, new systems and new discourses. A paradigm shift! Anything else is just papering over gaping tectonic plates.

 

Yes, social work is institutionally racist – but so are many institutions, organisations and professions (not just the Police) when you consider Sir William MacPherson’s definition from the 1999 report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. There is evidently a “collective failure to provide an appropriate and professional service to social workers of colour based on their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. This is visible in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping” which disadvantage ethnic minority people.

This correlates with the over-representation of Black and ethnic minority social workers in fitness to practise cases; reports from the Social Workers Union of Black social workers being failed on their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) and various other detrimental career outcomes. Basically, the modern-day social work equivalent of lynching.

 

I observe many key social work leaders asking the same old tired questions, then promising another exploration of the long and gruelling wilderness we meandered through in previous decades. Just like another government enquiry into, well… take your pick! The ongoing Windrush scandal? Stephen Lawrence? Stop and search?! The tactics deployed by our oppressors generally involve seek and destroy; smokescreens and mirrors or deafening silence.

 

Is there an appetite for real change? 

 

The question is not: ‘Is social work racist?’ More incisive questions are: ‘As racism in society becomes more overt, what is social work actively doing to promote anti-racism?’ Or, ‘When will social work commit to (something like) a mandatory anti-racism commitment framework?’ With respect, in my previous article, I literally outlined a blueprint for large-scale anti-racist organisational change. I feel like I’ve done the class bully’s homework and then still taken a bashing on my way home. My ideas are not perfect (by any stretch of the imagination), but your homework is done for you, nonetheless.

 

We must now ask, whether there is really the appetite for real change? Is there the actual commitment, intention and motivation? Because if not, why not? Financial investment is not necessarily a major hurdle here – it comes down to the priorities and values of the existing leadership. I’d rather have some meaningful action, even if it is not perfect, as long as it is genuine – rather than this neverending paralysis of fear and/or indifference. Let’s have more clarity about what your change looks like and the timescales for implementation.  If not, it’s all just performative window-dressing and pitiful. No more questions – just meaningful actions please.

 

Disappointingly, neither Social Work England’s education and training standards for 2019 or 2021 nor the professional standards for social workers explicitly refer to anti-discriminatory (ADP)anti-oppressive (AOP) or anti-racist practice. The professional standards refer to “challenging the impact of disadvantage and discrimination, promoting social justice and helping to confront and resolve issues of inequality and inclusion”.

 

But is that really explicit enough? How can social workers be properly educated and held to account on promoting basic human rights for marginalised groups with the bar so low? Or is this just not a priority for us anymore? Social justice in this context feels like another catch-all to me – like BAME or EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion). Without explicit inclusion of these principles how can we ensure they are applied in policy, practice and education?  Simple answer?  We cannot.  Why is this no longer important?

 

There is a long history of ADP, AOP and anti-racist principles being intrinsic to social work values and ethics. The legal backdrop and framework is built on the Human Rights Act 1998, Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Equality Act 2010. Therefore, it’s almost incomprehensible in my mind that these hard-fought principles are omitted from today’s regulatory standards and supplementary guidance.

 

Regressive social work standards

 

The previous social work standards, regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), were stronger, expecting practitioners to “be able to practice in a non-discriminatory manner” and “use practice to challenge and address the impact of discrimination, disadvantage and oppression”. Prior to that, the General Social Care Council’s (GSCC) codes of practice required employers to “put into place and implement policies and procedures to deal with dangerous, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour and practice” and social workers to use “established processes and procedures to challenge and report dangerous, abusive, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour and practice”.

 

Therefore, the current social work standards are regressive and do nothing to advance the principles set out by their predecessors – despite the desperate and obvious necessity. Many believe these principles are now diluted and de-prioritised beyond the point of complacency.  Similar concerns have been raised by the chief social worker for children and families, with regards to the teaching of anti-oppressive practice in social work education.

 

Social Work England’s professional standards do acknowledge the impact of “difference and discrimination” on service users, but what about how these factors impact on minority groups of social workers?  There has been a silent shift to sweep the protected characteristics under the carpet of ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ (EDI); which we know masks individuality – much in the same way as ‘BAME’ does to Black and ethnic minority groups. It conveniently rolls off the tongue – but subtly dehumanises and ‘others’ us.

 

The importance of incorporating these values and ethics was highlighted by BASW England in our response to Social Work England’s (SWE) consultations on rules and standards in April and June 2019 (prior to Social Work England’s inception). Unfortunately, our recommendations were not included. Reminders were issued to Social Work England (via Twitter) on 17/06/20 and 23/06/20. As of yet, there has been no response. I refer to these facts to underline the importance of these fundamental principles and how their omission in social work regulation is a travesty of social justice in itself. Without explicit inclusion, how else can social work educators and workers be properly educated and held accountable on ADP, AOP and anti-racism?  There are real concerns about the standards being superficial, cold-hearted, corporate benchmarks, as opposed to empirical and evolutionary cornerstones of social work that advance human rights and social justice.

 

“I still find it astounding that social workers are so heavily regulated and that their employers are not.”

The Local Government Association’s (LGA) employer standards, are not mandatory and insufficient accountability exists  A few other equality frameworks and ‘innovations’ exist or are in the pipeline, but again the big questions are: Are they mandatory and enforceable? Do they apply to all social work employers? Do they explicitly embed ADP, AOP and anti-racism in social work policy, practice and education? Not as far as I can see. So, the provisions all seem very piecemeal and one-sided to me and rather oppressive for all – especially Black and ethnic minority social workers.

 

Do Social Work England and the chief social workers support the idea of the LGA’s employment standards becoming mandatory and universal? We know from BASW campaignsresearch and our ongoing discussions with members that the working conditions for social workers remain diabolical in many organisations. However, there is little evidence of this being taken into account and appropriate action taken against employers (when necessary) as part of fitness to practise cases.

 

No more questions – just actions 

 

Community Care has reported that Black and ethnic minority social workers are “over-represented in fitness to practise cases [and] adjudication hearings are disproportionately white compared to the profession”. This evidence needs to be categorised and scrutinised in the context of social work employers (public, private and third sectors).  Also, these conclusions are not new. The GSCC and HCPC have historically reported on this too. So, what efforts have been made to address these longstanding issues of poor working conditions and inequality? Again, how much of a priority is it? Why are we continuously asking the same old questions?  No more questions – just actions please.

 

As reported in another Community Care article, how much of a priority is given to employing ethnically diverse workforces and senior leaders? I think most Black and ethnic minority professionals (and their allies) would be keen to know what is actually being done to reverse these trends.

 

Since George’s Floyd’s killing and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, BASW has been at the forefront of anti-racist social work activism. BASW England has championed anti-racism in social work on a scale unrivalled by any other organisation within the profession. Our activities have involved: the publication of numerous articles (1234 & 5); incisive and timely position statements (1 & 2); a campaign to change the racist imagery on the KCMG medal; establishing the Black & Ethnic Minority Professionals Symposium; developing the Black & Ethnic Minority Social Workers Anthology (working title); several podcasts (1 & 2) and webinars (1 & 2); a response to the minister for equalities’ report on the disparate impact of Covid-19 on Black and ethnic minority communities and presentations on anti-racism in social work (specifically designed for social work organisations) across England (and internationally).

 

The KCMG campaign is ongoing. We have received an acknowledgement from Buckingham Palace and our letter has been redirected to the Cabinet office. However, in a bizarre twist, the original tweet (which went viral) has now been deleted from Twitter. We have asked Twitter to explain this, but no response has been forthcoming. We know silence on racism is complicity with the oppressors. I think silence can also be construed as blatant racism in some scenarios. It seems when our oppressors choose not to attack us, the wall of silence is their other favoured tactic. Open dialogue has remained a prominent source of conflict resolution for good reason – it works! It helps to positively undermine any covert or overt power imbalance.

 

BASW England will continue to educate, equip and empower social workers of colour and allies. As an organisation, we realise that we are not immune to the perils of white supremacy and ‘whiteness’. However, BASW has shown a willingness to address and tackle these issues internally and within the profession more broadly. We will consider all anti-racist proposals from partnership organisations and specialist collaborators that will potentially benefit social work.  I like the idea of an Office for Minority Heath, as proposed by Professor Dinesh Bhugra, to promote proper accountability and ensure people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds have their holistic health (and social care) needs considered.

 

You can’t read yourself into activism

 

Anti-racism in social work risks being perceived as radical activism or anarchic ideology. Our social leaders must reverse this flawed belief system. I live in hope that social work policy, practice and education will now begin to properly recognise and reflect that ‘race’ is a socially constructed idea with no scientific validity – invented and refined principally to oppress Black people.

 

Race remains an unstable concept because it is superficially based on physical appearance. When race was constructed people knew very little about DNA, genetics and human origins. It is an outdated colonial invention that still permeates modern society. Intellectually and morally, as a profession and as a society, we must see beyond what was pre-determined for us centuries ago.

 

So, if society is built on plantations of racism, still celebrates racist history and traditions and reminds us daily of the inescapability of white supremacy, it’s not enough for social workers (and social work organisations) to be ‘colour-blind’ or ‘non-racist’.”

We must be PROACTIVELY anti-racist – otherwise anything else is just tiresome lip-service. If anti-racism in social work does not exist for social workers, can it ever truly exist for service users? Anti-racism is absolutely integral to social work, so when will it be given the credence it deserves? Without standing up for our defining values and ethics, what is to stop us succumbing to the pervasive and pernicious post-modern sleaze?

 

“The work of anti-racism is to fight racism wherever you see it… even in yourself.  The struggle cannot be found in the pages of a book. You can’t read yourself into activism. Sooner or later, you’ll have to make a choice…  Do what is safe or do what is right.” (Dr Muna Abdi).

 

Ultimately, if my destiny is to try and fail, then I can live with that. I’d rather die trying, thanks. Otherwise, how can I look my kids in the face or even look myself in the mirror? My scruples dictate that I must do what I know to be right (personally and professionally). My only wish is that more people did the same. I do not want to appear ungrateful, but I can live without the acclaim, the ‘likes’, ‘retweets’, plaudits etc. I want revolution!  So, brothers, sisters and allies – if you know your herstory, if the ancestral spirits live within you, if you know right from wrong – then now is the time to show and prove yourself – RISE UP!  What have you done to enforce anti-racism and promote black liberation lately?

 

Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”.  The only real enemy of progress is ignorance and ‘wilful blindness’.  Social justice must prevail.

 

‘One world, one race… the human race!’

 

[This article was originally published by Community Care on 16/12/2020: https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2020/12/16/anti-racism-social-work-questions-just-actions-please/

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Bringing a Diverse Curriculum to Life Through Human Stories

Rahul Karavadra portrait

Written by Rahul Karavadra

Engagement manager at Lyfta, and has been working in the education sector for a number of years. His background is in Philosophy with a Masters degree in Global Citizenship, Identities and Human Rights.

We recently had the pleasure of taking part in the Big Virtual Conversation III as part of the series of #DiverseEd events organised by Diverse Educators, organised by the brilliant duo, Hannah Wilson and Bennie Kara. The session was a chance for us to hear from a range of amazing speakers in the diverse education sphere, including from our own Rahul Karavadra, Engagement Manager at Lyfta.  The key themes of Rahul’s session, about bringing a diverse curriculum to life through human stories, are outlined in this blog.

Growing up, I was always on the edge of my seat when family members told stories of their lives in Uganda and Kenya, and what it was like living in the 70s and 80s as first generation migrants. Hearing their stories allowed me to see them as multifaceted individuals, with passions and interests of which I was previously unaware. 

As I grew up, this inquisitiveness developed into an urge to find out more about people from other communities and cultures. This eventually led me to do a masters degree in Global Citizenship, Identities and Human Rights, specialising in diaspora identity construction in relation to host nation experiences and long-distance nationalism. In essence, I was, and still am, trying to understand how my human story is shaped, influenced and connected to the stories of others.

And as a species, we have always been drawn to stories – from paintings on cave walls to the blockbusters we see on our screens.

If we look at western Africa, we can see how important human stories were to society through the ‘griot’; the repositories of oral traditions and history. People would tell their stories to the griot and it was their responsibility to remember them, and recount them to others, passing down lessons that could be retold and learnt from. It was said that when a griot passed away, it was like a library had been burnt down – that’s how important they were.

In this age of postmodern globalism, where identities are negotiated and stretched across permeable borders and interconnected histories, it’s important that a diverse range of stories are told. 

It is through the acquiring and exchange of cultural capital that the division between self and the ‘other’ can be dissolved. We are then able to build bridges and lay the foundations of understanding and empathy, as well as an awareness of connectivity, both on a micro and a macro level  – ‘we are each others environment’.

As educators, we find ourselves in a similar role to that of the griot – but with ever more relevance.  We are responsible for sharing human stories and perspectives from all across the world, and these stories have become more urgent for us to tell. In the past few years alone, we have seen a rise in neo-nationalism, xenophobia and global temperatures, not to mention the physical and mental scarring of Brexit, the death of George Floyd and more recently the storming of the Capitol in the USA.

We must remember to harness the power of humanity for the common good, and human stories allow us to do just this.

At Lyfta, we capture human stories in the form of short documentaries. These are presented through immersive and interactive 360° spaces where teachers and students can experience new perspectives and build vital skills and values. At a time when school trips are on pause, and the ability to travel and have close human interactions are severely restricted, Lyfta invites students to explore the world from the comfort of school or home, and meet the likes of Qwensley in the Caribbean, Kootyin in Hong Kong or Enaney in Ethiopia.

Teaching and learning through human stories can be a useful and powerful way to ensure that students have experiences of the world as part of their entitlement to cultural capital. Lyfta can be used as a tool to develop an understanding of the protected characteristics, and show how equality and diversity can be promoted and reflected within our schools. 

We have seen that teaching through immersive human stories can bring a depth, breadth and meaning to complex concepts for children, moving learning from information to knowledge. 

Our vision at Lyfta is that by the time a child completes their education, they will have visited every country in the world and will have met at least one person from each of these countries; experienced different cultures, different languages, different jobs, roles and perspectives. They will have seen, and formed a connection with hundreds of positive human stories that model resilience, problem-solving, teamwork, and many other critical skills, values and competencies. They will be able to understand for themselves how interconnected and interdependent we are, and will have gained a deep awareness of their power and role in the world.

You can watch the Diverse Curriculum panel session in full here.

If you would like to explore using the human stories on the Lyfta platform as part of your diverse curriculum, please sign up to our training here. State schools in the UK can enjoy free training and access to the full platform and resources for 12 weeks of term time.

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