“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Corinna Richards portrait

Written by Corinna Richards

An avid crocheter, who also happens to teach, train and lead.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

— Andrew Grant.

Whether Oscar Wilde or Will Rogers said it first, isn’t for this purpose particularly important. What any student or teacher with a facial disfigurement will tell you, is that it’s true. And the experience of that is hugely important. It’s always been true, but in our “beauty bias” society, looking different – whatever that difference may be, is a big deal. Having a facial or ‘visible difference’ can be excruciating. Our physical appearance matters in first impressions. I’m not saying it should, but from my experience it does. 

I blog about this from two perspectives. Firstly, as a person with a congenital facial disfigurement who works in Education and secondly as an EdD student. I’ve just turned 50, and “back in the day” plastic surgery wasn’t as developed as it is now. I had my first plastic, corrective surgery at the age of 11, so I spent my primary school years looking very different. My skull fused together in the womb prematurely which caused my eyes to be extremely wide set and for my nose to be virtually flat with two small nostrils. You can imagine…

However, like everyone, I’ve adapted, over-compensated and fought my way back. I always wanted to teach and that’s what I’ve always done. Apart from three terms in suburbia I’ve always taught in inner city London and only once did I have any issues regarding my face from a pupil. I loved and still do, the diversity of the inner-city, the children were remarkably accepting of my appearance, we were all shapes and sizes together, the issue of ‘normal’ just never seemed too prevalent. The same couldn’t be said for the parents! The suspicion of my appearance was always there, in some heated exchanges a name regarding my appearance would slip out (yawn… I’ve never heard that one before…) and I’ve even had some parents ask my secretary what is wrong with my face!  (One of the many reasons I prefer children to adults!) 

But last year, I had a bit of a shock. 

I am in the third of year of EdD at UEL and I am studying the lived experience of Imposter Phenomenon in Teacher Educators. It’s really interesting, but it wasn’t my first choice. Initially, I wanted to study IP in teachers with visible differences. I couldn’t find any. I didn’t know any. I didn’t know any teachers with facial burns, or severe acne, or disfiguring birthmarks or craniosynostosis… statistically they must exist (I am for one)… but where are they? I then thought about all the pupils I have taught over nearly 30 years… lots of differences, but when did I teach a child who was like me? I don’t think I have. Where are these children and where are the teachers?

Recently, in an updated version of Malory Towers, a young actor, Beth Bradfield, with a visible difference joined the cast, but how often do we see actors with facial burns or scars? Possibly in James Bond, but then of course, only as the villain. I attended my first DEI event last weekend, it was brilliant. Representation matters. Yes, it does. So how do I help other people like me have the courage to stand in front of groups of people and teach. I spent decades of my life trying to hide my face. I was desperate to make my visible difference invisible. It seems like I might not be the only one. 

For more information visit: 

‘Changing Faces’:

www.changingfaces.org.uk 

The Katie Piper Foundation: www.katiepiperfoundation.org.uk

Headlines:

www.headlines.org.uk

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The Words We Choose, the Words We Use

Chris Richards portrait

Written by Chris Richards

MEd in Applied Linguistics and currently works as a Teacher Mentor in Madrid

This year, the blogs I’ve written as part of the #MonthlyWritingChallenge have often explored the etymology of the theme chosen. Language and linguistics is my field and I suppose I am interested in exploring where the words we use come from and how they change. 

Although my pedagogical roots lie in a (now demolished) secondary school classroom in Birmingham, I now teach English as a foreign language in Madrid. Appropriacy is a key concept in language teaching. Appropriacy is about ‘whether a word is suitable for the context it is being used in. It is an important aspect of language but an extremely complex one, as decisions about how to say things depend on understanding exactly what is right for the context and the culture’ (British Council). Just knowing the spelling, pronunciation, meaning and morphology (how the word changes according to tense or person) isn’t enough; you need to know the context(s) in which you can use the word. Think about the contexts in which you might use the following range of greetings: ‘Good morning’, ‘Hello’, ‘Hi’, ‘Hey’, ‘Alright?’ and perhaps you use a few more. They’re not interchangeable and this is appropriacy. New speakers of a language have to learn more than the vocabulary and the grammar, they also have to learn when and where and with whom words can be used. What does this mean for native speakers, though? The challenge for us is that like every other aspect of language (spelling, pronunciation, meaning, to name but three), appropriacy is always changing. And we need to keep up. Complaints about language change are commonplace: common across historical time and across languages. “Why can’t we say X anymore?”or “I hate that people say Y now, that word always sounds hateful to me”. Such comments make me think about the story of King Canute commanding that the tide stop. Language change is normal.

Conceptual baggage is another important concept to consider. Conceptual baggage is the associations we have with words and such baggage varies from person to person. As a result, effective communication takes account of these potential associations and when we are speaking formally, or with strangers, we probably avoid potentially problematic, colloquial terms in order to reduce the chance of causing offence. A perfect example is the word “queer”. To some people, it’s an inclusive term that they embrace; for others, especially those who have been on the receiving end of its use as a derogatory term, it retains its power to hurt. The words we choose to use depend on context. Appropriate words in a situation vary across historical time (common words becoming slurs, slurs being reclaimed and embraced) and they vary according to the audience (the words you use with your mum are different to the words you use with your friends, your boss, your students, and so on). 

It’s often said that all teachers are teachers of literacy and it follows that all of us are teachers of language. We all have a role to play in showing our students that language is not fixed, but shifting, and its use is contextual. This is not about being Orwellian language police, proscribing terms without explanation. This is about providing an explanation and explaining the importance of context. Take the example of swear words: there are adults who don’t use them, but many do and children hear them being used. Simply telling children that they shouldn’t swear is likely to be ineffective. However, explaining that adults do swear in certain contexts but not in others is more likely to have the desired effect. If we want young people to use language effectively and with empathy, they need to be taught the rules. The rules of appropriacy are as important as spelling and grammar: why one word is considered offensive and why another is considered a more polite and appropriate alternative.

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Diversifying the Curriculum, A Perspective

Diana Ohene-Darko portrait

Written by Diana Ohene-Darko

Assistant Head, Pinner Park Primary School; Interim Deputy Headteacher, Holy Trinity Primary School, Finchley; Senior Consultant, Educating for Equality.

Currently, I work in a large London primary school as an Assistant Headteacher. I  am a champion for, and have worked extensively on, equality education and  children’s rights. We are in a great time of momentum in advocating for racial justice  in education. I want to see a curriculum that reflects all the children and families we  serve so that there is an inherent sense of identity and belonging. 

Introduction 

This article aims to shed light on the current situation with regard to race relations in  education and diversifying the curriculum. Is diversifying it enough? Considering key  documents and events, the article outlines what can be done in order for  diversification of the curriculum to take place, or even before it takes place. I offer a  perspective on celebrating and appreciating the pupils and staff we serve, rather  than ‘tolerating’ each other. In essence, diversity needs to go mainstream. 

In May 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered, and the world was watching. His  death sparked a global movement for change, not just for equality but also for equity  of outcomes for Black people and people of colour—the global majority1

In the UK, over 92% of Headteachers are White (DfE, 2021) serving a nationally  diverse population. Before even thinking about diversifying, or indeed decolonising  the curriculum, there has to be groundwork done in so far as personal reflection for  unconscious bias across educational institutions as a whole and for practitioners  individually. Time, hard work and commitment are needed to address issues of bias  towards the global ethnic majority here in the UK, other disadvantaged groups and  those belonging to protected characteristics. Race relations are at a pivotal point in  education. Addressing biases is vital to ensuring at least a reasonable understanding  of, and appreciation for, all people—and it is about time. By addressing unconscious  biases and diversifying the curriculum, education can create a culture of belonging  where each individual is celebrated for who they are, rather than being tolerated. 

A call for change 

It is not enough to say that there are ‘negative calls for decolonising the curriculum’  (Sewell, 2021). No longer can racism be tolerated. No longer can discrimination go  unnoticed. No longer can micro-aggressions go unchallenged. Protected  characteristics are protected for a reason- they safeguard who we are, our very core  of being. Being protected by law carries weight and should be upheld. 

How will each child leave school better than when they came? What ‘suitcase’ of  learning will they leave with, having spent years in education, ready to travel the  world with? How does a child of faith feel represented in the curriculum, for  example? What about those from a disadvantaged background? A one-parent  family? Those with same-sex parents? How does the curriculum seek to represent  the broader population of Britain in all its glory of cultures, ethnicities, traditions,  languages and families? Where do children belong? How do educational settings  foster a sense of belonging that sees children and young people feel completely at  home and at peace with who they are to erase the question of, ‘Where are you  from?’ Or worse in response to ‘I was born here’, ‘No but where are you really from?’ In order to demonstrate that we, as practitioners value our learners, the curriculum  needs to be ‘truly national’ (Alexander et al. 2015). 

The current picture

Some schemes have already sought to address the issue of wider representation,  such as the Jigsaw PSHE scheme (2021) and the Discovery RE (2021) programme. In their provision, they offer examples of different families and scenarios that are  inclusive of wider society. Some schools are already making headway by creating  their own learning journeys for children and young people. They offer urban  adventure curricula, for example, and use the new [EYFS] reforms as a basis by  which to advance already good practice with a specific focus on what exactly they  want children to experience and achieve in order that they become well-rounded  individuals, including talking about race. One example of this is Julien Grenier’s  extensive work on curricular goals which see children learning to sew a stitch, ride a  balance bike and bake a bread roll in Nursery. All aspirational, real-life outcomes for  children, no matter their race, background or socio-economic class. On the face of it,  there seems no link to race. However, by setting the bar high for all children at the  same time, education is, in fact, providing an equality-first experience for our young  ones where no learner is left behind. 

Consideration of history 

The National Curriculum of 1999 (Key Stages One and Two) sought to allow, 

schools to meet the individual learning needs of pupils and to develop a  distinctive character and ethos rooted in their local communities,’ (1999, pp.12). 

Then came the (Primary) National Curriculum of 2014 which called for a curriculum  that was ‘balanced and broadly based’ (2013, pp.5) promoting the development of  the whole child and where teachers were to ‘take account of their duties’ (pp.8)  where protected characteristics were concerned. The difficulty is, there are so many  unconscious biases at play that even before a diverse curriculum can be devised,  attitudes and unconscious biases must be addressed in the first instance as part of  initial teacher-training and as part of the wider continuing professional development  provision in schools. 

The murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993 sparked a national debate around  race and the impact of structural and institutional racism here in the UK, namely in  the police force. As part of its findings, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (1999), stated that education should value cultural diversity and prevent racism ‘in order  better to reflect the needs of a diverse society’ (Macpherson Report, 1999 pp. 382). 

With a curriculum that spans British history across both primary and secondary phases, the representation of a generation of Commonwealth workers, including the  Windrush generation, who came to help re-build our country post war is barely, if at  all, represented. The ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum is one of a vastly colonial view,  rather than the narratives of those enslaved as well as those who enslaved others.  The same is true for the British rule in India and the impact for Indian citizens and the  thousands of soldiers of colour from the Commonwealth who fought for Britain in the  Second World War. There is gross under-representation of people of colour and their  significant contribution to the British Empire as a whole. 

Bringing education into the 21st century 

More than twenty-eight years on from Stephen Lawrence and with the brutal murder  of George Floyd on 25th May 2020, there is now widespread debate in education  once again about the curriculum on offer and how to diversify it. But is diversifying it enough? It seems that colonial attitudes need to be addressed perhaps before  diversifying the curriculum. Tackling unconscious (or even conscious) bias, white  privilege, micro-aggressions and direct racism may come to be more effective, in  other words, decolonising attitudes before decolonising the curriculum. 

In the book, ‘I Belong Here, A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain’, the author writes openly about belonging and the ‘deep loneliness and isolation that can affect  mental health’ without that sense of belonging (Sethi, 2021). This is in reflective  reference to a racist attack she suffered in public as well as countless micro aggressions. Deeply engrained and entrenched racist attitudes need to be  challenged. Micro-aggressions need to be challenged. Why? Because it is the right  thing to do. The book weaves a narrative that calls for the work needed to be done in  order to address micro-aggressions and the wider, long-lasting impact these have on  those individuals who suffer them. Equality is everybody’s responsibility. 

Imagine how children feel when they do not see themselves reflected in the  curriculum- in books and resources, in texts and images, in the learning. There is a deep cavity indeed for children and families of colour. Despite being a global ethnic  majority, their experience of the curriculum is all too often white Eurocentric; more  specifically that of white, middle-class men, ‘male, pale and stale voices that need to  be banished’ (Sperring, 2020 pp. 3). 

In order to foster a deep sense of belonging in children, the curriculum needs to  address issues of race, in the first instance, as well as other protected characteristics  more widely. We are living in a multi-national society with a vast array of languages,  cultures and traditions. Even in areas of which can possibly be described as mono ethnic, there still needs to be a national educational commitment to addressing the  racial discord that currently exists. Difference should be both appreciated and  celebrated. It is not enough to simply ‘tolerate’ other faiths, traditions, beliefs,  cultures, customs or backgrounds. Tolerance is such a low bar. 

The Black Curriculum Report (Arday,2021) highlights the drawbacks of the current  curriculum, more specifically the history curriculum, which distinctly omits Black  history, ‘in favour of a dominant White, Eurocentric curriculum, one that fails to reflect  our multi-ethnic and broadly diverse society.’ (pp.4). It goes further to make several  recommendations, in more detail than the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, for  example:  

conventions of Britishness will always require reconceptualising to  incorporate all of our histories and stories. Our curriculum requires an  acknowledgement of the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity that comprises  the tapestry of the British landscape and the varying identities associated  within this.’ (pp.5) 

What it calls for is an evaluation of the curriculum to include Black history in order  that there be, ‘greater social cohesion and acceptance of racial and ethnic difference’ (pp.4). 

By offering a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum that is tailored to the demographics of  the school population, you are reinforcing a deep sense of identity and belonging.  Children and young people will feel seen, valued and understood for who they are, not just as individuals, but as a part of their communities. How empowering for our  children and young people of today!

Rather than continuing the old-fashioned approach of British history, we should be  teaching children and young people to be critical thinkers, to assess and appraise  the evidence and different perspectives so that they can come to their own  conclusions. No longer is it adequate enough to have diversity days or Black history  month; to teach just one perspective. People of colour do not just exist for one day or  one month of the year. There are countless scientists, historians and academics of  colour who have made huge contributions to society as we know it. For example,  although Thomas Edison may have invented the lightbulb as we know it, Lewis H.  Latimer made a considerable contribution towards this. However, in those days it  was rare for a person of colour to be attributed with such distinguished achievement.  Another example is Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, known for her  environmental activism in Kenya, ‘It’s the little things that citizens do. That’s what will  make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.’ (Wilson, 2018). Where are they  in the national curriculum? 

In the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, ‘national’ is defined as ‘connected with a  particular nation; shared by a whole nation’ (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary). If  education seeks to indeed connect the nation, and if it wants education to be a  shared experience as a nation, then there is more work to be done. Diversity needs  to go mainstream. 

Young people need to know that who they are makes a difference. Not who they are  because of an out-of-date system that continues to advance the privileged few,  rather, who they are without the labels that are thrust upon them. They are not their  labels. They are ‘humxns’2(Ricketts, 2021) who make a valid and significant  contribution every day. Diversifying the curriculum should reflect this. Decolonising  attitudes is the right thing to do- creating safe spaces to open up dialogue, offering long-term quality staff training, enriching the curriculum with a broader representation  of different communities, making equality training mandatory for initial teacher  training.  

Data from the Department of Education shows that 92.7 per cent of headteachers  and 89.7 per cent of deputy and assistant headteachers in the UK are white (DfE,  

2 Humxn is the gender-neutral term for human. Urban Dictionary: humxn (2021) Urban Dictionar. Available at:  https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=humxn. 2021). These figures show that all-white leadership teams run the majority of schools  in the country, which is not necessarily reflective of the communities they serve, or  even our nation as a whole. 

More needs to be done to actively recruit and retain professionals from ethnically  diverse groups. For example, anonymising applications for name, age, gender and  university to name a few categories; randomising responses to scenario questions  and eliminating the personal statement response so that colleagues can show what  they would do as opposed to what they have done, thereby showing their potential  against their experience and expertise, skills and qualifications. 

Conclusion 

These are just a few starting points. Essentially, good, quality equality work means  hard work. It means making the uncomfortable comfortable. It means braving being  vulnerable. It means addressing racism head on so that attitudes can change, as  well as behaviours. ‘In this world there is room for everyone’ (Chaplin, 1940). Children should leave with a rich tapestry woven from learning and experiences that  celebrate who they are, that give them every chance of further success in life, that  elevate them in their sense of self-worth and identity. When a child asks, ‘Where do I  belong?’ you can confidently say, ‘Here.’

References 

Alexander, C., Weekes-Bernard, D., & Chatterji, J. (2015) History Lessons: Teaching  Diversity in and through the History National Curriculum. London: Runnymede Trust.  http://www.runnymedetrust. org/ uploads/History%20Lessons%20-%20Teaching%20  Diversity%20In%20and%20Through%20 the%20  

History%20National%20Curriculum.pdf. 

Arday, J. (2021) The Black Curriculum, Black British History in the National  Curriculum Report 2021. pp.4-5. 

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator speech, taken from the film, The Great Dictator  (1940) available at: https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/29-the-final-speech from-the-great-dictator 

Department for Education (2013) The National Curriculum in England: Framework  Document. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/  

uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/ file/210969/NC_framework_document_- _FINAL.pdf (pp.5, pp.8)  

Department for Education data available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/workforce-diversity/school-teacher workforce/latest 

Discovery RE Scheme Of Work | Discovery RE (2021) Discovery Scheme of Work.  Available at: https://discoveryschemeofwork.com/ (Accessed: 16 September 2021). Primary and Secondary PSHE lessons fulfilling RSE | Jigsaw PSHE Ltd (2021)  Jigsaw PSHE. Available at: https://www.jigsawpshe.com/ (Accessed: 15 September  2021). 

Macpherson Report (1999), as part of The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry available at:  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attach ment_data/file/277111/4262.pdf pp.382 

Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, ‘National’ definition, available at:  

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/national_1?q=national

Ricketts, R. (2021) DO BETTER, SPIRITUAL ACTIVISM for Fighting and Healing  from WHITE SUPREMACY 

Sethi, A (2021) I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain.  Bloomsbury, London. ISBN 9781472983930. 

Sewell, T. (2021) Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report, can be  found at:  

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attach ment_data/file/974507/20210331_-_CRED_Report_-_FINAL_-_Web_Accessible.pdf 

Sperring, K. (2020) Decolonising the curriculum: male, pale and stale voices that  need to be banished. Available at: https://uclpimedia.com/online/lets-banish-the hierarchy-topped-by-male-pale-and-stale-voices-and-decolonise-the-curriculum 

The Equality Act 2010 guidance, can be found at: 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance 

The National Curriculum 1999 available at:  

http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/pdfs/1999-nc-primary-handbook.pdf.  pp. 10, pp.12. 

Wilson, J. (2018) Young, Gifted and Black. Wide Eyed Editions. ISBN978-1-78603- 983-5.

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One Year Later: Lessons Learned from a Whole School Approach to Decolonising the Curriculum

Terra Glowach portrait

Written by Terra Glowach

Lead Practitioner for literacy and decolonising the curriculum at Cathedral Schools Trust in Bristol

After a year of working with teachers across the curriculum to decolonise, I’d like to pass on some key lessons for new EDI Leads, Curriculum Leads, Lead Practitioners and anyone trying to do similar work in schools. 

Here are my top 10. Some of these I got right first try; others I learned the hard way. Hope it helps. 

  1. General reading on the topic of anti-racism, decolonising, and education will give you the knowledge and confidence to have critical discussions, and wider frameworks for doing anti-racism work in schools will give you an idea of where to start. But the impactful work starts when you look at your specific school cohort, the data on ethnicity, outcomes and behaviour, and qualitative data on the experiences of Black and Asian staff and students. Know the specific and concrete issues in your institution. For my school, the issues were a lack of Black representation in the curriculum, the teaching staff, and in top sets. You can’t get people on board unless you can present the problem in cold hard numbers, and show that it’s in their immediate context.
  2. Seek out local academics who are working on decolonising and race equality within the Education faculty of your nearest universities first, and those passionate enough to work with schools even if they are not in the Education faculty. Teachers are disciplinary experts, researchers, community workers and curriculum designers, but rarely recognised as such. Organising discussions between subject leads and academics working in the same discipline to tackle what decolonising looks like in their subject gives teachers this recognition. Academics have often done their decades in school teaching, and can bring fresh research and challenging ideas to the table. Teachers, in turn, get to practice criticality in the face of research and work out what approach would work best for them in their context. My first go at providing readings for decolonising Maths didn’t stick because it necessitated the addition of history content which the teachers felt was forced. But Prof Alf Coles pointed out that decolonised pedagogy was a powerful way to both respect students’ ways of knowing and improve attainment. Get the experts in!
  3. Disrupt the school culture and curriculum by centering voices which have been previously marginalised. For example, I got Somali students to teach Somali to their teachers, and prepared form time materials, a whole-school assembly and a scheme of work on Somali contributions to UK communities and literature. Show people that the status quo can shift, and take the blinders off. You have to model decolonising work and show how it creates belonging, a more informed curriculum narrative, and a sense of excitement and discovery – THEN start getting people on board for work across the curriculum..
  4. If you are white, find the Black and Asian staff in school and the academics and practitioners out in the local community who have been doing this work longer than you and with a far better idea of how and why it should work. Put them forward for the opportunities and pay that you are offered but which they deserve, and watch them knock the dust off your school. 
  5. Model what colonial frameworks and lenses look like in textbooks and in practice – have discussions about the limitations of these, how they position the global majority and the Global South, and the way they reproduce racial hierarchies. So for History, Science or Geography, is the seizure of land from indigineous peoples, the extraction of natural resources and the pollution of their land, air and water presented as an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of competitive capitalism and the discovery doctrine? Do you look at what established, indigenous science and resource management achieved and how this was exploited? Do you consider what fair trade and sustainable, mutual development might have looked like? 
  6. Do form-time focus group and questionnaire research with the students so you promote discussion and give space for students to feed in anonymously. Use the collated data – like the percentage of students who want more Black representation – and powerful anecdotes from students as stimulus for planning. Go back to students with these plans , and check back after a term or a year to ask them how your school is doing. So often we ask for student voice and don’t keep students in the loop. Why not make them your associates?
  7. Staff need reading and training on how to talk about race, and how to structure and deliver a curriculum that empowers rather than silences, humiliates and traumatises. Just like students, they need to see this modelled in their own discipline (not just yours). 
  8. Students at my school said effective discussion facilitation was key to challenging racist ideas in their curriculum and providing a safe space for people to explore and develop more informed opinions without ego or defensiveness getting in the way. If oracy and explorative discussion isn’t explicitly taught in your school’s classrooms, this may seriously hamper your progress. 
  9. Show off and celebrate the work teachers have done to decolonise the curriculum in your school on a public forum. Think newspaper article, conference, festival, exhibition, trust-wide INSET day. They are leaders and change agents, and deserve recognition. It will also inspire the people waiting in the wings to join in and make a difference.
  10. You will soon realise that you have only scratched the surface, and that school priorities may change with the news cycle. This is unglamorous, thankless, difficult and ground-up work that has been going on for centuries. You are not a pioneer. Find and maintain your network – you will need each other.

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The Importance of Empathy

Rebecca Ferdinand portrait

Written by Rebecca Ferdinand

Marketing manager at Lyfta. She has a BSc in Psychology from Durham and has worked for a range of organisations including the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

Empathy is one of the fundamental values underpinning our work at Lyfta. In this blog we discuss the scientific evidence for empathy, and talk about how we can nurture it in ourselves and in the children we teach.

This blog first appeared on Lyfta.com. Lyfta is a partner organisation and supporter of DiverseEd.

At a time of continued global disruption and isolation, the importance of being able to have empathetic connections with others – to feel with them and care about their wellbeing – will be critical to ensuring that we build workplaces and societies that can thrive into the future. The children of today all have the potential to build a more peaceful and sustainable world, and empowering them with a strong sense of empathy will enable them to navigate this challenge with sensitivity and compassion.

“Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” Barack Obama

But what is empathy? Some confuse empathy (feeling with someone) with sympathy (feeling sorry for someone), but Dr Brené Brown does a good job of explaining this and highlighting Dr Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy: the ability to perceive others’ feelings, to not stand in judgement of those feelings, recognising or imagining the other person’s emotions, and communicating this effectively. When we connect empathetically, we have better relationships, we become better co-workers and managers, but more importantly, we become more compassionate people – and compassion is vital to a sustainable and humane future.

“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone’.” Dr Brené Brown

Over the past two decades, the evidence that human beings are wired for empathy and social cooperation has grown considerably. Neuroscientists have identified areas of the brain that, if damaged or compromised, can affect our ability to identify and understand others’ feelings. Psychologists have shown that children as young as 18 months are capable of attributing mental states to other people. But empathy is not a fixed ability. Evidence suggests that we can continue to develop our capacity for understanding others throughout our lives, but busy lifestyles and our tendency to surround ourselves with people who look and think like us, mean that we are not often encouraged to take a moment to connect with others. So how can we actively become more understanding, and nurture this ability in the children we teach? Here are four ways we can develop empathy in ourselves and in others:

  1. Be curious.  We increase our capacity for empathy when we interact with people outside of our usual social circle, and encounter lives and world-views very different from our own. You could actively seek out new perspectives by seeking out people on social media who you wouldn’t usually follow, or, if you’re brave enough, making the effort to start up meaningful conversations with any new people you encounter day-to-day. 

Research has shown that reading fiction helps people to improve their ability to understand others. Try to seek out stories from as wide a range of perspectives as possible for both yourself and the children you teach. Of course, Lyfta can help you bring real human stories from around the world into your classroom. 

  1. Challenge your prejudices. We all make assumptions about people, and often these are completely unconscious. These might be based around gender, age or racial stereotypes that prevent us from appreciating each person’s individuality. Our biases can seriously hinder our ability to become more empathetic, but acknowledging and challenging them is the first step toward becoming a more understanding person. You can learn more about your biases by taking an unconscious bias test, and tackle them by attending diversity, equity and inclusion workshops or discussions such as those run by the #DiverseEd community.

In the classroom, you could open up discussions on the nature of stereotyping and prejudice, and ensure that you expose your students to people, places and stories that defy widely held expectations. Lyfta gives you access to real immersive human stories from around the world, helping you to start conversations that might otherwise be difficult to initiate during lessons.

  1. Listen (and be vulnerable). Being an empathetic conversationalist means listening actively. Try to be completely present to the feelings that a person is communicating in their conversation with you. Whether it’s a quick chat with a colleague, or a catch-up with an old friend, do all you can to understand their emotional state and needs. You can model active listening with the children you teach by making sure you give them your full attention during one-on-one conversations, and by reflecting and repeating back what you think they may be feeling to make sure you fully understand.

It isn’t enough to just listen, however. Being vulnerable and revealing our honest thoughts and feelings to others is vital to the creation of strong empathic relationships with both adults and children.

  1. Take action. Volunteering can be a great way to experience other lives first hand, create real change, and model empathy to students you teach. You can also encourage your students to join (or set up) clubs at school, such as environmental or equalities clubs, or to take action in response to local issues such as going on a litter pick, or organising donations to a food bank in your area.

“Empathy has always been important. Through empathy we understand and support others; it helps us build trusted relationships and our own peace of mind. Building on the strong foundations developed by its founders, Lyfta, and the approach that it nurtures, helps teachers and students raise their awareness of what is going on around us, of other people’s lives and of the wider world. Such awareness is probably more important now than ever before – at school, at work, and in life. I am glad to have experienced and grateful for Lyfta’s contribution to raising awareness, thinking of others, and developing skills appropriate to learning development; to strengthening of empathy; and to building the capability of all students.” Gavin Dykes, Director of the Education World Forum

Nurturing empathy is one of Lyfta’s fundamental aims. We believe that empathy is the first, and possibly most important, step to building a more compassionate, sustainable and equitable world. Our real immersive human stories provide a powerful way to foster empathetic understanding by giving students access to a wide and diverse range of global perspectives, challenging their misconceptions, and motivating action. 

Join a free webinar to find out more about using Lyfta’s impactful stories in the classroom, and access a free trial of the platform.

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Improving Support for LGBT+ Young People in Schools and Colleges

STEP logo

Written by STEP Study

The Schools Training to Enhance support for LGBT+ young People (STEP) study, funded by the TRIUMPH network, is being co-led by a research team at the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, young people, and the Mosaic LGBT+ Young Persons Trust.

For many LGBT+ young people, school can be a place of growth—a “home away from home”—or an environment just as bad as the alternatives.

Bullying and peer victimisation experiences such as violence, anti-LGBT+ language, exclusion, and pressures to conform are all more common for LGBT+ students. These experiences adversely affect mental health and well-being, such as a sense of belonging, feelings of physical and psychological safety, and access to support. These things contribute to higher levels of problems such as depression, poor body image, self-harm, substance misuse as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviours among young people who identify as LGBT+.

Teachers and other staff who create more accepting environments can break this cycle. To support LGBT+ students, it is important that they understand LGBT+ issues and how being LGBT+ might affect students; and stand up for them and actively challenge bullying and discrimination, to create more accepting environments and help prevent mental health issues.

The Schools Training to Enhance support for LGBT+ young People (STEP) study, funded by the TRIUMPH network, is being co-led by a research team at the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, young people, and the Mosaic LGBT+ Young Persons Trust. We are working together to:

  • Identify what training is already available to school/college staff
  • Understand what makes it easier or more difficult for schools to access training, and to find ways to support uptake for different schools/colleges.
  • Improve training for secondary schools/colleges to better support LGBT+ pupils, focusing on what young people and staff think is important for school/college staff to know.

We want to ensure that our work is intersectional. We are learning more about how schools and colleges can better support the well-being of all young LGBT+ people. This includes minoritised racial and ethnic groups and faith communities, young people from low-income families, as well as young people living in rural and coastal areas. 

So far, we have conducted interviews and focus groups with training providers in the UK to learn more about what their training covers, how it’s developed and links to student mental health. Through these conversations, we have started to identify barriers that schools face in taking up and implementing training to support LGBTQ+ students.

Next, young researchers will lead group discussions with pupils (aged 13-19 years) and school staff to identify what they think is important for school staff to know.

We will then hold two creative workshops, both co-led by young researchers and including:

  1. Students aged 13-19 years: to identify and design potential improvements to existing training.
  2. School/college staff and people who run teacher training courses: to design ways to increase training uptake by schools.

We will use our findings to recommend changes to schools training, and to plan a larger research project to test out these improvements in terms of their impact on young people’s mental health.

Get involved in the STEP study

We are currently recruiting i) young people (aged 13-19), ii) school staff and iii) providers of training to schools on LGBT+ issues to take part in an interview or focus group, and/or a creative workshop co-led by young researchers. Please get in touch if you would like to get involved and feel free to share with anyone who may be interested.

We would particularly like to hear from you if any of the following apply:

  • You identify as LGBT+
  • You identify as Black African, Black Caribbean, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, from a mixed or any other racial or ethnic background 
  • You are a person of faith
  • You live in a rural or coastal area

 

Why is the STEP study important to young people?

Juliet, student and young adult researcher in the STEP study coproduction team

“I think this project is really important to young LGBTQ+ people, because when we get together as a community, we see that there are huge school to school and regional differences, in how topics like relationships and sex education are addressed. And that this also influences young people’s obviously mental health and coming out journeys, or many of them struggling with their sexuality. A good school versus a bad school, can mean the difference between getting into a good university versus, and having a good job, versus not being very successful in life.”

Further information

To get involved in the project or for more information visit: http://www.stepstudy.co.uk/

You can also e-mail: steps@kcl.ac.uk

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheStepStudy or Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestepstudy/

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#DiverseEd’s Top 10 Blogs of 2020-21

Diverse Educators Logo

Written by DiverseEd

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Reflections on the Edurio EDI Summit

Iona Jackson portrait

Written by Iona Jackson

Iona has 10 years of experience providing data, insights and research projects across several industries. Now heading up Edurio’s research team, comprising of education and survey specialists. Iona leads on turning Edurio’s national datasets into useful and impactful insights for trust and school leaders.

On June 21st, my colleagues and I hosted the Edurio EDI Summit, a day dedicated to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion within schools. Throughout the day we had guest speakers sharing their experiences in school as people with a range of protected characteristics, ran masterclass sessions with experts in equality, diversity and inclusion, and launched the first report from Edurio’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Review. 

Among our guest speakers was Amy Ferguson, a female, lesbian, Black school leader, who explained her experiences at the intersection of multiple protected characteristics. We also heard from Abed Ahmed, a Muslim teacher with a stutter. We learned from Abed about the challenges of interviews when fluent speech is a challenge, and how the “usual” model of interviewing could be limiting the talent pool by assessing people on attributes that don’t dictate how well a person is able to teach young people. 

The masterclass sessions covered topics from diversity to religion. Mandy Coalter encouraged attendees to understand the context using both individual stories and data when building action plans. We heard from David Hermitt about the changing role religion plays in the lives of White British/Irish children, and how that compares to their BAME peers. In another session, Jerrel Jackson talked about problems with labels, both the ones assigned to us by others and the ones we assign ourselves. We wrapped up the day with a close look at intersectionality, with Hannah Wilson (Diverse Educators) and Angie Browne. The session shone a light on the challenges that come from thinking about people based on one characteristic they may have, as humans are made up of a number of characteristics and experiences. 

The event also featured the launch of our report, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Among School Staff. It’s the first of many reports from our EDI Review, the largest dataset on EDI issues within English schools. 16,500 school staff took part from 380 schools in England, discussing their experiences relating to recruitment, on-the-job issues of equality, diversity and inclusion, and opportunities to advance within their school or trust. We found that, overall, staff felt that their workplace was committed to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. Four in Five staff said they felt their workplace was ‘quite’ or ‘very committed’. However, there were material differences among how staff with certain protected characteristics experienced their time in schools. 

The first report offers an overview of some key learnings across the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Review. But it is just the start – in the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing deep dives into particular protected characteristic groups, and looking into particular areas of the school experience in more detail. As our data set grows, our representation of smaller or more marginalised groups will continue to grow, and we will be able to provide a voice to people who have struggled to have their views heard. I’m excited about what is to come as we continue on this long journey towards creating equal, diverse, and inclusive workplaces in education. 

Edurio is a survey platform for schools to quickly and easy gather feedback from staff, parents and pupils. Our EDI Review is one of a number of surveys created by Edurio in partnership with education researchers and practitioners. To find out more, or book a consultation, head to home.edurio.com 

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Telling it Like it is: Decolonisation is Not Diversity

Tre Ventour portrait

Written by Tre Ventour

Northamptonian writer-poet, educator and curator, whose work has often revolved around arts, Black history and issues of race and social justice.

Previously published in Northampton Chronicle [edited]

Since the Murder of George Floyd, there has been renewed interest in Education to decolonise the curriculum, but I have so often seen this term decolonisation lumped with Diversity and Inclusion [D&I]. 

Movements to decolonise curricula have been around for years but progress has been little. To put more Black and Brown authors on course reading lists is simply diversity. And as Sofia Akel writes, “diversity can still exist within this western bias.” D&I and decolonisation are not the same. Academic Kavita Bhanot states that “the concept of diversity only exists if there is an assumed neutral point from which ‘others’ are ‘diverse.’” So, in responding to the Black Lives Matter movement, diversity can only exist in proximity to White people because diversity is “the new corporatized version of multiculturalism” and what we should be exploring is decolonial thought. 

In order to understand decolonisation, we must look at colonialism, specifically how it was more than the brutalisation of a set of peoples and cultures. It also includes intellectual genocides through knowledge production (i.e the erasure of African history), or if you want the jargon, epistemic violence. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, so epistemicide is in reference to a violence committed through knowledge. This combined with the codification of White western European thought into our structures, very much a by-product of colonial epistemologies, is what we are living with today. Meaning these codifications have also centralised White western experiences and ways of thinking/acting as the universal norm, with Dr. Shona Hunter describing Whiteness as “the ethos of the impulse to govern. … it is not just that whiteness is sameness. It is the generalizing universalizing impulse, the impulse to have power over life, the ultimate controlling impulse.”

 Sofia Akel also says “decolonisation typically refers to the withdrawal of political, military and governmental rule of a colonised land by its invaders. Decolonising education, however, is often understood as the process in which we rethink, reframe and reconstruct the curricula and research that preserve the Europe-centred, colonial lens.” So, this is something undiscussed in just putting ‘diverse authors’ on reading lists. Prof. Gurminder Bhambra and colleagues believe decolonisation should provoke a change in our thinking about the world – where racism, empire and colonialism are placed at the centre and positioned as objects around which our present world is shaped. 

During the Labour Party’s Black History Month debate in October, the term decolonisation was contested by members of The Government. Bhambra and colleagues think that “one of the key challenges that decolonising approaches have presented to Eurocentric forms of knowledge is an insistence on positionality and plurality.” This means the conflicting different stances that can be taken in relation to arguments about decolonial thought. One such example could be to look at how colonialism is discussed in geographies situated in the Global South compared to the Global North(west). On a personal note, to me decolonising the curriculum could begin with looking at what epistemic violence looks like in STEM subjects. We could start by interrogating our very language in relation to Whiteness, (terms like East and West) and how the words and terms we use are vital to how we relate to our identities, communities and each other. 

Since the 2020 anti-racism resurgence, there’s been much debate about White privilege, a notion that has a long history in print with work having been done by thinkers, including WEB DuBois, Kalwant Bhopal, Peggy McIntosh, Theodore W. Allen, and more famously in the mainstream with Reni Eddo-Lodge. In our want to decolonise, it would be of value to also critique Whiteness, especially by looking at the work of Black and Brown authors, since Whiteness is often better critiqued from those outside of it. If we look at the current colonised curriculum as a symptom of White supremacy, we might be able to change our thinking beyond individuals. Just as Charles Mills writes, “unlike the currently more fashionable “white privilege” white supremacy implies the existence of a system that not only privileges whites but is run by whites for white benefit.”

So, when we think about decolonisation, we must the consider language. So, here we begin to see that D&I and decolonisation are different, and it’s often infuriating to see them lumped together. In admitting school, FE college and university curricula are colonised, we must then see how our education system is complicit in White supremacy. The Murder of George Floyd was a wakeup call for many. Movements to decolonise the curriculum have been around for decades and this is simply the latest chapter in a much longer, subtler history. Decolonise, not diversify, and with universities as well, in the tiger’s mouth of Coronavirus and students being fed a colonised curriculum in the White academy, you really have to ask, what exactly are students paying for?

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How Can We Create a Curriculum that is Inclusive of Queer Theory?

George Hayward portrait

Written by George Hayward

(he/him), English Teacher in East London, LGBTQ+ Advocate.

During my time as a student, I often felt a lack of inclusivity in the curriculum I was studying. Reading great classics and beloved page turners such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies, I found myself wondering why none of these stories were about people like me. When I reached university, I discovered Queer Theory and I was mindblown. Not only were there stories about people like me, but there were academics studying and rereading the texts I grew up with and held dear through a lens of queer understanding. One such text was Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I had the opportunity to study these readings during my time at university, so when the opportunity arose to deliver a lecture on it at my school in East London, I was overjoyed. While planning the session, I drew upon the essays and research I had from my undergraduate degree, revisiting the work of prominent theorists such as Elaine Showalter, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick and Michel Focault. The most extensive in relation to Jekyll and Hyde being Showalter’s paper Dr Jekyll’s closet

 

Queer Theory aims in principle to challenge heteronormativity: the assumption that heterosexuality is the default state of being. It digs into the structures of understanding within art, literature and society and dismantles them. This is an important area of theory as it provides visibility. It allows students of all backgrounds and identities to see themselves in the curriculum they study. It shows them that they are seen and that different people exist. There is a lot of talk about ‘acceptance’ of LGBTQ+ peoples and while acceptance is a great first step, what we need is celebration and understanding. The teaching of Queer Theory and narratives provides this understanding and promotes the celebration of all our students and their identities. It promotes a culture of inclusive allyship and support, where students, staff and their families from all walks of life can lift each other up and be their true authentic selves. All our students deserve to feel they are lifted up in a space where they are safe and important.

 

The session was received well by staff and students alike. I was able to offer the session twice, firstly to the staff of the English department and secondly to our year 10 students. Staff were engaged with the topic and felt that Queer Theory provides another framework of understanding to utilise in our classrooms. It provides another tool in our analysis toolbox to dig deep into language and encourage our students to be critical thinkers. Similarly, students in my year 10 class that attended the session found the subject refreshing and interesting. I found that while Queer Theory and readings may seem oblique to some, students and staff alike were able to engage with the topic and take away some food for thought. The opportunity to deliver the session was incredibly fulfilling for me on a personal level and it is my true belief that the teaching of these theoretical frameworks is of benefit to every student. I believe it is crucial to foster this culture of inclusivity and celebration for all our learners and I hope that Queer Theory will be a valuable step on this journey. 

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