Temi Akindele portrait

Written by Temi Akindele Barker

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Accessibility: having access to a diverse and inclusive community; 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Follow us for updates about this initiative and our partners:

Twitter: @inclusion_labs

Instagram: inclusionlabs

Linkedin: Inclusion Labs

#InclusionLabs #DecadeOfDiversity 

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