Meghan and Harry show young people how to speak their truth and the rest of us that we need to listen with compassion

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

Wellbeing and education coach. She is founder of a new digital platform for students, www.schoolshouldbe.com and www.zenworkhub.com supporting professionals with their wellbeing.

In years to come, I’m pretty sure Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry will feature on the curriculum in some way: history lessons on the monarchy; English lessons on the impact of digital media; Psychology lessons on trauma; PSHE lessons on familial relationships. At the moment, especially in light of Piers Morgan’s resignation from Good Morning Britain, ‘freedom of speech’ is again up for debate, probably the biggest debate on the matter since Trump was removed from Facebook and Twitter. It’s uncomfortable, yes. But, I see it as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to positively engage with the Teacher’s Professional Standard regarding the expression of personal beliefs. By speaking their truth, their lived experience, Meghan and Harry have shown young people that we can have personal, uncomfortable conversations around race, equity and the status quo with grace and integrity. And, if I was still in the classroom, I would see it as the best environment to teach young people how to have these personal discussions with dignity, compassion and empathy. 

 

After watching the interview a few Mondays ago, I went to bed thinking, how brave and how graceful. I had listened with compassion, empathy and welcomed what seems to be a turning point in the expression of lived experiences and truth. Tuesday morning, I turned on the news, and it felt like I’d watched a completely different version to the journalists before me. In many ways that’s a good thing, opinions differ and that’s how we learn.  However, a rising and ongoing problem with social and digital media is a lack of knowledge around how to manage a discussion. I’d like to think the majority of people know how to frame an ethical, written response whether that be in the form of a tweet, comment or direct message. But the overwhelming rise of keyboard warriors, online bullying and trolling is doing more to polarise our society than unite. What’s worse is that students are surrounded by it 24/7 on their phones, iPads and on the TV – more often than not without context or an understanding of how to think about it. Unfortunately, Facebook and Twitter have yet to introduce some form of workable regulation to prevent the rise of anxiety, fear and mental health (we all know they can do more and should do more). Until they do, I think school and the classroom are the best place to nurture an environment where students can have these open, uncomfortable conversations in a safe and equitable environment. 

 

How do we do this? How can teachers have uncomfortable conversations around race, equity and truth in the classroom? 

 

Looking back on my time as a South Asian, Muslim, female head of department, leader, teacher, manager, mother, daughter, sister, I always shared my identity in an honest way, to give my students perspective and context. I shared stories and my viewpoints framed by who I am and my lived experience. This then gave my students the confidence, the model to share their own truth. Modelling is key here, and dissecting Meghan’s approach (ever an English teacher!) to sharing her truth is a lesson in how to share your truth with context, integrity and reason. 

 

Managing those stories and lived experiences is a challenging and scary responsibility for a teacher. The amount of times I ended a lesson, heart racing, from the classroom worried about a parent calling, a colleague challenging my approach on discussion is insurmountable! Equally, I walked away fulfilled. I’d created a safe space that gave students the confidence to share, challenge, agree and disagree with one another. Did it always end well? No, of course not! But it always, eventually ended with respect. That doesn’t happen on Facebook, and I’m not sure it can. If we integrate compassion, listening and equity into our school ethos and classroom culture – just like Oprah! – we can absolutely have moral, ethical and difficult conversations around race, status and the world to make learning that little bit more purposeful. 

 

What is there to discuss? 

 

Meghan and Harry made it abundantly clear on the differences between the institution and the family, and I came away from the interview thinking how multifaceted the dynamics of the Royal Family are – as a job and as a family member. This is a discussion I would love to have in the classroom. 

 

The differences in British and American culture shined through Meghan and Harry. Meghan quite rightly spoke about the change in environment, politics, her identity as a career woman almost changed over time. Harry said meeting Meghan helped him realise he was trapped in a system. Discussing these issues with compassion and empathy can teach young people so much more about ‘real life’ than any careers lesson. 

 

Is it ok for a white man to so out rightly defame a woman of colour? Or maybe people in class don’t think he was defaming at all? What is there to learn and unlearn here? Use the works of Rachel Cargle, Dr Shona and even Edward Said to start a conversation. 

 

With all of these topics, it’s important to teach students that we are all entitled to an opinion, but not one of hate and plain nastiness. The presence of compassion in discussion is quite possibly what marks a successful and valuable conversation. 

 

Will we, as professionals, make mistakes? Of course! Will we come across barriers at school? Absolutely. Should that silence or limit the space for these conversations? No. If the dynamics between digital media, TV, the Royal family and Meghan and Harry’s transparent honesty have taught us anything, it’s that we need to share our lived experiences. More importantly, we need to work together to create a global community that enables them. And, I think the classroom is the best place to start. 

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Gender is “wibbly-wobbly” and “timey-wimey”, and gloriously so

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

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

David Tennant’s regeneration of the Doctor, in exploring the conceptual complexity of time, explained to Sally Sparrow in 2007’s ‘Blink’, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.”

 

As the father of two transgender young adults, and a school leader of two decades who has worked with and supported hundreds of children and young people questioning, openly or indirectly, their gender or sexuality, I have increasingly learned that gender identity and expression, sex and sexuality, are no less “wibbly-wobbly” or “timey-wimey”. Indeed, the more we back them into a binary backwater, the less we will understand, respect and celebrate the rich diversity of the Genderbread Person who makes us who we were, who we are and who we will be.

 

My youngest child, Jack – born AFAB in 2001, identifying as queer when adolescence first hit, as dysphoric shortly afterwards, and as transgender when the adolescent rollercoaster was well underway – at 19, now counts his trans identity as but a tiny fraction of who he is. To him, he is an artist first and foremost; a gay man; a recipe non-conforming chef; and many other identities besides, like all of us. But just as he happens to be a trans male, he obstinately and understandably ticked “Male” as his sex on the recent UK census, even though his first gender reassignment surgery is still a couple of months away.

 

My eldest child, however, born AMAB in 2000, has recently come out publicly as trans-feminine non-binary, and, about a year previously, as “obnoxiously bisexual”. In doing so, she has embarked on a journey both of discovery and also of worn, lived and breathed gender identity and expression. She is as uncertain about her precise route and destination as she is certain both of her pronouns (she/her, or, at a push, they/them) and also of her name, Phoebe. With her bravery has grown yet further my awe and humility, and, with her wisdom, so also my desire to learn, and to continue learning.

 

Just as Jack has now acquired the toxicity of male privilege and the pungency of male bathrooms, so has Phoebe gained (bizarrely conditional) access to misogyny, gender inequality and an increasingly unsafe society. Both are emerging into an adult world whose hostile environment permits so many of those who know nothing and represent no one to speak loudest and most hatefully. Much as I love both my children unconditionally (what is conditional love, after all, but something hateful dressed in love’s robes?) and beyond words (even though, as an English graduate and teacher, and wannabe writer, words are my thing!), I fear for their futures.

 

As a result, I want to do everything in my power, heaping every ‘Teaspoon of Change’ and feverishly flying Maathai’s ‘hummingbird’, to help reshape our world, one which they have the bravery and beauty, but not the obligation, to transform, into a nurturing and safe space: for Jack, for Phoebe, and for every transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming child, young person and adult in this rainbow realm.

 

In a few days, I will be delivering a presentation at ECIS’ “Diversity and Belonging” Leadership Conference 2021, entitled, “A Principal’s Journey: what I learned about inclusive school leadership from my transgender son”. The abstract argues that, “to identify as LGBTQ+ whilst studying at an international school can present a unique set of challenges, rendering the student especially vulnerable to mental ill health, poor wellbeing and disrupted learning”.

 

And I will aim candidly to share my experience as the proud father of a gay, transgender child, and how it has taught me to be a truly inclusive leader. But, in reality, this is Jack’s story, and it needs to be told. I am not a religious person (Jack and I both entered “Dudeism” on that very same census!), but Phoebe and Jack are miracles; and miracles deserve to be shared, as far and wide as possible. If I could reach the Doctor’s next regeneration, I feel confident they would share it wherever the Tardis can travel.

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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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Antisemitism Today

Frederick Naftel portrait

Written by Freddy Naftel

Speaker, teacher and lecturer at Holocaust Enrichment Education.

My Mother and Grandparents were refugees from Nazi Germany, my Great-Grandmother spent several years in a concentration camp and survived, my Great Aunt and Uncle both perished in Auschwitz and I have been the victim of antisemitism both at school and in my professional career as a teacher. I have experienced prejudice indirectly, whether through ignorance or genuine hatred and yet very little appears to have been done to improve matters.

Prejudice and Racism in any form is totally abhorrent and prevents society from accepting that all people are equal, regardless of their colour, creed, disability or sexual orientation. The words “Islamophobia” and “Homophobia” are by now well known but “Judeophobia” less so. Why hasn’t this expression appeared in the media alongside the aforementioned words? In any case, “phobia” means a fear of something, not necessarily hatred, even though fear stems from ignorance which can then lead to prejudice.

It is fair to say that antisemitism is thought of as a “Jewish problem” and therefore can only be fully understood and dealt with by people of that faith, which of course should not be the case.  I have noticed far too often that antisemitism is pushed under the carpet and that the fault lies with Jews themselves, as if they deserve it. There are those who believe that The Holocaust was something just waiting to happen and that Jews brought it upon themselves. Others have said that Hitler failed to achieve his aim and that six million wasn’t enough. Holocaust denial has continued to grow despite overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary and conspiracy theories have doubled in recent years. The Jews have been blamed for everything including 9/11, Brexit, the Grenfell Tower tragedy and now Coronavirus and when members of a certain political party reinforced these views, antisemitism became even more prevalent.

With views like these and with little chance of the media coming to our defence, as antisemitism is not generally seen as an issue commensurate with anti-Islam or even anti-gay propaganda, we are constantly relying on organisations such as Campaign Against Antisemitism to speak up for us, often with successful results. Antisemitism is now found in academic circles, particularly at universities, where Jewish students have been made to feel unwelcome and where some lecturers have actively engaged in antisemitic rants, with the authorities seemingly unwilling to act accordingly.

This is why for the past 10 years, I have been visiting schools up and down the country, delivering presentations on Judaism, The Holocaust and Antisemitism from a very personal point of view. By necessity, I have continued delivering my talks virtually, reaching the USA and Australia in the last few months. The lack of knowledge about the true facts of The Holocaust and Antisemitism have been a revelation for many students, despite the mandatory study of this period of history in schools. It is no use skimming over the surface where this is concerned and in fact, there can never be enough Holocaust education. Many of us who study and teach about this cataclysmic event are in agreement that nothing should be hidden from young people. This is especially important when we have seen similar events occuring in countries as diverse as Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Roumania and North Korea. We are now seeing the “re-education” of Uighur Muslims in Chinese concentration camps and even the Jewish way of life is threatened in China.

The way I see it, young people are our main hope and their reactions to some of the stories I relate express shock, outrage and a willingness to speak out. Students have told me that they agree that education is the way forward and they are beginning to understand that centuries of hatred have made us that much more determined to stamp down on this scourge of society.

Unfortunately, some schools believe that having a Holocaust survivor come into school once a year is sufficient enrichment for the study of The Holocaust, in effect sidestepping the growing problem of contemporary worldwide antisemitism. Yes, we should remember the experiences of those people who survived unimaginable horrors but The Holocaust itself did not necessarily teach us the right way forward, as exhibited by the actions of the aforementioned countries.

We must never forget what happened and we should do all we can to fight prejudice as a uniform body.

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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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An African Teacher’s Experience of a British Classroom

Chinwe Njoku portrait

Written by Chinwe Njoku

Qualified teaching professional with a background in Engineering. I have written three books related to the education space (Good Morning Year 11, Raising an ‘A’ Student and From Diapers to Doctorate Dollar-Free).

Try teaching as an African teacher in a non-African country to a mix of students from various backgrounds as different as the colours of a chameleon! This is true hard work! All your paradigms of how children should (not) behave are upended and challenged. Sometimes completely obliterated, you wonder why you lived by those beliefs in the first place. Either culture clash or languages blended.

For example, a student from one of the most popular Asian countries that can also be ‘black’, joins in about halfway through the year and it soon became clear that she and her family must have recently migrated to the UK.

Because, at the start of the next lesson, she walked over to my desk where I was sat and greeted me, “Good morning, Teacher”.

I did not know how to respond as it took me by surprise. Without making eye contact, I just said, “You don’t need to greet me like that every lesson”. I felt embarrassed. Thank God I’m brown skinned or I would have turned red.

Next lesson, I made sure I was at the door welcoming students in to avoid the intense attention of being called Teacher, which I am but dang, just call me “Miss” or “Dr Njoku” like the others. 

Second example. A fellow African student was revising after school for her upcoming exams in my classroom, with her friends. But they were chatting quite a bit with this girl being the loudest, most animated and more loquacious of all.

I called her by her last name with the tone of, you need to stop talking and getting on work, or you shall hear from me in a not so fun way! And child, your parents would not be happy either!

Calling children by their last names or rst and last names is an African thing. To remind the child of whose they were, and not to bring disgrace to their ancestors and everyone on their family tree?

In response to hearing her last name, she said “Yes, Ma!” And this was not the first time African students have responded to me this way. I have even had, “Yes, Aunty!”, “Yes, mummy!”

Her friends responded with audible arghs, expecting me to caution her against saying that. She quickly caught herself, recanting that she was just used to saying it. I simply raised my eyebrows, shook my head and carried on doing what teachers do after school. 

Her default response which caught her off guard, got her to be quiet, but only for a while as nature sometimes trumps nurture.

Last example. One Maths topic I teach KS3 students is Introduction to Data, including the different classifications of data that there are. Data can be classified as either Continuous or Discrete, or as Qualitative or Quantitative. To help students distinguish between the later, I typically go through different contextual examples getting them to decide which class the data type belonged to.

Now because Qualitative and Quantitative sound alike, it was difcult to know which one was being said as an answer. I tried enunciating it for my students so that they could emphasize the ‘li’ and ‘nti’. But try as I may, it seemed not to be working.

Ideally, they would each have mini whiteboards so that they could just show me their answers, saving me the tongue twisting/biting! But not this time for some reason.

Eventually, my tongue could take it no more. Repeatedly asking them to repeat themselves and make a clearer distinction in their pronunciation, I blurted out, “Qua-gini?”

Gini, in my native tongue, Igbo, means ‘what’. By the time I realised I had spoken a different language in an English-based Maths lesson in a British school, it was too late. I could not take back my words.

My students who looked at me confused. But since no one else knew what just happened, I kept a poker face, swiftly correcting it to, “Qua-what?” 

All was calm. Teaching and learning resumed. Except in my mind, of course, as I tried not to laugh at my blunder. 

Then it happened again in a different lesson. I was in the throes of solving one question after the other on the board and taking requests from the audience – my Year 11 students. Then, someone called out, “Question 36, Miss!”

To gain time to gure out the solution to the problem, I responded as I walked to the board, “Thirty-gini?”

From the eyes at the back of my head that all teachers have, I could ‘see’ the two students who had Igbo heritage chuckling to themselves in mutual knowing of what they just heard.

Somebody, help!

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As Educators, What Do We Owe to Our Children?

Rosie Peters portrait

Written by Rosie Peters

Has been in education for over 20 years and is currently working as a Deputy Head Teacher.

As educators, what do we owe to our children? Surely it should be an education where each and every child feels represented within the education system and the curriculum.

An early-years setting that says welcome, I hear you and I see you, instantly communicates to the child that they belong.  In turn the child recognises and sees familiarity within the physical environment, the faces they encounter, the words that they hear.

For a child that has little English, a simple hello in their first language can make a world of difference. Books opened and read aloud, bridge reality with the imaginary with ease because someone has taken the time to check there is true  representation of the children entrusted to them as they embark on what should be a wonderful adventure of education, full of excitement and discovery.

We want all our young people, regardless of colour, class religion, gender or ability to experience a shaping of belonging and identity that is positive, clear and authentic.  We are responsible for shaping their views and attitudes of self and others.

Pupils should be made aware of the true contributions made by their ancestors and the ancestors of their diverse peers.

Starting with a Primary History curriculum that gives the full story by bringing back the erased and forgotten:  the Aurelian Moors who were Roman soldiers based in Britain; the Ivory Bangled Lady; Septimius Severus a Roman Emperor.  ‘We can be certain that people from Africa lived here more than 1,700 years ago.’  (Black and British, a Short Essential History; David Olusoga 2020.)

In history wonderful websites such as ‘Another History is Possible’ or ‘Meanwhile Elsewhere’, gives insight to other equally important global events that took place at the same time as the eras covered in the national curriculum.

A curriculum that allows different perspectives to be taught – from the point of view of, for example, race, gender, class, religion, disability and age, would give a strong message that diversity is not only accepted but essential.

A curriculum that develops and champions critical thinkers who are able to question, to ask why, is essential.  Why, for example, during the VE Day celebrations in the summer of 2020 Black and Asians soldiers were barely mentioned.  Why, in certain professions, there is little or no representation from non-white communities.

Let’s empower young people by ensuring that the curriculum and experiences they encounter are reflected through the role models we choose, the places we focus on and the cultural connections we celebrate.  There is no subject in which diversity and inclusion cannot be embedded and made the norm.  With a bit of time and effort it is amazing what can be achieved.

Educators need to be supported and provided with CPD to enable them to become ‘racially literate’ and able to talk openly about racism; in other, words not shy away from uncomfortable discussions. They need to be aware that terminology is forever changing and that it is better to ask someone what they prefer to be called: Black, Black British, Black Caribbean, Roma or Romani … rather than avoid it.

Teachers that go all out to make sure that someone’s name is pronounced correctly show children that their name is important; it is part of their history and culture. ‘It is not the first mispronunciation that stays with the student, it is the failure to learn how the name is pronounced and then the continued incorrect pronunciation on the second, third, fourth attempt. The unfortunate consequence, witnessed first-hand, is that students with names from different backgrounds start to hide their names.  Their pride in their own heritage is eroded. (Diversity in School, Bennie Kara 2021)

We all have the responsibility to engineer change. Lack of knowledge of different people causes a lack of trust, fear, conflict and animosity.  Educators need to be instrumental in changing society in a meaningful way.

The pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that exist in our society and the mistrust that some communities have in our institutions such as the justice system, the police and the medical profession. This is built on decades of negative experiences and unfair treatment endured by marginalised communities.  One only has to look at key data sighted in the Office of National Statistics 2017/18: 

  • Fifty-five percent of Black Caribbean pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing & maths (The lowest percentage out of all ethnic groups after White Irish Traveller and Gypsy Roma pupils.)
  • Three times more likely to be permanently excluded than their white peers. 
  • Forty-five percent of Black Caribbean live in rented social housing, compared with 16% White British (2016/17)
  • Black Caribbean women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than their British counterparts.   

This lack of trust can have a devastating impact on minority groups.  A prime example can be seen in the low rate of uptake for the COVID-19 vaccine amongst the Black and Asian communities.  This surely has to change.

We need to come together and work for the common good.  It should not be the responsibility of one community, usually the community being most affected.  It has to be the responsibility of everyone; the majority: white allies, working alongside the minority.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to produce children who have a full sense of belonging; knowing where they have come from and where they are going and, in equal measure, hold the same knowledge of their diverse peers.

Imagine if this were the reality, there would be less racism, prejudice, unconscious bias and the inequalities we see today.

Agency would be for all and not the chosen.

The decision makers of tomorrow would mirror the richness of society’s diversity and therefore decisions on a local and global scale would recognise and address inequality and bring equity where required.

Some educators have already started this journey; a journey we should all embrace in order to bring into being a more equal society for our children, the leaders of tomorrow.

The green shoots of change can already be seen.  Let’s hope they fully blossom.                                            

Teaching is a great profession especially when we recognise that education is a powerful vehicle for creating better human beings.

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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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Menopause in Education - The Impact on the Teaching Profession

Sharon MacArthur portrait

Written by Sharon MacArthur

Owner of Red Handbag. She works internationally with leaders in business, helping them to develop their leadership confidence though more effective communication strategies.

According to recent government figures, three quarters of teachers are women, so why is support for those in the profession who are going through the menopause glaringly lacking?

The average age that a woman reaches menopause is 51, but symptoms can start much earlier. Women over 50 are also the fastest growing workplace demographic and many women working in education are in senior leadership positions by this stage in their careers.

While all women go through menopause, some will have a more difficult time of it because of the nature of their job role. Teaching is no exception.

How will a female teacher suffering from menopause-related anxiety cope in such a physically and mentally-demanding school, college, or university environment?

How will menopause-related fatigue and problems concentrating fare against dealing with problem pupils, excessive workloads, and strict deadlines?

What about heavy and unpredictable periods? Hot flushes? What if you can’t just up and leave the classroom if you need to?

Some women’s menopause symptoms are so severe that they either need time off from work or questions get asked about their capability to do their job.

Sadly, support from managers, even female ones, is often not forthcoming.

The result is many wonderful educators feel they have no choice but to leave their role, which is very sad, considering that getting there is the culmination of a lifetime’s work for many women in the profession.

Can the teaching profession afford to lose such highly-skilled and valuable teaching talent? That’s what could happen if schools, colleges, and universities don’t become more menopause friendly.

What can be done to better support female educators who are going through menopause?

There’s no getting away from it, teaching is a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding job at the best of times, so when it comes to menopause, we can’t just sweep it under the rug.

When I deliver menopause training to an organisation, I always make a point of saying that menopause should be business as usual. While there are some really positive signs that it’s being talked about more openly, it’s still a bit of a workplace taboo.

Women are still suffering in silence, and considering leaving their jobs, which is bad news for a profession like teaching which struggles to recruit and retain talented staff.

So what can be done?

  • The first step is talk about it. Raise awareness about menopause, bust the myths, and make it everybody’s business. The goal should be to create a menopause friendly workplace where women feel comfortable talking about how it’s affecting them and where they are able to ask for advice and support.  
  • If your workplace doesn’t have a comprehensive menopause policy, put one in place that will meet the needs of women going through menopause as well as providing straightforward guidance for their line managers.
  • Speaking of policies, make sure your sickness absence monitoring policies and arrangements don’t lead to the detrimental treatment of women who need time off for menopause-related reasons. Similarly, bear this in mind where absence and a symptom-related decline in performance can affect things like pay progression. 
  • Improve awareness of menopause across all levels of the workforce, particularly at leadership level.
  • Make reasonable adjustments to support women going through menopause.

Some reasonable adjustments your organisation could and should make:

  • Allowing toilet breaks during lessons where necessary.
  • Providing sanitary products in staff toilets.
  • Providing a place to shower and change if necessary.
  • Considering flexible working requests such as reducing hours or allowing some work to be done from home to help women manage their symptoms.
  • Providing access to cold water and allowing employees to control the temperature of their working environment if possible.

Menopause in the national curriculum

The government has added menopause as a topic to be covered on the sex education curriculum in secondary schools. Surely schools that are menopause aware and menopause friendly will be better placed to give pupils a broader and more enlightened view of the topic?

And it all needs to begin with how they support their own staff.

My mission

Raising awareness about the menopause among people and employers is all about education and making it comfortable and acceptable for people to speak about it. Menopause is not a condition to be treated and cured, it’s a normal stage of life that every woman goes through. Helping people to realise this is my mission.

My training events are aimed at educating HR professionals, managers, and workers about the menopause in a fun, engaging, and informative way.

If you’d like to find out more, contact me at sharon@missmenopause.co.uk

You can also join my Facebook group or my Facebook and Twitter campaign

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Claim the Room

Annemarie Williams portrait

Written by Annemarie Williams

Executive Head Teacher of Humberstone Infant Academy and Humberstone Junior Academy, where she has been Headteacher / Executive Head Teacher for 12 years.

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer. Because I feel like right now there is a lot of highly expressed emotions and publicity around the issues I’m writing about. Many people will have an opinion and this is mine. 

Last weekend I was proud to be part of the online celebrations for International Women’s Day  – last night I lit a candle for the horrific crimes against Sarah Everard and cried.  I woke up to some of the most distressing and brutal photographs from the vigil that was held in her name. In between this, I watched a woman admit to an international TV audience that she felt so overwhelmed by her treatment in the media and by an institution, that she had thought about taking her own life. I have spoken to friends, family, colleagues and the overwhelming feelings are the same. Women are expressing their sadness and anger and the sense of powerlessness that they have felt in so many of these situations. The lack of power in preventing crimes like these, the lack of power in challenging the institutions responsible and the lack of power in affecting meaningful change. 

I’m a mother, a daughter, a niece, an auntie, a best friend, a leader and proud to have been a regional leader within the #WomenEd community for 5 years. I’ve spoken to women of all ages and stages in life and each and everyone of them has a story about being followed home in the dark, shouted at in the street, groped in nightclubs, patronised and interrupted at work and called names on social media because of their body shape. It is heartbreaking. 

I do not attempt to speak for all women but it seems to me that many women who were taught to take a seat at the table…now realise that they will always be sitting on the chair with shorter legs because equality and equity are not the same thing. It’s not enough to have a seat at the table if you don’t feel that your voice is heard. And really to be genuinely listened to and heard is what many women are asking for. In their statements for the media today, the spokesperson for Reclaim the Streets spoke repeatedly about women wanting to be heard and about the need for constructive discussion and dialogue. 

Brene Brown speaks of the difference between “power over” and “power with” and this is the bones of what many women experience on a daily basis. “Power with” can only happen if the people at the table acknowledge their position of privilege and actively and deliberately seek to change the status quo. In this case that means men doing more to address the issues at hand here. In my life I am fortunate to have some truly wonderful, brilliant, enlightened and courageous men who have absolutely and sensitively tried to conduct themselves like the brothers and allies women need. But there still feels like there is more to do. I know that these are the men who would intervene in the case of a woman being harassed in the street, or call out an inappropriate joke in the office or challenge the use of sexist language in the locker room. But there’s more subtle forces at work than this. It’s more than calling out bad behaviour – we need men to actively demand better behaviour and not because they are husbands, fathers and brothers, but because it is the right thing to do if we believe in a fair and equal society. 

This is challenging and requires an active and deliberate awareness. It is almost asking too much – to feel the day to day experience of being a woman. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #choosetochallenge. Women all over the world are providing that challenge but it is not enough if men do not do the same. So what could this proactive stance look and sound like? 

  • Questioning the diversity of a panel that you are asked to speak on
  • Asking what the diversity and inclusion policy is where you work
  • Offering to give up your space at an event for someone who would benefit from the opportunity
  • Initiating open conversations with women about their experiences of everyday sexism and being prepared for the fact that this might feel uncomfortable
  • Insisting that recruitment is transparent and that there are no secret backdoors to get that seat at the table
  • Providing opportunities for women to have open discussion, forum groups and other ways of giving anonymous feedback

If we want things to change then there needs to be an acknowledgement that this is an active and proactive process and if you are not willing to help find the solution, then you are probably part of the problem. 

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