Viv Grant portrait

Written by Viv Grant

Director of Integrity Coaching

It is my belief that good school leadership has at its heart a desire for wholeness. It is a wholeness which individuals seek to see manifested through a harmonious interplay of their deepest values and beliefs, by fostering right relationships with themselves and others.


Recent events sparked by the death of George Floyd have clearly illustrated that we live in a society that is far from whole. Fault lines run through the lives of individuals and organisations, teachers and school leaders, families and their children.


We have seen how people have come together to try and repair the damage but there can be no papering over the cracks. For the dream of racial equality to be real, complete healing and transformation is needed.


A gradual dawning

I have witnessed over the past few weeks, that there has been a gradual dawning for many white school leaders of what is being asked of them. This has been a significant paradigm shift. There has been a gradual awakening of the need to review and re-shape white identity in order to accelerate the change that the black community has cried out for.


I recognise and understand that this is unfamiliar  territory and can be scary for many. Never before in the UK has the debate on race equality in our schools shifted its gaze so steadfastly onto white identity and race. For as long as I can remember, it has  been the other way around. Race equality work has predominantly focused on the black experience of racism and strategies for enabling the black community to overcome the huge injustices and inequalities that they have faced.


Now the narrative has changed. White teachers and school leaders are being called to do their own identity work.


A range of responses

For some, the immediate response has been defensiveness. And yet for others it has been a quiet, studied introspection; a turning inwards accompanied by a deep desire to learn, to enquire, to change, to understand and to grow.


For those who have turned inwards, I am certain that attention to the existential challenge of learning to be whole, will result in, “a net moral gain for all concerned. As that potential grows within us, we join in the potential for personal and social change” (Parker Palmer)


It may seem strange to some that I describe this turning inwards as part of a desire to be whole. Yet as a coach, I have seen the many, many ways in which the school leadership role has caused many  leaders to live a divided (and sometimes painful life). Becoming aware of one’s own racial identity and how it has contributed to this can only be an act of service to the greater cause – to a world in which racial equality is a reality for all.


Whole person work

For this to happen, white school leaders need to be supported to see that this is whole person work; work that engages emotions, values and beliefs. It is work that requires them  to engage with new personal and professional frontiers. It won’t be easy work, but it will be right work. It won’t come with a National Professional qualification stamp, because the work is ontological. The work is about you.


It will require you to:


  • Engage in self-enquiry with an open heart and open mind
  • Dig deep and develop greater levels of self-awareness
  • Explore your own cultural blind-spots and biases


Essentially, this work will require you to decide how this type of identity work can bring greater agency and potency to your work as a school leader. If you are open and willing, it can bring you to a point where you can say, to be ally in the struggle for greater racial equality my inner truth is:


The plumb line for the choices I make about my life, about the work I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them”

(Parker J Palmer)


Our society needs to be healed and our schools need to be places of transformation and healing and white identity work has to be a central part of that healing process.