As a rookie member of Big Education’s ground-breaking leadership programme – Big Leadership Adventure – I have been exposed to a wealth and breadth of experiences, key-note speakers, ideas, design-thinking, innovation and new ways of leading. All with the key purpose to ‘develop the mindsets, competencies and behaviours required to innovate in education’.
More recently, we experienced a headline module on diversity, equity and inclusion. Hannah Wilson @Ethical_Leader and Adrian McLean @Character_guy, our guides for this module, did not pull any punches and stated from the outset that this session was going to be challenging and would possibly make many members feel rather uncomfortable. Nevertheless, they both insisted, education – especially educational leadership – needs ‘to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable’. In truth, I found the whole process immensely challenging, both professionally and personally.
In hindsight, the module’s real impact was to champion our cohort into action – real action – with a determination to transfer theory and rhetoric into practice. This rallying cry to alms for all leaders was a clear message on the importance of producing and utilising a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy within our schools. Moreover, instigating conversations that would raise further questions around how we need to rethink teaching practices and policies in an age of multiculturalism. Otherwise, how else would we be able to educate our children to address the many disparities and inequalities within our society?
To Allyship or not to Allyship...? That IS the question:
One such practice and commitment centred round ‘allyship’; more specifically an expectation for all Big Leadership Adventurers to acknowledge and engage with the ‘allyship continuum’: from apathetic, to aware, to active and finally onto the desired goal – to be an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. An advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion would actively highlight and raise questions about situations, events, meetings, settings, organisations, senior leadership teams, subject leaders and headteachers, whereby the representation or membership did not reflect the cohort or group they were leading. What struck me as the most poignant part of the whole ‘allyship process’, was a genuine recognition from all the leaders in our cohort, that their journey along the allyship continuum would be a deeply, individual and personal journey.
Moreover, I realised, as I listened to the many painful and explicit narratives of prejudice and racism experienced by my colleagues – as infants, school children and adolescents and now as adults – that my journey to where I am today, had been an infinitely easier one, beyond my ‘disadvantaged’ label. If anything this made my purpose clearer – I wanted to celebrate and showcase our school’s rich diversity, to ensure that we authentically challenged institutional racism and other forms of discrimination. Subsequently, in order to kick start our school’s journey to allyship, we drafted a whole school strategic approach to diversity, equity and inclusion, that embraced the voice of our staff, pupils and wider community. Almost instantly, staff recognised that this commitment would take us beyond diversity, equity and inclusion, but further into social action; the co-dependence of societal changes through a strong, ‘lived’ diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. A focussed strategy, with professional training from the charismatic and knowledgeable @Angela-Browne helped us to explicitly outline expectations for the culture and climate of our school; facilitating classroom learning to connect with the experiences, histories and resources that every pupil brings to their classroom. Imagine a whole literacy spine that included the cultures, experiences and backgrounds of the pupils they sought to teach! Whilst this process may be in its infancy, we are rightly proud of its authentic germination …
Why here? Why now?
As I reflected further upon the intensity of that diversity, equity and inclusion module, it became apparent we were really being asked to champion a social conscience and critical pedagogy for our future pupils, leaders, work force, politicians and so on. Recognising that pupils and staff need to feel safe, valued, listened to and genuinely appreciated for who they are, rather than complying to a given, predetermined expectation. This sense of belonging, coupled with the freedom and encouragement to determine and discover who they are, would help our pupils to realise that the education system does not define them. Once equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and beliefs, from diverse and inclusive school communities, they will have the freedom to construct their own unique futures for themselves. Armed with a broad skills base, resilience, acceptance (rather than tolerance, thank you Adrian Mclean for assisting me with the semantics), a good work ethic, humility and an acute awareness of social justice, our pupils and staff will in turn, readily challenge cultural, social and economic biases, that alas, are still systemic within society today. Never has the time been more right to challenge social inequality and to encourage pupils (and staff) to take positive and constructive action under the cultural umbrella of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Hope for the future…
Clearly, the education system is neither perfect nor paradise; quite the contrary in fact. Nevertheless, the system with all its limitations, remains a location of potential, hope and possibility. In that field of possibility, we have the opportunity to work towards diversity, equity and inclusion for our pupils, staff and wider community members. Likewise, to demand of ourselves and those in our charge, ‘an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom’. (bell hooks)
As our second day of diversity, equity and inclusion module concluded, I felt a deep kinship and professional respect for my fellow ‘Adventurers’. This diverse group of authentic professionals, had challenged me, and in and through that challenge, had allowed me a space of radical openness where I now felt able to authentically support diversity, equity and inclusion, within my own setting. This promising start would, I hope, encourage those in my charge, to learn and grow without limits. This gift of ‘freedom’ for our children today, now seems totally achievable.
In collaboration with @DiverseEd2020, this blog series, is a way to showcase a range of voices, giving space to share examples of practice, personal reflections, and calls to action #DiverseEd