Tackling Racism in Schools

Sometimes it feels like the world genuinely believes that racism is something that doesn’t *really* exist. Or if it ever did, it is something that you find in the pages of a history book.

But it’s not true, is it?

Over coffee the other day, my friends and I spoke in disbelief about the fact that anti-semitism actually exists. It was almost as if we couldn’t comprehend that people still hold beliefs about Jewish people that come from ancient and medieval ages. Disbelief that the politicians we look to might also hold those beliefs. The ridiculousness of it had us laughing. But for one of my friends, it wasn’t even remotely funny. She’s Jewish.

I shouldn’t be surprised. In teaching, you only need to scratch the surface of any school environment to hear and see things that make a snowflake like me clutch my chest in horror.

You want to hear?

“I don’t want to study RS. I don’t want to learn about ninja warriors and postboxes.” Child, it turns out, was referencing Muslim women.

“How am I racist? My mother uses those words all the time. Even my dad says they are ninja warriors.” Child, on explanation that terms used might be offensive.

“There are too many Paki shops in X.” Child, referencing local area.

“He looks like the underside of a shoe.” Child, referencing a black peer.

“His house smells like black people.” Child, referencing a black person’s home.

“I’m not being racist by using the ‘n’ word. I’ve got a black pass.” Child, explaining that he can use the ‘n’ word because he has asked his black friend for a ‘pass’ to use it.

“I called him a terrorist. Because he has a name that terrorists have.” Child, speaking about a Muslim peer.

It goes on. These are recent. From different sources, but recent. And yes, children misunderstand and say things they shouldn’t because they don’t know any different, but if we fail to challenge comments like these, what’s next?

Negative perceptions about race are so embedded in our society that the dialogue about race in schools has to be open and frank.

So, what do we do?

1. Don’t shy away from calling out racism and sanctioning. Children and the adults in their lives need to know what the red lines are.

2. Explain the impact of the terminology. It helps if you have BAME staff to reference (and I know lots of schools outside major urban centres don’t).

3. Pre-empt racism by referencing BAME history and culture in the curriculum. If no one knows anything about Islam other than what’s in the mainstream media, racism will proliferate.

4. Visibly value difference. Embed openness and equity into the culture of the school.

5. Address common misconceptions – actively deconstruct racist phrases or ideas. Don’t be timid.

Timidity and tiptoeing around the issue doesn’t change societies. Only head on discussion can do that. Let me know how it goes.

Advertisements

Don’t Tuck In Your Labels

I am the woman that always has a clothes label sticking out somewhere.  In any given day, some kindly person will reach behind me and tuck it in.  And I, without fail, will apologise for that label and the fact that someone had to decide what to do with me.

You see, clothes labels are really useful things.  They tell you what to do with the item.  How to take care of it – how to fix the item if it is damaged in some way.  It stays there as a reminder that the item needs to be nurtured.  Lots of us become irritated by them – how many times have we cut the label out because we can’t forget it is there – perhaps it’s rubbing against our skin, making us feel uncomfortable.  I do it all the time with the vain hope that people will not have to fix me up and make me presentable.

I have made many jokes over the years at various conference about winning the competition on how many labels I have.  We categorise people in so many different ways and I have seen it as a laughing matter.  So when I was thinking about my labels, I decided to create a pie chart of the make up of me.  Mostly just in case my Maths teacher is watching – my Maths GCSE started with 30 mins of me panicking because I had forgotten how to draw a pie chart.  

So if you want to see what my clothes label says – this is me.  

 

Pie Chart of Me copy

It took a long time to decide how much of me I could allocate to the different labels.  I am a woman.  Quite considerably so, according the number here.  I am also equally Asian.  It gets harder when I have to decide just how much of me is on the LBGT spectrum.  I define as bisexual and have been in a relationship with a woman for a long time.  All of these categories I have become comfortable with – while I know they present me with challenges, I have spent my life getting to know them.

I have come to know myself as a Gryffindor too.  This is not in jest.  I will not have anyone disagree.  I’ve taken the test.

It is my last label that is more recent and perhaps the one I struggle with the most.  I learned not long ago that I have hearing loss in both ears and it is more pronounced in my left ear.  I will be wearing a hearing aid soon to help me function in loud spaces, to help me understand what people are saying when I can’t see their faces.

I mean, I know I’m a woman and can’t lift heavy things or be in charge of a boardroom.  I know that I am Asian and therefore should probably be teaching Science and not English.  I know that I am bisexual and this means I am greedy/just not willing to admit I am gay.  

But I was not prepared to be disabled, albeit in a small way.  In some ways I have to confront here my own misgivings about having a hearing impairment in a profession that is built on listening to children in order to teach them.  I sat in a car park and cried.  Because this female, Asian, bi person didn’t want another label – especially one that could literally mean people think I cannot do my job.  How many glass ceilings for me?

It has taken time to adjust to it.  It chafed.  I could feel it rubbing.  But I have left it there because it gives people another way to know me.

Some people will say: if we take away all labels, we can just be people.  I absolutely agree.  I want to be able to teach without any of those.  At the risk of sounding like a below the line Daily Mail commentator, stop going on about your labels – it creates the victim complex.  It’s not important to the way you teach, so just shut up and get on with it.  Identity politics creates resentment. I resent you and your labels.

I don’t think any of us walk around with our labels on our sleeves.  If teaching is a profession in which your authentic self is required for children and adults alike to connect and know you, if it a profession in which people are the centre then I do not want to lie, either overtly or by omission.  

The average 18-44 year old lies twice a day.  I am sure that you are sitting there thinking – well that’s low.  I can smash that statistic by 9am in the morning on any given school day.  But the lies I tell because I have to are now starting to grate.  

There are things I can’t say, choose not to say, places I won’t ever visit with my partner – and it is exhausting making  all of those decisions about who I can be when I am simultaneously juggling the demands of the curriculum, behaviour, marking, meetings, paperwork.  Wouldn’t it just be easier for me and more real for the students if I didn’t have to think about my pronouns so carefully?  Or worry about who is going to see me with my partner in the local area?  

authentic copy

I spoke recently about the curriculum and how having diverse voices delivering content doesn’t take away from what we teach our students – when we teach the Ramayana or about Malian women’s contributions to local industry, we are not saying do not teach about Wordsworth or Dickens.  Perhaps as a female, Asian, bisexual, disabled Gryffindor, I can enrich rather than detract.  Hiring me, allowing me to be free within a role, means a better education.  Not because I am better.  But because I can bring my knowledge and still teach yours really quite well.  There is enough oxygen for all of our stories, told with pride. Authenticity in teachers allows students to understand humanity in all of its guises.  We actively prevent learning when we lie, when we omit.  

complicit copy

I have seen this quotation many times and it occurs to me that I no longer see it as being about other people.  I see it as being about myself and about all of us that walk in different shoes.  My silence about about me is collusion.  I am colluding with the oppressor.  It is unjust that I should be quiet, tuck in my labels to make everyone else feel comfortable, staff, students, parents alike.  In remaining silent and not celebrating or sharing all of me as I am, I am complicit.  

How can any of these things happen when we are silent?

social justice copy

I am not asking anyone to stand up and shout from the rooftops about their sexuality, disability, gender or heritage.  But I am asking you to stand, metaphorically speaking.  And speak about your truths without fear.  And perhaps, when you feel brave enough because you have a room full of people willing to support you – to act, in the way that makes you feel that you are authentic.

So, if you see me again and my labels are sticking out.  Maybe don’t tuck them in.

Closing keynote: Diverse Educators Conference, 6th January 2018 

clothes label

Immigrants Speaking English? Again?

Chuka Umunna’s assertion that migrants need to learn English to avoid living parallel lives is most disconcerting. I heard this assertion over two years ago from less savoury quarters and was moved to comment on it at length. I won’t repeat what I said, as tempting as it is, you can read that for yourselves. When Sajid Javid proffered a similar point in 2014, I was embarrassed to see a man from an ethnic minority background with his feet firmly under the desk waving a stop sign to immigrants following in the same path as Javid’s family. It is not the first time I had heard a person of colour saying that new immigrants to the nation must meet a standard that they themselves had not been set, and it won’t be the last time either.

What irks me this time is that it is Labour minister making the assertion and it irks me on several levels. Let me explain. I am painfully aware, as a Labour voter, of the pressure the party is under to be something new, to reincarnate under a messianic leader and to be a credible opposition to a government that has had very little contest in the time it has taken to sort out who’s in charge at Labour HQ. But is this where the Labour Party is going? Did someone send a memo that said Nigel Farage is doing okay with voters in the north and I think we should put out statements that sort of sound like him?

One of the problems with Chuka Umunna’s declaration is that he is a bit late to the party. The Casey Review was commissioned over a year ago by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary, with a remit to investigate integration and opportunity in isolated and deprived communities. The review was released in December 2016. In its 199 pages, it outlined the reasons why learning English if you are new to the country is a good idea. It outlined clearly and with a sense of compassion that life is much harder for immigrants that do not speak English. No one can argue with that.

Take this and the fact that government policy on requirements for immigrants to speak English to be able to gain citizenship or leave to remain seems to be fairly clear – and I am left wondering: why bring this up now, Mr Umunna? Visit www.gov.uk and check the pages on immigration. It’s there. There’s a 15-page list of where you can take the tests to prove your English proficiency before or after you arrive.

So who is Chuka Umunna talking about? What kind of migrant? Refugees? The government have declared they are exempt from the requirement. Transient economic migrants? How do you enforce compulsory classes on a transient population? Established communities living parallel lives, then. I would argue that it would be even harder – and more expensive – to enforce language classes on high-ethnic minority concentration areas such as Bradford. Not because I think people would be unwilling. Immigrants do want to be able to communicate. But there isn’t a solution to that until somebody coughs up the money it would take to cover it. And who is going to explain that to austerity Britain, already chomping at the bit, that tax payers’ money is being spent on funding for immigrant language classes? I would volunteer, but I’m too busy trying to work out how to provide a quality education to students while the Conservative government merrily chips away at the finances.

Crucially, how do you make it happen when two years ago funding for ESOL delivery was slashed – in fact, when funding for ESOL has halved since 2009? I doff my hat to Sajid Javid for finding £20 million for ESOL for Muslim women, who are less likely to learn to speak English than other newcomers. But it doesn’t fix the gaping hole in ESOL funding. It’s still staring at us, while we stare at already marginalised communities and demand that they learn to speak properly.

That’s why Chuka Umunna’s lack of clarity makes me uneasy. That and the fervent desire to hear a leader say something refreshing and new about the society in which we all live and work. Focusing on immigrants speaking English, without a clear funding plan and without having considered the current government’s stance on this, seems a little pointless. Dear Labour Party: give me more than rehashed UKIP fodder, with a side of Conservative Javid.

Originally published as ‘It Costs Money to Teach Immigrants English, Mr Umunna’ on Huffington Post UK

Edbite: Verbal Feedback Self Audit and the Drill Down Teachers

This is the first of a new series of mini-posts sharing the work I have been doing in developing teaching and learning, through a weekly forum and bulletin, observation and feedback.

If feedback be the food of love, verbalise on…

So ignoring the tenuous Shakespeare reference, I’ve been scribbling down some ideas on how to develop verbal feedback. It’s my teaching and learning forum topic of the week.

In all the observations I carry out, there is a striking difference between the teacher that nails it year in and year out in terms of outcomes for students.  This is the teacher who understands how to orchestrate the best verbal feedback.  The teacher who gives feedback like their life depends on it. The teacher who can turn the feedback into molten gold.

I call this kind of teacher the ‘Drill Down’ teacher.  They take a response and drill down into the core of it.  You can tell when you watch the Drill Down teacher that they have heard the student response and these questions are going through their heads:

  1. Is it correct?
  2. How correct is it?
  3. How might it be more correct?
  4. What’s the flaw?
  5. What’s missing?
  6. What’s the misconception?
  7. How can I show them without just telling them?
  8. What do they need to be able to do?
  9. What are the stages of this learning?

Bear in mind I’m not talking here about quick-fire recall questions here.  When students give a opinion or process response, that’s the pivot moment that tilts to stagnation or to progress.  Learning is most visible in these moments.

What kind of verbal feedback do you give?  How do you get even better at it?  The Verbal Feedback Audit attached here is useful for you as an individual to review your practice, or as a tool for development of groups of teachers. I’ll be combining it with filmed practice from an experienced teacher, asking less experienced teachers to analyse the ways in which effective feedback is given.

edbite-verbal-feedback

effective-verbal-feedback-strategy

 

 

The Red Pledge

I’m about to make people uncomfortable.  If you’re of a sensitive disposition, or if you’ve ever said the words “why can’t we have a men’s movement/party/international day?”, then it’s probably best to look away now. We can’t talk about leadership of schools without talking periods.

There.  Did you squirm?  Did you move away from the computer screen (checking your seat surreptitiously as you did so?) Look, I have some questions for my female colleagues on this most female of issues.  As women leaders, I’d like you to ponder on the following questions.

1) Does your institution provide free pads/tampons for staff? (And stop calling them ‘sanitary items’!) In my experience, if you’ve been caught short and you work in the back end of beyond, then nipping out to the shops is pretty much a no-go.  Why haven’t you demanded that this essential item be provided and staff told where they are?  Dispensers would do, right? Can’t we at least ask someone?

2) How does your organisation make provision for menstruation-related illness? How many times have you gone to work in agony, thinking I’ll just take some painkillers and I’ll be fine?  I’ve known vomiters, fainters, heavy bleeders, pelvic pain heroes and all sorts.  No where is it noted that leave relating to menstruation is acceptable.  What if we have a clause in sickness policies that if you have a genuinely horrific experience every month, you won’t be hauled in to the HR office to discuss your absence that morning, that day, that afternoon when you thought your insides were making a swift, sharp exit?

3) Gynaecological issues.  I have a misbehaving uterus.  This summer I experienced a hystersoscopy without anaesthetic and I thought I was dying.  I had to wait until a holiday to have it done, because I knew I’d have to take time off to find a rogue Mirena coil and that it would bloody hurt.  Could I have done that in term time without struggling to explain that a piece of plastic was lost in my nether region to my male headteacher? I’d like to think so. But I would have been mortified doing so.  What do we do as women leaders to make it easier to have these discussions?

I appreciate that not everyone experiences menstruation and gynaecological issues in quite the same way as I do – we are unique flowers after all. But when do we start making it easier for women to talk about all of this? When do we start feeling like we can without feeling like wilting reeds?

Join me in my Red Tent to discuss.  Bring your own incense and rags. And pledge to speak more openly about periods with everyone.