We need to talk about Peace

Talking about peace isn’t sitting in a circle singing Kumbaya.  But we need to do more of it in classrooms.

Over the last year colleagues and I researched, devised and trialled a course for talking about peace in a classroom setting. A mixed group of 30 year 11 and year 12 signed up under our Global Citizenship programme to attend weekly WCPCI sessions.  The group was mixed boys and girls, in nationalities and ethnicity: the majority were British,  but it also included individuals from Germany, South Africa, Japan, the US, Hong Kong and Australia who brought different perspectives.

We watched videos about historical genocides from Armenia to Darfur,  and traced the sad pattern of how societies descend into social and political hate,  enabled by wider attitudes of ignorance, denial, indifference and apathy.  We focused in more detail on the recent history of Rwanda and Bosnia, which members of the group have visited,  to explore how societies end up in situations of genocidal conflict, and the slow painful process of rebuilding in the aftermath.  We heard the human stories behind the horrors, and explored the implications of individual and collective bias against outsiders.  Over and over, we looked at how prejudice and bias can be manipulated, and we discussed the implications for our own communities and society.

We introduced common cognitive biases, and devised exercises to explore them, such as using data from the Institute of Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index*, an annual report that ranks 163 countries by 23 measurable criteria  in an exercise to rank the top 10 most peaceful countries in the world.  Sweden (14) was commonly named no 1 (availability heuristic – no. 1 is actually Iceland))  while out tendency to favour the familiar was even more markedly observed in half the groups placing the UK (57) in the top 10.

We did a lot of guided discussion to explore how ignorance, denial, indifference and apathy present in everyday situations around issues of personal identity such as gender, sexuality and race.  We used resources such as the Anti-Defamation League’s  ‘Pyramid of Hate’  and case studies of exceptional individual ‘role models for peace’ to draw parallels between the common material of PSHE lessons and school assemblies – be kind to each other, stand up against bullies, don’t be shamed into silence –   and the genocidal horrors on the videos.

Conversations were often awkward; the connections between everyday acts of ‘othering’ and systemic victimisation of groups weren’t always immediately apparent.  Sometimes, when connections were apparent, they met resistance. During one session based on the 2009 Channel 4 documentary recreating school teacher and anti-racism campaigner Jane Elliot‘s famous ‘blue eyes, brown eyes’ exercise, the discussion couldn’t get far beyond expressions of sympathy for the (adult, volunteer) ‘victims’ of the experiment.  The lesson about in-group preference and denial didn’t go quite as we planned.

Over the past year, the news cycle presented us with present-day horrors: Tree of Life Synagogue, Christchurch, Easter Sunday.  We considered the various intersections of faith and extremism and media representations of those stories.

After Christchurch, the group discussed the Islamophobia that runs through the British press.  We reached out to the local mosque, writing letters and suggesting ‘get to know you’ visits.

After Easter Sunday the group had a heated discussion about whether we should reach out to to local churches in a similar way.  The secular-minded group struggled to understand how even nominal (or non-existent) faith falls into alignment with historical cultural identity and the White European majority were strongly resistant to the fact of being seen not (only) as individuals but (also) as like it or not representatives of ‘White European Christianity’.

The news continues to provide too many examples that serve as potential sources for classroom discussion; stories of  racism and homophobia that only made the diversity columns in the recent past now make mainstream headlines, thanks to a generally heightened sensitivity to extremism in all its forms.  In the context of combating ignorance and complacency I suppose that’s progress of a sort.

Ambivalence runs through these conversations. But anxieties we feel about the kids’ ability to handle difficult material is alleviated by consistent feedback which states their appreciation of the time and safe space to discuss the topics we teachers tend to be wary of.


*The GPI ranks 162 countries according to 23 measurable criteria from most peaceful (Iceland) to least peaceful (Syria).  Institute for Economics & Peace. Global Peace Index 2019: Measuring Peace in a Complex World, Sydney,




‘To tell my story’ – 3 Days in Bosnia

On the morning of our first day, in Sarajevo, guide Rešad negotiates a space in the hotel where we won’t be interrupted and leads us into one of those flat lit conference rooms that could be anywhere.  He organises coffee and soft drinks and begins to talk us through the siege of Sarajevo, which started when he was a ’19 year old kid in Levi’s and Converse’.  A month later, he says, he was  ‘still a kid in Levi’s and Converse, with an AK47  – and 3 bullets.’

The siege of Sarajevo lasted from 5th April 1992 to  29th of February 1996.   By the end of 1425 days fighting an enemy so close you knew their voices, Rešad says, he had ‘seen everything you can possibly imagine you would see in a war.’  He talks; his coffee cools untouched in front of him.

We visit the old town centre to eat ćevapi and walk ancient streets where the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, the (Catholic) Sacred Heart Cathedral  and (Orthodox) Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos all stand within a short walk. Restaurants and shops sell  ice-cream and post-cards and key-rings made from shell casings.  Every few steps, it seems, Rešad is greeted warmly by someone he knows. Sarajevo is a small city.

He leads us up a side street to the War Childhood Museum.  Inside, carefully curated relics: shrapnel damaged sections of a municipal climbing frame, a shorn-headed Barbie,  a collection of wrappers from the contents of food aid parcels, a home-made breastplate cut from a cardboard box, hand coloured with the fleur-de-lis shield.  The breastplate was made by Amel, donated by his brother Djemil.  Amel was killed by a sniper. Breastplate

Museum founder Jasminko Halilovic started the War Childhood project by asking fellow  survivors: ‘What was the War Childhood for you?’.  His respondents’ recollections first became the book, War Childhood, then grew into the first internationally recognised museum to focus on documenting the war experiences of children,  ‘those who played no role in the start of the war, and still suffered multiple consequences’.

On the morning of the second day we’re up early for a two hours’ drive East to the Prodinje Identification Project’s forensic facility at Tuzla.  Shelves upon shelves of white plastic bags numbered with black marker pen line a dank room that smells of earth.  Brown paper bags overflow the top shelves.  Dr Dragana Vučetić tells us the brown paper bags hold clothes and personal effects, the white plastic bags hold ‘skeletonised remains’.   At her feet a neatly laid out human skeleton lies on a six foot long metal tray, complete except for a few small bones on the left hand. 

‘This one came in just a few days ago.  He should be be easy to identify.’ she says, lifting and skim-reading some paperwork that’s been propped against the left  femur.  So far the PIP has identified some 6500 of approximately 8300 men and boys force-marched to their deaths by the forces of infamous Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić.

Across the corridor a few fragments of bone lie pathetically in the middle of another long tray.  Dr Dragona identifies them as pieces of skull and vertebrae from a burnt out house.  Burnt bones are no good for DNA sampling; there aren’t enough fragments to identify by more traditional means.    This man’s relatives will never know what happened to him.

Another hour’s drive East to Srebrenica and the former UN base at Potočari, now a museum and part of the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial Complex.  Hasan Hasanovic, director of the Memorial museum, introduces himself.

Hasan is a tightly coiled spring of a man, but he speaks calmly and factually of the events of 11th July 1995. Setting off with his father and twin brother in a column of about 10000 men following goat paths over the mountains to Tuzla to escape advancing Serb forces.  Ambush, confusion, separation.  Arriving in Tuzla alone, waiting for his father and brother, who did not arrive.  He told the story first at the trial of men accused of their murder; the murderers were found guilty.  It is no consolation. Talking, he shakes his head occasionally, as if after all the re-tellings he still can’t believe what he is saying.

Across the road in the cemetery the year’s newly identified victims are interred each 11th July.  2018’s graves are easy to spot by temporary green markers which interrupt rows of white marble stones.  Hasan tells us families who’ve lost more than one man buy enough plots to bury them side by side when they are found and identified.   The death dates on the stones are all 1995; the birth dates vary from 1928 to 1981.

cropped-Srebenica potocari-2

Temporary green markers show the most recent (2018) burials.

Fatilah’s son was born in 1975.  Rešad is tender with her, calls her ‘mother’,  gently rests his hands on her shoulders as he translates her words.  Her husband was among the first buried here in 2003; she buried her son beside him only in 2013. It is good, she says, to have a place to come and be with them, say a prayer.  She considers herself fortunate: many of Srebrenica’s mothers had no daughters and lost two, three or four sons.  She had, has, a daughter, and now three grandchildren.   She does not feel hatred; she still believes most people are good.  Her blouse is rose pink; her smile is warm as she thanks us for coming to listen to her.

On the third day we will go to the airport straight after lunch.  Rešad asks what we’d like to do with the morning.  Someone wants to see ‘Sniper Alley‘ Rešad laughs, ‘We’ve been driving up and down Sniper Alley for the last two days: it’s the main road through the city centre!’  There’s another  request for ‘something tourists don’t normally see.’

Rešad directs the coach driver to drive slowly along Meša Selimović Boulevard, pointing out tower blocks from where snipers picked off Sarajevo civilians as they went about the daily business of surviving in a modern city without electricity or running water.

The coach stops on a side street and we trail out onto a square patch of grass about the width of a football pitch.  To the right is a derelict, pock-marked building; at the far end on the left are white houses, inhabited and pristine.

‘This was my front line’ says Rešad, pointing at the building on the right.  He points towards the white houses, ‘That was their front line.’

‘That’s so close’  someone says.  Rešad nods and says   ‘I told you, they were so close we knew their voices.’  We stand on the grass for a few more minutes.  Then we return to the old city centre, where Rešad insists we have more ćevapi before we head to the airport.


I visited Bosnia as part of a delegation organised by the charity Remembering Srebrenica, which promotes a vision of a society free from hatred by 

  • Bringing communities together to REMEMBER Srebrenica through organising commemoration events in the UK.
  • Taking people on our ‘Lesson from Srebrenica’ education visits programme to LEARN lessons from the survivors of the genocide.
  • Creating Community Champions who PLEDGE to stand up to hatred and intolerance in their communities.

For more information, go to Srebrenica.org.uk

Title quotation from Hamlet, Act 5, scene 2: Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, To tell my story.   

Thoughts for the new school year: nolite te bastardes carborundorum

lead_960I’m looking forward to introducing my new L6th formers to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ this year.   It also occurs that as we prepare our classrooms and plan lessons for the coming weeks, we could do worse than to adopt the cod-Latin motto that runs through Atwood’s novel as a personal mantra (the fact that the motto is linguistic and grammatical nonsense adds to the fun, since colleague-pedants can be some of the more energy-sapping ‘bastardes’ we encounter in schools).

Pedants aside, there are a few self-inflicted energy-sappers that many conscientious teachers get bogged down by;  successful teachers know to modify, pre-empt, or otherwise avoid these in the first couple of weeks. Here are four of the most obvious, along with some suggestions for alternative beginning of year strategies that are a better use of everybody’s time:

  1. Hours spent making detailed lesson plans for every lesson until half term (or the end of next week) – a lesson plan needs to note your key objectives, any special resources, headline activities and enough rough timings to keep you on track: that’s all. Spend time instead getting hold of class lists and making SEATING PLANS for each of your new classes  (or old ones that you want to ‘re-set’) that you can use to a) bring them into the classroom in an orderly fashion, b) establish yourself as the person in charge of things and c) put names to faces very quickly.
  2. Trying to communicate every detail of a two year course to your new pupils. They don’t understand how the course works yet, so they don’t remember them and you end up repeating yourself, repeatedly, for the next 5 and a half terms.  Instead, give them a verbal outline and a one side of A4 handout with more details.  That will satisfy the ones who want to know everything in advance, and the rest can put it in their folder and refer to it when the question occurs to them, or comes up again in class.  Use the classroom time you save in the first couple of lessons to ask them them why they chose your subject and/or what they want to achieve by studying it.  It’ll help you get to know them, and help them to realise that you care more about them than about the curriculum.
  3. Making a nice laminated list of classroom behaviour expectations/school values etc, which you talk through at the beginning of the year, before spends the next ten months gathering dust on the wall.   A better way to get pupil buy in for behaviour and values you want to uphold is to allocate time in the first lesson for everyone to write their ideas on a question like ‘How do we want to be with each other to help everyone learn?’ – you can use Post-it notes and have the stick them onto the wall or or flip-chart sheets.  A whole class generates a number  of duplicate (and surprisingly conservative) replies that everyone can see are the practical core of a whole class behaviour agreement, while the outliers generate an interesting discussion that helps you get to know your class better – and when you know your class better, you know better how to avoid potential behaviour issues in future.
  4. Giving a major written homework and setting out to mark it by the end of the first week (then feeling like a failure when you only manage to mark it by the end of the second week). Of course you want to see how they write but pacing yourself is key to successful teaching and unless you’re setting out to reinforce the bad habits your pupils have brought with them, and exhaust yourself by the end of September into the bargain, large pieces of written work are best avoided in the first couple of weeks.  Better to make writing short pieces (single sentences, or 1-2 paragraphs) one of the headline activities in your minimalist lesson plan.  While the pupils are writing, you can go round and monitor them: you’ll learn a lot more by watching them write than by marking their work (and you’ll be on hand to immediately give corrective feedback as necessary).  If you provide them with a key for marking, either on the board or on a handout, you can then give the whole class teacher feed-back as they peer, or self mark.

The beginning of September is an exciting time, full of new possibilities; by taking steps to pre-empt or avoid some of our most common counsel of perfection ‘bastardes’ – pitfalls that teachers often fall into, we’ll be stronger, happier and more effective classroom managers and practitioners in the coming months.  Happy new year, everyone.




Systems of privilege hurt everyone


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On Friday 27th February in my upper sixth year my friends and I had just settled into our usual places in the U6th form common room.  We were hugging mugs of coffee and complaining about the cold – in Hong Kong, where average winter temperatures hover around 15°C, the temperature that morning was 8°.

When the Senior Master came and stood in the doorway nearest where we were sitting (the U6th common room extended across the entire level of the building, and there was a second door, at the far end) we noticed him, but carried on talking, while telegraphing the usual ‘Teacher in the room”, “What’s he doing here?’ ‘Dunno’ facial expressions to each other.  We were pretty relaxed: the U6th common room was our space, and in spite of his job title Mr O’Neill was one of the more human teachers  – most likely he was just looking for his daughter who was in our year.  Someone might even have said, ‘Sir, Fran’s down there – ’  and pointed across the room to where she was sitting with her friends out of his eyeline.   But Mr O’Neill wasn’t looking for his daughter.  He said ‘Is everyone here?’ which was an odd question, because there were about 150 of us who came and went from the U6th common room, and at break, with limited time to visit the tuck shop and do all the other important things that had to be done between period 3 and period 4, everyone wasn’t going to be there.  But we didn’t say that to him.  Something about the way he was standing half inside the doorway alerted us to the fact there was something he needed to tell us, that was something he didn’t want to tell us.

The room was already falling silent when Mr O’Neill asked for quiet. When he had everyone’s attention, he told us he had something to tell us that was very upsetting and that we would all have to be strong and help each other; he said if we knew anyone who wasn’t here just now we should be sure to help them especially.  Then he told us he was very sorry to tell us that Simon Hall died that morning.  Simon was taking his morning shower and his family heard the noise of him collapsing so his father broke down the bathroom door and found him unconscious on the bathroom floor.  They called an ambulance and rushed him to hospital but he was already dead.  They thought it was carbon monoxide poisoning from the gas water heater in the bathroom.  Because of the cold that morning, Simon hadn’t opened the window as usual, and the gas water heater and the unopened window probably led to a fatal build-up of carbon monoxide in the bathroom when he was taking his shower.

Anyone who’s been in a school which has suffered the sudden death of a pupil will have an idea how the news was received in the U6th form common room.  I remember thinking that on Thursday at break I’d been sitting in the exact same place as I was sitting at that moment, across from Simon and laughing along as he cleaned his rugby boots and comically bemoaned his slim chances of making the starting line-up for the coming Saturday’s game.

Simon’s funeral was held in Union Church in the afternoon on the following Wednesday, 4th March.  The school sent us all a letter telling us anyone who wished to attend could do so; many of us had never been to a funeral before and the letter also advised us that the most suitable things to wear were ‘dark, formal clothes’ – not a staple of the average Hong Kong teenager’s wardrobe; in 6th form we didn’t even have school uniform to fall back on and I borrowed a dark blouse from my mother to wear.  300 of us went, teachers as well as students.  Simon’s parents, devastated as they must have been, took pains to comfort his school friends and involve them in the arrangements; six boys from school, Simon’s closest friends who’d known him since primary school, were pall bearers.  On 5th March, the front page of Hong Kong’s English language broadsheet the South China Morning Post featured a photograph of them accompanying Simon’s coffin, headlined ‘300 mourn gas victims’.  The story also featured details of that week’s second victim: 12 year old Frances Bucher of Kowloon.  Frances attended the German Swiss school and was not personally known to us but she was named with Simon because she died the day after him, in similar circumstances, and her funeral took place that same afternoon at a church across the Harbour before her grieving parents flew the coffin back to Lucerne for burial.   In fact, there was also a third victim of the cold snap: a 15 year old boy named Lui-See Kin died on the same day as Simon, but I only discovered his name in another SCMP article from that week about the ‘gas-related deaths’ findings in the cases of ‘two boys and a girl’.  That story ran on p.13.

I hope that Lui-See’s name and the details of his funeral were recorded in the Chinese language press with the same degree of detail and pathos as the South China Morning Post covered Simon’s.  Perhaps – perhaps not: the deaths of two teenage boys and a twelve year old girl in the last week of February were only the latest sad episode in a running story about poorly regulated gas heaters and a steadily climbing, if sporadic, tally of carbon monoxide fatalities that had been exercising local news outlets since they’d first noticed a pattern in the mid 1970’s.  The low priority of reporting the ongoing situation in English language papers reflected Hong Kong’s demographic and political reality: the population breakdown was approximately 95% Chinese and 0.5% white European and the vast majority of carbon monoxide fatalities were inevitably from among the Chinese population, but the power to effect change in legislative systems to institute better regulations lay in the hands of the 0.5%.  If more of Hong Kong’s colonial legislators had read Chinese language newspapers it wouldn’t necessarily have led to an earlier enactment of Code of Practice GU03 for the Safe Installation of Domestic Gas Water heaters but it’s a reasonable hypothesis that increased awareness of the scale of the problem would have helped push things in the right direction sooner.

It’s decades since I was in U6th form, oblivious to the concept of ‘systems of privilege’ – I didn’t even have much clue about what I was going to do after my A levels –  but in recent months, as I’ve gotten more au fait with ‘inclusion’ issues in schools, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  That’s not only because of the bubble of Privilege with a capital P that I currently teach in, but because a lot of educational debate seems to take place in a bubble every bit as impervious to wider realities as the late colonial bubble of my own school days.  In both cases a small number of people perpetuate a historical notion that in any given situation a particular experience and knowledge set is, or ought to be, the only valid experience and knowledge by which to judge the situation.  This authoritative minority tend to ignore or silence other voices that suggest there might be more than one way to skin the given pedagogical cat.   In both cases, assumptions and/or ignorance cause harm: Twitter, for instance, is a wonderful source of diverse voices, but sometimes scrolling through my timeline I wonder how many opportunities for (teacher) engagement and learning are lost because people are too worried about the prospect of someone with lots of followers responding to any ideas they might suggest  with a public assertion that they are wrong, bad, or at the very least irrelevant. Even if the feared Twitter-storm of ridicule doesn’t follow putting one’s head above the parapet, there’s always the possibility it might.

With the teacher recruitment/retention crisis double heading with pupil disengagement and distress in 2017’s news cycles, I wonder too how many teachers feel like giving up on education because they can’t, or don’t want to, aspire to macho (if not necessarily male) models of the ‘super-teacher’ who doesn’t smile until Christmas, or because they’re scared that if they share alternative ideas they’ll be shouted down by someone who speaks with all the confidence of never having been questioned about their credentials.  Social media is routinely typified as an echo-chamber, but experience of edu-Twitter suggests that the echo-chamber just amplifies and accelerates some old and universal methods of social control – dominant voices that set the parameter of knowledge/authority and delegitimise dissenting voices that raise ideas it doesn’t suit them to think about. To be fair to Edu-Twitter ‘authorities’, anyone who’s passably research informed on the Mere Exposure Effect can make the charitable assumption that resistance  to ‘alternative’ ideas is probably for no more sinister reason than that they haven’t spent much time thinking about them before, because they haven’t had to.  It’s what people do when they start to think about the alternatives that matters.

Meanwhile, the Twitter echo-chamber remains a bit of a worry for British edu-diversity, but it also offers hope in some unprecedented and wonderful opportunities to engage with dynamic grassroots peer support movements like #WomenEd and #BAMEEd  (with #LGBTed  coming down the pipe).  Even more encouraging is being able to follow transatlantic institutions such as the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and ready4rigor.com , whose mind and brain education ‘programs’ are based on the vigorous and growing body of Social and Emotional education research studies that grew out of the US education system’s need to address its historically endemic and acutely divisive race issues.

As cognitive biases go, the mere exposure effect seems relatively easy to deal with: we can become more open to the unfamiliar by entertaining it.   But knowing all those GCSE pupils who spend most of their revision time on their ‘best’ subjects, and colleagues who never intentionally cross the boundaries of anything that’s ‘not my period’ then if we really believe that diversity is not just a minority/pastoral issue, we need to act on that belief, even (especially) when it means challenging colleagues on Twitter or ‘IRL’.  A significant body of research suggests that social and emotional education and school systems based on inclusivity and diversity are not only not inimical to traditional ‘core’ interests of subject expertise, curriculum design and classroom management, but that it can actually enhance them.   I look forward to more edu-debate that both reflects and reflects on those research findings.

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is. (Marcel Proust)

More on Social Emotional Learning

Systems of Privilege 

We need to talk about diversity

The April 2008 cover of US Vogue Magazine was a photograph featuring NBA basketball star LeBron James, and supermodel Giselle Bundchen.  In the magazine’s 116 year history, James was the first black man to appear on its cover.


Within days, the cover made headlines of its own, with internet bloggers making explicit comparisons to early 20th century movie and recruitment posters depicting ‘King Kong’ or ‘this mad brute’ and taking to to cyberspace to ask ‘Is Vogue’s “LeBron Kong” cover offensive?’;  the cyberstink raised was noisome enough to reach main news outlets in the US and abroad, with TV pundits publicly disagreeing on the meaning, intention and effect of the image and even the Daily Telegraph devoting an article to the ‘Race Row over “King Kong” Vogue cover’ . Since 2008 the cover has featured regularly on internet lists of ‘Most Controversial Magazine Covers’ and ‘A History of Racism in Fashion’ and it’s safe to say, in the week that British Vogue appointed its first ever male, who also happens to be black, as Editor in Chief, it’s unlikely that the title will be attracting that kind of controversy again any time soon.

If you are a white UK based teacher reading, your reaction to this US Vogue cover from 9 years ago may range from mild surprise to indifference tinged with a little bit of ‘What’s any of this got to do with education in UK schools? Doesn’t she know we have more pressing concerns?’ And that’s understandable, with the holidays coming to a close and our imminent return to THE EXAMS, especially the largely unknown entity of the new English and Maths GCSEs.  You may even feel that pointing out the similarities between the Vogue cover and King Kong posters is itself racist.  That response of surprised annoyance  that people feel when having their personal or collective blind spots pointed out to them – our stereotyping brains don’t like being reminded of the way they work –  is, perhaps why, according to a survey published by the Runnymede Trust and covered in Friday’s TES, a third of BAME teachers do not feel valued at work.

The report comments that not only do BAME teachers face a climate of institutional racism, including assumptions about their capability, based on racial or ethnic stereotypes and being given stereotypical responsibilities such as oversight for Black History Month, rather than more challenging or intellectual roles.     32 per cent of male and 27 per cent of female teachers surveyed did not feel that staff in their schools were comfortable talking about racism or sexism.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, many do not feel comfortable advocating for themselves, a finding that will not be surprising to any female reader familiar with findings that women also tend to avoid advocating for themselves at work, even when they perceive being unfairly treated, because they do not want to be seen as ‘difficult to work with’  or even ‘aggressive’ by middle and senior managers.

According to the Department of Education’s ‘School workforce in England’, the teaching population is overwhelmingly white (87%) and majority female (74% on average – 85%/62%  primary and secondary respectively).  While approximately 15% of all teachers are Heads or SLT, the male to female ratios are reversed at senior management level and representation of BAME teachers falls off even further, to less than 10%.

In recent years industry has started to wake up to the diversity gap in employment, and as businesses realise the vast untapped potential of non-white, non-male talent the case for improving representation at all levels in Britain has increasingly been made in papers other than the Guardian. The education sector is behind the curve on addressing its diversity problem and with another TES headline this week reporting that nearly half of teachers under 35 are planning to quit over high workload, it is a fair bet that BAME teachers who feel their careers as teachers have stalled because of endemic unconscious biases will be over-represented in those who leave the profession for more enlightened pastures – especially if they are also female.  Being ‘colour blind’ (or gender blind) doesn’t help: it’s an easy cop out that makes the majority feel we’re nice people without having to consider our own positions of relative privilege.  But by the nature of the job we are role models for all the children we see every day in the classroom, and, one hopes, adults who are uniquely able to provide a perspective that may or may not overlap with the possibly less considered views from families or their peers, let alone the maelstrom of prejudice available on the internet.

I have some sympathy with those who say our focus should be on making sure every pupil gets their best possible results, and their diversity issues will take care of themselves, but our pupils’ race and gender have well-documented effects on their progress, well-being and attainment at school and, by extension, their future prospects – it’s not an either/or thing.  As teachers we share responsibility for perpetuating social stereotypes while treating race and gender as too embarrassing to talk about. When it comes to such explosive topics as prejudice we may feel uncomfortable thinking about the ways we can get it wrong; we may even more uncomfortable talking about it, but if we don’t start trying to do inclusion by talking about institutional racism and sexism in our schools, how can it ever improve?

References and more information:

YouTube links to Lebron James/Vogue news coverage from 2008

School workforce in England 2015

The Financial Times

When you say you don’t see race, you’re ignoring racism

Unpacking the Invisible Rucksack: 46 examples of White Privilege

GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics in England

57% of teachers admit to stereoptyping boys and girls

Research reports from Daniel Willingham on Equality,  sterotypes ,  sterotype threat and single-sex schooling

Facts, lies, feelings and proof: why cognitive biases matter and what we can do about it.


One of the dramatic high points in Shakespeare’s play Othello is when Othello, tormented by the idea that his beloved wife is having an affair with his second in command Cassio,  turns on Iago, the man who planted the thought in his head, and demands ‘ocular proof’  that Desdemona is ‘a whore’.  For the audience, this is a moment of high suspense; from the start we have been party to ‘honest’ Iago’s villainous plan to use his position of trust with Othello against him, to destroy his happiness  and his career as a respected general of the Venetian state.   Within moments, Iago has turned Othello’s anger to his own advantage, first adopting the pose of the wronged bearer of bad news who has learned his lesson not to be ‘too honest’ with his friend in future, and then blandly pointing out the ‘tedious difficulty’ of engineering a situation where Othello might ‘grossly gape on’ while Desdemona and Cassio have sex.   From this point in Act 3, Othello is unable to resist Iago’s manipulations, and the play moves relentlessly to its tragic denouement.

Iago,  presented ironically from the opening of the play as ‘honest’, is Shakespeare’s most chilling villain, and Othello is a masterclass in the art of manipulation.  For those interested in the psychology of learning, it is also a useful workshop on cognitive biases in action.  Before Iago has the chance to use Desdemona’s dropped handkerchief as (highly circumstantial) ‘ocular proof’ of her guilt, he is able to convince Othello by the simple expedient of telling him a direct lie about hearing Cassio talk in his sleep. Perhaps more remarkably, Shakespeare suggests that Othello is already convinced of Desdemona’s guilt even by the time he demands ‘ocular proof’. Immediately before he turns on Iago, he refers to Desdemona’s ‘stol’n hours of lust’ as a fact*, and in a soliloquy after Iago’s first insinuations his attempt to reason the situation through concludes that Desdemona is ‘gone’ and he is ‘abused’


This fellow’s of exceeding honesty
And knows all quantities, with a learnèd spirit,
Of human dealings. If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heartstrings,
I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind
To prey at fortune. Haply, for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years—yet that’s not much—
She’s gone, I am abused, and my relief
Must be to loathe her. Oh, curse of marriage
That we can call these delicate creatures ours
And not their appetites! (Act 3, Sc 3 263 – 275)


In this speech we can see how Othello’s trust in ‘this fellow’ Iago’s honesty and wisdom frames his subsequent thoughts on the idea that Desdemona might be unfaithful, and so he goes on to dwell not on reasons that she is true, but on reasons why she might be false – that he is black, lacks sophisticated conversation and is older than her. By  Act 4, when Othello finally sees Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s hand, the audience is fully convinced he will fall for the ruse; as Iago observes ‘trifles light as air are to the jealous confirmations strong as proofs of Holy Writ’  and we know Othello has already decided she is guilty.

 If the cognitive biases on the stage are easy for us to observe, Shakespeare also plays with the cognitive biases of his audience.  Even though we are told in Act 1 by Iago himself that he only ‘follows (Othello) to serve (his) turn upon him’ because  Othello has overlooked Iago’s loyalty in battle over many years, and even though every other character in the play is also taken in by Iago’s ‘honesty’, much criticism over the years has been devoted to Othello’s credulity and resulting jealousy as flaws that disqualify him entirely as a tragic hero.  None of Shakespeare’s other major tragedies appear to provoke such debate.  While murdering your wife can’t be seen as a heroic act, the same could be said of murdering your best friend, another man’s wife and children, or a silly old man hiding behind a curtain; in this writer’s reading at least, critics don’t seem to have the same problems accepting  the fatally flawed hero as an integral element of the tragic genre in Macbeth and Hamlet. 
The idea that emotions influence reasoning has been around a lot longer than the latest research on cognitive biases, and Shakespeare’s genius in depicting the way we tend to pursue conclusions that we are already pre-disposed to reach still resonates today as an idea we need to hold in awareness in our discourses on educational practice.  It is easy to see flaws in other people’s reasoning, and it feels good in the face of our own frustrations about the debate to denounce those who don’t know what we know as idiots or worse, but it doesn’t move the conversation on.  It’s not just people who think Pokemon Go is a useful academic innovation who need to consider a wider body of evidence; too much discourse on teaching and learning seems to ignore what (other) people actually feel, especially online, where outrage is never more than two tweets away.  So I was grateful last week to discover the chart on the left on Tom Bennett’s Twitter feed It’s an excellent primer in Cognitive Biases, and if you want to discover more about your own biases,  you can test yourself on a fun website called Clearerthinking.org which I discovered  via Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous Mind’.
As educators we need to hold to the evidence, and we need to test it and make rational choices for ourselves and our students.  Anyone who is familiar with the play Othello also knows  that Shakespeare puts his words in praise of reason and its ability to ‘cool our raging (e)motions… (and) …our unbitted lusts’ (Act 1, sc 3) into the mouth of his most monstrous villain.  What makes Iago a monster is not his psychological insight, but the lack of empathy which allows him to use that insight against people who trust him. If we truly value reliable evidence and knowledge, we urgently need to re-frame the way we communicate  in the face of a global trend of #alternativefacts to communicate not just rightness, but compassion.


Othello reference:*

What sense had I in her stol’n hours of lust?
    I saw ’t not, thought it not, it harmed not me.

(Othello Act 3, scene 3, lines 348 – 349)


Further reading on Social Emotional Learning:

Harvard Graduate School Making Caring Common project


Further information on moral reasoning and empathy:

Jonathan Haidt’s academic homepage NYU

The Righteous Mind homepage


Confirmation biases, violence and learning.


On April 5, 1968,  in the midst of his run for the 1968 Democratic  nomination, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, delivered a 10 minute speech in front of a hushed audience at the Cleveland City Club in Ohio.  The speech was titled ‘The Mindless Menace of Violence’ ;  April 5 1968 was the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Kennedy’s speech indicted not only the perpetrators of the violence, but also those who “look[ed] for scapegoats [or] conspiracies” in its aftermath.    His opening reference to ‘shame and sorrow’ addressed the shock and sadness of his audience, but he went on to decry the ‘common agreement to meet disagreement with force’.  He offered his audience no easy solutions to wider frustrations about  increasing trends towards political polarisation that were wracking the country with civil dissent over America’s long-running  involvement in the Vietnam War and the emergence of a Black Power Movement threatening to supplant Dr King’s strategy of non-violent resistance .  Instead he reminded them that  “The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed” and exhorted them to “admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men…learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all” and to “admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others.”

The day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy spoke powerfully, informed by both reason and compassion, to challenge his audience about their own part in what happened next.    History does not record the responses of the people at the Cleveland City Club that day, but it does record that the murder of Dr King sparked the greatest wave of social unrest across the United States since the Civil War, with riots in over 100 cities. On June 5th, 2 months to the day after he spoke in Cleveland, the brother of murdered 35th President John F Kennedy  was himself fatally shot as he left the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after finding out he’d won the Californian Primary for the 1968 Democratic nomination.

In 2016, 44th President Barack Obama is notable as the only political figure in the English speaking world whose words speak to both feeling and reason.  It is equally notable that over the last 8 years, for whatever reason, about half the voting population of the United States has been unable to hear him, and whether they supported him or not, his appeal for the peaceful transition of power last week could not pre-empt a wave of protest sweeping the United States  in the wake of the election result. The vast majority of this protest has been peaceful, but mainstream news outlets  have found it difficult to keep up as real and alleged examples of individual circumstance, distress or bad behaviour, surprise and shock are seized on, amplified and echoed around social media.

The 2016 Presidential Election provides data-informed educators with a textbook example of confirmation bias in action.  The internet noise we’ve seen since November 9th is also a good example of our tendency to resort to the availability heuristic , which reinforces the confirmation bias tendency to support pre-existing interpretations and propose simplistic ‘solutions’ with the most readily available ‘evidence’.  Classic fixed mindset behaviour.   As Jonathan Haidt points out in this paper , overcoming confirmation bias (especially our own) is an uphill struggle, but when mature democracies are lining up to jump down the post-truth rabbit hole, awareness of our own confirmation bias tendencies becomes an educational imperative.

When I first started researching ‘non-violent classrooms’ in 2015 one of my teacher friends  joked, ‘What’s all this about non-violent classrooms? We stopped beating the children years ago’  and I laughed with him, but that joke sums up the tendency of many intelligent and well-meaning educators to define the word ‘violence’ too narrowly: unless it’s physical, or shouting, it’s not violence. As teachers, a narrow definition of ‘violence’ lets us off the hook of considering how much our classroom management strategies are unconscious exercises in instilling compliance within a system that reinforces our own power as authority figures.  But we mean well, don’t we?   Maybe we do, but just as a calm, ordered classroom doesn’t necessarily mean the pupils are learning,  the fact that we don’t beat the children any more doesn’t mean we are truly open to their full educational development.  We all say we like debate in the classroom, but, for good educational reasons (getting through the syllabus) it must be focused, and ‘relevant’.

Perhaps understandably, when the education blogosphere looks at the neuroscience behind stress and learning, it tends to focus on the positive, the power of joy and enthusiasm and the connectedness of the ‘aha’ moment.  As teacher,  I too have a dream, that my classroom will be a safe space where every pupil will grow towards their potential as a learning human being.  But in the world outside the safe spaces of our classrooms,  BREXIT and the US election result are salutary lessons that emotions we have the power to regulate, even deny, within our classrooms – anger, fear and hatred – can assume a valency with the potential to change the world in frightening ways.  So, as a teacher, what can I do?  The first thing might be to acknowledge that I am not the objective arbiter of what goes on in my classroom, but a subjective participant.  That my reasoning and intellectual processes are informed by both conscious and unconscious emotion,  what Carl Jung called the Shadow Self.  And also that whether I admit them or not, my own emotional defences will work to stop me seeing as clearly as I think I do.

To the extent that we insist on the ‘safe spaces’ of our educational discourse, we guard against awareness of our own emotional violence by channeling it into bi-partisan debate, by the implicit or explicit denial of emotions around power and control in forming opinions and fashions in educational practice, and by the narrow framing of the conversation around buzz-phrases such as ‘classroom management’ or ‘research-led practice’ to dismiss what is happening outside the classroom as irrelevant to the ‘real’ educational issues. At a time when Liberal Democracy itself is experiencing violent upheavals, those of us who value universal education as a one of its foundations need to bring to awareness and resist in ourselves a collective confirmation bias that adds up to what Robert F. Kennedy, addressing the Cleveland City Club in 1968,  called “the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay.”









Crazy religious people (need educating too)


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In 1857, two years before Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species,’ the Victorian naturalist and creator of the Aquarium Philip Henry Gosse published a book called Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot, arguing that in order for the earth to be ‘functional’, God must have created it with mountains and canyons, trees with growth rings, Adam and Eve with hair, fingernails, and navels (omphalos is Greek for ‘navel’), and that therefore no evidence that we can see of the presumed age of the earth and universe can be assumed to be reliable. Contemporary scientific and theological reception to the book’s publication is best summed up by clergyman novelist Charles Kingsley’s comment that he couldn’t accept a hypothesis based on the premise that God had ‘written on the rocks one enormous and superfluous lie for all mankind.’ The book sold poorly and was seen as an intellectual as well as a financial failure.  However, it gave birth to the Omphalos hypothesis, which still informs young earth creationist theory that remains proof against all empirical argument.

While we are familiar with American creationism, here in the UK we tend to dismiss it as part and parcel of gun-toting extremism in the Land of the Free and regard the existence of institutions such as the Creation Evidence Museum in Texas with amused disdain, not something that is relevant to us.  Nearer to home Northern Ireland, where religion still exerts a stranglehold on education and individual rights, is seen as a uniquely benighted case entangled in intractable historical hatreds and nothing to do with life and education in the wider UK.  However, as the recent Twitter storm raised by Tom Sherrington‘s blog post, My Evolution Assembly. And the Young Creationists shows, religious fundamentalism is flexing its muscles in English schools too.   This is an educational issue, and not just for Science or RE teachers.  It’s not going away and teachers need to consider how they will face it in their classrooms, because in case you haven’t been watching the news lately make no mistake: the forces of religious fundamentalism are entirely inimical to education.

I have a confession to make: I was raised religious.  Not the kindly dotty aunt CofE type religious that characterises the British establishment at prayer, but the wild-eyed you must be born again religious so brilliantly satirised by Jeanette Winterson in Oranges are not the Only Fruit.   Although it is a novel, it is closely autobiographical, and when I first read it twenty years ago I recognised the unholy alliance of Biblical authoritarianism, intellectual vacuity and social inadequacy she relates from the ‘Fellowship’ of my own childhood. Winterson’s book gives some idea how being exposed to doctrinaire absolutism fosters in a child a mind set diametrically opposed to that of people who’ve been raised in secular or nominally religious households . Fundamentalism separates humanity into ‘brothers and sisters’ and ‘the World’, encouraging the child to be both disdainful and suspicious of everything outside the circle of belief; it privileges the religious authority over intellectual enquiry and simultaneously encourages individuals to indulge their emotional responses and, as long as those responses align with the accepted doctrines, validate them with as revealed truths pointing to the Will of God. Religious fundamentalism is as effective a form of brainwashing as any that has been devised; it’s on the rise and ignoring it, or backing away from it out of fear of giving offence, is not going to make it go away.

Conversely, although it is infuriating to deal with religious people (they are so self-righteous, so apparently wilful in their blindness to self evident realities and scientific facts!) mocking them as stupid or condemning their beliefs as bad only confirms what they have been told that everyone outside their belief system is hostile, and defensive anger easily justifies violence. Rather, as Tom Sherrington suggests, we need to respectfully engage with assertions of religious belief, however ridiculous we find them, as educational opportunities, and use our privilege as teachers to allow children raised in those belief systems a chance to hear alternative views.

I first came across Philip Henry Gosse in ‘Father and Son’, the writer Edmund Gosse’s account of his relationship with his father .  I commend it to you.  Reading Father and Son helped me to understand my own experience of rejecting childhood religion – my parents thankfully never banned the reading of fiction as Gosse’s did, and while he glimpsed other possibilities than passively accepting faith assertions through his reading of dictionaries and scientific publications, I glimpsed them through Literature. At school the adults I knew modelled a way of life that showed disinterested curiosity about facts and what was going on in the world around me to be a more interesting, secure and constructive foundation for living than the Book of Revelation.   I was lucky in my teachers; I was also lucky that when I rejected our ‘fellowship’ at 15, I was largely left to my own devices, my only punishment being the loss of people I had known as family.

The religious fundamentalisms of the early 21st century are more aggressive than those of the last; they frighten us all, but they are not to be dismissed as mere distant horrors.  The people on whom they exact the worst toll are the children born into them.  We need more teachers to actively engage with the debate about religion in schools, to put forward their considered expert views on enlightenment through learning rather than revelation. Grateful as I am to my teachers for modelling an alternative way to be, that may no longer be enough.

Update: Since I posted this, Tom Sherrington has written a further blog post on the ‘hoopla’ surrounding his Evolution Assemblies.  It illustrates some of my points above about both the difficulties and the necessity of keeping the conversation going.

Also, if you haven’t seen the film ‘Spotlight’ yet, go and see it. It portrays compellingly how the Catholic Church, seemingly far removed in power and social reach from the extremities of isolationist sects, subscribes to the same distorted world view of the primacy of authority and tradition over evidence.

Putting it into practice…


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I’ve been working on all that for the last few weeks, how to turn it into something I can actually use in the classroom.  Come the beginning of term, it’s time.  I decided to go forward with a general idea of ‘giving them space to learn’: I would provide the scaffolding and technical information, but so far as practical they would take responsibility for their own learning in the classroom space by deciding how we go forward.  Once the blanks (lessons) are filled in, which I’m planning to do over the next two weeks, give or take an hour, I’ll print and distribute.


In my four lessons this morning we talked seating arrangements, timetabling and the differences between their learning experience on p.2 Tuesday and p.6 Friday.   We discussed having a mobile-free lesson once a cycle.  To my mild surprise, nobody raises any objections.  Is that a function of them really not minding or being compliant?

But a picture is worth a thousand words, said someone.  Here are some from my first morning’s attempts at bringing the pupils on board with social emotional focus for academic progress (sorry: that’s a mouthful.  There isn’t a handy buzz phrase available yet).

I asked them to set their own goals for the term/course.  (NB: Both offers of a goal for class work-shopping were from boys.)


Yr 11 goal workshopped on the board: ‘Do all my preps by the deadline’

Yr 13 goal: ‘Get A*s’

I gave them these worksheets to help them bring together the information, the feelings/needs and their (self-determined) goals.


Points of interest: the U6th form are most extrinsically focused (unsurprising, perhaps –  they’ve been in the system longer, they are looking beyond school…) All very illuminating and helps me to get to know them.  We started discussing the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – we’ll pick up the discussion as we go along.

Lastly I asked the U6 form, whose set I have just taken over, to use the feelings words from the list to give me some anonymous Post it feedback about how they felt at the end of the first lesson – one apparently misunderstood what I was asking them to do and two didn’t hand in their Post its.  Those are also forms of feedback.

Feelings feedback

The basis for several more illuminating conversations over the next few lessons.  I’ll keep you posted.

A random selection of thoughts from my travels (ii) – ‘Out’ Teachers Save Lives


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In search of more non-violent pedagogies*, I was due to visit Athenian School in Danville, California, on Monday 29th June.  The nearest airport is San Francisco, so the day after SCOTUS passed equal marriage across all 50 states I found myself landing in arguably the gay capital of the world, at the beginning of Pride weekend.

The city was ready: Market Street was decked with rainbow flags and my hotel was full of jubilant gay people, ready to start the biggest city wide celebration of their lives.  Walking out that evening to get my bearings and some food, it was both thrilling and daunting to see gay people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colours casually and unself-consciously wandering the city streets hand in hand, children and elderly relatives in tow: thrilling because that’s the way I hope to see it one day on the streets of British cities and daunting because I read things like this, and I hear the stories of my gay friends and pupils, and I know we still have a mountain to climb before we get there.

The next day the start of the parade got off to a roaring start courtesy of several hundred bikers on Harley Davidsons.  After that, the more usual form: fire fighters get bigger cheers than police officers, bare chests (usually male) and leather are de rigeur;  feathers, drag queens, stilt walkers and disco music are mandatory. San Francisco’s parade was a bigger shinier version of the same, and it also featured large cohorts in matching t-shirts from Google (Red) Facebook (Blue)  and Apple (White) as well as the cast of OITNB blowing kisses to the crowd from the Netflix float, which you don’t see in London.  After the celebrities and the tech giants, there were hundreds marching behind the ‘proud families’ banner: adult children with elderly same sex parents (“I love my gay moms!”) alongside young gay couples pushing babies in strollers, churches and smaller organisations: elder care groups (“60+ is sexy!”) AIDS hospices and animal shelters – even a group of gay pit-bull owners, keen to show off their ugly dogs’ softer sides by dressing them in rainbow gauze tutus for the occasion.  Marriage equality was a major theme and the street vendors’ rainbow wares included hen-night wedding veils alongside the feather boas, beads and wrist-bands.

And then there were the schools.  High schools and elementary (primary) schools from San Francisco school districts and from satellite towns – Oakland, Cloverdale, Walnut Creek, came one after another in the procession.  I was delighted and, knowing the resistance to talking about ‘the gay stuff’ in British schools, amazed to see parents, teachers and pupils all walking together behind their school banners proclaiming their school’s public support for LGBT rights.   My phone was dead by the time they came down Market Street, so I didn’t get a photo of the guy carrying the placard proclaiming that ‘Out teachers save lives’ but it stayed with me: firstly because it struck me that the ongoing argument we have in the UK about whether or not LGBT teachers, or black teachers, or female teachers, ‘should have to be flag carriers’ for their group seems to have been conclusively resolved in the San Francisco.  And secondly because it reminded me of a former colleague, a traditional, classically educated chap, who used to deride a young colleague’s break time enthusiasm about something amazing that had happened in his classroom that day with a sarcastic ‘Oh yes: we’re saving lives here!’.  On a literal level my old colleague was right: nobody is going to die if they don’t get an A* in GCSE English Language, and it’s perfectly possible to adopt a professional persona for the purposes of getting a bunch of kids through an exam.   Allowing that having measurable criteria for assessing learning is a pre-requisite, I’d question whether what we think we’re teaching is actually the same thing as what the kids are learning. The Californian teacher I saw waving the placard was probably thinking literally too: it’s well known that LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heteronormative peers (just Google LGBT youth suicide and take your pick).   However, as referenced in my last post,  mental health issues are becoming more than a ‘diversity’ issue and our collective obsession with narrowly defined performance data isn’t obviously making anyone’s life better.   So I’m nailing my (rainbow) colours to the mast of teachers being effective in furthering the educational development of their students to the extent that they bring their whole self to the classroom, not (only) because it might make the classroom a nicer place for the kids, but also because if we each bring our awareness of what makes us tick and what pushes our buttons intellectually and emotionally, it might also galvanise the wider culture, so that what we say we do and what we actually do and what the students perceive us doing begin to align.

Would this lead towards more engaged students (and less stressed out teachers)? I think it’s worth trying, and here’s why: while I’ve been away I’ve continued to ruminate on Carol Dweck’s* comments at EdFest on ‘false growth mindset’ and how there has to be a parallel learning journey for educators if students are going to really ‘get it’.  What I understood her saying is that it’s easy to jump on a bandwagon, and ‘talk the talk’ without actually doing the work of working out our own areas of fixed mindset, for example, the belief by some teachers that we classroom practitioners should only have to concern ourselves with academic subject/curriculum knowledge because ‘we’re not social workers’.  The fixed mindset of individual teachers is not generally challenged by the wider educational culture of specialisation and our schools’ mission statements are full of quotable gobbets about educating the whole person, but in practice, unless we ‘go the Pastoral route’  schools don’t do a lot to encourage teachers to think outside classroom management or beyond the next set of exams.  PSHE anyone?

San Francisco was almost the end of my American journey; later that week I spoke with Kal Balaven, Athenian’s Head of Equality and Inclusion, after I discovered almost by accident that a job called ‘Head of Diversity and Social Justice’ is a Senior Leadership (what they call ‘Administration’) position in many U.S. Schools.   You don’t see many ads for that post in the TES and I could only guess what it entailed but very existence of the post implies a more holistic and integrated approach than putting the ‘diversity stuff’ (when acknowledged at all) on the plate of the Pastoral Head, along with eating disorders and the other awkward things schools have to deal with that fall outside the drive for academic excellence.  Kal told me U.S schools started addressing diversity issues around race in the eighties, and everything else followed from there. Thirty years in, it can still be done well or done badly; some schools merely tick the boxes by ‘having a taco day’ but  schools who ‘have a healthy approach’ work to embed diversity and inclusion throughout their curriculum as part of an educational remit to ‘give students the skills to navigate a global community’.

I guess what appealed to me about the ‘Out teachers’ placard is that although that teacher was (I assume) referring to sexuality, it chimed with my sense that what we do has to come from the heart as well as the head, from a place of trust rather than a place of fear about not only the outcomes but also about what we individual teachers are bringing to the process.  And if I were in charge, I’d organise things so that teacher training provided not only a chance to learn the subjects and effective classroom strategies but also a time to do what the Americans call ‘some work on ourselves’ and discover our own internal barriers to learning as part of professional development.  How we might then communicate ourselves to our students, and how that might effect transformative learning with measurable outcomes, is the next question.   I’m currently reading Ron Richart’s ‘Creating Cultures of Thinking’, the book Athenian School has bought in bulk and asked its entire ‘faculty’ to read over the summer vacation (imagine!). They gave me a copy too; I’m currently on the chapter about language.  One thing that’s clear is that how we use language in the classroom is crucial in getting to where we want to go, but language, like anything else we do in the classroom, is most effective when it’s coming from a place of clarity about where we are.


*Non-violent pedagogies is my term for teaching and learning strategies and philosophies based on dialogue and collaboration.