What a year. So much change in what feels like a never-ending Groundhog Day. But, amidst the uncertainty and boredom of lockdown, remote learning, constant testing and so on, this year has been a turning point for schools. People in education are thinking more critically, questioning the ‘devil we know’ and most importantly, speaking up. Teaching, podcasting, blogging and working with schools in the most valuable field of diversity, equality and inclusion, here are a few of the lessons I’ve found all students (teachers and parents) need to know and will help them learn better in an everchanging, worldly landscape:
1. Teach and learn diversity of thought, character and individuality
And, this is possible, despite the problematic ‘system’ of education in England (I refer to England mainly as this is where my experiences and own education come from. I’m sure there are many global crossovers, but I am not qualified or experienced to comment on global systems).
We always refer to the ‘system’. ‘The system isn’t fit for purpose’. ‘There are too many systemic flaws’. ‘Until there is systemic change, things won’t change’. Whilst this may be a truth, it is fast becoming another blame game. For now, students need to do GCSEs, A Levels. For now, students need to take tests even though the definition of academic success is fairly binary and narrow. Students are stressed and the uncertainty is having an impact on their well-being. Teachers are overworked and unduly overwhelmed by targets, pointless piles of marking and the blurred lines of responsibilities between home and school. Schools are under-resourced. If you haven’t spent a few months or years in a classroom, you really don’t know.
But, we also live in a pretty efficient world and whether we like it or not, nearly every GCSE and A level resource and answer is available on Google. As teachers, sometimes we feel the need to create work for ourselves, go the unnecessary extra mile, fight the power of Google and digitally savvy folk who aim to make our lives that little bit easier. Word of advice for new teachers and students? Embrace the ease. Thank the digital world. Spend all of the extra time gained from using these wonderful resources to create a diverse and engaging classroom environment that you and your students will want to learn from. If we’re ‘savvy’, GCSEs and A Levels can be achieved in pretty ‘lean’ ways.
You then have time to teach beyond the curriculum: learn about the world and how to appreciate different perspectives; explore jobs that don’t exist yet, books that no one in mainstream education will know about, people who rarely appear in a Google search. As cliched as it sounds, disrupt your comfort zone and break out of that echo chamber that we know causes us to dread school anyway.
2. School parents
School is as much about kids as it is parents. Maybe an uncomfortable thing to say, but parents need schooling - big time. When teaching and now in my role as DEI Lead across a couple of schools, in my blogging work, podcasting, conversations with a variety of different people, I’ve realised we spend a hell of a lot of time schooling kids about empathy, resilience, adaptability, failure, success, diversity, inclusion, equality…we’re missing a big trick. It’s the parents that need it, more than anyone else.
Often, with the best will in the world, the values instilled in children by their parents or guardians (if they are privileged enough to to come from a caring home, something else teachers come across on a daily basis - a very uncomfortable and disheartening lesson) are based on yet another narrow echo chamber. I know, I too as a parent, will need to fight every fibre in my body to not impose my personal values on my child(ren).
It’s well-meaning, I know, but there is a grey area that parents of secondary-aged children especially need to be aware of - children are not an extension of you. They are individuals in their own right, learning, growing and developing in an environment which we as adults are not too familiar with. Their world may overlap with ours, but it is still fundamentally different. Their experiences are different. Their level of empathy, compassion and understanding might be more or less than yours. Their interests are also different. Becoming a doctor, owning a house, climbing a career ladder, the 9-5 may have worked successfully for many adults… that doesn’t mean it will for our children.
The world is at a turning point, socially, technologically, economically and this generation is set to be the most diverse in history…we cannot expect children to mimic who we have become. It’s unfair, impossible and a mistake.
Students: as Adam Grant says, learn how to embrace and understand different perspectives. Of course, when it comes to social justice, kindness and compassion, there are some things that - in my humble opinion - are non-negotiable: nobody’s identity is worth more than another’s and I am grateful to work in a field where I can teach and learn about the culture and values of diversity and inclusion. Apart from these global values, find your own way (whilst knowing you can always seek advice, safety and comfort in your caregivers).
Embrace and LEARN the grit necessary to overcome the impositions and differences with others - they are not you and you are not them (and that’s fine!).
Learn to embrace challenge.
Learn to ‘be’ in a room filled with different opinions, schools of thoughts, cultures, religions, values and more, without feeling the need to prove yours is better than another - in the grand scheme of the world order, it probably isn’t.
Most importantly craft a path whilst experiencing adversity, barriers and blockers so you can figure out what you really want and who you really are…the life long lesson that will keep you busy for a pretty long time…spoiler: it changes all the time!
3. Learn to adapt and don’t always look for someone to blame.
School is a tough environment and growing as a teenager is one of the most difficult things to do (maybe adults will disagree with me, but I think many of us look back with rose tinted glasses). BUT you’ll be ok. Things will be fine, they will get better and as much as you can, believe in this sense of 'ok-ness', speak up, surround yourself with the people who sincerely want what’s best for you (not always your family) and practice the art of gratefulness. Embrace differences in opinion and just accept the world isn’t working against you, it just works differently for everyone. So, make it work for you.
For the love of God, the world and being a better learner, read. Stop scrolling and looking for truth in an infographic. Read. The patience and skill for reading is an underrated dose of gold for your brain. For teens, if you enter your email address here, you’ll find a valuable set of books to get you started - ones I consider truly mind and life-changing.
Happy 2022, everyone.