The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Aldaine Wynter

Developing an anti-racism strategy and preparing for a cultural shift

Aldaine Wynter describes the next part of his school’s anti-racism journey: creating a more relevant, inclusive curriculum, and promoting student ownership.

My last blog, Beginning the conversation around race, diversity and inclusion with staff, shared my school's journey as we sought to implement anti-racism initiatives. A year on from when my school hosted their first forum on racial injustice for staff, students and the broader community in light of the killing of George Floyd, we reflect on the highlights and noticeable changes that occurred.

We have worked hard to ensure that diversity and inclusion were embedded in all that we did as a school and made a genuine impact on all community members. As time went on and more work was done with staff and students, and the wider community, it became apparent that there began to be a shift in culture and sensibility towards diversity and inclusion (D&I).

Culture shifts require changes in mindsets, norms, expectations and attitudes

In this blog, I’ll share some of the different ways my school implemented anti-racism initiatives, and the impact this work has had on school culture and staff confidence in matters relating to D&I.

School culture

School culture is built up over time and influences the day-to-day behaviour and actions of everyone at the school. We would like to believe that the school's culture would naturally align itself with the school's vision or mission statement. While it should, this is not often the case and will change dramatically based on the leadership of a school.

My school is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school that believes its mission and vision is to prepare our young people to be global leaders by providing our students with a curriculum rooted in Dwight's three education educational pillars:

  • personalised learning
  • a commitment to our community
  • global vision.

Culture shifts require changes in mindsets, norms, expectations and attitudes. When considering the sensitive nature of anti-racism, there will inevitably be resistance and apprehensions. In these instances, it always helps to refer back to the school's mission and vision. And in our case, the three pillars remind us of the importance of ongoing commitment and collaboration when building stronger communities, in order to have a meaningful impact on social justice issues.

A culture of relevance

When putting together a strategy for anti-racism, the work needs to be relevant, practical and meaningful. No matter the cause your school wants to raise awareness around, I have found that cultural responsiveness should be at the forefront of all plans.

Cultural responsiveness puts the students at the centre, giving us the ability to learn and relate respectfully with people from our own cultures and those from other cultures.

For example, in my school, the drama department looks at African storytelling with the year 7s. The students have the opportunity to watch virtual storytellers and analyse the storytelling as an art form. I think this is important for those seeking to review curriculum and bring in more inclusive units that reflect and hold more relevance to the diverse range of students taught in the classroom.

An inclusive curriculum review 

The brilliance of the IB curriculum is the ease in which teachers can work collaboratively to shape their units to bring current affairs and matters affecting students into the classroom. We looked at the units being taught throughout the whole school to see where there were explicit references to Black history and culture.

From the early years through to the diploma programme, it was clear that significant work was being done to highlight and champion a diverse range of voices and experiences. However, there was a need to get everything in one place that would allow students, parents and staff to see the references being taught. In particular, we wanted to highlight where there were explicit references to Black history and Black experiences.

There was considerable effort to focus away from the constant emphasis on Black people's contribution in history being purely slavery

To better centralise the work, the school began work on what would eventually become the inclusive curriculum review, emphasising racial literacy. Emphasising racial literacy was important when conducting the review as that was the emphasis on staff CPD. Promoting racial literacy was vital as it allows for improved confidence when discussing issues around race.

As staff and students begin to do more work that seeks to raise awareness around racial literacy, we will hear fewer people say, 'I don't see colour' or 'I don't see race.' More students begin to see themselves represented in the curriculum. Lessons become an opportunity to learn more about their culture and identity.

Over two years, the review allowed staff to look at what was currently being taught and see where units could be adapted, or new units formed. There were two main aims that we wanted to come out of the process. First, there had to be an explicit reference to Black history or experience taught for every year group. For the middle years programmes (MYP) and the diploma programme (DP), only English, drama and individuals & society were involved in the review.

Second, there was considerable effort to focus away from the constant emphasis on Black people's contribution in history being purely slavery. While I feel it is essential for all students to understand the dreadful truth that was slavery, aside from slavery, Black and ethnic minority voices and representation are often absent from the curriculum. (This 2018 Telegraph article talks about how an emphasis on slavery puts Black students off history altogether.)

Instead, I wanted the review to be an opportunity to highlight the contributions of Black people in history, celebrating Black authors, playwriters, artists and more.

Student ownership

Teaching is an ever-growing landscape, and as educators, we are preparing students for the future. So, it is imperative to keep students engaged and motivated. Cultural relevance leads to enhanced student voice and ownership. They become more willing to become the drivers of their learning.

In addition to the curriculum review, introducing a diversity calendar was an important tool in effectively communicating the school's commitment to D&I. Similarly, the calendar was a great way to ensure that we were highlighting a wide range of historical, cultural and religious events from diverse groups as a school.

Whilst the staff CPD and student workshops focused on raising awareness around race, the diversity calendar needed to highlight key events associated with the nine protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religious beliefs
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Throughout the year, students engaged with various activities that aimed to raise awareness of the protected characteristics. The table below gives a taste of the students' activities throughout the year. 

Age

Disability

Gender reassignment

Assembly on the Equality Act 2010 External speaker on disability and post-education Assembly on the Equality Act 2010

Marriage and civil partnership

Pregnancy and maternity

Race

Assembly on the Equality Act Assembly on the Equality Act Black History Month
Email blast for Stephen Lawrence Day
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Religious beliefs

Sex

Sexual orientation

Tutor sessions for Ramadan
Tutor session for International Mother Language Day
International Women’s Day LGBT History Month

The school took a holistic approach, showcasing a wide range of engaging activities, from quizzes to poetry. Students were exposed to D&I initiatives beyond the curriculum.

Being exposed to the range of activities was why one of our students chose to work on resources to highlight Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May. This was a cause that he had always been passionate about highlighting, heightened by the increase in anti-Asian hate crime that was seen in the USA.

Promoting a culture of innovation and working with a diverse group of people brings the best out of all members

Throughout the month, the student aimed to highlight the importance of increasing Asian visibility and representation to the students at Dwight. Staff and students were exposed to a range of books, articles, recipes and more. The most memorable content was the weekly Asian artist blast – exposing us to new musicians like Produce Panda, a pop/C-pop boy band and Audrey Nuna, an R&B artist.

Watching students feel empowered to raise awareness about a cause close to their heart, is one of the many ways that highlighting anti-racism encourages members of your community to take action. Any school wanting to see what their students can come up with should first seek to lead by example. Promoting a culture of innovation and working with a diverse group of people brings the best out of all members wanting to contribute towards the anti-racism strategy.

This is not a moment; this is a movement.

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