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

Setting up an anti-racist book and film club

Aldaine Wynter explains how book and film clubs form an essential strand of staff professional development around anti-racism in his school.

In my previous blog, Developing anti-racism strategy for schools and preparing for a cultural shift, I explored the impact that anti-racism strategies have on school culture and student ownership with regards to social justice activism. 

For the third and final blog in the series, I wanted to put a spotlight on the anti-racist book club and film club, two of the many successful anti-racist CPDs that took place at my school. Out of the range of books and films staff were offered I will share the top three in terms of impact for staff.

Reaching staff

Like any club, the book club and film club were about building relationships amongst staff. They allowed us to build a safe space to bring staff members from the whole school to discuss a sensitive issue during the height of the pandemic.

It is imperative that all staff members are given the chance to engage with the topic of race, build confidence with racial literacy and arm themselves with the tools to help any child in the school corridor that may need their guidance, wisdom or simply their ear

We did not know it at the time, but the pandemic forcing schools to explore the use of a hybrid model to deliver CPD would be instrumental in connecting the school’s different sites. Approaching CPD using the hybrid model allowed us to use our school’s digital platform to connect staff members from our campuses across the primary and the secondary school, with ease.

Life-long learners

At Dwight, we believe in life-long learners and the book and film club gave staff members an opportunity to discuss themes of racial injustice and their ties to education. More specifically, we could reflect on our practice and policies as an international school in London.

The book and film club were compulsory for all staff members, not only as a means to deepen the relationships between staff members, but also to engage them in a holistic discussion about race with a broad range of colleagues. Staff seemed to respond positively to this. This could have been due to the recent George Floyd incident, or, it could have been due to the fact the CPD was long term and staff were receiving something tangible in the form of the book.

Because all staff have the potential to make an impact on the experience of young people in school, it is imperative that all staff members are given the chance to engage with the topic of race, build confidence with racial literacy and arm themselves with the tools to help any child in the school corridor that may need their guidance, wisdom or simply their ear.

A mixed media approach

If you are thinking about hosting a book club, I strongly suggest you consider hosting both a book and film club. Not all staff members will gravitate to the book selections, whether the session is compulsory or not. So, it is important that the selections are varied and that the film club is used as a means of offering a more accessible medium for members who don’t feel confident discussing book themes.

Reading is fundamental

The book club was arranged for when staff broke up for the summer holiday. The break allowed for books to be delivered to staff and gave ample time for everyone to read through their selection ready for discussion in the autumn.

At whatever point you decide to do your book club it is important to consider the amount of time staff will have to read. Inadequate time will lead to discussions being disingenuous and limits participants’ ability to contribute and share their thoughts. I strongly suggest that you allow staff the summer break to read. Which means you would want book selections complete in term 2 ideally, June at the latest.     

Staff were given a choice of six books from which they picked one to read. The three that had the most impact based on staff feedback were the following:

Book discussion prompts

In the autumn, once staff had the opportunity to read through their books, they were split into groups and were given questions to prompt discussions. We didn’t see a need to record answers to the prompts; instead, the prompts were used as a springboard and if a new question emerged then that was great, providing it was on topic.

Staff members who read Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All were given these questions as prompts:

  • Is it really about race?
  • Is police brutality really about race?
  • What is cultural appropriation?
  • What is the model minority myth?

These questions may not seem linked to education; they were focused on the theme of the book, which explored police brutality in the US and in historic cases. The second prompt was really important, as while in the UK we do not have many cases where a victim is shot by police, we do have the controversial Stop & Search initiative which directly impacts Black people more than any other race.

For those who read Pratisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist, they received the following prompts for consideration and discussion:

  • The entrenched connections between history and lived experience
  • The importance of chosen family and biological family, intentional community, intimacy, and networks of care
  • Spirituality
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Personal responsibility vs. collective responsibility.

The last prompt on personal responsibility vs collective responsibility struck a chord with staff, as we have been doing a lot of sessions around bystander behaviour and being an upstander.

And finally, for those who read Angela Davis’s Women, Race & Other, they were given the following prompts:

  • What is the difference between being a non-racist and being an anti-racist?
  • What is White privilege?
  • What is the difference between racism and racial bias?
  • What is the importance of intersectionality?

The question on intersectionality is really important. Some of us belong to more than one marginalised group, be that Black, Ethnic Minority, Women, LGBT, Class to name a few. But, it is important to look at how racial injustice may impact the students in their school using an intersectional approach. For example, Black boys are typically targeted and seen as ‘aggressive’ and have sanctions applied to them more harshly than their white peers. Black girls are more likely to be treated as adults when in school and like boys more likely to be seen as being ‘difficult’.

Films for everyone

The film club was announced just before the winter break, helping to spread the anti-racism CPD over the academic year. To ensure that all staff had the opportunity to get involved, I chose films and TV series that were available on a variety of streaming platforms, some free and some paid. When selecting films for your club, bear in mind that some films may only be available for a limited time.

Staff were asked to select one film or TV series to watch from a list of 11. Unlike with the book club, I found that many staff watched more than one film. Of the choices, the following three stood out in discussion.

Film and TV discussion prompts

Once we got back from the winter break we broke into groups and used the following prompts to guide discussions.

  • Have your perceptions on race changed from the staff Inset at the beginning of the year?
  • How has the theme of race been discussed in the films you have watched?
  • Did the films discuss race differently than the books?
  • Are you more confident talking about race?
  • Does defensiveness keep us from truly listening to black people?

An opportunity for reflection

At the time the film club took place, staff had gone through a series of anti-racist CPD from September. With racial literacy constantly being emphasised with staff, the discussion points were an opportunity for reflection.

It is important that staff engage with anti-racism initiatives. But equally, it is important to use the discussions as an opportunity to reflect on how individuals are progressing on their journey toward being anti-racist.

Are you keen to start a book or film club? Do get in touch with me via LinkedIn.

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