The murder of George Floyd earlier this year in May seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back. The world watched it, tweeted and then began searching for justice.
The merciless killing of George Floyd left a gut-wrenching feeling for many who watched the video that circulated on the internet. It sparked worldwide protests but for the black diaspora, it was nothing we hadn't seen or experienced before.
The Black Lives Matter movement grew rapidly and we saw corporations, including schools speaking out in support of black people. This lead to many educators asking themselves
"How do we support our black students and become an anti-racist institution?".
Suddenly conversations, articles and insta-lives on racism and social injustice were everywhere. Everybody suddenly realised racism was really bad.
It was inevitable these conversations would dwindle once people were distracted by their jobs or the latest events on social media..
But I'm here to remind you that Black Lives Still Matter.
As educator's it's paramount that we create an education system that is anti-racist.
Here are some suggestions as to how we can attempt to do this:
Acceptance of racism
Before you begin to strategise, you first have to accept that there is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed. You can't be on the fence. Accepting our education system has failed its black students is the first and necessary step to making the changes necessary.
Make anti-racism a priority.
Sadly, there are many educators who used their political views to judge the BLM movement as a racist movement rather than seeing it for what it really is. Acknowledging that black lives matter is not inciting racism. It is saying 'we deserve to not be inhumanely killed or mistreated because we are human, just like you'. If your response to that is "yea but all lives matter" then I'm surprised you made it this far down my post.
Every school should make it a priority to be an anti-racist school. As I mentioned earlier, you first have to accept that as a community, we have failed particular groups and we want to change the current situation. Your school improvement plan should make it clear that being an anti-racist school is a priority. Then carefully consider how you will go about doing this. This isn't something you achieve overnight and just like every other school objective, it will take time. Hopefully you don't have to sell it to staff but it's almost guaranteed you will receive backlash from staff who feel you are 'becoming too political'. You will have to train staff, revise your curriculum, implement programmes and collaborate with outside agencies. It‘s no easy task but it‘s definitely a priority. When you consider the fact that one of our British Values is "tolerance", it's a reminder that we have incredibly important roles in shaping the minds and character of the future generation.
Curriculum - Diverse books
In school, the most celebrated books were usually written by white authors. There is absolutely nothing wrong with white authors of course but where were the black ones?
Furthermore, a lack of representation within the texts studied reinforces the idea that black people are not important. Aside from Benjamin Zephaniah, I wasn't familiar with many black authors/poets in school. The sad part is I coasted through school never questioning why there were no authors who looked like me and where were the stories of people that came from parts of the world I wasn't familiar with? Despite my love for literature and the arts, a lack of representation within the stories we studied eventually left me uninspired.
At the very least, children should be taught about the role of black people in British History [and one that goes as far back as the tudors - we were there].
Black History Month can still exist but it can’t be celebrated in a token, one month assembly. Furthermore, it shouldn't just be a focus on the slave trade and how black people were freed.That narrative alone is damaging to black children's self-identity. Black history is rich, relevant and predates the slavery narrative by thousands of years. More importantly, Black history is everyone's history and British history certainly doesn't exist without the contributions of black people.
The dangerous thing about teaching history is the person who teaches it can alter it to fit their agenda.This is where we would benefit having more black academics. Nonetheless, it's our responsibility to teach history and teach it in its entirety. So if we're going to teach colonialism, teach Britain’s role in it. If you're teaching the Tudors, include the role of black people in society during that time. An inclusive history curriculum prevents the marginalisation of groups in our schools. This is why programmes like Lyfta are amazing. It promotes global citizenship by providing teachers and students story-based learning experiences from around the world.
Training - Empathy & Emotional Intelligence
I always wondered how teachers who lacked empathy were allowed to teach in schools.
You would think that a job as important as a teacher would have empathy as a requirement for the role. As a former student and as a teacher, I've witnessed abuse, threatening behavior and mistreatment at the hands of a teacher..
These teachers then become the people making key decisions about our children and we wonder how schools are failing students?
The training of teachers has to be more than just learning how to teach.
Teachers should be taught how to be introspective and reflective. There should also be a test on emotional intelligence and empathy. This might all sound foolishly idealistic but doctors have to do a similar testing and it makes complete sense.
Representation - More black educators
Despite attending two different primary schools,I wasn't taught by a single black teacher.
This changed in secondary school but there were still very few black teachers around.
Today, there's a larger cohort of black teachers in the profession and yet we still only make up 2% of the teacher workforce. Recruiting more black teachers is one challenge and retaining them is a whole different issue altogether.
The exciting thing is there are many young black teachers heading into the profession and with the help of organisations such as Young Black Teachers Network (@YBTN_uk) and Black Teachers Connect (@Blackteachersconnect), the next generation of black teachers are energised, enthused and more importantly, they are supported. Still, there are approximately only 200 black headteachers across the country. When you put that into perspective, it's no surprise the first black headteacher I met was Nadine Bernard in 2017.
I was 27 and starstruck.
Having more black teachers is important for black children and non-black children.
Representation - Black children will have advocates in their school who understand and appreciate their culture for what it is. Hopefully less exclusions for hairstyles (an intended jab).
Challenging ignorance - Non-black children will have greater exposure to people who represent different races and cultures. This will challenge the ignorance and stereotypes that often occur from a lack of knowledge and understanding.
Representation - More Black male educators
Education has been, for a very long time, a female dominated sector.
This is more evident in primary education where male teachers make up just 15% of the teachers workforce in the country.
The lack of male educators is one issue and the lack of black male educators is an even bigger problem. If black male educators make up less than 3% of the teacher workforce, Black boys leave school with very little experience of being taught by a black man, particularly in their early years of education. For the majority of my primary school experience, I was taught by one male teacher who was white.This changed when I started secondary but there were still very few men in comparison to the women. When you digest the statistics for the exclusion of black boys in schools, you have to ask how does the lack of black male educators play a part in this.
Without black men in these important spaces, black boys are deprived of honest conversations about things related to the male experience. They are deprived of role models in which they can look up to and seek guidance from. This is particularly important if there aren't many positive father-figures at home.
My colleague Ziggy Moore once said, "It's not that we need black men in education, we need more educated men".. and for the most part, I agree. There are educated black men but for one reason or another, many of them are not in the teaching profession. Having more educated black men in our schools could also go a long way to eradicate the stereotypes people have of black men but it's not the sole responsibility of a black man to stop others from stereotyping him. Many people still don't see it as normal for us to be in certain spaces and it absolutely is. I also thought being a teacher was not normal for someone like me but guess what... it absolutely is.
As a former student, It's very difficult for me to dissociate my time at school from exclusions, poor grades and conflict with teachers.This is why I became a teacher in the first place. It's been 14 years since I left school and when you look at the state of education, the picture is still the same.
Every year, reports from The Department for Education exposes how black students are still being failed by their schools. It's therefore impossible to deem a school outstanding if year after year they are excluding children at alarming rates. Let's not wait for Ofsted to judge us on how well we are serving our students. As educators we must be reflecting on how well we do this every day. We have the most important jobs in the world, let's start using to shape a different society for the future.