Reflexions on TeachDifferent: The Diversity Programme
I took the bunting down for the last time at Capel Manor College last week and brought it home in the boot of my car. It’s sitting in front of me now, slightly tatty and a little bit ‘vintage’. On each triangle is a quote from a Diversity Programme participant.
Re-reading them, without a haze of adrenaline to fuel me, is making me feel humble indeed.
“The integrity of everyone involved: I have rarely met a group of people who believe in what they do.”
“Amazing experience. Exciting and stimulating. I particularly enjoyed talking to educators from other places and organisations.”
“How much of myself I have brought to it and what it has revealed…it was unexpected and has changed the way I engaged.”
“I have considered how important values are in my teaching and that to be present as myself is how I always should be.”
“It’s had a profound impact on me, that whole thing of looking at diversity but particularly in the way that we did it.”
“We had to navigate some delicate terrain in real life and this made me feel more confident.”
“Some of the conversations on Yammer have been challenging, but in a very positive way…I think this is because we are able to have conversations that engage with difference.”
“Had a little shift in my thinking about my own self-perception and agency that might become huge.”
“How supportive, challenging and stretching it has been.”
These comments are representative. Being present (as me) in this experience has been life-changing. This blog is a very personal account of what (I think) I’ve learned, whilst my brain is processing. Ask me again in a year and, like a really positive sort of radiation, it will have gone deeper into my bones, I think.
I have learned some empathy. That’s a huge claim and it’s concordant with finally getting beyond my own oppressed identities to acknowledge my privileges. I am white, I am fully-abled physically, I am European, I grew up with a mum and dad who loved me, in a house with a garden, where I had enough to eat. I had a free education and I benefit still from free healthcare. Yes, there have been times in my life where ‘the world’ (or individual bullies) have tried to limit my influence and self-esteem because of the way I spoke, or looked, or lived, but with the help of all my privileges I have overcome these and will probably continue to do so. Not everyone has those privileges and I can see that now. By moving away from the nine characteristics protected by Equalities law, I have humanised my response to ‘difference’ and found my place in a diverse world, less comfortable but less in denial too.
I have learned some humility. I do take some pride in the work I’ve done over the years to try and challenge issues of prejudice and power. Too much pride, I realise. The devastating willingness of Diversity Programme participants to go beyond what’s easy and comfortable, to give their own defensive power up to awkward, uneasy and essential conversations with others, has shocked me out of complacency. I have never been around people who engage so nakedly with the issues that are destroying our world. It has been raw – and hopeful. Thank you.
I have learned some clarity. I have recognised clearly the dangers of dichotomy and now I see them all around me, institutionalised in our society’s structures and cultures. Binary is as dangerous as a Doctor Who mind-control monster and there’s no hero out there to save the day – we have to do it for ourselves. And one way forward is by understanding how to articulate the threat. This year I’ve learned about the concept of intersectionality and how the term ‘gender queer’ challenges received thinking around sex and sexuality. I have learned something of how people who are deaf from birth process language. I have learned quite a bit about being present in faith, and in non-belief. And much more. The language of diversity is powerful and nuanced. I thought I was a wordsmith but I have a lot more to learn.
Every fight needs its lighter moments and here are mine: a road trip, the blessed bunting, the force of nature that is Catina Barrett, the Twisting Ducks (#rocknroll), a trip to York for mindfulness reasons, bacon sandwiches, Lenny Henry pillows, Reach Out Theatre Collective, a thrilling conference with flowers and awards, the aptly named John Wise, trees and sunshine, Jill Wilkens (our researcher) and Jane Weatherby my critical friend, diversity badges (‘Common as Muck’), alpacas, Dolly Parton and, geekily, a funding application form to die for. And the other projects…if you check out one thing on the Equalities Toolkit, let it be this film, this thing of beauty: LGBT Activism in Kyrgystan.
Last week I walked out of Liverpool Street Station into the busy heart of financial London. I stopped for a moment to admire the smooth (phallic) curves of the Gherkin and suddenly became aware that everyone around me, as far as I could see, was male. I looked around and checked, just as a woman came into view. She was dressed in the brogues, tailored trouser suit and perfectly ironed shirt of a male financial services worker. I was wearing a frock. I felt odd, and not a little exposed. I imagined how I would feel now, if a billboard of a naked and sexualised woman was also in sight. We have a long way to go. The project is ended, but let’s keep talking.
The ‘proper’ write-up of The Diversity Programme can be found here (including report and resources): The Equalities Toolkit.
What is TeachDifferent: The Diversity Programme?
TeachDifferent: The Diversity Programme is an embedding diversity project, funded by NIACE Equality and Diversity Innovation Fund 2013-14. The project aims to increase the confidence and skills of educators to embed diversity in their practice. We know from our own teacher education students that the will is there, but the confidence is not.
The Northern College is a gorgeous adult residential college, set in the stunning grounds of Wentworth Castle Gardens, just off the M1 near Barnsley in Yorkshire. We have been consistently graded as an outstanding provider of adult and community education. Our mission is the transformation of individuals and communities. We teach for a social purpose.
Application is now open for a FREE place on one of our three Embedding Diversity training days, which includes admission to the Community of Praxis. The training days are:
4th December 2013
17th January 2014 (with a reserve day of 7th February in case of snow).
8th March 2014
(attend one only).
To apply, please email Louise Mycroft email@example.com, stating in no more than 300 words why you’d like to be considered for a place. All teaching, materials and food is provided; a very reasonable charge is made if you want to stay overnight. All we ask is that you come with an open mind and a willingness to participate in the day and the research project which is evaluating its impact.
Four people will be selected from each training day to complete a coached Practicum, in which they design and implement an embedding diversity intervention in their own practice, and reflect on it with the support of an experienced and skilled Thinking Environment coach. The Practicum is also completely free of charge.
We’d love to attract educators from across the country (and overseas!) to this fabulous opportunity. It doesn’t matter what your teaching context is, as long as you work with young people (post-14) or adults as all or part of your role – you might not even call yourself ‘teacher’. Do get in touch if you have questions about what the programme entails or want some help deciding if it’s for you.
We really hope to hear from you.