Consciously Inclusive Leadership in Surrey: Sharing our Learning From the Summit

This year’s Schools Alliance for Excellence Leadership Summit was kicked off with the thoughts of our youngest pupils at Town Farm Primary School.

“Every voice should be heard. Be the person you want to be.” If our pupils can show such deep understanding of inclusiveness, do we owe it to them to ensure this is the world they indeed grow up in?

If our pupils can show such deep understanding of inclusiveness, do we owe it to them to ensure this is the world they indeed grow up in?

What advantages does diversity bring to an organisation?

Dawn Lewinson, Senior Associate at Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, quoted a participant in one of her leadership workshops; ‘We don’t want to end up like Blockbusters in a world of Netflix.’ She explained that research has shown that organisations where employees felt a strong sense of belonging and there was high diversity, demonstrated high creativity, innovation and adaptability and employees had a strong loyalty to the organisation. But we can’t expect to develop a culture of belonging by sitting back. Inclusion is something you need to actively do!

But how can we make sure we are consciously inclusive?

Kahneman proposes that we have two systems of thinking and System 1 is our brain’s fast, automatic response. Whereas System 2 is our mind’s slower analytical and reflective mode. By consciously thinking slower, we can challenge our automatic assumptions before they affect our attitudes, behaviour, and decisions.

What one word might describe your long term EDI ambition?

Dawn set us the challenge of asking ourselves who our “trusted 10″ are and looking for patterns in their gender, age, ethnicity and sexuality for example but also to see what’s missing. This allows us to be aware of our own bias but then we need to consciously change our behaviours.

Whilst this is everyone’s responsibility in an organisation, as leaders, we can make conscious ‘nudges’ to allow individuals to think slowly and make gradual changes to enable us to create a more inclusive culture. Dawn ended the session asking what commitment you will make to change and this word cloud sums up your responses.

Building from the questions posed by Dawn, we were privileged to listen to a panel of Surrey Headteachers, as they shared their lived experience of leading inclusive schools.

Paul Foster’s doodles sums up the experiences of our leaders perfectly. @pjf_paul

The keynote speaker I was most looking forward to during the day was Bennie Kara and she did not disappoint. I must have been listening attentively as all I wrote in my notes was ‘Get comfortable with being uncomfortable’ which was a quote Bennie referenced to Luvvie Ajayi.

Bennie focussed on the power of language and I must admit the term ‘emotional tax’ in reference to unconscious bias was a new term for me but I can identify with it now I know its meaning. With unconscious bias affecting race, gender, sexuality and disability to name just a few, I am sure we have all experienced a time when we were on guard against bias and feeling different but we may not have recognised the impact on our wellbeing.

The examples of microaggressions that Bennie presented could serve as a gentle nudge for staff to check their language and preconceived assumptions.

Although we may have started the session thinking that using language in relation to diversity was a minefield, Bennie’s straight speaking approach certainly helped us to ‘get comfortable’ and empowered us to challenge problematic language in our organisations and be ready to explain to our community why we don’t accept certain words. I bought Bennie’s ‘Diversity In Schools’ book before I watched her presentation and the book further enhances any leaders’ thinking on diversity and is packed full of practical tips and ideas to help your organisation reflect on the culture of your organisation.

The range of topics focussed on in the workshops further developed our role as leaders in building inclusive schools and it was difficult to choose which to attend. Leaders that attended were able to access PowerPoint presentations of all the workshops following the Summit though. I was fortunate to host Dr Rebecca Wood from the Autism School Staff Project who presented the findings of this project and considerations for providing an inclusive working environment for staff who are autistic. It made me consider how the staff room environment can be problematic for staff with autism and the impact this may have on their mental health. It was great also to hear how the research demonstrated the positives autistic staff can bring to an organisation including being able to communicate well with pupils especially neuro divergent learners. For anyone wanting to find out more about providing an autism friendly school, please see Dr Wood’s new book ‘Learning from Autistic Teachers’ out next month.

The closing Keynote Speaker was renowned Professor of Social Mobility and former CEO of the Sutton Trust, Professor Lee Elliot Major. With closing the disadvantaged gap being one of Surrey’s key priorities, we were all keen to hear his advice on inclusive teaching. He opened with a question, how many universities have English PMs come from since WW2? Deplorably the answer is 1 with that university being Oxford! But the Professor went on to add “Your background shouldn’t determine your outcomes in life” and I wholeheartedly agree with this. It’s only now having spent nearly 20 years in education that I realise as a child, I would have fitted into most categories we often see underachievement in, but thankfully with the right parental support, good teaching and extreme self-diligence at times, I was a high achiever, and I am proud of my outcomes in life.

We know that the impact of the pandemic and school closures and periods of remote learning has had the greatest impact on disadvantaged pupils so now more than ever we must take every opportunity to overcome the barriers for these pupils and the quality of teaching matters the most.

Therefore we need to invest in the quality professional development of our staff.

Lee referred to our ‘hidden learners’ and how we must target them through our inclusive teaching. Two simple practical tips any school can make sure they get right is providing explicit time for teachers to give effective feedback to pupils to help them close their gaps and provide opportunities for low-stakes quizzing for retrieval practice.

Lee Elliot Major recognised the strength school networks such as SAfE can have on helping to address the disadvantaged gap and this has made me reflect on how we can shape the SAfE professional learning programme even further by sharing learning across communities about best practice in inclusive teaching. I welcome any leaders to email me r.gumbs@schoolsallexcel.com if they have some great practice that is impacting on the disadvantaged gap.

As I was writing this blog, I wanted to find out how participants responded to the Leadership Summit theme of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Thank you for those of you that took the time to respond to our survey after the event. Overwhelmingly, leaders agreed with the definition of an Inclusive Surrey School and whilst some participants recognised the immense task this presents leaders with, the positive feedback clearly demonstrates the commitment you all have to developing a culture of belonging in your organisation and it makes me proud to be working with you all.

Further research addressing the challenge for inclusivity in Surrey is available here and may be of interest;

PERMANENT SCHOOL EXCLUSIONS IN SURREY: WHAT WORKS TO KEEP CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE IN EDUCATION?
Report Commissioned by Surrey County Council December 2021 Written by Dr Emily Glorney and Natasha Rhoden Royal Holloway College UCL

ACHIEVING HIGH ATTAINMENT FOR ALL SURREY’S CHILDREN Report December 2021 from the University of Surrey

Roxanne Gumbs, SAfE English Lead and a School Improvement Advisor

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