It is my belief that good school leadership has at its heart a desire for wholeness. It is a wholeness which individuals seek to see manifested through a harmonious interplay of their deepest values and beliefs, by fostering right relationships with themselves and others.
Recent events sparked by the death of George Floyd have clearly illustrated that we live in a society that is far from whole. Fault lines run through the lives of individuals and organisations, teachers and school leaders, families and their children.
We have seen how people have come together to try and repair the damage but there can be no papering over the cracks. For the dream of racial equality to be real, complete healing and transformation is needed.
A gradual dawning
I have witnessed over the past few weeks, that there has been a gradual dawning for many white school leaders of what is being asked of them. This has been a significant paradigm shift. There has been a gradual awakening of the need to review and re-shape white identity in order to accelerate the change that the black community have cried out for.
I recognise and understand that this is unfamiliar territory and can be scary for many. Never before in the UK has the debate on race equality in our schools shifted its gaze so steadfastly onto white identity and race. For as long as I can remember, it has been the other way around. Race equality work has predominately focused on the black experience of racism and strategies for enabling the black community to overcome the huge injustices and inequalities that they have faced.
Now the narrative has changed. White teachers and school leaders are being called to do their own identity work.
A range of responses
For some, the immediate response has been defensiveness. And yet for others it has been a quiet, studied introspection; a turning inwards accompanied by a deep desire to learn, to enquire, to change, to understand and to grow.
For those who have turned inwards, I am certain that attention to the existential challenge of learning to be whole, will result in,
“A net moral gain for all concerned. As that potential grows within us, we join in the potential for personal and social change”
It may seem strange to some that I describe this turning inwards as part of a desire to be whole. Yet as a coach, I have seen the many, many ways in which the school leadership role, has caused many leaders to live a divided (and sometimes painful life).
Becoming aware of one’s own racial identity and how it has contributed to this can only be an act of service to the greater cause – to a world in which racial equality is a reality for all.
Whole person work
For this to happen, white school leaders need to be supported to see that this is whole person work; work that engages emotions, values and beliefs. It is work that requires them to engage with new personal and professional frontiers. It won’t be easy work, but it will be right work. It won’t come with a National Professional qualification stamp, because the work is ontological. The work is about you.
It will require you to:
– Engage in self-enquiry with an open heart and open mind
– Dig deep and develop greater levels of self-awareness
– Explore your own cultural blind-spots and biases
Essentially, this work will require you to decide how this type of identity work can bring greater agency and potency to your work as a school leader. If you are open and willing, it can bring you to a point where you can say, to be ally in the struggle for greater racial equality my inner truth is:
“The plumb line for the choices I make about my life, about the work I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them”
(Parker J Palmer)
Our society needs to be healed and our schools need to be places of transformation and healing and white identity work has to be a central part of that healing process.
Through the Black Lives Matter Movement racial equality and social justice have now been firmly placed back on the agenda and schools must be at the forefront as agents for change.
Black children and black teachers need to know that in the UK education system their lives really do matter and see this evidenced as part of their lived daily reality. Headteachers and senior school leaders have a key role to play in making this happen.
Together, you shape the culture, the vision, the ethos for your school. Together, you determine in practice what racial equality and social justice look like. And together, you must decide the leadership that is needed for these times.
This is a courageous path that you will have to travel, because it will require you to explore issues of identity and integrity and what they truly mean in the context of your own school settings. It will require you to have difficult conversations and face uncomfortable truths.
Yet it is these sorts of conversations which truly define leadership and are fundamental to growth and positive change. What’s more, it’s only by leaning into the uncomfortable spaces and finding with help and support that something new, something better can be brought to life.
That’s why we have now developed our new ‘Race, identity and School Leadership’ Programme to provide a safe spaces for reflection and discussion for school leaders to explore the implications of recent events and begin to unpick implications for themselves and their schools.
The programme will provide spaces for school leaders to explore:
– Identify key principles of racial equality and social justice and what best practice looks like in individual school contexts
– Question and reflect on the prevailing narratives that have shaped the discourse on race, identity, education and the achievement of Black pupils
– Use a narrative enquiry framework to identify how to create personal and organisational narratives that support the achievement of Black pupils
– Equip senior school leaders with the necessary psychological and emotional tools for engaging in difficult conversations about race
– Increase leaders own sense of personal agency and ability to act as an agent of change