The challenge set in a #BrewEd event led Donna to reflect on her teaching. Despite regarding herself as being inclusive, she was now driven to becoming deliberately diverse. The resulting changes to her planning had a significant impact on her students and their need to recognise themselves in books, history, and everyday examples.
It wasn’t until a #BrewEdEssex event in 2019, that I became aware of being ‘deliberately diverse’. I had always considered myself to be a reflective and inclusive teacher. I made adequate preparation for Black History Month, Anti-bullying week, Autism Awareness day etc. and ensured that I covered a range of faiths during my RE lessons. I had been mindful of the different family groupings that could occur in PSHE; and ensured that I was open to discussion on what makes a relationship.
And then I listened to Pran Patel speak.
His razor-sharp delivery punched through my awareness until I just knew that I needed, not just to be mindful, or inclusive but, deliberately diverse in my planning and thinking. I went back and replanned my topic for the term and deliberately included representations of a range of nationalities, faiths, age, and sex. I made sure that there was a representative that each of my class members could see in themselves.
The effect on my class was immeasurable. The comments made, the emotion felt was deeper and more meaningful because the people we were talking about spoke to them on a deeper more visceral level.
It made me think about the range of reading material that I had in my classroom. That effect of connecting on a deeper level can be felt by readers too. When we read, when children read, they want to connect with the main character, they want to become them, to go on the journey with them, to see a similarity in the struggles that they face and how they overcome them. It’s what makes our reading pleasurable. It, therefore, makes total sense that many publishers are promoting the submission of books from the BAME community, as for too long there has been a gap in books that show children from different cultures, ethnicity or with a special need, or disability, as the main character, as the hero to their story. I know that my class – with the broad range of nationalities represented – would absolutely love to see themselves in the pages of a book.
It made me realise that Black History or Women’s History Month, Autism Awareness or Mental Health Awareness Week, World Day for Cultural Diversity, or Earth Day, is not enough. The history of representatives from different ethnic groups or with different needs should not be relegated to one month, one week, or one day in the year, it should be present every day.
It made me appreciate the sharing of everyday norms from the perspective of my class: That we all experience our lives in different ways and that these have been shaped by our history, our faiths, our communities, our families, and our own personal barriers and struggles. That by sharing these experiences we broaden our own understanding of ourselves and others. We make connections and links that shape our thinking.
And so, I implore teachers to really look at the diversity that they are representing in their planning. Allow children to see themselves and talk about their worlds and ask yourself: Am I being deliberately diverse?