DiversityPosted on: 26/06/2020
Last week in the Upper School assembly I spoke to the children about ‘Diversity’. This was prompted not only by my attendance the previous weekend at the DiverseEd annual conference but also by the media coverage surrounding the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests which have occurred around the globe. My opening slide in assembly was this, which shows our current Year 6 pupils back in Year 5.
I asked the children to take a long look at the photograph - what did they notice? What stands out for me is that we have the most wonderful group of 41 individual children in our current Year 6 - but to extend this further we have the most incredible school of 375 unique and wonderfully different and diverse children.
What is diversity in simple words? It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognising our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.
I am sure that many of the older children were aware of the anti-racism demonstrations surrounding ‘Black Lives Matter’ and it is important that as a school we continue to educate your children to be aware of what is going on in the world around them. The children had the opportunity to listen to a very simple video message from one of the Cbeebies presenters which I also urge you as parents to view:
‘A message from our house to yours’
I do not wish to dwell on just one aspect of Diversity but over the past few weeks I have reflected on my role as a leader and at the end of the DiverseEd conference we were all asked to make a pledge to ourselves as to how we will continue our journey to ensure that we are preparing children for the future ahead. I will share my pledge with you all - ‘To keep raising awareness as a leader; to continue to educate myself more to enable greater good in my community and be proactive for change.’
During the online conference, which was attended by over 400 other educators from the UK and overseas, we heard from a diverse range of leaders and educators who continue to make a difference to their communities with the work that they do educating young people on diversity. I realised that, prior to leaving Scotland back in 1989, I had led an incredibly sheltered life. I was brought up in a small coastal town where there really was not much diversity at all in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation or even physical abilities. I do not think that this has adversely affected me as I believe that it is the core values which we adopt and are immersed in that allow us to be accepting of everyone in our society. However, looking back there are possibly some very uncomfortable truths in the lack of education surrounding diversity in my school days.
Thankfully over the years I have met and connected with such diverse groups of people that I have become the person I am now and the values of St. Helen’s College - respect, love, harmony, kindness, friendship, truth, honesty, integrity - are why this school, our ‘second family’, is so important to us all. I am proud that at St. Helen’s College we have good practice and an understanding around diversity; however, we must continue to educate ourselves and each other to ensure that we are correctly informed and this involves parents, of course, as you are a crucial part of our community too. Schools need to be safe places for everyone to have discussions regarding diversity.
I am sure that there are many of us who have faced discrimination at some point in our lives and it is our responsibility to ensure that any low level discrimination that takes place is challenged - whether at school or in the work place. We can no longer accept comments which in the past may have been passed off as ‘banter’. We should be vigilant and spot stereotypes in images or sadly the unconscious bias that people may show. Such discrimination needs to be called out and this is not always easy but it is necessary. We know that the bystander is often as powerful as the perpetrator when discrimination takes place – what we don’t do if we don’t challenge is as much a part of the problem as blatant discrimination.
I expect that, throughout your own lives and careers, there have been diversity issues which you have faced? I hope that, if so, you can use those to inspire you to help be a part of the solution. As adults it is our role to ensure that children do not face the same challenges which we may have encountered. It is by continuing to uphold good core principles, listening and discussing that we will further educate ourselves and help the youngsters of today to become aware, responsible adults of the future - a future which we would want for our children.