Faithfully bearing witness: being invincible, not invisible.

Because of the #MeToo movement, I became more conscious of feminism and of my own responsibility towards the young men I teach and blogged about it here. This was in 2017 and I was determined to assess my schemes of work – and try to get my male colleagues on board with my project. In the end, other things got in the way, or I let them. So instead we focussed on coaching, CLT, Retrieval practise, metacognition, Deep Dives – and so on and so on. It was only when Ofsted introduced their ideas about ‘Cultural Capital’ that I began looking at the work of Bordieu and I was once again focussed on the issues of poverty, race and misogyny and how these impact on our students. And, actually, our staff.

So I did some whole school inset on racism and sexism (the ppts are here), looking initially at, for example, the sterling done work by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts in Boys Don’t Try as well as Decolonise the Curriculum and the brilliant work of Pran Patel. Some of it, I’m quite sure, was uncomfortable for staff (although I wanted it to be; I wanted to challenge them and get us all out of our comfort zones). Moving from ‘I’m not a racist’ to I want to be an ‘Anti-racist’ and cultivating my ‘wokeness’ was an interesting exercise. I have never considered myself racist, but Pran challenged all of my self-satisfied judgements with his continuum of socially acceptable behaviours and exposed my own white privilege.

I’m not sure how much the men in my audience appreciated the information on sexism, like racism our acceptance of poor behaviour is grounded in our patriarchal institutions. For example, I am not a royalist and I’m not invested either way in whether Meghan Markle is a ‘good person’. But I did know she was treated appallingly by our gutter press – the slides I used comparing her headlines with Kate Middleton’s were explicit and some who had previously disliked her (she was a money-grabber, a fake and so on) said they hadn’t realised that she had been treated so badly or so hypocritically.

Statistics showing the numbers of sexual assault on women were shocking – but still some men in the audience (#NotAllMen) looked bored and were obviously not listening. I found this quite disturbing – educators not wanting to be educated? I had previously heard some of these men describe older, female staff as ‘MILF’s and ‘GILF’s, they seem(ed) oblivious to the inherent misogyny in this as much as the women who giggle at being so described.

In any event, the goal was to get staff to consider how they approach both racism and sexism in school – correcting students when they use inappropriate terms and revisiting schemes of work so that we include positive representations of women and people of colour.

It got off to a slow start, one department telling me it was too hard to look at as ‘most things were invented/discovered in the western world’, while another HoD was only interested in curriculum coverage. Getting my colleagues to actually take any of this on board wasn’t going to be because of one inset session.

After the first session, for me, the hardest part was listening to my female colleagues relating their own experiences of sexual assault and rape. As a survivor myself, it was somewhat conflicting emotionally as, oddly, it felt almost reassuring being a member of a ‘sisterhood’ born in trauma. I had to balance this with the growing despair and anger I was feeling, not just with male colleagues, as it simply mirrored a wider-community that made me feel as if I’d somehow been sucked into a parallel universe which made no sense, no matter where I stood or looked.

So in January this year, I did another session and gave the audience some idea of how many female members of staff had spoken to me after the initial inset. There were about ten of us altogether (this blog is the first time I have spoken of my own experiences) a high number in such a small community. One female was quite dismissive of being groped at the age of 15, as many women are, while another’s graphic rape account was horrific to listen to. Both ends of the spectrum had been made to feel their respective assaults were their own fault.

Immediately thereafter, we went into another lockdown and so any curriculum work and focus was lost.

Once we were back in school, I revisited the work with departments, especially after the Sarah Everard vigil, but it wasn’t until this past September I led a final session on both racism and sexism. This time, delivering it felt raw, I felt angry, frustrated and passionate that we address these things in school. The wider community is lost, we can’t recover the damage that has been done, but we can, and we must, address these things with our students. It has to begin with us.

So my final session began, influenced by the Incel Plymouth shooter, not with ‘yes we know it’s not all men!’ to, actually, ‘we don’t really know that it’s not all men’. If you really are not one of those men, you have to step up and be counted, you have to advocate for us and be anti-sexist, just like we have to be anti-racist. I know there were men (and probably women) in the audience who were thinking that I was ‘off on one’. But there could be no denying some of the language and vocabulary that originated with Incel and extreme right-wing sites, has been used by some of our students. We have to call it out for what it is, it’s insidious and pervasive: the entitlement, the hatred, the violence so many men have demonstrated for women is scary and we must address it. We must, because no one else is.

Reading the statement by Sarah Everard’s mother was heart-rending. When does it end? Why does society see this as acceptable? Why aren’t there more men fighting this with us?

  1. Women are taught to avoid rape, rather than men being told not to rape. We must carry our keys outwards, don’t be out alone, run alone, exercise alone, be home alone, wear short skirts – or it’s ‘our’ fault if we are raped and killed. Know the law as to when and where a policeman can arrest you.
  2. If a policeman wants to arrest you, call 999 to check he’s a policeman or flag down a bus, or refuse to comply.
  3. It’s ok for a killer policeman to be affectionately termed ‘The Rapist’ by his colleagues, it’s ok to speak at his sentencing and say that he’s a good guy really.
  4. In the last 10 years 750 policemen have been accused of serious sexual assault – but just 80 lost their jobs. Just looking at average charging and conviction/false accusation rates show that those numbers are incredibly, unbelievably low.
  5. Since Sarah Everard’s death in March, 81 women have been raped and murdered. That’s about 1 every other day.
  6. Approximately 130,000 women went missing last year – and when ethnic minority women or poor women go missing, the press rarely acknowledge it.

So this year, my colleagues will be reassessing their curricula and showing our students positive representations of women and minority peoples. Science will show them the many women and minorities who have influenced scientific work and this will happen across the curriculum. There can be no excuses and we can’t escape our responsibility to educate our young men, to show them the benefits of strong women, of equality, equity and justice without feeling they have to challenge it or fight it or be challenged by it. If a women demands the same respect as they want for themselves or if someone from an ethnic minority background challenges racist or stereotypical assumptions we have to ensure that we normalise the idea that both women and people of colour are afforded dignity, respect and positive representation across the curriculum. And more than this, we need all our #NotAllMen, all our staff to stand up and be counted.

Of course we will need to assess the impact of this and how we do this is the next challenge and it’s more than staff. My initial thoughts are to involve the school senate – our student representatives – and get their thoughts and see what, if anything they can do to support this. We have also ‘themed’ our terms and another colleague has introduced three ‘Cultural Week’ activates which tie in with these themes. Departments are working on cross curricular themes as they develop lessons and observe each other teach – this began last year, but was also stymied because of lockdown. Most of all, I need to know how much buy-in I have from staff and this will mean a survey of attitudes and structure.

I know it should mean work in PSHRE – a greater focus with more challenge built in.

We need to make each other feel uncomfortable – recognise it, and deal with it so that we move forward, refusing to let ourselves stagnate in the cesspit that society’s toxic attitudes have brought us to. We have to fight back and educate our young because their elders seem incapable of change.

A Coaching Journey

Some time ago (I had thought it was about 18 months, but no – where does time go!?) I read this blog about coaching rather than judgement as a part of Performance Management. I was convinced it was the way forward, for many reasons, but especially in reclaiming teacher empowerment and dignity and I wanted to give it a go. Initially, mainly because I didn’t do my research beforehand, our HT felt it wouldn’t, at the time, work in our context and, in in some respects (which I won’t go into here), I could see where he was coming from! So the matter was dropped for a while because we were busy trying to create a new assessment framework for our students (SEN) – and there were challenges enough with that! However, once we had created our bespoke framework , after we had put it together and ironed it all out, a few things happened that made me want to return to the coaching model for PM.

Firstly, I was given the T&L lead role and was becoming more and more dissatisfied with the tick box method of staff evaluation. I began to think that we had shown real initiative with our assessment model and I thought that if we had been able to do this for our students then why couldn’t we also create a bespoke assessment system for our staff. Why couldn’t we just ditch the PM model of judgemental observations once a year, and create something worthwhile – investing in our staff as much as we invest in our students. This was obviously made much easier once Ofsted dropped their grading system, giving us the freedom then to move away and develop something that we, as teachers, felt we needed.

Secondly, the coaching model was becoming ‘a thing’ * and there was suddenly lots being written about how this could work. We had already explored the possibility of creating a 360º Performance Management system whereby line managers could be assessed on their performance by those they managed, creating a feedback loop that would be supportive and inclusive, whilst still being robust (we are not hierarchical at all at my school and this enables us to be more reflective and supportive of each other). We had also discussed the benefits of confidential ‘Skip-Level Meetings’ so that staff would always feel listened to by SLT – and would be able to express concerns about the way they were being managed. This led me to think that the time was right to introduce the coaching model again – and this time (probably because I explained it more coherently) our HT and SLT were able to see how the model could work for us.

The first step was to get staff on-side and so I sent out a questionnaire which was mainly designed to get them to naturally outline the problems with judgemental observations and lead them to the conclusion that they didn’t work – which they did. Questions and summary answers here. They could then see how their responses led us to the expected next step of a coaching model of observations and PM. From there I thought about which staff to try and entice onto the programme as ‘test cases’. I didn’t want the process to be seen as applying only to staff who might need ‘help’ and I was fortunate enough to gain the confidence of three members of our team who were very different teachers and who were perceived as having very different strengths and from different subject areas. One of them has always been thought of as an outstanding practitioner and together we made it known that all teachers should be expected to make improvements as part of their own professional development – no one is ever at the stage of knowing it all! This seemed to work well and staff were then curious as to how the coaching model would develop over time.

The next step was to ask for volunteers to be a part of a core coaching group who would work with me to assess the work I’d done and offer suggestions and critique of how we would ensure this worked well for all of us. I had already been on a two day coaching development course and a colleague and I then attended a session with @RossMcGill in Manchester. This showed us how the model could translate and it also gave me reassurance that I was on the right lines in beginning slowly in the first year and then rolling it out fully in Years 2 and 3. I’d definitely recommend the course to anyone who is trying to develop the model – Ross provides all kinds of information to enable you to persuade your SLT! The only thing I felt Ross’ training needed was a 2 day session – we enjoyed it so much and it was chock-full of information! My initial development plan is here. This has changed substantially as we have moved forward and I’ll outline that in the second blog in this series.

In the meantime, we have been working on the robustness of our model and I’m including our Coaching Journal here – our focus at the moment is student voice and how we conduct work scrutiny and walk through – how we ensure that the model is workable and staff are still accountable, so some of this will change. I now see the development process as here [initial draft] and again, this is an on-going discussion, but I think it offers a better structure than the initial development plan.

The good news is that all our managers have agreed to be initiated into the coaching model during term 3 and they will be trained, for the most part, by young teachers, relatively newly trained teachers and even one TA. I truly want this to be a holistic model that works with our non-hierarchical structure. After a core group coaching session this past Friday, I (being coached as a volunteer) realised that the main flaw in the plan was how we continue to develop the core group – this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, so it’s important that they continue to develop this model and develop their own skills to support the roll out at the end of this academic year – I’m pretty sure our ‘youngsters’ feel a bit intimidated by having to ‘develop’ their senior leaders. But they’re up for it – and up to it!

We’ve even got the support team/office on board and by the time September dawns, I’m hoping we have a truly bespoke coaching model that will enable and empower all of our staff in working cohesively as we support and develop each other’s potential.


* This ‘thing’ is the work of so many great practitioners whose work I’ve read and am piggy-backing on! Please forgive me if I have over-looked your input I’ve tried to note where I got inspiration from – if inspiration can be a ‘thing’!


#MeToo and the curriculum

This week, at about 4am, I had an epiphany (of sorts). This is always a bad idea at 4am because by the time I’m ready to go back to sleep (after I’ve convinced the boss my idea is worthwhile, planned CPD and established a working party), it’s time to get up! Like many teachers, once I’m awake my head is full of work and things to do and I struggle to let go until I’ve thrashed out all kinds of nonsense and long-dead (or should be!) situations and conversations.

For many reasons (best left alone here) I have followed with a kind of detached, unsurprising interest the sexual exposés of a growing number of men in the public eye. The #MeToo campaign on Twitter was of personal interest to me because about ten years ago I found myself in an on-line discussion wherein at least 80% of the women claimed to have been sexually assaulted in some way – from being groped on a train, to actually having been raped at some stage in their lives. 80%! I found myself wondering how that would translate in ‘real life’ and so I began broaching the subject, carefully, with ‘real life’ women of my acquaintance – and the numbers were about the same. One of the main surprises was that many women my age had not considered their experiences as sexual assault – it just happened and they often blamed themselves: they were either drunk, or in a dark street late at night, or it was an uncle or step-father and they didn’t want to cause trouble in the family.  At this point I would say to you that – yes I know it happens to men, but this is about women – if you feel you need to say ‘this happens to men as well’ please feel free to write a blog about it because yes, I know it’s not all men.

So, moving on from this I should give you some information about my situation. I lead on T&L in an non-maintained, special school for boys, all with ‘high functioning’ autism – although they present with some other issues as well, such as ADHD, behaviour, dyspraxia and dyslexia etc. All of our boys struggle profoundly with social mores and for the most part they take things very literally, often misjudging interactions unless discussions are clear and unambiguous. This can all be somewhat annoying/a minefield when these misjudgements are related to women and sometimes, it can be damned scary if you’re the woman receiving unwanted attention (this is obviously not just limited to men with autism, btw!). Boys with autism can find rejection confusing, distressing and they find it very difficult to cope mainly because they may lack the depth of perception or the emotional wherewithal necessary to negotiate interactions, especially with the opposite sex.

One boy had his entire holiday ruined [and that of his family] when a young woman on a plane, who had smiled at him, did not phone him [as he expected her to] after he gave her his phone number. Another, when moving on to college, was unable to cope with the mixed messages he felt he was getting from a female student and he is now having to be taught separately and was accused of stalking. A third student became most upset and anxious when he had to be disabused of the misconception that a waitress would appreciate the many Christmas gifts he had bought her, again, seeing an interest that wasn’t there.

But none of this is as simple as being just autism related, the #MeToo movement clearly shows that these difficulties with boundaries are also evidenced by neurotypical men and if they have problems discriminating between flirting and friendliness, what chance do ‘our’ boys have!

So, here’s the thing: I have long worked with my Y8 students regarding the range of cultural influences brought by immigration to the British Isles over time. They have researched and presented information to the class about how we have most benefited as a nation, from immigration (Roman roads, sanitation, government etc). I was looking at the next stage of my planning and we were due to start reading texts which are supposed to reflect our literary culture: Keats, Blake, Tennyson, Shakespeare. As I was looking at the list I’d chosen I found myself asking, ‘where are the women in this history of our British Isles – where are the female 19thC poets?’ I then wondered about the curriculum as a whole: How many women are referenced in science, in history, in art, in computing? What about French or music – and so on. Are they ever noted or highlighted for their contributions? Why not? And, more importantly, if we don’t highlight the fact that there were many discoveries made by female scientists, many of whom had their work dismissed and appropriated by their male bosses, who will highlight it? What message are we sending to our boys when we allow them, albeit subliminally, to see women as merely appendages, or commodities? Or Daily Mail sidebar fodder?

Instead, what about the ‘Hidden Figures’ at NASA? The female codebreakers at Bletchley Park? The female spies in wartime? The female poets though time whose work was attributed to ‘Anon’? Would this information not give our boys a fuller, richer, healthier image of women?

This is my task now, and it starts with me: how can I make sure I present a fuller history of women’s contributions in my subject and how can I encourage my (mostly male) colleagues to ‘buy in’ to this.

This is my ‘project’ – I hope it makes sense (that’s how a woman tends to introduce an idea – I hope it’s ok, I hope you don’t mind, does that make sense? As an ex student noted, I’m not a fully fledged FeminNazi – yet! But I may embrace it in time).

Please bear with me – and, having followed so many of you on Twitter for so many years, I would really appreciate your input!