“But I don’t know how to start…” is something that as a teacher, I hear all too frequently. Now having chosen to write my very first blog post for The Community Interest Company, I can empathise with my pupils. So I’ll begin with a list - a list of words that capture the myriad of emotions and thoughts that I have felt over the last 42* days since the death of George Floyd.
Shocked; sad; confused; defensive; angry; self-reflective; frustrated; inspired; curious; self-important; shame; exasperated; awkward; uncomfortable; surprised; thoughtful; determined; exhausted; motivated; strong; unsure; embarrassed; hopeful.
I have had an unapologetic slap in the face - quite rightly so – and my journey has begun. A journey that started with a conversation with two friends over lunch on the weekend before lockdown; a conversation, which sowed the seed for a re-education; a re-education that has started with the hungry devouring of books, articles and social media posts. There is a lot to learn and even more to do. But I commit to doing better – for myself, for my own children, and for the children I teach.
My role as an educator is one that I am immensely proud of. I love what I do and I am passionate about learning but in my twelve years of teaching, the concept of de-colonising the national curriculum had never entered my consciousness until I began following new Instagram accounts and was signposted to further reading in the wake of the events in May. Since September, I have been the Curriculum Lead at my school and in the last two months I have come to realise the significance of this role and the power that I have within it. I have been working with a new sense of urgency and a determination to make our curriculum the best it can be for all our pupils; no child should leave us, at age 11, without feeling like their history and culture has been reflected in the curriculum.
Some things have been straight-forward – our fantastic PE specialist and I have discussed the introduction of ‘World Games’ units in PE across the school; from the Zambian game of Shomba to Brazilian Capoeira. Her experience of teaching traditional Maori sports in New Zealand is going to enrich and enhance the curriculum for the children and staff, broadening their understanding of not only different sports, but the different cultures that they sit within. This is already set up and ready to go in September.
Other areas are more complex and will require more time. We have already looked at the significant people in history that we teach our pupils about and have made some changes – figures like Katherine Johnson and Barbara Hillary are now a focus for our space and exploration topics. But this is not enough. Black history, which is British history, must be woven carefully throughout the curriculum – not simply added on. We need to teach the key concepts of settlement and immigration and look at these historically, focussing on how Britain has always been a multi-cultural society. Our older pupils need to learn about the Windrush, and specifically about the experiences of those who came, and the experiences of their dependents. Links must be made with how Britain is organised and who it is organised by so that our pupils understand the oppression that particular groups in our society still face today and where this came from. There is much work to do here and it will take time to ensure that the topics we teach are interwoven, progressive and impactful enough to really reflect a national curriculum.
Books and stories are at the very heart of primary schools. We have a list of key texts, which we think all children should have the opportunity to read or be read to throughout their primary school journey. This is another area that we need to look at carefully and critically so that we can ensure that all children in our school see themselves reflected in the stories they read. I recently came across ‘Book Love’ (@thisisbooklove_ & thisisbooklove.com) who are a wonderful business with a mission. Through online sales, a travelling book carnival and a pledge to give free multicultural books to every nursery and school, they are sharing and celebrating the multicultural world around us through the books that they promote and sell. These businesses are a fantastic source of information and inspiration and I have found many new books that I have enjoyed myself and with my children over the past month, that I perhaps wouldn’t have come across before.
I realise that our curriculum must be a working document – it will improve over time as I and my colleagues lean in to open discussions about race and our curriculum. These conversations have already started both in formal meetings and within our staff room and this isn’t something that has really happened before. It feels like the beginning of something and I am excited to be driving it forwards.
*at the time of writing