This month we celebrate Women’s History and International Women’s Day. It prompted me to revisit a question I have asked myself year on year throughout my 30 year career. Does diversity in relation to race, gender, disability, faith, etc have a place in helping maximise the outstanding outcomes we strive for in our school communities?
I wonder how many times in my leadership I have communicated positive, negative or just ignorant views to my colleagues about their sense of belonging on my team. Do they sense they belong in the jobs they have and the schools they serve? A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. Clear evidence that ensuring diverse communities where each individual feels like they belong outperform less inclusive settings.
So how can we work towards leveraging diversity for the benefit of the whole school community? Answer, communicate beyond policy documents that, ‘you belong.’ An example includes an inspiring Head teacher at a school considered to be the ‘sink’ school within a community considered to deprived. Her response was to personally invite each pupil due to start in Year 7 with the phrase, “you belong.” She bought and presented them with their ties to emphasise “you belong” and so on. Guess what happened over time; the culture, attitudes and outcomes began to shift, and the exam results improved. No quick fixes here, no ‘mock OFTSED’ reviews, no exam practice could improve the outcomes but a cultural shift ‘you belong’ reflected the McKinsey report, organisations that create truly inclusive working practices help all to thrive.
So where can you start?
Get to know your people. When introducing a member of staff to a visitor in your school, test yourself to see if you can add a personal touch if knowledge about them. “Here is Cole, he is the SENCO and raised money last year for a 100m bike ride”. Suddenly, I feel like my boss knows me and understands my values, my life, as well as my work. Guess how hard I am going to work for someone I know values me and makes me feel like ‘I belong.’ Listen to our stories. Every one of us has a story to tell about why we joined the profession, what our hopes and dreams might be in life as well as in work. How rich our teamwork can be when we know each other at a more than superficial level.
Audit your environments – how inclusive are they from the perspective of each characteristic outlined in the Equalities Act? This does not have to be an expensive measure, though investment in inclusive curriculum and environments can pay off. Give each of your staff and pupils a blank blueprint plan of the school. Get them to colour code each room, corridor, outdoor space RED, AMBER, GREEN to depict how safe and secure they feel physically and emotionally in those spaces. Do this openly or confidentially, either way you may be surprised what issues crop up. The sound echo in the lunch hall, the corridor with dark corners, the toilet block that cannot facilitate the turning circle of a wheelchair, the lack of feminine hygiene products in the bathrooms, the staff room no one wants to eat their lunch in, etc.
Intentionally speak out inclusive language and plan to do so in each of your key opportunities. Effective leadership and models of leaderships almost always centre around the importance of relationships. You get teams to buy into cultural change, to changing in teaching practices to the vision you haver when they feel like they belong to it, can voice their next steps in it and feel valued on the journey. This is a mighty challenging skill for some of us whilst some leaders are highly skilled and effective in this area. Most of us would say we have this skill in bucket loads. Does the evidence suggest this is truly the case for you? The tell-tale sign is the fruit of your labours. If the team culture is positively bearing fruit and amassing positive energy, then maybe you are there. If not then maybe, just maybe we need to get some planning time for the language we plan to use as we lead our teams through our various projects and daily routines. By doing so we coach our middle leaders to do the same.
For more encouragement on achieving a staff sense of inclusive team building, get in touch for your own one to one with Team ADL. Remember, #TMOS (find your True Measures Of Success for yourself and your teams this Spring term).