I’ve had to grit my teeth many times of late, before engaging with the ‘News’: the fragile and alien social and political landscape; the unfolding stories of the sexual abuse of our children and young people; the discourse of rage. My own email account has not been immune to messages which echo the shrill voice of bigotry.
When I visit schools, I ask children the question, ‘What does belonging mean to you?’ Answers over recent weeks – from youngsters in London, Luton and the Netherlands – have included: ‘It’s where you are safe and comfortable’; ‘It’s when you’re on the inside and working together’; ‘It’s when people tell you the truth and you can trust them’ – a prescient comment in the light of national distrust of politicians.
In this ‘post-truth’ world, the times may be gloomy and we may have to revisit battles we thought were long since won – about respect, equality, dignity. Yet a different world is possible and, as educators, we need to start retelling it and reclaiming it.
As I wheel my new granddaughter through the chilly streets of Brockley, I tell her about an amazing woman called Michelle Obama who spoke out so passionately about the ‘disrespectful violation of women’s ambitions and intellects’. I tell her about the journey of Phiona who grew up in Uganda’s sprawling slums and whose story is told in the wonderful film Queen of Katwe. Phiona became an international chess champion because her teacher, guide, mentor believed in what the children of the slums could do and be. ‘It’s all about the art of possibilities,’ I tell the now sleeping child. And I think about our schools and the countless golden rays of sunshine, beacons of hope and possibilities: our children and young people.
Towards the end of our recent research on place and belonging (School – A place where I belong?) my colleague Rhoda Furniss reflected:
“I was thinking about all the people that are actually involved in a school – the pupils, the teachers, the teaching assistants, all of these people. If they all thought about their school in a different way….
– a place where I go,
– a place where I feel like I belong,
– where I feel like I can contribute,
– where I feel like what I say is heard…
…what a dynamic, wonderful place that would be.”
Look this up on Video 5 in the Art of Possibilities series (Making Belonging Work in a Volatile World).
There is an urgency to the retelling and the reclaiming. What we do and say today, as educators, will help shape the future. The now is about creating schools that are dynamic and wonderful places to be, places of belonging where young people are encouraged to think and question and challenge. That’s the fight back against bigotry. That’s what will help keep our children safe. And that’s what will enable our young people to recreate a world of possibilities.
Kathryn’s books include Leadership of Place, Stories from the US, UK and South Africa (Bloomsbury 2013). Her new book Place, Belonging & School Leadership: Researching to make the difference is due for publication early 2017.