I am a female teacher and leader from a mixed heritage background. My parents didn’t have access to quality education or the opportunity to complete their schooling. Therefore, while growing up, they instilled in me the importance of education and striving for a better future – one with opportunities.
In primary school, I had little awareness of representation and accepted that those in the teaching profession were predominantly from a white background. But during Year 4, this changed when I was taught by a male teacher. We shared similar cultural experiences and a passion for cricket, and he spoke openly about his background and mixed heritage. I didn’t realise this teacher’s profound impact on me until much later in life when I entered the teaching profession.
My decision to train as a teacher stemmed from a love of working with children and a desire to raise aspirations for future generations. Subconsciously, I was also confronting prejudices I had encountered and layers of discrimination rooted in religion, gender and appearance. When I was accepted on my Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course, not one of the 70 students looked like me. I was incredibly fortunate, though, that my lecturers and mentors offered me support and engaged in conversations around diversity, religion and representation within the school system.
Tackling barriers to progress in the teaching profession
During my attempt to secure my first permanent teaching post, I experienced indirect racial discrimination. After many visits to schools and unsuccessful interviews, I was often informed that they were looking for a ‘certain type’ of candidate suitable to the demographics. I learned to become selective and strategic when submitting applications for teaching posts, and I eventually secured a position in a school where the pupils and community reflected my identity and culture.
The school was led by an innovative and inspirational headteacher who valued my passion and commitment to teaching and gave me every opportunity to succeed and develop myself further. I completed a Leadership Pathway course and the Outstanding Teacher Programme during my second year of teaching. The head’s unwavering belief in my capabilities gave me the confidence and drive to aspire to become a visible leader, which resulted in me securing a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) post as a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO). I completed the SENCO qualification and then undertook the National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to progress into a senior leadership post.
Following a year and a half of unsuccessful applications and interviews for a senior leadership post, I suspected that a significant factor was that the majority of schools I applied to lacked diversity. My assumption was confirmed when, following one unsuccessful interview, I was informed that “I wasn’t the right fit for the school, and maybe I should consider applying to an ethnically diverse school”.
A mixed heritage teacher in a less diverse setting
I remained ambitious and determined to secure a senior leadership role in a setting where I could break the bias and raise my visibility as a mixed heritage leader. Fortunately, I was successful in my quest and secured a role as a senior leader in a Multi-Academy Trust within a predominantly white school. I am pleased to say that stepping out of my comfort zone and taking that risk was a successful career move.
I am now recognised and valued as a mixed heritage leader. Targeted professional development, opportunities to network and support from leaders, have allowed me to grow in confidence and thrive as a leader. I have been granted opportunities to lead on professional development across academies, provide instructional coaching to early career teachers (ECT) and middle leaders and work with colleagues across the Trust at a strategic level. My work at a regional level through the NW Turing Maths Hub allows me to develop and empower teachers and maths leads while leading with excellence.
As a mixed heritage leader, I continue to advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. I use my experiences to help other teachers overcome challenges, limitations and fears that prevent them from achieving their potential.
Despite my progression within teaching, ethnic minority leaders continue to be underrepresented. The further up the organisation chart, the more this deficiency is evident. According to the Department for Education, only 6% of school leaders identify as from an ethnic minority. Although race equality legislation has been introduced over decades, mixed heritage leaders still face discrimination and racism.
The benefits of a diverse teacher workforce
Diverse representation is valuable in all aspects of life as it reduces marginalisation and deconstructs false narratives. A diverse teacher workforce promotes equity and inclusion for all students, not just those from an ethnic minority background. School leadership teams must reflect the diversity of the pupils and the community they serve. Teachers and leaders from diverse backgrounds can bring an authentic perspective based on first-hand knowledge and experiences.
In the ever-growing multicultural society, children must feel represented and inspired by the success of people who look like them. It creates a culture of aspirations, drive and academic success. Furthermore, an emphasis on diversity benefits pupils and teachers, their families, and the wider community. A diverse workforce can build community cohesion and participation and foster a sense of belonging.
My favourite reads to support mixed heritage educators
I read incredible and inspirational books to further explore and develop my knowledge as a teacher and leader, where educators share their experiences and address common challenges of diversity, equity and inclusion. Here are two of my favourites:
Diverse Educators: A Manifesto was published recently and is definitely one to include in your CPD library as it will resonate with all stakeholders. It is a remarkable collection of authentic voices sharing their experiences, truth and knowledge, focusing on the nine protected characteristics and intersectionality.
Each section is divided into chapters where contributors share succinct provocations, key takeaways, thought-provoking questions and a commitment to the manifesto. This book captures the breadth and depth of issues that are likely to manifest in education and how, as teachers and leaders, we can engage with meaningful content surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion.
Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking is a fantastic insight into leadership and the value of cognitive diversity. Syed highlights how the tendency to surround ourselves with people from similar backgrounds, cultures and experiences results in homogeneity forming ‘resonance chambers’. There is value in combining differing views and experiences as this leads to better understanding and decision making. This book is highly recommended for leaders, teachers and organisations considering embedding a dialogue of diversity that focuses on substantive impact.
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