If you are a teacher, you will be all too aware of that moment in an assembly when your students are asked if they would like to sign up or apply for an incredible opportunity. You know without even having to be in the room, which students are likely to apply and which students had tuned out after the first 30 seconds made a mental “nope” in their heads.
You will know that social action has huge benefits and you know (without having to look at the data) that the less privileged you are, the less likely you are to participate in formal social action. And I am sure that you agree that that just sucks.
The good news is that a vital part of the #iwill campaign’s research and approach is around changing that. As we at Fearless Futures are an organisation that engages young people in critical thought to understand and challenge the root causes of inequalities and grow powerful new ways of leading and designing transformative change — here are our top 5 tips on empowering more inclusive social action in your school!
1. Create space for timetabled opportunities
Young people most equipped to tackle society’s most pressing problems, are currently those most likely to be excluded. For example, when social action opportunities are only offered after school there are clear barriers to participation for some students. These might be young people with caring responsibilities; students whose parents are uncomfortable with them walking home when it gets dark; and particularly in rural areas, students whose parents don’t have a car and where public transport is not available after certain hours. These are all externalities that impact the ability of marginalised young people to engage in energising and powerful contributions in their school communities and beyond — and with extra care and thought they can and must be prioritised.
2. A lack of role models everyone can relate to requires more than just a plaster
Representation of role models who similarly experience the marginalisations of the young people we all serve (whether they’re from communities of colour, are disabled, and trans etc) is important. Who we see (or don’t see) represented as changemakers has a profound impact on who some young people believe they can be and their sense of legitimacy in such change-making work.
Given this lack of representation is so deep rooted; it will take more than just an assembly or two to change these messages that certain young people are constantly bombarded with. The solution therefore needs to be:
3. Recognise and provide opportunities for social justice based social action
The definition of social action is ‘practical action in the service of others to create positive change. It includes activities such as campaigning, fundraising and volunteering’. Often many young people are put into positions where they have to educate others to create a better society — however this is often not seen from this perspective. For example, a black woman telling someone not to touch hair and why this is racism is an education campaign. Or a second-generation Indian student explaining how ‘go back to where you came from’ is particularly insulting considering 1.3 million Indian soldiers served in World War One, and over 74,000 of them lost their lives — and also that they are British. Therefore there are many informal ways that young people are actually taking part in social action, and formalising this through school opportunities — encourages this to both be recognised and encouraged.
4. Be aware of your own position and how this affects how you see these issues
If you’re tempted to entertain any of the following:
“The problem is in that particular students don’t choose to take part in social action”
“If I just fix this for disabled young people, it’s done, right?”
“I am a good person, I would never make decisions that are not inclusive!”
You might want to consider alternative ways of taking action for inclusion:
- Understand that this is a structural problem, rather than a problem rooted in individual young people’s ‘choices’
- People cannot and should not be put into boxes, thus any deep rooted solution needs to account for the ways inequalities overlap and are connected i.e a disabled, Muslim student on free school meals can be one person — and their challenges will be different to an able-bodied, gay young person on free school meals. This doesn’t mean that we cannot serve them both holistically.
- I may well be a good person, but having good intentions, is not enough. I must prioritise the impact I’m having in my decision making. (The #iwill findings cite barriers to participation including hidden inequalities and negative expectations by staff/volunteers — who I am sure also had the best of intentions).
5. Use the power you hold to influence others!
If you are on the senior leadership team in your school, you will be used to organisations bombarding you with opportunities and programmes. Make sure you take time to question how inclusive their approaches and ideas really are — (e.g You might ask them whether all their events are wheelchair accessible? How does their residential programme cater for young people who are transgender and nonbinary?). You have power — and you can use it to influence and lead others to make a bolder and more profound difference!
At Fearless Futures we are committed to seeing things change by 2020! If you are a teacher who wants to improve your practice and grow deep inclusion and equalities thinking and doing in your teaching please do get in touch @fearlessfutures.