Updated: Feb 1
Previously, in Part I and II of the "How To" series, I wrote about the initial steps a teaching team or leader might make to begin the process of diversifying and deepening the Curriculum so that it reflects an inclusive, socially just perspective. In Part I, I began by talking about asking questions, initiating conversations and educating ourselves.
At the school where I work, we have certainly had some interesting conversations when engaging with terms such as identity, belonging, culture, migration, historical consciousness and diaspora. Without the words at the beginning, I think it is difficult to grasp the journey ahead, particularly for those leading the process.
In Part II, I highlighted that the work begins with us and we cannot get around the fact that we will have to confront our own prejudices and biases before we can raise these issues with students. Of course we are all a work in progress, but some intentionality can go a long way even in such sensitive and new territory. If we work at knowing ourselves better and learning more from those whose experiences are different from ours, we will be better equipped for the work ahead. The process begins in our own inner worlds, with our curiosity about how the world has become so inequitable and our longing for change.
In Part III, it is the concept of creating connectivity in the curriculum and communicating it that I want to explore. Specifically, how do we pull together the threads of our curriculum to establish a strong sense of social justice across all we do? And, how do we structure it in order to communicate it to each other?
Sewing, knitting, crochet, weaving?
In SAGE Publication's: “a little guide for teachers” series, Bennie Kara writes about “Diversity in Schools”. In her introduction she uses the metaphor of Indra’s net to draw the reader’s attention to the curriculum. Indra’s net is a Buddhist concept whereby Indra, a divine creator hangs a net over his palace and at each intersection of the threads there is a multifaceted jewel reflecting all the others. It symbolises the interconnectedness of the universe.
Kara uses this metaphor to identify that it is not easy to create a school where diversity is embedded in every thread. How do we weave a Curriculum structure or framework that advocates for equality, critical pedagogy and depth of knowledge? I find metaphors help.
What’s in a metaphor?
“Every new and developing generation of idea is born out of a metaphorical process, as opposed to mere logic or simple fancy. “ writes David Gosselin.
The use of metaphor enables a transformation from invisible ideas to a clear picture, it enables things to come into being. One of the ways that it can help to clarify and to bring together the threads and components of our curriculum is to find a way of seeing it. The picture of a bejewelled net reveals all the facets of the curriculum to us and emphasises their interconnectedness rather than isolation. Teaching through cross-curricular themes can vastly improve learning because the brain is trying to make connections between learning all the time. This is one way we might see it.
Another Buddhist picture is useful here; that of the wheel. What if we saw social justice as the hub of a wheel, each of the spokes coming off it as the subjects of the curriculum and the rim as the impact we are aiming for. It might look something like the sketch on the left.
This would create a holistic picture with our critical lenses being applied across the curriculum, flowing out form the central hub. One limit of this metaphor however is that the subjects look distinct and noticeably separate rather than fused or overlapping which in reality they would be in. Our medium term planning is often the place however, where we can represent cross-curricular aspects. One advantage of the wheel metaphor is that for those of us answering to OFSTED, the intent of every subject is firmly stated right there in the middle of the wheel.
How else can we illustrate our thinking into being?
Because visual representations are so helpful in clearly defining a vast amount of concepts or words in an explicit way, we might also consider a mnemonic. These, like some poetry, condense ideas to a minimum number of words but need not water down the message. Taking the concept of threads again, you could create a curriculum summary or “in a nutshell” description which is easy to share as a school, like this:
Not only do metaphors and graphics help us transform germs of ideas into concrete concepts that can be applied, they help others grasp what we are about. Whether your ideas are communicated on websites, in newsletters or in school policies, they can give a quick and clear indication of what is important within the ethos of a school and more or less detail can be added for different audiences.
What about within the planning stage?
Lastly, we can develop a graphic to help us process our thinking during the Medium Term Planning stage. During that time when you sit down to plan for the term ahead, drawing together your learning objectives or knowledge bites from your school’s long term plan and shaping the way ahead for your class, we can support our critical think by following the steps below:
As we develop the habit of integrating critical pedagogy and a decolonised curriculum a visual prompt such as this can aid our thinking, remind us to think more broadly about who we are including and what events so that diversity is reflected. As time goes on we will not need the graphic because it will just be the way we do things as our critical lenses sharpen and are put to continuous use.
To finish, here is a suggestions list to inspire our Curriculum diversification. It is in no way a to do list but may serve to develop our thinking and spur us on in the process of change for equality.
Please do leave comments if you would like to share your ideas about integrating social justice perspectives into the Curriculum and pedagogy. I often write from a British and Primary (Elementary) school perspective, but I hope there is something for everyone to keep us going on this journey and I would love to hear your ideas.
As you discuss decolonising the curriculum at your school, what threads can you see emerging that would tie your perspective together? Can you map or draw it?
How can you clearly communicate the core or your Curriculum reform in a clear concise way? Is there a metaphor, graphic or mnemonic which would help?
What values are at the centre of your Curriculum diversification. Can you identify and pinpoint them as a team?
How can you integrate this thinking into planning across the school? Is there a process you can all follow?
“Diversity in Schools” by Bennie Kara SAGE Publishing
(It's small and easy to read and an excellent starting point)
The NEU Framework for Anti-racism in Schools www.neu.org.uk
“On The Move” by Michael Rosen (poems about migration)
The Runnemede School Report: Race, Education and Inequality in Contemporary Britain. www.runnymedetrust.org
https://www.oasisuk.org/campaign/break-the-cycle-conference/ Resources focussed on bringing equality to school leadership in Britain.