ISJ Student intern Emily Howarth reflects on York St John’s first ever Teacher Education Diversity and Inclusion conference this June in association with the Institute for Social Justice, and organised by Manjinder Jagdev, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, Language & Psychology.
“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”
This quote, attributed to musician Frank Zappa, was shared by Professor Avtar Matharu, Director of the Green Chemistry Centre at the University of York. He expressed that an open mind must be the starting point of any conversation about inclusive education, and this concept was echoed throughout the day. For me, it captured much of the spirit and ambition of this Teacher Education Diversity and Inclusion conference.
In a day full of inspiring ideas, the conference focused on how educators can work towards decolonising their curriculums, and honour diversity and inclusion in education settings across the UK. The day featured talks, performances and presentations from various organisations, including students, academics, community groups, children and staff from local schools, and teachers of all kinds.
From an analysis of York’s increase in race-related hate crime, to the transformative power of anti-racist mathematics, each speaker shared a different view and experience of anti-racist education, offering multiple research angles, provocations and possible solutions to explore.
For me, the most impactful parts of the conference were the presentations in which local children and young people shared their knowledge and stories. The first item on the agenda for the day was a performance by young people from York LAMDA titled ‘The Unsung’. The entertaining and enlightening piece, written and directed by Frances Simon and Jenna Drury, celebrated Black inventors who have been overlooked by history, and explored the lives and inventions of these Black historical figures.
Next up, the students from Scarcroft Primary School recounted the knowledge they had gained from a recent project they had completed surrounding migration, before sharing their own family migration stories with the audience. These young students bravely stood up in front of a large audience at an academic conference and shared their stories beautifully, with maturity and confidence. The stories were insightful and powerful, revealing the multiple generations of migration present in York. These two presentations set the day off to an amazing start, and acted as an important reminder for what diverse and inclusive education can look like.
Maxine Squire from City of York Council was the last speaker of the day, and rounded off everything wonderfully by labelling teachers and educators as ‘change agents’, who have a powerful influence in terms of inclusion and diversity – especially when they take time to focus on self-analysis and ask themselves, ‘What don’t I know?’. She referenced the students from Scarcroft Primary, saying that they were an example of what can happen when we positively harness the brilliance of the diverse resources already sitting in classrooms all over the UK. In his talk, Dr Gurnam Singh from Coventry University said that we need to ‘harness the immense power of education for the collective good’. I feel this is an excellent summation of the day as a whole, and is ultimately what everyone who was in attendance is aiming for.
The conference left my head buzzing with ideas and inspiration. It made me reflect on my own school experiences, and wonder whether any thought was given to diversifying the content I was taught. It certainly didn’t feel like it. I felt so hopeful that these kinds of conversations and changes are happening more and more now, and that children in classrooms all over the world are benefiting as a result. As a university student, it was also very exciting to hear about what is happening within higher education, and what is being done to move towards a more inclusive and diverse curriculum in these spaces also.
Attending this conference made me proud to be a York St John student. I am proud that my university is instrumental in these kinds of conversations and events. I am proud that the university are taking steps towards diversity and inclusion in all areas, and that these concepts are clearly valued and upheld. I also felt proud to attend as an intern for the Institute for Social Justice, and this felt like a very fitting way to round off my experience working here. I have spent 6 months or so delving into the research and work carried out and supported by the ISJ, and this event felt like a true representation of what the Institute is striving towards.
Attendee Dani Rees, Deputy Headteacher at Fishergate primary school shared this feedback: ‘Every speaker, including the children, taught me something, gave me something to reflect on in my own practice, and offered me a way to be better, as a classroom practitioner, a senior leader, and, well, as a human being.’
Special thanks to:
Manjinder Jagdev, Jess Baxter and Hannah Berstein from the events team, all of our amazing speakers, and of course the wonderful catering team who provided us with refreshments and a full BBQ lunch!