By Sudha Govindswamy and Vanessa Kemp
Student agency in promoting anti-discriminatory practices is key in shaping student experiences both at school and in life beyond school. During student interviews with a group of primary school students at a recent preparatory evaluation visit to Braeburn Dar Es Salaam, I asked what anti-discrimination meant to them.
An articulate and confident elementary student quickly responded: ‘Because there is no discrimination here in the school, I can be on the same sofa as Lulu and be a part of this discussion. Otherwise, I would have been a maid in her house …’.
Following significant efforts by the school to commit to and promote anti-discriminatory practices intentionally, it was rewarding to hear such powerful words with conviction and understanding expressed by such a young student.
In this blog post with Vanessa Kemp, Head of Primary and Child Protection Officer at the school, I explore how the school empowers its students to stand up for themselves and take ownership of anti-discriminatory practices.
1. How does Braeburn Dar Es Salaam foster its commitment to anti-discriminatory practices?
We are intentional in our commitment to anti-discrimination by starting with the recognition and celebration of difference, diversity, equity, and inclusion through our child-friendly guiding statements. The concept of kindness, being respectful, and ‘doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do’, along with restorative practice within our relationships and behaviour policy, allows us all to commit to the idea of cultural humility.
When we think globally, we ask: ‘Who are we? Where in the world are we? What are our values, morals and ethics? How do these impact others?’ We model that through understanding ourselves, we can then understand others.
It’s crucial that we hold space for our children, listening to the small things, knowing they will then tell us the big things. It's about understanding our own internal biases as educators, mitigating power imbalances at all levels, and understanding that this is lifelong learning for all of us.
2. How does the school empower primary students to stand up for themselves? How is it made a part of everyday life at Braeburn Dar Es Salaam?
Our children know they will be listened to, believed, and supported. The Braeburn circles of ‘Confident Individuals’ and ‘Responsible Citizens’ positively empower an identity that starts as soon as they enter our school. They know they can tackle inequality or ‘unfairness’ in an official way, through the pupil voice of the student council, house captain or well-being peer mentors or in a less official way where they are supported in a safe space to have difficult conversations, usually on the sofa in my office, or on a bench in the garden.
The concept of restorative conversations has given them a tool to explore their impact on each other, to know that they can say how they feel without interruption, with a caring adult available to support the process. Children have the right to question, disagree and debate respectfully. When an injustice happens or if someone is being unkind or discriminatory, they call it out immediately, knowing that the backup from the grown-ups is nearby.
3. Is it through the planned curriculum, extension of the curriculum or beyond?
The curriculum is a great place to start when teaching explicitly about anti-discrimination. Through our religious education, history, and geography lessons, children can recognise their own world views and those of their peers.
We are intentional about the books we stock in our library, with authors, characters and stories our children can identify with, but also books that differ from their cultures and lives.
Through our personal, social and health curriculum, we can explicitly teach about anti-discrimination, rights, and responsibilities. We have whole school days dedicated to celebrating difference in its many forms, plus the showcase ‘International Day’.
Through a partnership with the Rotary Club, our Primary Community Service Club supports local, national, and international causes where our children begin to understand the lives of others and how they can use their privilege to support fundraising and projects but also through making and maintaining relationships. Our diverse staff add even more opportunities for conversation, sharing and understanding.
4. How can we ensure we don’t ‘burst the bubble’ of the student quoted above as she moves out into the world? What are our foreseeable challenges?
Growing resilience through acceptance, curiosity and empathy is part of our everyday life. Making mistakes allows us all to teach, learn and grow. We look at world events in a child-friendly way. Through careful conversation, our children are beginning to understand that not everywhere is the same or even stays the same and that differences can be negative, unfair, and discriminatory.
Ensuring that we grow confident individuals who understand both their rights and obligations, who are developing an internal ethical compass and who are secure in their identity will hopefully go some way to support our children and young people through inevitable difficult times ahead.
Vanessa’s responses provide us with some key takeaways and more essential questions that can help guide self-reflection at your school:
- Hold space for our students: Listen, no matter how small they are or how minor the conversation seems to be … how are some formal and informal ways you foster such opportunities at your school?
- Understanding our internal biases and mitigating power balance is a lifelong learning process: How do you empower adults at your school to engage in this lifelong learning process and understand our own internal biases?
- Never underestimate the power of restorative conversations: How have you moved from disciplining children to having restorative conversations?
- Children have the right to respectfully question, disagree and debate: How do classroom interactions at your school promote this with intentionality?
- Being intentional about the books, authors, and characters in your library collection: How do you involve various stakeholders to contribute to the richness and diversity of your resources?
- Developing an ethical compass and a secure identity: How do you harness student voice and choice to develop this at your school?
The work of anti-discrimination is always ‘work in progress’, a constant commitment and the responsibility of us all. With that also comes the responsibility of empowering our students to stand up for themselves in promoting anti-discriminatory practices.
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Sudha Govindswamy is Associate Director School Support and Evaluation at CIS and Vanessa Kemp is Primary Head Teacher and Child Protection Officer at Braeburn Dar Es Salaam.
Related content for inclusion via diversity, equity, and anti-racism (I-DEA):
- A range of resources (briefings, insights, on-demand webinars and more) are available to members in the CIS Community portal > KnowledgeBase > I-DEA