Review by Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Deputy head, Robson House

16 Mar 2024, 5:00


The Conversation – with Dr Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

In a week that saw our school community mark World Book Day and International Women’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of curriculum in developing understanding, values and shared knowledge. This week’s blogosphere has indulged me with plenty of stimulus.

More than words

For some children, attending school is a huge challenge. This blog by Skylark Partnership CEO Jim Bowyer for the AP and SEND Network reflects on the updated statutory guidance regarding the education of those unable to attend school for health reasons.

Pointing out that the new guidance does not remove the ability of schools to remove children from their roll when they are not well enough to attend, Bowyer draws links with the experiences of the late Sir Tim Brighouse, who himself had a negative experience in the first secondary school he attended.

Bowyer’s commentary on the move away from using the term ‘school phobic’ made me think about the power of words, both on the experiences of the young people we serve and also on our feelings about our service.

Fear of belonging

Lisa Cherry is renowned for her knowledge and communication of the impact of childhood trauma, particularly on those who are care experienced. As such, her work is highly relevant to many who find school attendance difficult or impossible. In her latest newsletter, Cherry focuses on the power of belonging.

Many of the children we teach would benefit from us having a deeper understanding of the impact of their life experiences and their need for (and fear of) belonging. That sense of belonging is something we often seek for ourselves; think of all the times we speak with pride of ‘our school’ or ‘my class’. It’s also something we naturally seek to build for others, especially in our efforts to meet the needs of all our pupils.

Cherry’s blog is a useful reminder that to be inclusive, we need to be mindful of the risks of ‘re-traumatisation’ in pursuance of that goal.

Inner leadership

When reflecting on the best ways to support the varied strengths and needs of the children in our classrooms, the value of ‘inner leadership’ as described here by Viv Grant could be considered key. Grant defines the concept an ‘inner beacon’ that guides our personal and professional growth.

The blog is aimed at senior leaders, but we are all leaders in our own classrooms and I believe that this is relevant to us all. Confronting uncomfortable truths is something we can all benefit from.

While more and more senior leaders in schools appear to be valuing coaching as a way to support career development, those of us who are classroom-based can also benefit from this kind of support. What better use can there be for a digital staffroom?

Culture catalysing curriculum

I was lucky enough to hear Lekha Sharma speak in February at an event organised by The Step Up Network. In this article for the Impact journal, she writes about the importance of integrating cultural knowledge with curricular knowledge to achieve sustained improvements to the quality of education we provide.

Sharma makes useful links between clear values and an effective curriculum. She also makes a compelling case for the importance of creating the right conditions for clarity, in terms of curriculum structure and norms. Her emphasis on this strategy’s positive impact on staff wellbeing left me with a clear sense of why I should follow her on this journey and how to do it well.

A thousand miles

Finally, this week, allow me to segue from ‘a journey of thousand miles’ to a more immediate problem we can all take steps to solve: the thousand-mile stare.

In this article (and the interview it’s based on), Blake Harvard gives four explanations for the ‘blank stare’ we’re all familiar with on the faces of our learners – however well-crafted our curriculum and lessons.

With thoughtful potential solutions and a focus on holding the needs of learners at the heart of our solution-finding, it speaks of our shared values as a profession and gives me hope that true inclusion isn’t as far as it sometimes feels.

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