Day 2: Diverse Teachers for Diverse Learners

This was one very fulfilling and enriching day today. The proceedings started with welcome from Professor Donald Christie (Head of School of Education) to the University of Strathclyde.

Being the professional ‘other’ (Vini Lander, University of Chichester)

Shortly after, Dr Vini Lander, of the University of Chichester, delivered the first keynote speech of the conference – and a fantastic one at that. The speech was entitled Being the professional ‘other’; the ‘other’ refers to the status of teachers in the UK who are ethnically diverse and bilingual. Starting out with telling us a brief story in her mother tongue, Punjabi – which she had to translate for most of us! – Vini set the tone for her presentation: the importance of identity of ethnic minority teachers.

(It was rather shocking to learn right there, from the beginning, that there are 17 or 18 Black professors in the UK – that is not within one field, but actually taking all of them into consideration! )

Dr Lander’s presentation had three aims: (1) to identify the themes from the previous Diverse Teachers for Diverse Learners seminars, (2) to explore the experiences of BME (Black ethnic minority) teachers in one school, and (3) to focus on race, ethnicity and racism, using CRT (Critical Race Theory) and explore why the teacher workforce remains linguistically and culturally homogenous.

Year after year, here in the England, we have more and more ethnic minority students, but as of November 2011, 93.6% of teachers in England were white. This is entirely disproportionate to the population distribution in the general population. Some of the issues (themes) that Dr Lander identified were:

  • ethnic minority teachers may be labeled as immigrant teachers, BME teachers, refugee teachers, support teachers for children who do not have English as a first language. This uncovers a value laden hierarchy – and positions them (in contrast to white majority teachers – as the other type of teachers, as Dr Lander says. At this point, a thought occurred to myself – commented by many before: EAL teachers tend to be peripheral in contrast to the mainstream teachers (not only in the UK) and, although I do believe that being given advisory role has the potential of putting them in power (them being linguistic / bilingualism experts) over the mainstream teachers, it takes a particularly strong teacher to deperipheralize the profession.
  • BME teachers are, therefore (going back to Dr Lander’s presentation) as the ones with deficit, otherness and are ghettoized. The deficit, as perceived by others, lies in the idea that they should not go into the classroom until their English is good enough. BME teachers have to negotiate the landscape of pupils’ and colleagues’ preconceived notions of their competence. At this point, Dr Lander pointed us to the research of Flintoff (2014) examining the struggles of a Black female PE teacher trying to oppose the stereotypes held by students about what Black women should do and who they should be. Flintoff brings another account of a Muslim woman at a school placement (pre-service time) as she struggles to establish herself as a teacher, trying to prove to her parents and to the school that she can succeed in her profession.
  • Racism is another theme that the keynote speaker touches on: very recently, 30% of people admitted to being racially prejudiced in the UK. Dr Lander warns strongly that the culture of performativity at schools (Ofsted) is diverting us from talking about the issues of racism and social inclusion (I couldn’t agree more!): the focus on Ofsted is so great that nothing else seems to matter. Even though schools from time to time arrange assemblies on the issues of anti-racism, Dr Lander says that such assemblies make them stand out and that those actually make things worse! Children have been known to be told by teachers to ignore racist incidents… Dr Lander says that teacher education fails to prepare all teachers to teach in an ethnically diverse society. Most teachers, particularly in predominantly White establishments, have inadequate experience, knowledge and understanding of ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Interestingly, this took me back to the ATL Conference I attended just two months ago, where one of the passed motions was calling for the preparation of teachers to serve linguistically diverse (EAL) students regardless of geographical location. Too often, in my own experience, and mirrored by Dr Lander’s speech, in such predominantly White institutions, race and ethnicity related issues are not seen as important.

At this point, Dr Lander turned to the analysis of the issue through the prism of CRT – Critical Race Theory. Nowadays, she argues, backed by the research in the field, racism is inaction, silent acts of omission, deletion, exclusion, apparent innocent, polite inclusion which fails to acknowledge the racialized experiences of BME / ethnic minority people. This type of racism goes unnoticed and it is embedded in policy and everyday practices – and remains unchallenged. I know what she talks about simply from my own experience – whilst Dr Lander’s talk was largely surrounding BME issues, I have certainly experienced the non-blatant version of racism / intolerance myself – and I have observed it in various places, including schools.

Dr Lander referred to the work of Ahmed (2007), who comments on the interaction of whiteness and non-whiteness. Ahmed stated that whiteness enables its possessors to have certain things within reach, inaccessible to others and calls it “a habit, as second nature”. A situation occurs where non-white bodies feel uncomfortable, exposed through their visibility and difference when they take the space reserved for the whiteness. Dr Lander reports on the study of Puwar (2004), who examines the place of racialised minorities within organizations. Puwar refers to these groups as not being the “somatic norm” within certain organizations – as such, they are “space invaders”, a sort of insiders-outsiders, at differentiated levels of inclusion.

Perhaps the most telling of all were the real-life examples that Dr Lander presented to us from her own experience. For instance, she spoke of Zahar, a young observant (religious) Muslim man from South London on a teacher training placement. One of his tutor found him to be “very demanding” as he wanted to go to the mosque on Fridays. The other tutor, however, decided they were in an inclusive community and should be able to accommodate his needs. Due to these tensions, Zahar left the university in 8 weeks.

Another example: Sarah, previously a teacher in Zimbabwe. She came to Britain with her daughter. She was found to be usually on her own around the campus. Helping her involved helping her peer group and tutors to understand her position, providing her with tailored school placements and adaptations to support her circumstances – essay support, detailed formative feedback, facilitating group work.

Kareena’s case shocked me the most of all the case studies provided by Dr Lander. She was attaining well on the taught course, but was failed (rejected) at a placement school. Not only that, the school where she was failed later gossiped about her to a different school where Kareena later had her re-sit placement! When Kareena left to live back in her country, Dr Lander says it was met with a visible relief at the school – a clear sign that Kareena had been a ‘space invader’.

At the University of Chichester, Dr Lander has been busy on working on counter-measures to challenge and fight exactly such phenomena. The University of Chichester is predominantly White institution, so obviously, she needs to work with and have some white allies. She has developed a citizenship specialism on the primary education course – in England, in primary curriculum, citizenship is not compulsory and she hopes to change it. Specialists who understand and know about racism and diversity issues are in need. She proposes the equality and diversity module for all students. Teachers need to know how to deal with cultural and linguistic diversity in their classrooms and how to deal with racism in their classes. I couldn’t agree more – too many teachers, from my own observation, either pretend that it doesn’t exist, consider it a “fact of life” and don’t challenge it or simply do not know how to handle it.

Further, she pointed us to a fantastic programme involving the University of Reading and 15 other institutions, targeting ethnic diversity in the recruitment and retention of teachers. A short film was produced for the purposes of the programme, to be shown to trainee teachers, which is a case study of three inspirational teachers. I’ve just viewed the video, available on YouTube as well – and it is truly inspirational and should provoke discussion and genuine consideration of fair access and recruitment of ethnically diverse teachers into the profession. Often, mere awareness of the issues can be sufficient – if so, everyone should see this! Please watch the film below:


Other specific activities within the collaboration include a study on the role of personal statements in written applications to teacher training course and their potential link to high levels of rejection, focus groups studies on how ethnic minority individuals studying shortage subjects in research intensive universities view teaching careers. Please go to to read in more detail about the programme.


Ahmed, S. (2007) ‘A phenomenology of whiteness’, Feminist Theory, Vol.8(2), pp. 149-168

Flintoff, A. (2014) Tales from the playing field: Black and ethnic minority students’ experiences of Physical Education teacher education, invited paper submitted to Race, Ethnicity and Education, special edition on initial teacher education.

Puwar, N. (2004) Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place. BERG: Oxford and New York


Teacher Diversity: Is it a Source of Prestige or Segregation? (Julia Szalai, Center for Policy Studies, Central European Diversity, Budapest, Hungary)

There were so many papers to choose from in the following sessions! The first one I went to was Julia Szalai’s presentation on her research conducted in 9 different European countries on the differences between diverse and majority teachers – essentially, minority teachers: who are they? This was done for the Ethnic Differences in Education and Diverging Prospects for Urban Youth in an Enlarged Europe (EDUMIGROM) programme.

Professor Szalai started by saying that most diverse teachers study in segregated arrangements and represent second or third generation of immigrants. They also embody long-term aspirations of families for upward social mobility and perceive schools as highly reputed places of potential success. They are usually strongly committed to their community’s culture. Many of them teach practical subjects such as PE, applied science, but not so many teach humanities subjects. It occurred to me that this is actually different at my own current schools, where the majority English teachers appear to be Dutch – but this might just be London where the superdiversity abounds to an extent perhaps not present elsewhere in Europe.

Prof Szalai said that the role of diverse teachers as a cultural resource person depends on the multicultural orientation of the school, the organization of teaching and the existing hierarchy of school subjects. Sometimes, the teachers may be pressured to provide the same services to students as the majority of teachers.

She proceeded then to talk about the experiences of minority teachers in schools – these may vary dependent on whether we are talking about Central, Eastern or Western Europe. In the West, they may choose to identify more strongly with the teaching itself, pushing ethnicity into the background. In Central and Eastern Europe, roles of ethno-cultural mediators may be taken more willingly through the means of teaching. Generally, Prof Szalai says, however, there exist low levels of discrimination, experienced in the position and prestige of minority teachers as opposed to other teachers.

Minority teachers, in classes, often volunteer as ‘interpreters’ (true, I’ve done it myself many times). In settling behavioural conflicts, they often act as mediators. Non-minority students rarely build close personal relations with minority teachers. This may be because, as Prof Szalai has found, minority teachers are rarely put into the position of acting as actual full class teachers.

In her conclusion, Prof Szalai stated that teacher diversity may be a source of enriching inter-ethnic relations and may be promoting inclusive education along multicultural lines. However, it can also become a source of the intensification of hierarchical relationships in education – deepening the divides along the lines of ethno-social segregation in education, meaning that less prestigious subjects are taught by minority teachers, thus their overall position in the system is lower. Such polarized outcomes, she says, should alert us to how the role of ethnicity is embedded in schools, in education and how it is perceived in wider society.


Being Culturally Responsive: A Teacher’s Personal Narrative from Northern Palestine (Michael Fennell, Arab American University Jenin, Palestine)

It’s actually quite difficult to fully write about Prof Fennell’s narrative of his experiences teaching English as a Foreign Language in Palestine as a lot of it was a wonderfully told story sharing his teaching experience – simply no space here for it. In talking about how he negotiated cultural differences as a US teacher working in Palestine, he commented on two principles of culturally responsive teaching: collaborating / cooperating and relating to students’ experience.

When he arrived to first teach in Palestine, he quickly noticed that his (adult) students’ learning style was to be passive recipients of knowledge from a teacher. They were used to sitting, copying down and listening to the teacher. Everything was to be directed by the teacher. He himself sought to encourage cooperation and collaboration and incorporated pair and group work. To encourage talking, he asked the students to tell others what the previous lecture was about. The students, he found, were resistant to this as this new teaching style ran counter to what they were accustomed to. He, however, explained why he did this – students should understand why they were learning what they were learning. With this explanation, the students started participating in the collaborative learning. However, it did take a few weeks before he was able to less controlling way of teaching.

This type of teaching was in conflict with the local norms and led him to question if he actually had the right to do so. Another issue he encountered was that of sexes. In Palestine, during the compulsory education stage, in schools, boys and girls are educated separately. When they first enter universities, they continue being sat away from the other sexes, even though universities are co-educational institutions. In his lectures, he insisted that different sexes work together in spite of students not wanting to – and encountered strong resistance. Many of his students told him that this was against their religion. One of the ways he approached it – I can imagine this would’ve been a difficult situation to handle! – was give the students strips of paper with can / can’t written on them so that they could specify what they could or couldn’t do together with the members of the opposite sex. This proved partially successful and got some of the students participate in co-ed type of activities, but not all. Interestingly, some of the teaching assistants pointed out to him that it was permissible for Muslim boys to interact with female students in educational settings.

In terms of relating to students’ experience, he had to be extremely careful in his use of language and activities to take proper note of Palestine’s history and past. Some topics proved to be a shaky ground where he didn’t even expect it to be: for instance, a simply question of How do you feel in the dark? got him an answer relating to a student’s experience of the occupation time.

Prof Fennell concluded that a culturally responsive teacher should:

  • encourage collaborative learning
  • recognize students’ experience
  • recognize the contexts in which that teacher works
  • ensure that his/her lesson content reflects students’ history
  • take advice from the students’ and the departments / faculties
  • determine how far that teacher can go on insisting on collaborative learning without impacting culturally too strongly on students


Constructing Ethnic Inequality in Modern Welfare States (Christian Horst, Associate Professor, Aarhus University, Denmark) 

This was another of our keynote speakers. He delivered a scathing criticism of the policies for the inclusion of ethnically diverse bilingual learners in Denmark through a very thorough analysis of the policies themselves and the official stances of the Danish authorities, pointing out to quite significant discrepancies.

He began by saying that since the World War 2, there has been an increase in the education about anti-racism and interculturalism. We have been teaching more about democracy and citizenship and have had many supportive programs for ethnic minorities. Yet, there remains a permanent achievement gap between ethnic minority students and the majority students. So why is that?

He says that discrimination today is about how knowledge, discourses and social practices are organized into oppressive social relations in different social fields.

He has examined the 2006 critique of UN-CERD committee on racial discrimination – pointing to the lack of representation of ethnic-based content in the Danish curriculum – and examined the Danish response from 2009: legitimizing text which refers to school law, national curriculum and teacher education. Through the analysis of these texts, he showed how institutional discrimination is present in Denmark.

In the government response to the critique, he notes phrases – in the official texts – indicating that Danish language is more important than languages of other cultures, the word bilingual is the only word describing ethnic minorities in the text – losing the distinctions between subgroups such as minorities, refugees, first generation immigrants, etc.

Ethnic minorities, in Denmark, are invisible as part of the normal and central curriculum. They are invisible in the core curriculum for teachers – there is no recognized subject that would represent their collective interests (is that really so different from the UK where EAL is not a subject, either?). Ethnic Dan is seen as the ‘normal’ student – positioning ethnic minorities as deviant. Danishness, therefore, is equated to social normality, whilst ethnic otherness is equated to deviance.

This leads to the permanent general underachievement of ethnic minority students in Denmark, which in turn, Prof Horst says, leads to teachers having low expectations of them and low self-esteem in ethnic minority children, leading to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Danish school population is not informed about their own ethnic complexities in any educational way – not through policies, not through training or in any other way.

How is that for a gloomy picture? How does that, do you think, compare to England or Scotland?


Defining Teachers for a Global Educational World: The Development of Professional Standards (Jackie Morley, General Teaching Council for Scotland, and Christine Forde, University of Glasgow)

As I used to both live and teach in Scotland for 3 years, I was particularly interested to hear from GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) about the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). In this presentation, both ladies gave us an overview of what standards are required of teachers in Scotland. Obviously, the conference was held in Scotland, so it’s only natural to talk about the Scottish educational system; however, there is more to it than that. Scotland is internationally renowned as a country which has social justice at the very heart of its education vision, thus very relevant to the topic covered by all the speakers at the conference.

These standards cover the Standards for Registration of teachers, Standards for Career Long Professional Learning, Standards for Leadership and Management and Professional Knowledge, Understanding and Professional Values and Personal Commitments.

So why standards? The speakers asserted that educational standards provide “necessary provocation” for teachers to think about their work, practice and professional identity in very different ways, i.e. depending on their own professional circumstances. Standards, therefore, in their understanding, are signposts to guide integrated professional learning.

Both speakers drew our attention to certain themes surrounding the educational standards:

  • Leadership: all teachers are leaders; this includes NQTs who, for instance, would be sharing their practice with others, influencing others
  • Learning for sustainability: outdoor learning, eco schools and ensuring pupil voice is heard
  • Values
  • Integrity: developing teachers’ personal attributes and their ability to critically examine their own practice
  • Trust and respect
  • Professional commitment: readiness to engage with and contribute to educational communities and ensure ongoing professional learning

Now, as I’ve already said, social justice lies at the very heart of the educational principles of Scotland. The hope is that the educational and social values of sustainability, equality and justice are going to be embraced both locally and globally. GTCS is committed to the principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies. Social, cultural and ecological diversity is to be valued and respected.

Prof Forde stressed that the needs of all learners have to be respected. She acknowledged the critique of one of the colleagues at the conference that the fact that Scotland includes EAL within ASN (Additional Support Needs) provision can mean that EAL can disappear in the sea of disability needs and can become confused with what is known as special educational needs in England; that is, it has been known to contribute to the idea that EAL is “a difficulty to be overcome” rather than an asset and social enrichment through being diverse. Indeed, in my time in Scotland working with two EAL Services – in Edinburgh and Fife – I have quickly noticed that is what can happen on the ground. However, Prof Forde stresses that the idea behind the policies and principles is that teachers need to be flexible and look at every learner individually – respect for all learners means that EAL students’ needs – in this case, they would often be linguistic needs – need to be acknowledged and met by differentiated and flexible provision, as are the needs of any other learner. In that way, indeed, EAL learners are seen as equal in status to any other learners – that is, they have additional needs and it is the job of teachers to meet their needs, whatever they are.

The speakers concluded with their perception of what culturally responsive teaching is:

  • Teachers are to integrate content and language (this is known as CBLT, which I actually promote at my school) and are to involve themselves in the process of constructing knowledge
  • Teachers need to reduce prejudice in their schools and classrooms by challenging behaviours
  • Teachers are to be activist teachers – Prof Forde kept referring to the fact that teaching, and education in general, is a political act; the way I understand it myself, it is a constant process of shaping minds, influencing social practices (we mean for the betterment of the society!) and determining priorities for such change. In that way, every teacher is an activist – constantly pushing the society towards greater social inclusion, greater integration and making to more socially just.

I hope I am myself that kind of a teacher and activist. I’d certainly like to be.


Engaging with Linguistic Diversity in Early Years: Pedagogical Rich Points (Dr Frances Giampapa, University of Bristol)

In a lively presentation, Dr Giampapa spoke of the research she has conducted at a Bristol nursery school, aiming to identify what shapes teachers’ pedagogical and assessment practices regarding the inclusion of students’ multilingual practices and identities for the purposes of in-school learning. The research was conducted in 2010, taking ethnographic approach to collecting data – documenting the lived experiences of students, staff and parents.

The school in question was found to employ several effective practices in the inclusion of students. Many, even though obviously employed here at the nursery stage, in my opinion, could be adapted to and reinvented for the purposes of primary and secondary stages of education.

  • Students were listened to for their ideas in order to expand the creative techniques offered to them – they kept their learning diaries
  • There was a greater community involvement – allowing to create a legacy of care
  • Practitioners were used to support students and staff in Arts, Science and ICT
  • The environment itself – for instance the school’s pond and garden – was used a ‘the third teacher’ – in teaching, the use of outdoor spaces was integral to students’ learning (it is amazing how many teachers still do not use the immediate spaces inside and outside of their classrooms to make the learning more relevant to their learners)
  • Story Squares idea was used – children were drawing, using text, pictures and music to record their learning – in this multi-modal way


The Effects of Multilingual Environment on Mono- and Multilingual Children (Greta Marnitz, University of Strathclyde)

Greta is a newly qualified teacher and is a recent BEd graduate from the University of Strathclyde. She is also a lovely and lively person – she told us of the study she conducted for her degree.

She wanted to find out whether or not there a multilingual environment existing in a classroom benefits all bilingual children in a classroom, whether or not such an environment could be seen as similar to the first stage of EAL and if teacher can create multilingual environment with little resources.

This was a small ethnographic study, asking the participants to reflect on their views. Her participants were 31 children in a Primary 5 class at a school in Glasgow, Scotland. She took a storyline approach, often guided by bilingual pupils and included languages when possible.

Her findings are very encouraging. All the children turned out to be very enthusiastic and were found to be more accepting of cultural diversity. The valuing of their skills (involving EAL children) has led to their increased self-esteem. Greta said it was difficult to say if the interest in languages increased in the children, but children did use the resources provided more independently. The inclusion of home languages allowed to challenge the monolingual children’s misconceptions about bilingual children. The class ethos and integration were significantly improved.

Certain factors, Greta has found, were quite apparent:

  • Language and culture seemed quite inseparable – leading her to asking if it is even possible to teach one without teaching the other. In my own experience, they are indeed quite inseparable: in my opinion, we perceive the world through our language. Certain languages do not have words for words present in other languages or construe them in a completely different way. I would suggest that languages influences our perceptions of the world and is a significant part of our culture, thus, indeed, language is, at least in part, our culture.
  • Bilingualism generated interest and discussion, but a teacher’s attitude is even more important – it is essential that teachers are enthusiastic, welcoming, picking up on negative attitudes, sensitive and supporting the learning.
  • Being able to connect a language with a person made it more interesting to children. Bilingualism became a resource that all the children started to access more naturally.

Greta showed us a number of pictures of the really lovely classroom of hers with a lot of children’s creations. I had a lovely feeling when she spoke of the pairwork activities where a Scottish pupil was working with a Pakistani pupil – together, they created a poster of Pakistan and the Scottish child, quite naturally, picked up several new words in the new language just by this collaboration!


Understanding and Acting on Issues of Diversity and Social Justice in Leadership Development (Christine Forde, University of Glasgow)

Prof Forde gave a very exciting, thorough and powerful presentation on diversity and social justice in school leadership, a topic I am very interested in. It is the leaders that I see as shaping the way schools work through creating a positive school ethos (hopefully) – equally, they could be responsible for creating an atmosphere across the school that is not conducive to learning. As such, they are at least partially responsible for the outcomes of EAL learners – and this is quite close to my heart.

Prof Forde began by saying that “effective practice” is very narrowly defined and that the concepts dominating this fields usually revolve around the idea that good leaders and good managers. In the current culture of performativity, managers have to ensure a year on year increase in the students’ educational attainment – Prof Forde argues, therefore, that as this is happening, social equity is out of the window.  Leadership is too often equated with supporting the development of effective teaching, setting school goals, measuring performance, strategic allocation of resources – making schools look instrumental and not guarding equity and equality.

Prof Forde reminds us of different forms of leadership – transformational (winning hearts and minds), collaborative & distributive (building engagement and ownership) and pedagogical (focusing on pupil learning experiences and outcomes). She says that winning hearts and minds is not enough and argues that the way to go is the pedagogical: the only thing leaders can do is improve the quality of learning experiences for their pupils. She quotes Robinson et al. (2008) who said that educational leadership involves not only collegial teams, but also involves focusing these relationships on specific pedagogical practices: improving the quality of teaching and learning at the school. She calls for providing all students with access and opportunities, for culturally responsive teaching, including gender sensitive education. She argues that currently pedagogical leadership is being reduced to educational targets (i.e. numbers). Currently, knowledge building is fragmented – often reduced to skills, that is reduced to ideas of team building, technical skills and financial management with very little attention paid to actual pedagogy. She says that if we reduce leadership to the transformational idea, we’re not going to change the social lives of our learners.

In her opinion, leadership needs to engage with other points of view – and that is not what transformative view allows for as it simply smoothes out the problems rather than engage with them. In a strong conclusion to her presentation – which I found very powerful and inspiring – she argues for ways to develop leaders who make social change actually happen and ensure equity:

  • They need to knowledge of wider contexts: knowledge about learning processes and of diversity
  • They need be critically aware and need to know what they stand for by asking themselves questions: Who am I? What am I to do here? Am I up for the job? – They need to know what their values are in practice; they need to get away from regular mission statements and school brands and actually have an idea what they stand for: it should be meaningful
  • They should resilient – ready to defend their beliefs and have the political acumen.

In other words, this simply means that heads of schools should possess beliefs in what is socially just, equitable and have clear priorities for what is vital, what matters – but these should not revolve around the performativity measures, but reflect what we believe education is really about – changing lives, not improving percentages. (This last paragraph is just my take on it.)

What an inspiring end to the day with so many things to take from it, include in my own practice to ensure the inclusion of ethnic minority students in my own classes. This day truly felt inspirational to me and empowered me and ensured me that, as a teacher, I truly am an agent of social change. All teachers are.

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